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Susan Green

Expensive Ballyhoo About Price Drop
Can’t Be Used to Buy Food or Clothing

(17 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 7, 17 February 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When the price of butter fell a few cents, a couple of weeks ago, newspapers and radio commentators trumpeted the glad tidings as If all our price troubles were over. But at the same time the A & P stores were charging, here in New York City, twelve cents for a bunch of carrots, eight cents for a pound of green cabbage, thirty-three cents for a ten-cent box of raisins, twenty-one cents for a quart of homogenized milk, and about fifty-nine cents per pound for a decent cut of meat.

Since then there have been a few shifts both up and down, with butter again up, milk a cent down, carrots down but tomatoes up to thirty-three cents a pound, and so on. So where are we?

On January 28 the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whose findings notoriously favor the capitalists, stated that food prices declined an average of one per cent during the prior month. A one per cent decline – when the price of food is, according to the businessmen’s weekly, the United States News, “almost two and one-half times pre-war!” In percentages that’s two hundred fifty per cent above pre-war food prices.

Again, when Ford Motor Company announced a $15 to $50 cut in price on its passenger cars, Mr. Ford was hailed by the capitalist contingent as a self-sacrificing hero. However, his grandiose claim that the cut was “shock treatment to halt the insane spiral of mounting costs and rising prices,” is a fraud. The cut is simply a competitive move to bring Ford prices nearer those of Chevrolet.

As Richard T. Leonard, UAW-CIO vice-president in charge of the Ford division, pointed out, the new Ford prices are still fifty-one per cent above 1941 levels – the much ballyhooed reduction being a mere one per cent. Mr. Leonard further stated: “Needless to say, this reduction in Ford prices does not in any way reduce the disparity between the high cost of living for Ford workers and their earnings.” So where are we?

False Propaganda on Prices

We are in a situation where the capitalist class is using every means of propaganda to create the false impression that prices are substantially down. The reason for this campaign is to produce a hostile atmosphere for the wage increases already demanded by many unions and to be demanded by more unions in the near future.

How flimsy is the actual foundation for the claim of a drop in the cost of living, is demonstrated in a recent front page article in the New York Sun. The headline read: “Food Buyer Is Having His Day at Long Last.” And how was this claim substantiated in the body of the article? The A & P stores were selling five-cent candy bars at two for nine, and another chain was offering with every pound of hamburger – made out of heaven knows what – at thirty-nine cents, an extra pound at one cent. Such freak instances certainly do not support the claim of the headline.

Not talking about what may happen a year from now, but about what the score is right now, and again quoting the United States News – that weekly published for businessmen – we have a “living-cost trend still rising slowly.” This is the overall fact even though the retail price of food has dropped by that picayune one per cent. The wholesale prices of a few commodities have also declined a couple of points, but this decline has not been passed on to the consumer. However, wholesale prices in general are, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on a new high level.

Prices of Durable Goods

The still upward trend may have been obscured by the after-Christmas sales to clear off overstocked merchandise, especially furs and luxury items. The rising prices in many raw materials, semi-finished and finished articles cannot be wished away. Spring clothing, furniture, building materials, nearly all durable goods are higher in spite of larger supplies. So where are we?

We were left far behind in purchasing power by the wartime wage freeze as the cost of living went merrily upward. The wage increases labor fought for and won at the end of 1945 were not high enough entirely to remove the disparity. The skyrocketing cost of living during 1946 has still further reduced the purchasing power of wages. The workers were the sacrificial lambs on the altar of wartime profits and continue to be fleeced for record-breaking peacetime profits.

Out Of The Horses’ Mouths

We read that the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce struts his stuff that ‘‘the American way of sharing the wealth is by reducing prices.” But are American businessmen acting that way? Fortune magazine took a poll to find out what these pillars of industry expect prices to do in 1947 and what they expect to do about prices in 1947. Here is the result of the poll.

Two per cent had no opinion to express. Twenty per cent of the businessmen polled see no change in prices in general, and fifty per cent of this group declare there will be no change in the prices of their own commodities. Thirty-four per cent, over one-third, of the businessmen polled expect further price increases in 1947, and nearly all of this group predict price increases in their own commodifies. The largest section, forty-four per cent, of the country’s businessmen said they anticipate prices will go down in 1947, but only one-third of these optimistic gentlemen plan to lower their own prices. The motto is: Let George do it!

In the meantime, still quoting from the United States News:

“A new house today costs nearly one hundred per cent more than in 1939 to build. A new car costs at least fifty per cent more than it cost in pre-war. Food costs are almost two and one-half times pre-war. Clothing costs often are double pre-war, or even higher than that. Commodity prices, in general, are nearly ninety per cent above pre-war.”

Nor has the peak been reached, for the “living-cost trend still rises slowly,” to say nothing of the break in rent ceilings in spite of official rent control.

Ballyhoo about falling prices will not buy more food, clothing and other needs. The standard of living of the people will continue to decline unless there are adequate wage increases in each industry WITHOUT any further price increases.

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