Sunday, May 22, 2016

American Notes (1932)

From the June 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Only a few years ago articles were appearing in the press of the U.S.A., informing all and sundry that there would be no more crises like there had been in the past. Lord bless you, No! The capitalists here had solved the problem, they had adopted a new method, known as mass production and standardisation. Wages were no longer to be based on the cost of production of the labour-power of the worker (in other words, the cost of enabling the wage-worker to be an efficient wealth producer and to keep him in that condition), they were now to be based on the worker’s output. The instalment plan was also boosted as a way to get rid of surplus products. Lots of propaganda was broadcasted for the wage-slaves’ especial benefit; we were given to understand that there were no classes in this great country and at the same time that any worker who had a little ambition and grit could get out of his class with very little effort.

Another sample of the same kind of piffle said that there are no classes here, that the workers are rapidly becoming capitalists themselves, directly aided by the older capitalists. No longer did the benevolent employers want all the profits. They were now anxious to hand some of it over to the workers, and advised them to buy a share or so of stock in the company employing them, to be paid, of course, out of their wages at so much per week. In some cases the wage-slaves were so ungrateful as not to care much for this great opportunity, and were frequently fired, since the employer disliked having unappreciative “partners" around. But it has been given out by a statistician that the shares thus held are like our American beer, something like one-half of 1 per cent, of the total shares issued. These shares do not give any control of the concerns, the holders having no voting rights.

Lately, the outlook has changed. Wage reductions have taken place to the extent of eleven or twelve billions of dollars, and the end is not yet in sight. Firms are still cutting their wages bill, and there is very little opposition being put up by the working class, as the labour market is very much in favour of the masters. These reductions have been going on in spite of all the talk that wages should not be reduced, that we cannot expect to have prosperity if the capitalists can’t get rid of their goods, and that if the workers’ wages are cut down they cannot buy back the products. But in spite of some capitalists seeing this contradiction, they have fallen into line with the rest and reduced wages.

In the Southern States, due to changed methods of farming, it is claimed that about six millions of people will have to give up this method of making a livelihood. They are petty farmers, share workers and croppers who* are finding that they cannot make a living and will be forced into wage-slavery. The income of these land operators is very low. In 1921 the average,-income of the Black farmer was 32 cents per day for each member of the family; renters, 14 cents; Black croppers, 18 cents; White croppers, 8 cents. The family income given for Chatham county, North Carolina, varied from $625 to $153 per year, making an average of $424 per year.

In these Southern states there is cheap power, and plenty of low-priced labour- power. The Chambers of Commerce of these States invite the capitalists to come South because of the attraction of cheap land, low taxes and easy labour laws. The State of Georgia, for instance, allows sixty hours’ work per week; no limit is put on the working day as long as the hours worked in any one week do not exceed sixty. These, and many other things, are called to the employer’s attention, in spite of the officials of capitalist concerns believing that wage reductions will worsen the depression. It is stated that factories have been opening up in the Southland at the rate of one every four days for the last five years. Here are some of the. firms that have established themselves in the South territory: Standard Oil, United States Steel, Proctor & Gamble, Goodrich and Goodyear Rubber Companies, Dupont Explosives. These and many more were listed in an article which stated that the rush down in this low-wage belt puts the Klondike gold rush in the shade. These companies know, if they do not take advantage of the conditions prevailing, others soon will, because of the larger profits expected. At the end of the year 1927, 67 per cent, of all the cotton goods in the United States was manufactured in Southern States.

In 1927, in 16 States known as Southern Territory, there were 37,350 manufacturing establishments, employing 1,679,798 workers, engaged in making more than 200 different products. In the United States as a whole, the manufacturing establishments were 191,866, with 8,353,793 workers: There is no doubt that there has been quite an increase in the South since 1927.

