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John G. Wright

Monopolists Try to Hide
Need for Wage Raises

(7 February 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 6, 7 February 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It was only a brief while ago that such authoritative representatives of Big Business as Mr. Henry Ford publicly acknowledged the need for a “fourth round” of wage increases. Nor did it even enter the minds of top union leaders to publicly soft-pedal this justifiable demand.

How could it be otherwise in a period of peak inflation? The squeeze upon the workers is graphically reflected in government figures. According to the BLS index, compiled several months after the “third round” of wage. rises, the situation since V-J Day shaped up as follows: Wages were up 20% while prices had soared by 35%. In the same period profits went sky high, increasing by 155%.

These figures are, if anything, an understatement. Yet they show that in the period of “peak prosperity” the workers have suffered approximately a 15% slash in their purchasing power as compared with their position at the close of hostilities. How could there be any question of the urgent need of higher wages?

On top of this, productivity per worker has been climbing sharply since V-J Day, a fact slurred over by the corporations who keep yowling for ever greater production while intensifying the speed-up in the plants. The workers thus find themselves in the intolerable situation, of having their living standards cut at a time when they should actually be rising. All the benefits of higher productivity have gone to further increase swollen profits.

Now that many union contracts are coming up for discussion, the monopolists are training their biggest guns against any further wage increases. The daily press keeps playing up the consecutive declines in “primary market prices,” in the “wholesale price index” and in the “commodity price index.” What they omit to underscore is that all these price changes represent declines of not more than a few percentage points from the ALL-TIME highs established in August and September of last year.

According to Labor Department estimates, “the decline in the cost of living since last August had increased the purchasing power of the dollar by one cent.” (N.Y. Times, Jan. 30.) In plain words, a worker with an “average wage” of $50 has benefited to the extent of 50 cents.

Every housewife knows that, despite all the ballyhoo of “bargain” sales, she still pays higher prices for most necessities today than at the time of the “third round” wage negotiations.

The gap between prices and wages has not been bridged at all. For families in the low-income brackets the few pennies, recently lopped off here and there by the price gougers, are in most instances more than offset by such permanent price rises as those in rents, transportation costs, electric and gas rates, medical services and the like.

The need for aggressively pushing the “fourth round” and counter-acting the cynical lies of the corporation-inspired press, it would appear, is dictated by all these salient facts. But we find few signs of such recognition among the top union officials. On the contrary, signs of soft-pedalling this urgent issue are becoming more and more apparent. The crassest action thus far has been taken by the CIO Amalgamated Clothing Workers, whose officials have voluntarily “postponed” discussions of higher wages.

From the standpoint of the capitalists, such “labor statesmanship” is, of course, highly laudable. From the standpoint of labor’s interests, it is a stab in the back not only to the struggle for bridging the gap between prices and wages, but also to the no less vital struggle for raising the living standards at least a notch or two above the existing depressed levels.

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