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Susan Green

Depression Threat Stirs Annual Wage Demand

(14 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 15, 14 April 1947, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In spite of President Truman’s “panorama of prosperity,” economists with their ear to the ground hear ominous rumblings of an approaching “recession.” The basis for the coming let-down is the widening disparity between purchasing power and prices. Though there is a flood of goods and people need them, prices are becoming prohibitive. The result is bound to be overstocked inventories, cancellation of orders, slowing up production. And what will follow? The firing of workers from stores where goods are distributed and from factories where goods are produced. Four or five million additional workers will become jobless and join the several millions already unemployed.

The economists also predict that this “recession” will not be a major depression. It will take place, according to them, only to allow for a price adjustment to levels within the purchasing power of consumers. The feeling is that the demand in this country for goods not available during the war plus the dire need for everything in other parts of the world will continue the boom – on a less boomerang basis. This would be President Truman’s “panorama of prosperity.”

However, workers are from Missouri in a different sense from the way in which President Truman is from Missouri. They have heard this talk about unending prosperity before. The anarchy of capitalist production has a way of asserting itself and penalizing the working people. When the volcano of economic insecurity begins to boil and bubble, as it is doing right now, workers want more than a "panorama of prosperity.” They want real protection.

Guaranteed Annual Wage

One of the devices that would give workers the means of livelihood the year around is, of course, the guaranteed wage. Right now has becomes an important issue. Recently the White House received a report on the subject from the Advisory Board of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion. It is remarkable that this report received such little publicity.

In this article the details of the report will not be dealt with but only the general conclusions. The conclusions, it must be said at the start, mean that the whole issue of the guaranteed annual wage is being put on ice indefinitely.

The board’s letter to the President begins with what looks like approval of the idea, as follows:

“The board believes a study shows clearly that plans guaranteeing wages or employment when suitably adapted to' the needs and conditions of the industry or establishments, are valuable to the entire nation and afford a wholesome and desirable means for improving both worker and employer security.”

But notice how this approval is full of hemming and hawing. The guaranteed annual wage must be a nationwide policy to be effective for the protection of the working people as a whole. But the board does not recommend the guaranteed annual wage as a national policy. It limits its recommendation to “when suitably adapted to the needs and conditions of the industry or establishment.” What about the “needs and conditions” of all workers in all industries threatened with unemployment and destitution? Should not that consideration be paramount?

Again, the board gives a very moderate and measured evaluation of the whole idea as affording “a wholesome and desirable means for improving both worker and employer security.” To be sure, this is a very touching example of class collaboration. However, those who find it desirable to eat and pay rent and clothe themselves all the year around and every year, feel a lot more urgency about the matter than the board elicits. Nor can the worker, under the circumstances, be too worried about “employer security.”

Protection for Workers

Hammering home the false idea that the guaranteed annual wage should not be a nation-wide policy, the board informs the President that this protection for workers should not be placed in operation by law. It should, according to the board, be a matter between individual employers and their employees and settled through collective? bargaining. Because the board has a palsied approach to the matter of the annual wage, it thus misinterprets the function of collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining is the medium for settling demands arising from workers’ needs, changing with conditions and peculiar to each industry. However, some things are fundamental, apply to all workers, and must be guaranteed by society. Such a fundamental is, for instance, the right of every worker to the means to buy food, shelter, clothing, medical care and the other things that have become necessities of modern life.

The government claims to be organized society, and it is up to it to guarantee the means, of life to the working people. If the capitalist government cannot do this, the working people will have to get themselves a government that can. But relegating a nationwide social problem to the realm of private industry, as the board does, while kindly taking the onus off the shoulders of the capitalist government, does not solve the problem.

Not that it is incorrect for unions to demand a guaranteed annual wage when negotiating contracts. Quite the contrary. One of the demands now being made by the United Steel Workers of the steel industry is the guaranteed annual wage. The Auto Workers Union has also put in a wedge in the right direction by asking for a guaranteed weekly wage. It is to be hoped that these unions will do some good pioneering work in the struggle for this protection for workers, long overdue. However, in a national report to the government on a social problem, to assign the guaranteed annual wage to the field of collective bargaining alone is equal to absolving capitalist society as a whole from responsibility for unemployment.

The grand finale of the board’s conclusions sent to the President is a recommendation for continued study “to advance the frontiers of knowledge” and that government agencies should provide data and information “to those interested in wage guarantees.” This language is easily recognizable as putting the whole matter in cold storage. As stated above, with a “recession” almost upon us and with the whole future in turbulence, cold storage is not the place for the vital issue of the guaranteed annual wage.

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