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Susan Green

EXTRA! OPA Keeps Prices Down –
But Not Prices of Food and Clothing

(14 December 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 50, 14 December 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When the, housewife buys her butter, eggs, meat, vegetables and groceries – that is, when she can get them – she has first-hand, uncontradictable evidence that the OPA has hardly done a thing about keeping prices down FOR HER.

When she buys underwear, stockings, a dress, a coat, a boy’s suit, a man’s overcoat – or a kitchen towel – she gets more of the same evidence about the OPA.

There isn’t a thing you and I buy that has not gone up from 10 to 100 per cent.

So you will be a very surprised person to learn that the OPA is actually keeping prices down. Believe it or not, the OPA is controlling and preventing the rise of CERTAIN prices. It even submits figures.

The question, however, is: WHAT PRICES?

Not food prices! Not clothing prices! But INDUSTRIAL prices!

And what are industrial prices these days? The costs of things that go into the making of war materiel. The OPA apparently is a howling success – though not insofar as the housewife is concerned. It has really kept the prices of war goods under such strict control that they have gone up a mere 3 per cent – or next to nothing – in the year since Pearl Harbor.

Price Administrator Henderson boasted before the 4,000 members of the National Association of Manufacturers gathered in New York last week that “There is nothing like it in the history of production.”

There is only one thing wrong here. The working class family unfortunately cannot eat stewed ballets and guns, minced tanks and planes, sliced bombers and battleships! As for controls on food and clothing prices and other prices, which concern working people, there has been nothing like it in the history of humbug and hocus-pocus.

The OPA puts price ceilings on things – only to raise them officially.

The ceilings have just been lifted on two such staples as potatoes and onions. The OPA announced further that before Christmas an additional number of everyday commodities will be removed from ceiling control.

But, of course, all this prattle about ceilings is a sorry joke. There is no serious control even of the things officially under ceilings.

The OPA itself reports that 400,000 retail stores are cheating. Daily the number swells. There are hundreds of ways of violating price ceilings.

But what the retail stores – both chain and independent – are doing to boost prices is a mere trifle compared to what big business is accomplishing WITH THE BLESSING OF THE OPA ITSELF.

In a recent issue of Labor Action this writer reported from a private source that the OPA permits the same goods with a new label to be marked up at a new price. Now it is everybody’s secret that the OPA has officially ruled that THE SAME GOODS WITH DIFFERENT BRAND NAMES ARE DIFFERENT COMMODITIES! How’s that for hocus-pocus?

So the manufacturers are exceedingly busy with their paste pots. New labels are being stuck over old ones. There is an epidemic of “newness” and “improvement” on grocery shelves. As reported in Labor Action previously, the “new and improved recipes” are strictly limited to the label on the outside of the can. What’s inside is the same as always – but the price is new and fancier.

The Consumers Union has now scientifically tested some of these fake “new and improved recipes” and reports that any noticeable difference would amount to about a fourth of a cent in cost. This hardly justifies an increase of 25 per cent in price.

If the OPA had been created deliberately to cut down the purchasing power of the workers’ wages, it could not have done a better job.

From Mr. Henderson’s own mouth we are informed that the OPA has been keeping down the prices of war materiel. Therefore, we must conclude that, like everything else in civilian life, prices on civilian goods are not important enough to bother with officially – except to aid and abet the private profiteers, big and little, to whose tender mercies the housewife has been entrusted.

If before now there was any doubt about the absolute necessity for the working class to create its own price controls, Mr. Henderson has removed every shred ot doubt. Those 400,000 cheating store owners could easily be handled by committees of organized housewives. Those big business pasting artists could be corrected by the organized workers in the very concerns that do the pasting.

United Nations spokesmen are warning us to expect a long war. Look where prices are already. Where will they be as the war progresses?

The working class will be robbed right and left. This can be prevented. Organize Committees of housewives, workers and working farmers to control consumer prices!

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Last updated: 11 September 2014