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A. Roland

Guthrie Resignation Shows Bosses
Can’t Plan Production

(21 March 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 12, 21 March 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The resignation of the head of the textile division of the War Production Board, Guthrie, and a couple of his assistants, will result in some sort of investigation and lots of talk. Its real significance will be glossed over by the capitalist press and the government experts. In fact Guthrie himself, former sewing machine monopolist, had no intention of spotlighting the actual situation.

Guthrie resigned in protest over the fact that he could not get any honest cooperation from the owners of the textile mills and leather goods makers. With all its paperwork on priorities and allocations of strategic raw materials, the government depends in final analysis on the cooperation of the bosses to make its planning of war production effective. And there’s the rub! The government will get cooperation fast enough from the big outfits that are benefiting from the war production and are piling up enormous profits. But it will get every kind of sabotage and hidden opposition from those capitalists who are being or are threatened with being squeezed out of industry because of material shortages.

The man in the street is made to think that the trouble is with this or that group of individual factory owners who prefer profits to patriotism. That is not the trouble, or it is just one phase of the trouble that modern capitalism experiences in wartime. Under capitalism it is the natural thing for each and every owner of the means of production to comb the market for his needs in raw materials. There is a keen competition between the war industries and the other sectors of American economy to lay hands on these materials. Remember, the government does not own these materials nor the plants in which they are used. It can only mediate to see that supplies flow into the proper factories.

What Guthrie Is Revealing

Guthrie was the representative of the government of the United States in wartime. The significance of his resignation lies in the fact that it is the clearest kind of admission that the government is helpless in the face of non-cooperating bosses. Guthrie is protesting not against his superiors, not against the government, but against the textile factory owners outside the government. Guthrie thinks he is showing up some unpatriotic, grasping men in one industry. Really he is once again revealing that planned production is impossible under capitalist anarchy.

Many union men, particularly union leaders who support Roosevelt and the war, think like Guthrie that the system could be made to work if only it weren’t for some selfish capitalists. These men propose various schemes to put the present factory machinery and the man-power to more efficient use. The greatest gain that comes from these ideas and plans is that it sets the unions to thinking along lines of planned production. Gradually workers will realize in thinking along these lines that the real trouble lies in the system of property relations, the system that produces first of all to bring profits to individual factory owners. Under such a system there is no way to prevent industries from pulling in opposite directions and working at cross-purposes.

The capitalist class, you may be sure, feels the greatest alarm when workers begin to think of taking a hand in the running of industry. One of the greatest reasons for the instant and unanimous boss opposition to the Reuther plan proposed for the auto industry long before that industry was shut down, had nothing to do with the merits of that plan. It was opposition by the bosses to the very idea that unions should think along these lines. How could manufacturers dare to admit that their workers knew better than they how to plan production more efficiently?

Boss Attitude to Joint Conferences

This attitude is shown quite clearly in an editorial in the magazine Business Week. Murray and the CIO unions have been demanding that the workers have some representation with the bosses on the planning boards. Here is the plain-spoken attitude of the employer class:

“Washington is wondering whether Nelson pulled a smart one or headed for trouble when he assigned his push-production propaganda drive to ‘management-labor committees’ in munitions plants. Intent was (1) to sell the scheme to labor, and (2) divert the unions from their demand for a bigger voice in management of industry (the Murray plan) to what Nelson considers their proper role – stimulation of the individual worker to greater effort. It looks as if the plan may backfire. The unions have accepted it wholeheartedly. Now CIO. leaders, with a straight face, are publicly congratulating Nelson on having adopted the Murray plan, are promising a flow of valuable ideas for improved handling of war work in the plants.”

There is nothing that the employing class wants less than ideas, good or bad, from workers on how to run their business. Yes, some saving in producing small items, some different operation here or there – but leave the bigger things to the bigger men. But the unions will do well to take up more seriously than ever before the study of the larger running of industry. Capitalism is on the rocks the world over. Its industry is running down. Sooner or later the workers will find it necessary to step in to keep production going in order not to starve.

Meantime, if the government seriously wants to plan production, it can do so in individual industries like the munitions, ship-building, steel-producing industries, only by taking over these industries from the owners, and running them under a system of workers’ control. The government Will hardly do this willingly; it is something the workers must fight to achieve.

The resignation of Guthrie is a little straw in the wind. Real planned production can be accomplished only through socialized industry under workers’ control.

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