The wage paid by these new masters is considerably lower than the Northern wage-rate. The average rate in all industries, in Georgia, $702; Alabama, $884; Tennessee, $773 ; in North and South Carolina, $632 per year. Compare wages in the North: Massachusetts, $1,228 ; Pennsylvania, $1,382; Ohio, $1,448; for the United States as a whole, $1,300. These figures are taken from the Census of Manufacturers in 1927. It was there shown that the worker in the North is more productive than the worker of the South; that the difference in output was 7.2 per cent. But it cost the Pennsylvania employer $847 more wages to get this increase, thus leaving the advantage to the Southern field at the rate of 20.4 per cent. This is the magnet that is attracting the capitalists to the South.

Now, also, these companies do not have any unions to contend with, as this new crop of wage-slaves have not, as yet, had much experience in their new status. What they get in wages looks to them like a small fortune, the employers appear to them like great benefactors, and trade union organisers are given short shrift. They have no strikes to interfere with them. Even the staffs of the American Federation of Labour get from 10 to 20 per cent less wages than those in the North. So business is flocking to the low wage area in spite of the past assurances to the workers that a “high wage scale" would be maintained.

There is not much talk about high wages now. We hear that what is needed is cheaper goods, “so that the benefit to the consumers will be enlarged ”; this is to be the enticement to get the public to buy the surplus, the magic wand to induce the people to spend. All sorts of suggestions are being advocated here to get us out of the depression. The capitalists told us that high tariffs would solve the problem, so the tariffs were increased. Now we are told that high tariffs are one of the causes of the depression, and must be lowered. Prohibition is another red-herring that is being dragged out; we are told that if it were not for this law, if light wine and beer were allowed to come back, this would bring back prosperity. They forget that in other capitalist countries, where Prohibition is not the law, the crisis, also prevails. A Bond issue of five billions is being suggested, to carry on public works, but is not receiving much support at the present, since this would mean higher taxes, and we are told that what is needed, is lower taxes.

How are the workers reacting to the changed conditions here? They are looking for all kinds of solutions to the fix they find themselves in. Hunger marches are taking place, some of them organised by the Communist Party. The latest one was led by a sky pilot. Of course, the parson’s gang was looked upon as being made up of good, loyal American citizens, and considerable discretion was shown in handling them by the powers that be. While the other marches were allowed, the authorities did not view them with so much favour. The slaves are ready to back up any scheme that promises to solve their problems; unemployed insurance, the lifting of Prohibition, lower tariffs, trade with Russia, almost anything but the real solution. The Communist Party here is making a great noise about trade with Russia, and about the dole for the unemployed. They think that if they can get the wage-slaves to rally for the dole and other reforms, then these slaves will be good material and can be led to fight for Socialism at the behest of the leaders. They have not yet learned the lesson that capitalist politicians can advocate all these reforms and use them to get into office. In fact, at present they are certainly in a more favourable position to get into office than the Communist Party is. Like the reformist “Socialist Party” here, when Liberal candidates were put up by the capitalist parties, the "Socialist” ranks were depleted. This has occurred more than once, and each time we heard great cries front these so-called Socialists that “the capitalists have stolen our thunder." To get elected on a real Socialist platform is far from the minds of the leaders of either of these parties. What they are after is something to get them into office as quickly as possible. Having their ears to the ground, listening to what the workers are concerned about, they put these things in their programmes. Thus they catch the unwary, and to them what the hell else matters as long as they can get to the pie counter on the shoulders of the backward workers. The results of this kind of “tactics” have been amply demonstrated by the Labour Party in England, Social-Democratic Party in Germany, Socialist Party of America, and others elsewhere. Instead of accomplishing, what they claim, the effect is just the opposite; workers lose interest when they see that these parties, on getting into power, are as helpless as the openly capitalist parties in face of the social problem.

There can be only one solution to this problem as far as the workers are concerned, and that is a change of ownership of the productive forces, from the present form to one where they will be held in common by and in the interest of Society. All else is of no account.
Taffy Brown 
              (Workers’ Socialist Party, U.S.A.)

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