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Gertrude Shaw

16,000,000 Workers Get Less Than $16, But —

Boss Stooges Attack Overtime Pay!

Overtime Pay Is Target in Campaign on Workweek

(7 December 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 49, 7 December 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Without any camouflage, the post-election attack against the forty-hour week is really a murderous assault against wages.

Workers are actually putting in many more hours than forty. In fact, they work too long and get too tired – as testified to by the 11,000 industrial casualties EVERYDAY.

What bothers the bosses and the political boosters of boss profits is that the workers are being paid time and a half for work beyond the forty hours.

All talk about a forty-eight-hour week is so much dust in the eyes – thrown by labor’s worst enemies. What they are aiming at is to take away from workers who daily risk their life and limb a few dollars – the few dollars the workers now make on time and a half.

How much are workers making anyway? With this bountiful overtime pay, are they rolling in wealth? A good question – to which there is a very factual answer!

Yes, there is a war boom. Yes, workers are being paid time and a ball over forty hours. BUT WITH ALL THAT “PROSPERITY,” 16,000,000 WORKERS IN THE UNITED STATES ARE EARNING LESS THAN $16 A WEEK!

These figures are for July of 1942, issued by Secretary of Labor Perkins. And these figures mean that at the height of the war boom one-third of the working force of the country gets old-time, sweat-shop wages. That’s capitalism for you!

All right. Let’s come up the scale. Let’s see how the better-off workers are making out

The average wages in all manufacturing industries reached $37.88 a week in September. Out of this small amount must be paid the following long list of items: food, clothing, rent, entertainment, education; household furnishings and furniture; doctors, dentists, hospitals; debts and insurance; income taxes, victory taxes, war bonds; rising prices and consumers’ taxes. Has something perhaps been omitted? Well, just keep the change.

Secretary of Labor Perkins obligingly breaks this figure down a bit and reveals that the average wages in the manufacture of non-durable goods are only $29.71 – not $37.88. With a wife and kids and the above list of necessities, these workers cannot be exactly rolling in wealth.

These days non-durable goods means mostly civilian production. So let’s see how the other workers, the favored war workers, are wallowing in the lap of luxury.

Elsa Maxwell – that lady columnist who knows from nothing except how to gush – recently wrote in the supposedly pro-labor New York Post the following fabulous lie about wages: “Experienced workers average from $100 to $200 a week.” Thus Elsa Maxwell, the party-throwing expert of high society.

However, Secretary Perkins has statistical responsibilities which demand some regard for the truth. She assures us that in the production of durable goods – which these days is mostly war production – the average weekly wage in September was $44.47.

Go back and look at the list of necessities that $44.47 has to cover! Of course, with $44.47 a worker can do a little better than with $29.71. He can do a lot better than with $16 – which is next to nothing at all. But he won’t have much money to hide under the mattress. If he can get by without resorting to the loan sharks, he’ll be a mighty good financial manager.

The labor-haters in Congress are paid $200 a week out of public funds. Nearly all of them have some other sources of income – honest and otherwise. They get fees of one kind and another. They get returns on investments. Where do they get off to attack labor’s overtime pittance? And what of the big industrial boys who are the powers behind the congressional throne? There’s Tom Girdler of Republic Steel pocketing in salary alone $275,000 in 1941 – and Ferguson of Newport News Shipbuilding being paid $127,000 – and Love of Burlington Mills rewarded with a $179,652 salary – and Grace of Bethlehem “earning” a salary of $537,734 – to take a few at random.

Where do these fattened leeches, sucking their profits from labor’s toil, get off attacking the workers’ bit of overtime!

Obviously the bosses and their politicians believe the worker and his family are beings of inferior flesh. They consider themselves the “Aryan” class in American society – with the workers created as their eternal slaves!

In the last week there has been an ominous lull in the war these foes of labor are waging against the forty-hour week and against the workers’ overtime pay. Doubtless preparations are being made for the next encounter.

Is organized labor also preparing for a counter-offensive? This is what it must do!

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Last updated: 15 September 2014