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Jack Ranger

Tapping the Wall Street Wire

The Portal Pay Pipe Dream

(10 March 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 10, 10 March 1947, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Federal Judge Franc A. Picard, of Detroit, after a fine show of impartiality (“I am both pro-labor and pro-business”) did what this column predicted he would do. He took the tip thrust upon him by the U.S. Supreme Court and threw out the Mt. Clemens Pottery Co. portal pay suit, on grounds that the claims of the workers were “too trifling to merit damage.” What a pious fraud! The federal courts didn’t find it too trifling to fine John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers some $15 millions. But the portal pay suits – poof.

There are only 1,515 suits on file in 85 federal district courts, for claims totaling a mere $5,785,204,606. Through their legal arm, America’s 60 Families dismiss the suits on the grounds they are “too trifling.” Through their legislative arm, a subcommittee of the Senate judiciary committee, they spread the agitation that the suits involve such tremendous sums that to grant them would “seriously impair” the credit of many employers, and “would bring about the financial ruin of many employers.” When your class is in power, you don’t have to be bothered by inconsistencies or abstract justice. Justice is power, and your class has the power.

Just look at how the federal judges all over the nation clicked their heels and went to work on the unions’ portal pay claims. In Camden, N.J., Federal Judge Thomas M. Madden ruled that a union bringing a portal pay suit must have signed declarations made under oath from each of the complainants it represents. In Chicago, Federal Judge Philip L. Sullivan dismissed a portal pay suit brought by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, Local 758, when the boss showed up with signatures 60 workers who had caved in under boss pressure and asked that the suit be dropped. Sullivan denied a request from union counsel that the suit be thrown out “without prejudice,” and directed that the dismissal order carry the “with prejudice” terminology, a legal barrier to the refiling of a similar suit. In Congress a House judiciary committee has drawn up a bill under which a boss who claims he had “acted in good faith” could thereby establish a defense against suits filed for back pay under the portal principle.

So much for the portal pay suits. It is doubtful if one will hear much about them from now on. Understand – I believe that the workers are entitled to every cent claimed in the suits, that they should receive pay for every minute they have to give the bosses. But when the Stalinists and the labor lawyers direct a fight like this into the capitalist courts, they are losing the case before the game even starts. The courts represent the home field of the bosses. They OWN the courts, they OWN Congress, they OWN the White House. They can whip us every time at their own game. The place to win portal pay is the place the miners won it – on the old picket line. That’s OUR field. The bosses and their flunkies are really so few. We are so many. But they occupy the key political and industrial posts. They own the means of production and they own Congress – until we challenge that ownership with a labor party of our own. When that day comes, the gains we make on the picket line will stay won.

“The Great Housing Boom of 1947”

There isn’t going to be any building boom in 1947, any more than there was in 1946, or will be in 1948 and the years to come. Nevertheless, I predict that within two or three years all the talk about the housing crisis will die down. How explain this paradox?

What is meant today by the housing crisis is the peculiar intensification of the bad housing conditions of the masses, as the result of the following circumstances: The tearing dawn of hundreds of acres of buildings in the depression of the 1930’s in each big city; the sudden rush of population to the big towns during the war-time industrial boom; the fact that few new apartments have been built since 1929; the demobilization of millions of veterans: the sharp increase in population with no parallel increase in building; a creeping increase in rents: a still further aggravation of overcrowding in the individual homes, and, for some, the impossibility of finding a place to live in at all. And THIS housing crisis gets talked of so much only because it is not limited to the working class but affects other classes as well.

The fact is, that under capitalism there never has been and never will be a solution to the housing needs of the masses. In every city, in every country, the working class lives in bad, overcrowded and unhealthy dwellings. This housing shortage will be overcome only by abolishing altogether the exploitation and oppression of the working class by the ruling class.

The Wall Street Journal recently made a survey in eleven key cities about the “building boom” that the boss politicians refer to so glibly. “It’s only a pipe dream,” because of high costs, reports that paper. A big Philadelphia builder has given up plans for 500 homes. “I won’t do anything about them for at least another year,” said he. In Pittsburgh, a builder who planned to construct 50 houses in 1947 said: “I’ve already started ten of them – but I’m going to hold off on the rest.” In Cleveland a builder who had planned for 120 houses this year will build only five. A Detroit construction firm which originally planned to start 300 units for sale this year has slashed that figure in half. The same story comes from the West Coast. The head of Associated Home Builders of San Francisco says there will be no building boom in 1947, that “costs are too high.” In Chicago, 18,766 homes were begun in 1946, and only 6,373 were finished. It is doubtful if the remainder of the homes will be completed even in 1947, say some real estate operators. January 1947 building permits in Chicago totaled only $11 millions, less than in December 1946 and far under January 1946.

Of course, much of this pessimism of the real estate sharks is directed at finally killing rent ceilings, now destined to expire June 30 under present law. Once the rent ceilings are off, “a considerable number of new apartment projects would doubtless be started,” according to the N.Y. Journal of Commerce.

You see, it is more profitable for the housing sharks to put up expensive apartment buildings for the upper middle class than it is to put up low-rental units or cheap houses. When rent ceilings are off, a lot of luxury apartments will be built, despite “high costs.” The housing needs of the upper middle class will be met within a year or two. The housing “crisis” will then disappear from the pages of the boss press and the speeches of the politicians. The mass of the American people will continue to be housed in the regal splendor to which they have become accustomed under capitalism. For example: 21 per cent of U. S. homes have no electricity; 43 per cent have no private bath; 31 per cent have no running water; 27 per cent have no refrigeration. The only road to decent housing for ALL the people is the socialist road.

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