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The Militant, 17 January 1942

Joe Andrews

450,000 Face Long Term
of Unemployment

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 3, 17 January 1942, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Hundreds of thousands of jobless auto workers today are asking why in the midst of the war the greatest manufacturing industry in the world is shutting down.

The Jan. 2 issue of U.S. News, an authoritative dope sheet for big business, gives the real reason for the plight of the unemployment auto workers.

“Until; now. Industry had more to gain by producing peacetime gadgets than by converting to war production, than by speeding arms output. Now: Industry no longer can obtain materials for peacetime production ... So there is every incentive to convert to war production.”

This is a confession that the big industrialists run their plants only to grab the greatest possible profit in the shortest possible time.

For a year the UAW and CIO have been proposing a plan to pool auto productive forces to prevent mass unemployment during the transition from automobile to military production. This was to be carried out by an industry-labor council. This proposal was shelved. as “impractical” and “socialistic” by the OPM and the employers. They were busy figuring out the more “practical” problem of operating the auto industry to maintain maximum profits.

“Practical” Results

C.E. Wilson, president of General Motors has admitted that General Motors turned out more automobiles in 1941 than at any time in its history and made more profits in 1941 than in any other year. In 1941 GM hauled in a profit of close to a quarter of billion dollars.

This was a quarter of a billion dollars worth of reasons for GM to hang, onto the automobile market and to give the union the run-around on its conversion plans. It is also a good reason why General Motors can now afford to take 9 months to convert their plants. But 450,000 jobless auto workers will have no such reserve to fall back upon.

U.S. News, January 2nd, states: “High officials in agencies concerned with speeding war production are continuing to haggle over terms of contracts, trying to strike bargains.” This is big business double-talk to cover up the fact that it was the auto barons who were “haggling” over military contracts, both to get the most profitable terms, and to postpone military production while they still had a chance to sell automobiles.

While this “haggling” went on, in recent, months only 50% of machine tool capacity o£ American industry was being utilized as the National Association of Manufacturers has admitted. A recent survey of the UAW revealed that 35% of machine tools in the auto industry were being used.

Who Blocks Expansion?

Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold stated on Jan. 3, 1942 that:

“Anti-trust investigations have shown that there is not an organized basic industry in the United States which has not been restricting production by some device or other in order to avoid what they call the ‘ruinous overproduction after the war.’

“These groups have been afraid to develop production themselves. They have been afraid to let others come into the field. They have concealed shortages by optimistic predictions of’ supplies and talked of production facilities which do not exist,” Arnold said.

In order to preserve their monopolies, the owners of basic industries, including the auto industry, have disrupted and hampered production by falsifying the facts and blocking expansion.

What did the Office of Production Management do to remedy this situation?

Knudsen’s Role

William S. Knudsen, OPM head and former General Motors President, has repeatedly replied to union demands for pooling production by referring to the “complex” problems involved. On Dec. 22, Knudsen said:

“There isn’t a person living who could give an accurate figure as to the percentage of American industry that could be put to work on military orders”

This statement is either a self-damning admission of complete technical incompetence and ignorance, or an attempt to hide the truth behind the so-called “mystery” of American industry. Knudsen hasn’t “bungled,” as some would claim. He deliberately sought to protect, the industrialists while they maneuvered for profit advantages. If the OPM cannot give “accurate figures” on conversion, it is because it never seriously tried to get them.

Walter H. Wheeler Jr., deputy director of OPM’s contract distribution service, testified before the Tolan House Committee late in December 1941 that:

“The OPM is just now approaching the question of conversion in an industry-wide manner.”

Only now, after the last drop of profits has been wrung out of “business as usual,” are the industrialists and the OPM tackling the problem of conversion.

The order has been given by OPM for the complete change-over in the auto industry to military production. According to the New York Times, Jan. 4, “The new order has been accepted cheerfully and willingly by the industry.” The same articles admits the auto workers, looking forward to months of unemployment, are not so cheerful.

The CIO Plan

Why has the OPM refused to accept the CIO plan to pool the resources of the industry and give labor a voice in the management of this conversion?

Arthur Krock in his New York Times column, made clear the reasons for this refusal: “What was proposed was a social economic revolution in American industry.” Pooling was out of the question, Krock insisted, because “the Reuther idea would cut across corporation lines.”

The OPM has made it clear that nothing will be done to limit the power of the corporation owners to completely control and operate the industry. The system of “crossing corporation lines” and pooling of production will not be used, because it conflicts with the private interests of the respective corporations, who Insist on “freedom” to bargain and maneuver for the best contracts, highest, profits, etc.

Behind this is the industrialist’s fear that if labor were given a place in management, if representatives of the workers were let into the secrets of management and given access to the corporation books, the whole system of private ownership and control might be exposed for the terrible drag on production that it is.

The bosses want to be free to convert their plants to military production only in such way as to protect their privileges and profits. They insist on this even though it will mean continued waste and inefficiency, the hampering and future dislocation of production.

What the Bosses Cost in Production

What the bosses are costing this country in production losses is shown by the following figures. In the next few months, priorities and industrial dislocation are expected to result in the unemployment of 2,500,000 workers in all industries. That is a loss of 70,000,000 man-days of work per month. In all 1941, only 22,000,000 man-days of labor were lost through strikes. The present curtailment of auto production, for which the bosses are responsible, will cost a greater loss of production in one month than all the auto strikes since 1933.

When the bosses raise a hue and cry about the loss of production due to strikes, they are trying to cover up the real disrupters of production, themselves, as the above figures graphically testify.

The situation in the auto industry merely underlines the incapacity and unwillingness of the industrial monopoly owners to operate industry in the interest of the masses of people.

Only a Workers and Farmers Government, which will take over the operation of the basic industries and run them under the control and management of the workers, can gear the nation’s plants to maximum production. Only such a government will plan the economy in a rational manner that will provide steady jobs for all.

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