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Gertrude Shaw

Willkie’s Plan Would Mean
40% Withholding or 15% Sales Tax

(14 February 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 7, 14 February 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In some circles Wendell Willkie is regarded as the “New Dealer” of the Republican Party. Not only has “Information Please” taken him to its bosom as a “true liberal.” Certain sections of the labor movement are playing with the idea of accepting him as the very latest edition of “A Friend of Labor in the Capitalist Camp.”

When Mr. Willkie spoke the other night before a conference on the subject, American Plans and Dreams, he was holding forth on his political program in case he is the presidential nominee of the Republican Party in the coming election. What has he to offer?

For the war period Mr. Willkie’s foremost idea is to raise $16,000,000,000 additional annual tax revenue. This is a figure of the boldest proportions, considering that the Treasury asked for a mere $10,500,000,000 – while Congress saw fit to produce only the mite of something over $2,000,000,000.

However, Mr. Willkie is not fazed. We must “tax ourselves now beyond any limit that we have hitherto imagined possible,” he says. We must “actually lower materially the American standard of living,” he says – and the New York Times editor proclaims Mr. Willkie’s arguments are “unassailable.”

Workers Have Reached Limit

Immediately after Mr. Willkie’s speech, a few arithmeticians picked up their pencils and calculated that an additional annual tax of $16,000,000,000 would mean EITHER A WITHHOLDING TAX OF FORTY PER CENT OR A UNIVERSAL SALES TAX OF FIFTEEN PER CENT.

Speaking as a member of the privileged class, Mr. Willkie can not know how tight a squeeze the working people of this country are already in. Take-home wages are actually far below the normal subsistence level set by economists. When he talks about “the change of our habits to the use of things that constitute necessitous living,” he is obviously talking like one used to luxuries.

As for the wording class, RIGHT NOW it cannot afford many of the things “that constitute necessitous living.” That is why the organized labor movement has started the fight to bury the Little Steel formula which freezes wages 28.5 per cent below the cost of living. What would happen to the workers’ “way of life” if Mr. Willkie’s tax plan were in effect and the workers were subjected to either a one hundred per cent increase in the withholding tax or to a fifteen per cent sales tax?

Vaguely Willkie included “every group” in his zeal for “major and in some cases dangerous sacrifices.” But did he say a word about limiting salaries to $25,000? Did he mention taxing all war profits made out of this global blood-letting? Neither he nor any other capitalist politician stands for making the capitalist class pay for the war – the only people who can afford to!

As for the workers of this country, they have reached the limits of “major” and “dangerous” sacrifices. From here on, labor must shift the sacrifices onto the shoulders of the wealthy. This point is “unassailable,” to use the word employed by the New York Times regarding Mr. Willkie’s argument.

So much for Mr. Willkie’s wartime plans. What are his “dreams” for the future?

A Worker’s Nightmare

First, he visualizes a post-war national income of $120,000,000,000 per annum. Think of that! Today the national income is $165,000,000,000 – and there are some 11,000,000 men and women in the armed forces who are not participating in the productive enterprises of the country.

Mr. Willkie, while giving lip service to expanded production and the rest of that palaver, actually figures on contracting the annual income by $45,000,000,000 at a time when the working force will be increased by those 11,000,000 returning soldiers.

Can this mean anything but a reduced standard of living for the American working people? And isn’t it just this that Mr. Willkie wants to prepare the workers for by stepping on them now?

Secondly, Mr. Willkie estimates a national peacetime budget of government expenditures amounting to $20,000,000,000, This, be it known, is about one-fifth of the present national war budget.

And how does Mr. Willkie allot the $20,000,000,000 national budget? For the interest on the national debt, $6,000,000,000; for a military establishment to police the “peaceful” post-war world, another $7,000,000,000; the remaining $7,000,000,000 is to be used for all other government expenditures, including public provision for returning soldiers and for “better housing, broader education, sounder health” for everyone.

A post-war millennium in which two-thirds of the national budget will go for war purposes!

This is “our standard of living in the future” for which Mr. Willkie tells us “our standard of living must go down.” His figures do not bear out his grandiose words – but only prove that a lower standard of living for the working people is the “dream” of the ruling class for the post-war period.

What has been hailed in many quarters as Mr. Willkie’s political bravery in coming out for reducing still further the standard of living is simply the reflection of his belief that the working people should be made ready now for the retrogression capitalism, has in store for them in the future.

Our Answer

Mr. Willkie wound up his speech with the usual hackneyed comparison of civilian “comfort” to soldiers’ discomfort: “There is not much comfort in the foxhole. There’s little comfort waist-deep in the mud of Guadalcanal, it is not comfortable to crash-land a flaming plane. There is small comfort in the cold sea. There is no comfort as a prisoner of the Japs. Why should we be comfortable?”

To which the working class must answer:

“We are not responsible for having sent the youth of the world into foxholes, waist-deep mud, flaming planes. That is the doing of the capitalist system. But if we allowed the standard of living of the working class to be beaten down as the capitalist class wishes to do, we would be responsible to our brothers in the foxholes, mud and flaming planes.

“We figure it will be more ‘comfortable’ for those of them lucky enough to return home, to find a standard of living that will permit them to assume their position in society as self-respecting workers and not as sweat-shop slaves.”


Readers of Labor Action understand that in showing up Wendell. Willkie, the “New Dealer” of the Republican Party, we do not do so to add prestige to the ex-New Dealer in the White House. We do so because sections of the labor movement, disillusioned with Roosevelt, are looking hopefully toward Willkie.

This folly of choosing between one or the other side of the same counterfeit coin is suicidal to the labor movement. Capitalist politics is the coin. Its two sides are the Democratic and the Republican Parties – neither is worth a tinker’s damn to the working people.

For American labor to move progressively onward, the organization of an Independent Labor Party is imperative NOW.

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