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Gertrude Shaw

Things Crazy and Not So Crazy ―

(13 July 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 28, 13 July 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It has been the aim of civilized man to gain freedom from want and from arduous labor – through the use of the machine.

What is more, the machine has certainly come across. It is able to give to the human race all the good things of life and plenty of time in which to enjoy them.

Is that crazy! Quite the contrary. For instance, look at the Ford Willow Run plant. It is a marvel of labor-saving devices – the very acme in mass production technique. But —

It produces none of the good things of life; Instead it turns out a death-dealing bomber every two hours. Furthermore, it doesn’t save its workers any labor. In fact, they have never toiled harder in all their lives.

In the Ford plant certain operations which used to take 1,500 man-hours now take only 300 man-hours – or one-fifth of the time. Another process which meant six hours of labor now is finished in thirty minutes – or in one-twelfth of the time. Salvage of working hours on a large scale is typical of the whole of war production.

But on these very labor-saving machines which are one of the wonders of the world, the workers slave on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Every day of the week they toil long after their regular working hours. They are driven so long and so hard that overpowering exhaustion gets many of them – and industrial accidents steadily mount as a result.

Yes, a process in Ford’s plant is cut to one-fifth of its former labor-hour requirements – but deaths of factory workers for the first two months of this year were one-fifth more than the 1941 fatalities. The machine has come across and saves labor – but workers toil more, and more dangerously, instead of less. Doesn’t that sound, crazy?

Crazier and Crazier

Now how about those good things of life that the machine can produce in mass? Bombers at the rate of one every two hours are certainly not among the good things of life. Nor can machine guns turned out as fast as breadsticks be eaten.

Mass production leaps ahead, but the standard of living is shoved back a whole decade – to that of 1932, according to the estimate of Mr. Lean Benderson, famous for his perforated ceilings. Definitely, this is crazy – and far from the goal that civilized man has set for himself.

And isn’t it crazy that thousands upon thousands of the men and women who operate the modern machines for tremendous mass, production go “home” to shacks, trailers, barns and hen-coops! Yes, this is the way the housing situation for the workers of the Glenn L. Martin bomber plant near Baltimore has been “solved,” to cite only one instance.

Trouble with Wise Alecs

At this point some wise Alec shouts: “This is a war!”

Yes, that’s exactly the idea: Look at the crazy waste of war!

But what this wise Alec means to imply is that in peacetime the modern machine does give mankind freedom from want and from arduous toil. The trouble with wise Alecs is that they have conveniently short memories.

What happened to the modern machine for mass production in the post-war depression of the ’20s? What happened to it in the all-time record depression of 1929–1939?

The machinery of production stood idle or partly idle. True enough, the workers were saved arduous labor – in fact, all labor, even the bother of eating.

So where does the goal of mankind come in? Just at what point – under the present capitalist-imperialist set-up – do human beings get the good things of life and plenty of time in which to enjoy them?

The answer is never – never under the crazy profit system. During the imperialist wars inherent in this mad system, human beings are allowed unrationed “sacrifices” of every kind while the machines mass-produce for death. During the depression periods between wars, unemployment with widespread poverty and misery sets in. That is the dizzy, unvaried gyration of capitalism because – The hand at the controls is that of a ruling class drunk with power and crazy for profits.

But do you want to know something? The powerful working classes of the earth can unite to remove that crazy hand from the controls and create their own abundant socialist society. That ain’t crazy!

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