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David Coolidge

Mass Action

(24 July 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 30, 24 July 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

BLS ‘Price Index’ No Substitute For Real ‘Cost of Living’ Guide

According to the “steel analysts,” there has been an increase in the number of “outlaw strikes” in the steel industry. It is claimed that the steel scheduling program was being interfered with by the stoppages. This is very interesting. I don’t know much about steel scheduling, but I can easily understand that the breakfast and supper schedules of the steel workers are being held up by the Little Steel formula and the refusal of the WLB to render a decision on the steel workers’ demands for a seventeen cents an hour wage increase.

Perhaps some of these stoppages were due to the necessity for steel workers to scurry around to get money for the rent. Perhaps the steel workers are finding it difficult to put in the hard day at the mills on the food they can buy with their low wages. Perhaps many of the steel workers are finding it increasingly difficult to make it to the mills Without proper clothing, including shoes. And perhaps thousands of steel workers are getting the notion that it just doesn’t make sense to work unless you get paid for it. This is particularly true in the case of corporations like the steel companies, which have millions for dividends to loafers and parasites, but expect the men who produce the steel to labor and toil for just enough to keep from starving.

Statistics and Statistics

A group of “economic experts” has analyzed the cost of living dispute between the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the AFL-CIO. The only conclusion these “experts” come to that is of any significance is the statement that the BLS finding was not a cost of living index but a price index. This has already been commented on in Labor Action but bears repeated emphasis. “Economic experts” are people who, if they do nothing else, usually succeed in confusing those of us who are not experts in the mysteries of statistics and economic analysis.

It seems clear from the report of the “experts” that the AFL-CIO contentions about the cost of living were and remain correct. What the labor experts said was substantially the following: In order to maintain himself and his family at the former standard, the worker must have more wages than allowed by the Little Steel formula. This is due to the fact that not only are prices higher but that prices have risen faster than wages. It is also true that quality has been lowered. (A pair of socks that one pays sixty-five cents for today are of no better quality than socks that sold for thirty-five cents three years ago.) To this must be added the fact that lower priced goods that workers purchased are not obtainable today.

Neither of these two considerations was noticed by the BLS report. Another item not included in the BLS report is income taxes and bond purchases. Even if one argues that bonds are “savings,” this money, nevertheless, is not available to the worker unless and until he cashes the bonds. On war taxes, only the most hard-boiled and hypocritical reactionary, the most stupid ass or the most ignorant lout would argue that any good whatsoever accrues to the working class.

The Little Steel formula is bad enough, but the report of the BLS is more vicious because it is an attempt to give expert support to the present wage stabilization scheme. The Little Steel formula pegged the worker’s standard of living. This was pointed out in Labor Action at the time the award was made. Even if there had been no increase in prices, the Little Steel formula would have been no less reactionary. Such a wage policy means that a worker who is living in a shack must always live in that same shack. A worker who lives on salt pork and beans will always be confined to the level of salt pork and beans. With the tremendous increase in the real cost of living, the Little Steel formula became only more atrocious.

But along comes the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the federal government, claiming to be talking about the cost of living when these “experts” were really talking about prices. And not all prices even, but only some retail prices. The BLS report wasn’t even an adequate examination of price rises. The cost of living is the total amount of money a family must have to live on, irrespective of prices, or at least the total amount a family spends for living. To meet this demand the miners said they must have $2.00 more a day. The steel workers say they must have seventeen cents an hour increase. The workers’ wives are real experts on this question; far more reliable for us than the BLS “experts.”

The BLS report has been demonstrated to be a fraud. As such it is fit only for the government archives or the ash can.

A Word on Coos

I would like to ask the crew of the ship that sent some money to pay wages to the strikers at the Wright plant in Cincinnati a few questions. That is, assuming that these men sent this money of their own free will and were not tricked into this choice piece of stupidity by a reactionary, labor-hating commanding officer. The strikers at this Wright plant went on strike because a few Negroes were given better jobs and placed in the department with the white strikers. Now I would like to ask the seamen of this ship: if you had been working at the Wright plant when these Negroes were promoted, what would have been your position? Would you have decided with the Negroes or the strikers?

If these seamen are people who would have sided with the Negroes and defended their right to promotion, then they would not, it seems to me, have placed the emphasis they did merely on the fact that there was a strike of a few workers among several thousands. Furthermore, if these seamen are people who would oppose such an attitude toward Negro workers, they would not lay themselves open to the charge of being anti-labor by acting as they did. They would make an attack on the strikers for being anti-labor and anti-union, because that’s what a white worker is who strikes against equal treatment of Negro workers.

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