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Joseph Keller

Those “Timid” Profiteers

(6 December 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 49, 6 December 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It’s surprising how shy and coy the big corporations are when it comes to discussing publicly their profits and how they are made. Get some Congressional hearing going to “investigate” the unions or to reduce corporation taxes, and the corporation spokesmen swarm about thick as flies around molasses and buzzing twice as loud. But get some Congress committee ask the corporations for a little first-hand information about their profits and prices, and they wing for open country like they were just an inch ahead of a spray of DDT.

Senator, Ralph E. Flanders, Vermont Republican, admitted last week that his Congressional sub-committee to investigate prices and profits is being strangely shunned by “some” corporations. No matter how politely and invitingly the committee’s invitations are worded,! these corporations are reluctant to appear and testify.

Of course the worthy Senator didn’t mean to imply that these corporations have anything to hide. The trouble he said is with the corporation lawyers. They suffer from “timidity.” Lawyers, he said, “are timid folk, the most rabbit-like of the human race.” And he might have added – which he didn’t – that it’s a strange coincidence that the higher-paid the lawyer and the bigger the corporation he represents and advises, the more “timid” he is.

Although Senator Flanders didn’t give the names or industries of any of these reluctant corporations, he cited the example of one that “is under, or facing, indictment under the antitrust laws, and their attorneys have assured them that they should not say a word, not even mutter to themselves in a closet.”

Some naive soul might well ask, “Why doesn’t the committee subpoena these corporations?” After all Congress committees haven’t hesitated to subpoena “reds” and labor leaders when they want to grill them and send them to jail for “contempt” should they refuse to answer questions.

But Senator Flanders said that the committee felt “in doubt” about its power to issue subpoenas to wealthy and powerful corporations. In any event, he added, the committee would not issue subpoenas “for we felt that we can get further, and get more information, without them.” He didn’t say how.

We are not surprised that the corporations are particularly tight-mouthed about answering questions about the sources and scope of their profits at this season. The third quarter returns have come in and the figures take a lot of explaining.

Aggregate profits for the three months ending September 30 were 39%. higher than in the same period a year ago, and this follows a rise of 24% for the first quarter and 28% for the second. And that’s during a period when wages went up hardly at all.

Bernard T. Frevert, of Standard & Poor’s Corp., business advisors, writes in the Nov. 27 N.Y. World-Telegram that “this excellent showing” is “largely the result of price advances” – that is, of milking the consumers. He predicts that when the full year’s profits reports are in they will show a profits increase over 1947 of “25% or more.”

We don’t think the workers should wait for “timid” lawyers to advise “timid” corporations to testify before timid Congressional committees. The unions should undertake their own investigating. They should demand to see the books and records of the corporations. We have no doubt that this kind of “peek at the books” will reveal good reasons why the corporations play shy violet on the matter of profits.

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