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Jack Ranger

Tapping the Wall Street Wire

(12 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 19, 12 May 1947, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Things Are Tough All Over

A pretty reliable index of economic conditions is to be found in the sales of newspapers and publications. Recently your favorite newspaper ran a subscription campaign. Sub-getters for Labor Action reported that many workers apologized for not subscribing, with the words that they just didn’t have the dough to spare. Labor Action is the most deserving of working class support of all publications issued in the United States. It is the most consistent and intelligent defender of labor’s rights. Its readers are often presented with information found in no other paper. Hundreds of devoted readers make considerable sacrifices to assure its regular appearance, at a low price.

Labor Action is the indispensable paper to keep you up-to-date on what is happening in the world, how it affects the working class, and what is the socialist program to transform society. I ask each reader of LA who is not already a subscriber, to take out your purse, see if you can send in a buck for your sub and still have enough to get along on until next payday. Send in your sub today. The paper has earned your support. You owe it to yourself and your future to support Labor Action.

It is some consolation to discover that the Big Business press is running into real difficulties today to retain readers. Four leading magazines, according to the Wall Street Journal, are finding subscriptions running 45 to 50 per cent below a year ago. Services which sell weekly business and political letters from Washington and New York also are suffering a slump in business. One leading book club is reported to be getting 60 per cent fewer subscriptions from its mail solicitation for headers. Overall, it is estimated that the nation’s 52 book clubs have experienced a decline of 40 per cent in direct mail sales. Why? As one book club official states: “People just don’t have so much money any more.”

A Plug For The Unions

Each of you probably has one or two scissorbill acquaintances who still haven’t got through their skulls the immense gains which unions have made for the working class in the past century. Here’s a little item to educate the scissorbills, culled from a recent talk by a management, engineer, before the Illinois Manufacturers Costs Association. It is a page from a Chicago department store’s employees’ rulebook, dated 1856. Ninety years ago these were some of the working conditions:

“Store must be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. the year round; Each employee must pay not less than $5 a year to the church and must attend Sunday school regularly. Men employees are given one evening a week for courting; two if they attend prayer meeting. The employee who is in the habit of smoking Spanish cigars, being shoved at the barber's, going to dances and other places of amusement will surely give his employer reason to be suspicious of his integrity and honesty. After 14 hours of work at the store the leisure time should be spent mostly in reading.”

You can give a great big hand to unionism for busting up such conditions and liberating the workers from long hours, stupid moralizing and heavy-handed paternalism. Sure, maybe the employees of this store (probably Marshall Field’s) weren’t themselves organized until recently. But nevertheless the shorter hours, higher wages and independence from boss snooping won by workers in other industries – the steel mills, the coal mines, the railroads, the factories – inevitably had to be granted in other industries.

Every man and woman who works for a living today owes an immense debt of gratitude to the union movement. The best way to pay that debt, and to live a life with meaning, is to get into the union movement and make it even better. Organize in the unions to throw out the piecard artists, the agents of the bosses and of the boss political parties. Make every union a clean, democratic organization, militant in the interests of the whole working class. Future generations will owe you a debt of gratitude; as you owe the debt to the union pioneers.

Incidentally, the “management engineer” who dug up the above item was complaining that the worker, in gaining shorter hours, higher wages, and “independence from the boss rather heavy paternalism, has lost something: he has lost touch with things.”

It seems that an employee who had just received his 25-year service pin from a boss, didn’t know when his company was founded, the number of its plants, more than two of its 200 products, the location of its headquarters, the source of a single raw material, details of the operation which preceded and followed his own, the name of the company’s president, or the meaning of “free enterprise.”

What really irks the “management engineer,” however, is the fact that this worker knew the names of his union, of three of its five officers, of two columnists of the union paper, and knew of some direct benefits the union had secured for him. He also knew what collective bargaining was. I say this worker knew the most important things about his job.

Nationalism in the Modern World

Some weeks ago I wrote of the. background of the International Trade Conference now under way in Geneva, Switzerland, pointing out that some far-sighted representatives of Big Business in this Country had figured that, with industry abroad devastated by the recent war, it would be smart business for U.S. manufacturers to launch a worldwide campaign to cut tariffs and other barriers to international trade. One of the heavy charges Marx levied against capitalism was that it is unable to so organize the world economy as to permit a free flow of commodities. This results in lower living standards the world over.

Well, the U.S. program is having tough sledding these days. In the first place, U.S. businessmen filed more than 1,000 briefs demanding that specific items be eliminated from the lists on which the government was prepared to lower tariffs. Then, on the eve of the conference, Britain and its dominions revealed the existence of a secret Empire trading agreement, aimed essentially at U.S. competitors. The Geneva conference has been under way two weeks at this writing, and hasn’t got anywhere.

The Wall Street Journal correspondent reports that delegates from Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia and France, "are generally disappointed with U.S. offers of tariff concessions." The U.S. delegation, on the other hand, is "frankly displeased" with the inadequate concessions offered by other nations. And the reporters are displeased because members of the U.S. delegation have been warned they would be sent home if they divulged any information about tariff talks. An air of cynicism pervades the meeting, and already the possibility is being discussed of a general walk-out, led possibly by Australia (acting on a cue from England), after which the entire negotiations may fold up, leaving the world divided economically into the same airtight compartments that preceded the last big blow-up of capitalism in 1929.

The profit-hungry capitalists of the world, even to save their own necks and their own system, can’t organize the earth’s economy to permit the free and unhampered flow of goods. Capitalism can’t do the job but the coming socialist world can and will.

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