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Ben Hall

The Place of Buyers Strikes
in the Fight to Cut Prices

(23 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 38, 23 September 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The effectiveness of buyers’ strikes as a means to control prices can be judged by comparing them to the boycott as a means in organizing unions. Like the buyers’ strikes, the boycott is an attempt to mobilize the power of the “consumers” not against high priced goods but against non-union goods manufactured by scabs.

Where a strike is not 100 per cent effective and production can still be carried on by the employers, the union may declare a boycott of that company’s products. Both the AFL and CIO maintain active “union label” departments which publish lists of non-union companies and which urge all unionists to purchase only those products which bear a union label.

Nevertheless, all experience has proved that the MAIN weapon in the fight to organize is the STRIKE, However important the boycott and the use of the union label may be, they are only supplementary to this most important weapon, the strike. The Ford Motor Company, for example, the last of the big automobile manufacturers to be organized by the DAW, was brought to its knees, not by a boycott, but by a united strike. Let us see why the strike is so much more effective than the boycott.

The main strength of the union in its struggle with the employer lies in its ability to halt production. The workers, because they are that class in society which produces, have the power to shut off at the very source of supply the stream of commodities which the capitalist must receive if he is to be able to sell in the market and get his profits. Stop production and you stop profits. There are no two ways about it. The capitalist must break the strike or give in.

Power of Organization

But strike-breaking is not so simple a matter; for it meets with the determined resistance of the strikers themselves. And today the strikers in a single plant or industry may count upon the assistance of millions of other unionized workers. To restore production by breaking a strike, the employer is compelled to carry on a struggle not just against a few thousand “people,” who are no different from any other “people.” The, capitalist is confronted with certain kinds of “people,” namely ORGANIZED WORKERS. As WORKERS, they represent the most militant the whole population – that which is best able to fight because of the strategic place it occupies in the productive life of the nation. And as ORGANIZED workers, they represent, the most advanced, class-conscious, confident and experienced section of the working class.

But matters are quite different when, despite all its efforts, the union is unable to stop production by means of a strike and is compelled to rely upon the boycott. The success of a STRIKE depends upon the response and actions of THE MOST ADVANCED SECTION OF THE WORKING CLASS. The success of a boycott depends upon the “consumers.” But while all workers are consumers, not all consumers are workers. The whole population of the country – the “people” – consists of consumers; but this population, these consumers, are divided into CLASSES. A few are big capitalists. Some are small business men, merchants and professionals. Many are farmers. Many are workers.

Not all workers are in the same category. Some know how important the union movement is to them but others are ignorant and duped by capitalist propaganda; they think that the boss is their friend and the union their enemy. Some workers have been strong enough to organize their industry. Others have been defeated in their attempts or may be indifferent to another attempt.

For all these reasons, the “consumers” differ widely in the degree of their sympathy or hostility to the union. Because of class interest or ignorance, many are already anti-union and may become even more so when they find themselves “inconvenienced” by a boycott appeal.

The capitalist can deal with the boycott far more easily than he can deal with the strike because he can fight or delude the consumers far more easily than the workers. As long as the flow of goods from the factory to the capitalist continues, he has the possibility of making profits. He takes advantage of the fact that there is a great difference between one consumer and another.

Strikes have therefore been the major weapon of the union in its fight against the capitalist. More effective than the boycott, which relies upon the buying power of the consumers, the strike relies upon the fighting power of the organized working class, which can control or stop production.

Buyers’ strikes, which also rely principally upon the consumer, display the same weaknesses as the boycott.

(This is the second of a series of three articles on buyers’ strikes.)

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