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Ben Hall

Buyers’ Strikes in the Fight
to Cut Prices

(30 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 39, 30 September 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Last week we pointed out that the success of a “buyers’ strike,” like a “boycott” campaign, depends to a large degree on the reaction of the “consumers” and that the category of “consumer” includes all classes and sections of the population. Active union militants man the picket lines in front of the stores. The small business man, the professional, and even the apathetic or uneducated workers watch the line and then go in to buy or not, as they see fit.

During a period when there is a shortage of commodities, the fate of a buyers’ strike is even more directly affected by middle class elements. A greater proportion of the available goods can be shifted by the capitalist into non-working class areas and neighborhoods in order to minimize the possible effects of the “buyers’ strike.”

“But,” it might be objected, “isn’t it true that the working class must get the support of the millions of middle class people if it is to have real success?” Yes, that is true. But all experience of the working class movement in every country has proved that the labor movement can win the sympathy and aid of the middle classes only when the workers themselves show that they are united behind a fighting program that can really provide the answers to the problems that all the people face.

Buyers’ Strike Alone Is Not Enough

Buyers’ strikes will NOT provide such a program! How unified and determined does the labor movement show itself in the buyers’ strikes? CIO and AFL union men and women picket on the outside, appealing to all to refuse to buy. But on the inside, CIO or AFL union men are at work selling to whoever crosses the line. And as one looks out of the store window he sees other union men delivering the products to be sold. This absurdity reached its height in Detroit recently when a CIO retail union objected to the picketing of union shops during a buyers’ strike demonstration.

Such a policy is not good enough. If mass groups of consumers could enter a store and with the cooperation of the committee of the retail workers buy goods at low prices ... THAT would be quite appealing to the middle classes and we may be sure that they would rally to SUCH an idea. If union and consumers’ committees did actually COMPEL the sale of goods at low prices, all people, except a small group of plutocrats, would hail these committees as a great blessing.

But for a retail clerk to sell a shirt at a low price, a truck driver would have to deliver it at a low price and committees of union drivers would have to act as inspectors. And the price of the shirt as it leaves the factory and goes to the truck driver would have to be controlled by committees in the factories. Likewise with the raw materials, the cloth that goes into the shirts, and the coal that is used to turn the machines that produce the cloth, and the steel that goes into the machines and the iron ore that goes to make the steel.

Workers Need to Control Production and Prices

A solid strike can quickly defeat an employer when the supply of his goods is shut off. A strike is one means of controlling production ... that is, a means of cutting it off completely. But there are other methods of controlling production-already employed by the union movement. When workers on the assembly line agree to cut down on the speed of the line, they are controlling production to that extent. When the workers in the Wisconsin plant of Nash-Kelvinator refuse to work on cars with a a right-hand drive because they know that these are for export, they are controlling production. The control of production has many features and aspects. One of them is price control. If the worker organized into a union can control his own wages and hours, if he can seek to control his working conditions and his speed of work, why not control the price of the products which he himself works on?

That is the crux of the Workers Party program for price control. Committees of housewives and union workers can set the price of goods at each stage of production, distribution or sale. And these committees can be coordinated on a local and national scale just as the union movement itself.

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