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Gordon Haskell

The H.C. of L.

Getting Down to the Meat of It

(30 August 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 35, 30 August 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Say,” says my friend Jack to me the other day, “what do you think of this here women’s strike against the high price of meat?”

“I think it’s about time,” I says, “that the women of this country got themselves organized and did something. Men too,” I says.

“But what good can this boycott do?” says Jack. “After all, folks got to eat meat, especially if they work hard. The way I see it, as long as wages and profits and everything else is sky-high, a one-week or even two-week boycott of meat ain’t going to do much except maybe to run a few butchers out of business who are operating on a shoestring anyway.”

“Well,” I says, “it’s true that as long as the big meat packers and big ranchers and the railroads are allowed to make a fortune in profit out of the needs of the people, the boycott ALONE isn’t likely to bring the price down much and KEEP it down. That’s true.”

“Well,” says Jack, “what can they do that will actually bring the price of meat and everything else the people need, down to whore ordinary folks can call their kids to the table without feeling ashamed of themselves?”

“Lots of things,” I says. “Far instance, once they are organised to boycott meat, housewives can begin to really find out just what causes high prices. Their committees go to the butcher shop or the meat packers and demand lower prices. Everyone tells them: ‘It’s not my fault. Go to the next guy up the line.’ The housewives can say to each one: ‘Maybe you’re right. Let’s, have a look at your books so we can see for ourselves whether you are a lousy profiteer or just a victim of circumstances beyond your control.’”

“You know how far they’d get with that kind of talk,” says Jack. “They would just be told to go chase themselves. No packing house is going to open its books to any housewives’ committee.”

“All right,” says I. “But every refusal just drives one more spike into the lie that they all peddle when they say: ‘It’s not my fault, it’s the next guy.’ Then the housewives’ committees can go to the politicians of all parties and say: ‘The meat people have been giving us the runaround. They won’t open their books, which proves they’ve got something to hide. The government can force them to lower prices. We demand you do something at once.’”

“But that won’t get them anywhere either,” says Jack. “You know damned well the politicians won’t do anything to hurt their buddies who own the big packing houses.”

“Then there is only one place the housewives can go where they can get some real support, my friend, and that’s to the labor movement. We of the Workers Party tell them to go there from the start, while they are doing all these other things to expose the profiteers and their stooges in the government.”

“But what can the labor movement do for them?” asks Jack. “After all, the unions have a hard enough time just trying to fight off the Taft-Hartley Law and get a few bucks increase in the paychecks.”

Need Tie-Up with Labor

“The labor movement can do plenty,” says I. “They are up against the same proposition as all the consumers when they go up for their wage demands. The employers always say: ‘We can’t do anything for you ... circumstances beyond our control ... we have to pay high prices ... if we give you your demands we will have to raise our prices ...’ And when the unions say: ‘Open your books and prove it,’ as the General Motors workers did a couple of years back, they are told that they are a bunch of reds who should mind their own business.

“The unions are finding out, just like the housewives’ committees, that as long as they have no political power they can’t get to first base with the employers, even though they get a wage raise now and then. More and more they are finding out, like the consumers’ committees, that as long as they don’t have political power, their power to bargain collectively or to boycott the profiteers is like the power of an eight-cylinder engine with four cylinders conked out.”

“Well,” says Jack, “then it seems that if these consumer committees could get together with the unions they would have to form a political party before they could get anywhere.”

“That’s right,” says I, “and that’s just what the Workers Party tells them. A political party based on the organized strength of the labor movement and backed by organized consumers’ groups and small farmers and professional people would be an unbeatable combination. With such a party in office there would be something these consumers and the workers could do besides just striking or boycotting. They would have the political power to enforce their will on the meat gougers and their sidekicks who are raising the prices of clothing and housing and everything else.”

“Well,” says Jack, “I can see that you have a job figured out for these housewives’ meat committees that most of the women in them never even dreamed about. What makes you think they will ever go for the kind of thing you are talking about, even though it may sound reasonable enough to me?”

Learning Through Fighting

“I think they will go for it,” I says, “because they will see for themselves that their boycott isn’t enough to do the job. These women have proved that they can get het up enough about a major social problem like high prices to get out of their kitchens and offices and jobs and organize themselves for action. That kind of spirit may die down, but as long as the problems exist these gals are going to keep on trying to solve them.

“If what I say about the real cause for the high prices is true, they’ll keep on trying things till they hit the right combination. I think that combination is what I have been talking about: a labor party and local committees to run things under a labor government. If I am right, they will see it in time, and they will be doing all kinds of things they never dreamed about when they first started their meat boycott.”

“Is that why the Workers Party supports this action even though you know it can’t really keep down the price of meat?” asks Jack.

“Yes,” I says, “that’s why. When the common people are putting up a fight on anything, we want to be there to help them. We are confident that in the course of their fight they will learn more than we can teach them by just talking and writing. But we are there not only to help in whatever the immediate issue is, but also to preach the idea of a workers’ government and workers’ control as the real answer to their problems.”

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