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David Coolidge

Control of Runaway Prices Up to Labor!

(2 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 35, 2 September 1946, pp. 1 & 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“The Price Decontrol Board has failed in its responsibility to the American people,” says Philip Murray in a public statement. Murray continues with the statement that “the CIO deplores this action of the Decontrol Board for its failure to keep faith with the American workers.” Murray attempts to chastise the Decontrol Board for “failure to re-establish price control on milk and dairy products, flour and bread.” The CIO president finds that “prices of fifty per cent of the daily purchases of foodstuffs are still left free to rise.”

The big meat packers are also wailing about the Price Decontrol Board. Big packers, who refused to deliver supplies to the retailers until the ceilings were removed, are now pounding the Decontrol Board because this three-man price board of big business men has decreed that meat ceilings will be renewed.

The packers are preparing to enter the field of black market operations again. The American Meat Institute has announced that the renewal ceilings “will stimulate black market trading.” The packers know what they are talking about. They know where the meat is and who owns, slaughters and distributes most of the meat in this country. The American Meat Institute knows precisely what it is talking about when it says the re-establishment of price ceilings will stimulate black market operations.

The packers, however, are very patriotic and honorable gentlemen. The “legitimate meat industry will do everything it can to make restored price controls work.” Every working man and working woman can be assured that the packers will do just as they say. They will attempt to make controls work now just as they did before; that is by releasing millions of pounds of meat to what is known as the “black market.”

Take Home Pay Down

What is important and significant here is that the president of the CIO and the Big Packers both call on the government, the same government in Washington, for relief. Both groups call on a Decontrol Board composed of two bankers and a manufacturer for aid. Murray asks these two bankers and a manufacturer to do something for the working class and the people. The Big Packers ask these two bankers and a manufacturer to do something for capitalist industry and the capitalist ruling class. And Murray thinks that this Decontrol Board will hear his voice above the loud shouts of the packers.

Murray also finds that the workers have really had a reduction in take-home pay amounting to approximately 8½ per cent from April 1945 to June 1946. Real income for the workers is now 18 per cent below the April 1945 level. Take home pay in certain key industries including automobile, steel and electrical industries has declined 13 per cent from April 1945 to June 1946. If the increase in the cost of living is included, says the CIO, “the over-all decline in real income as a result of reduced hours and increased prices is 22.2 per cent.”

Murray says finally that “when American workers are squeezed between rising prices and declining take-home pay, something must be done to protect their living standards.”

Every worker will agree with this. But what does Murray propose for labor and the masses? What is his program? What action does he recommend? Murray has no program for labor and the masses that will have any effect on the policies of the employers or the decisions of the government Decontrol Board made up of two bankers and a manufacturer. Murray has no program, but the big food producers do have a program. This is particularly true of the big packers. They intend to return to their practice of storing the meat in their refrigerators and withholding it from the market. They plan to resume their practice of defying their government and nodding while millions of pounds of their meat passes to the consumer through black market operations.

The big capitalist manufacturers, producers and processors have a program. They have a Decontrol Board and a government to aid them in putting their program through. Murray and the other labor leaders have no program for labor which even begins to take care of high prices and low wages.

The Workers Party has a program on prices. That program was announced at the time of the GM strike last winter. The Workers Party called this program “the GM Program” We agreed with Reuther that wages could not be considered separate from prices, that there should be no price rises without wage increases. The Workers Party said at that time that the question of prices was one of prime importance to labor and the mass of people, that the day had passed when labor could be concerned only with fighting for a few cents an hour increase in wages and pay no attention to what price was charged for the necessities of life.

The Workers Party took the position at that time that the demand for tying wages to prices was a demand that had great social implications and revolutionary potentialities; that inherent in such a demand was the necessity for the independent political organization of the working class for the purpose of establishing workers’ control of industry and a workers government.

Reuther, of course, did not extract any of these implications from his program. He did not even carry his program through as he announced it or as he understood it. He wobbled all over the country, from platform to platform and from board meeting to board meeting, finally capitulating to Murray. He has succeeded only in getting himself more and more hemmed in by the Addes-Thomas-Stalin-ist bloc.

Here is what the Workers Party Program calls for:

  1. No Price Increases without Wage Increases.
  2. The demand for an escalator clause in the renegotiaton of all wage contracts. The demand for an automatic increase in wages with the rise in the cost of living.
  3. The organization of Popular Price Control Committees by the unions, to include other representative democratic organizations (consumers’ organizations, tenants’ organizations, housewives organizations, poor farmers, etc.). The only control which labor and the masses can rely on in the struggle against price inflation is popular price control committees. The Workers Party advocates the immediate formation of these popular price control committees. Such committees can take immediate action through demonstrations and picketing.

Price control and wages can be handled effectively only by the unions and the masses under the leadership of the organizations of the working class. Labor cannot depend on the Decontrol Board or any other government agency. The continued rise in prices demands that concrete actions be organized by the unions and that these actions be carried through by the unions and the masses of the common people. The unions know how to do these things. They have had long experience in the organization of strikes and demonstrations.?

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