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Open the Books!
An Answer to GM

(19 January 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 3, 19 January 1946, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the fight against General Motors the CIO United Automobile Workers have put forward a most significant and far-reaching demand: “Open the Books of the Corporation!”

This is the first time in American history that a union has wielded this powerful weapon in a major struggle against the employers.

The mere suggestion that the union has the right to investigate the corporation’s records has sent General Motors and its Big Business confederates into convulsions of fear and rage.

For the billionaire Wall Street financial cliques like the du Ponts and Morgans correctly see in this demand more than a simple issue of wages or hours.

To the capitalist overlords who have a stranglehold on the natural resources and means of production, a “look at the books” contains a threat to their continued rule and their profits, privileges and power.

In answer to the UAW’s demand, General Motors Corporation published from coast-to-coast a newspaper advertisement entitled:. “A ‘Look at the Books’ or a ‘Finger in the Pie’?”

GM follows up with this $64 question: “Which is the UAW- CIO really after? Is it seeking facts – or new economic power? Does it want to know things – or run things?”

First of all, the GM workers do want to know things – plenty of things. When they raised their demand to investigate GM’s books, their immediate purpose was to throw full light upon the corporation’s enormous profits and profit-potential to prove conclusively that the company can easily afford to pay the full wage demands of its workers.

“We have firmly declined to recognize this as a basis for bargaining,” says GM’s advertisement. Thus with one contemptuous gesture. General Motors rejects any inspection of its books for the purpose of ascertaining the facts of its ability to pay higher wages.

Even if we can pay the wages asked, says General Motors in effect, we refuse to consider this fact as relevant to the merits of the union’s wage case.

At the same time, the GM propagandists go on to assert that “the full facts are published” already “in annual reports ... audited by outside auditors. Similar figures are filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

“Does the UAW-CIO honestly believe,” asks the corporation in self-righteous indignation, “that General Motors would or could deceive these experts?”

This mammoth corporation has no need to “deceive” its own “experts.” Corporation auditors are not likely to differ with their high-paying clientele on what constitutes “legitimate” cost and profits. Nor does the SEC, a hand-picked agency of the Big Business government, often question the carefully-drawn reports of the most powerful corporations.

What the Workers Want to Know

What the workers want to know are all those facts the corporations misrepresent or fail to report: The hidden profits concealed as “costs”; the hundreds of millions piled up in fake “depreciation” and “contingency” funds; the watered stock and phony “capitalization” on which the corporations pay out millions in profits from the wealth produced by the workers.

If the corporations have nothing to hide, if their hands are clean even within the definition of capitalist law, why should they fear to let the representatives of their own workers see the books?

The answer is clear. They don’t dare permit investigation of their records. Such a thorough going scrutiny as a workers’ committee might make would inevitably uncover scandalous acts of fraud, double-bookkeeping, fictitious losses, padded costs, diversion of assets, price-rigging, falsified production figures, etc. The corporation owners would be fully exposed as grand-scale swindlers and outright violators of the law.

That is one real reason why the corporations threaten to resist to the end rather than willingly permit the workers any glimpse into the company books.

But there is a further and equally weighty reason why General Motors refuses to divulge its “secrets” to those who create all its wealth.

The unions, howls the GM ad, “hope to pry their way into the whole field of management.” And this “surely leads to the day” when the organized workers “will demand the right to tell what we can make, when we can make it, where we can make it, and how much we must charge you – all with an eye on what labor can take out of the business ...”

Thus, says GM, “the idea itself (a ‘look at the books’) hides a threat to GM, to all business ...” Because questions of “earnings, prices, sales volume, taxes and the like ... are recognized as the problems of management,” and the owners alone have the right to deal with such matters.

The Nub of the Corporation’s Fears

Here we come to the nub of the corporation fears. Once the workers turn an x-ray on the corporation books, once they get a clear picture of the stupendous robbery and exploitation registered in those books, they would Inevitably be aroused to demand greater control over the predatory operations of the private owners.

The workers would eventually come to the conclusion that the best thing for them to do would be to KICK OUT THE PARASITIC OWNERS ENTIRELY and operate industry under the” control and for the benefit of the working people.

Just what is this “management” and its function that the GM owners speak so awesomely about and whose “rights” the workers must never invade? These are functionaries hired to squeeze the maximum profits for the owners out of the labor force and means of production. For the capitalists aren’t interested in producing for the needs of the people. They are solely concerned with grabbing ever-greater profits.

The tax laws have been rigged so that the monopolists can operate industry even at low capacity and still realize enormous profits from tax refunds. Giant monopolies like General Motors conspire to restrict production in order to create artificial scarcity and impose high prices. In the last months of 1945, many corporations deliberately curtailed production in order to avoid paying excess profits taxes which are to be eliminated in 1946.

Labor Has the Right to Say

The workers who suffer from the greed, swindling and sabotage of the monopolists have not only the right but the duty precisely to tell the owners “what we can make, when we can make it, where we can make it, and how much we must charge ...”

Thus labor not only has the right and obligation to “know things,” but to “run things.”

The handful of billionaire monopolists who arrogate to themselves the “right” to control the means of subsistence of the people serve no useful function in production. Their “management” has been only mismanagement.

They manipulate the means of production to serve their selfish profit interests. They have converted the means for potential plenty into a monstrous exploitative mechanism creating scarcity, terrible depressions, starvation wages, poverty, wars.

For economic planning and the rational administration of industry a new “management” has long been needed. The only ones truly capable of organizing and operating industry for full and efficient production and for the needs of the people are the organized workers themselves.

Standing in the way of the needs of the masses, blocking the read to plenty, are the plutocratic parasites who hypocritically prate, as does General Motors, about “more and better things for the people,” but who actually provide less and less for the working people and more and more for the idle rich.

To screen their predatory and criminal operations, the capitalists have Invariably invoked the “sanctity of business secrets.” But this is a sham intended only to deceive the people and ward off exposure of the capitalists’ real secrets – the monstrous degree of their exploitation of labor and their criminal acts.

Between the big monopolies themselves there are no “business secrets.” They cooperate closely, not only on a national but an international scale, to exploit the toiling masses.

Thus, America’s leading corporations were caught red-handed in secret cartel agreements with the Nazi and Japanese corporations whereby all these Big Business conspirators freely exchanged the most vital patents and industrial processes essential to war. These deals were concealed not only from the people but from the American capitalist government itself.

GM Workers’ Battle Cry

These are facts which the Trotskyists have long since exposed. That is why the Socialist Workers Party in 1938 advanced for the first time in this country the slogan of “Open the Books of the Corporations!” For the past seven years, the Trotskyists have been advocating the need for this step.

Today the GM workers have taken up this slogan and made it the battle cry of the most progressive sections of the labor movement. Tomorrow. American labor is going to go even further.

To Wall Street’s and GM’s question, “a ‘look at the books’ or ‘a finger in the pie’?”, American labor is going to answer:

“We are not only going to inspect your books. We are going to eliminate your despotic and ruinous rule over our economic life. We want nothing less than the whole pie our sweat and toil produces.”

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