1930s >> 1932 >> no-340-december-1932

The Coming New Prosperity in America

Shorter Hours: More Work: Lower Pay
Uncouth indeed is the hurricane that blows nobody good! Out of the great depression, at last it looks as if a little breeze might cool the brows of our poor capitalists here in the U.S.A. Profits have been nowhere near what they ought to be, dividends falling off, taxes going up, prices going down; and you wouldn’t believe the amount of political grafting that has been going on at their expense! The tariff hasn’t been acting right, crops have been exasperatingly abundant, so that agricultural prices are, as Mr. Hoover says, “hideously low.” Even the Boll-Weevil proved disloyal by failing to destroy enough cotton, thus increasing unemployment among the brokers on the cotton exchange. Of course, wages did slip down a bit, here and there, pretty much all over; but still, you couldn’t exactly say things were like they used to be in “normal” times. No, indeed!But, maybe, happy days will come again. If our masters had to shell out to keep a lot of charities going, they also learned through these same charities just what a small amount the workers can be made to exist on, without in the least losing their love for the wage-system. The knowledge is to be applied in a manner to profit the owners of wealth and the means of production thereof.

We are to have the shorter working week, whose virtues have been sung so long by trade unions and reform bodies, amongst which may be mentioned the so-called Socialist Party of America, the Communist Party, and the Industrial Union groups. The chorus was that the five-day week and the six-hour day is the cure for unemployment. Much noise was made, and vast statistics gathered, to show the benefits to workers and to capitalists as well. At St. Louis, in May, 1927, the Order of Railroad Telegraphers put it to the bosses neatly in a resolution which started thus: —

  “Whereas, It is a demonstrable fact that a shorter work week is conducive to a more intensive production without an undue strain on the worker . . .” (Italics mine).

You see, after all, the capitalists have political power and own the industries. So it was very necessary to sell the idea to them. A thoughtful worker could see the point at once. The capitalists, having great minds, capable of pondering all these things, thought more slowly.

Now, the capitalists long ago resigned themselves to having a considerable number of jobless workers around, even in the busiest times. It helped them keep wages down somewhere near the food, clothing and shelter level. But when the number of out-of-works gets up around a dozen millions, as it is now, you can’t blame even a capitalist for losing his patience. So much idle labour-power costs a lot of money, it is a nuisance, and a menace to private property. As Mr. Gibson says (Wall Street Journal, October 17th, 1932): —

   “Corporations and business firms which support unemployment relief funds may be insuring themselves against a semi-permanent government system of relief with resultant taxes over a long period of years, and also may be averting social unrest spelling business disaster . . “(italics mine).

The Interstate Commerce Commission refuses to allow the New York Telephone Co. to charge to operating expense $75,000 which they gave to the City’s 1931 fund for the jobless, even though the Company pointed out that “in the absence of unemployment relief the general effect of the business depression might have been worse and riots or other disturbances might have injured the company’s property ” (Business Week, NY., October 12th).


Anyway, we are now in the midst of the “national share-the-work campaign,” which is the new name of the shorter work-week movement. Directing the campaign are such sterling toilers for humanity as Walter C. Teagle, President, Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, who hopes to report, “before winter, if possible,” “that several million unemployed have been put back to work.” Mr. Teagle’s company adopted the five-day week some time back, and now the Socony-Vacuum Corporation states that, as from November 1st, “operations of the company will be placed on a five-day week, with a corresponding reduction in pay ” (italics mine). (See Wall Street Journal, October 10th.)


Other work spreaders who are urging the idea on their fellow-capitalists are Alfred P. Sloan, President of General Motors; Fred. H. Ecker, President of the Metropolitan Life Insurance .Co.; Paul W. Litchfield, of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.; L. C. Walker, President of the Shaw-Walker Co.; J. H. Rand, Chairman of Remington-Rand; and the whole manoeuvre is sponsored officially by our great engineering President, Herbert Hoover.


Of course, somebody would bring up some difficulties in the way of the plan. The National Industrial Conference Board made public a survey of 1,500 employers, with the discouraging remark:


  “While, of course, the figures here given are averages that do not exclude individual cases with longer hours, it is none the less a striking fact that only four of the industries named provide an average of more than forty hours per week. By contrast, as many as eight industries have reached so low an ebb of activity that they cannot provide so much as thirty hours a week.” (Times, N.Y., October 14th, 1932.)

They gave further figures, which are here arranged for convenience of the reader (same source): —


Foundries and machine shops were working only 27.4 hours, and—


“Other principal industries ranged between 30 and 40 hours.”


The above was the state of affairs in August. Ordinary persons, like workers, might wonder how the five-day week and the six-hour day can be introduced in industries which aren’t working even that long, and how this can put the unemployed back to work. But, shucks! this will simply make the job-spreading more interesting. It will be no puzzle at all for the great men. Maybe, we will get a three-day week out of it—”with corresponding reductions in pay”! The masters are not going to forget the lessons learned from their charity organisations. What they hope to achieve by this proposal is as follows: —


  1. They would save millions in charity donations. The amount they had to tear themselves loose from last winter was agonizing, and already the (N.Y.) State Temporary Relief Administration estimates that $10,000,000 monthly will be needed for relief of unemployed the coming winter (in New York alone) and— “The estimate did not include funds to be raised privately . . .” (New York Times, October 18th, 1932).
  2. The dole system would be staved off. (Voluntary giving has staved off permanent government relief, which would raise taxes. See above quote from Wall Street Journal.)
  3. The workers will be more rested, therefore able to carry on “more intensive production” while working. This conclusion is amply supported by data compiled by the National Industrial Conference Board. Rival crews, or shifts, could be made up, and the friendly (!) rivalry between them will surely bring out some new high points in productivity.
  4. We are assured that workers do not have to eat such large amounts as was formerly thought necessary; if they will only adopt the “scientific” menus being compiled for them by our dieticians, they can yield more energy with much less food. In Fayette County, Pennsylvania, it has been shown that a family of five can survive on one dollar per week! A working-class family, of course; a capitalist family needs a bit more. Another thing: the doctors have for years pooh-poohed the advocates of fasting and dieting as a disease cure, but in the present emergency even the medicine men are going to face their duty and lay bare the facts. It seems they have been fooling us all the time about fasting. Dr. W. A. Evans, who conducts a daily column in the Daily Nexus (U.S.A.), assures us (October 20th) that: —”A normal man should be able to go without food for nearly two months.”


This is not the first or only statement of the kind from orthodox sources, and more can be expected in the struggle to keep hungry workers from worrying about pork chops. Very useful when wages are about to be reduced.


To be sure, the sharpened competition which will be the life of trade with the coming of shorter weeks and days, will make necessary the introduction of more improved methods and machinery. The Wall Street Journal (October 14th) quotes “Iron Age“; —

   “The substitution of more efficient machine tools will eventually take place on a large scale.”

The same issue quotes Walter P. Chrysler: —

  “Our Plymouth plant has been completely reorganised to take full advantage of the tremendous advances that have been made in machine tool design and manufacturing methods during the past few years.”

If the process is going on already, just wait till it gets going in earnest! The outcome, of course, will be the more rapid glutting of markets, with even worse unemployment than before; meanwhile, terrific increase of exploitation of those in work.


This will be the “New Prosperity.” The next depression will surely be a humdinger! Would it be out of place, fellow-workers, to remind you that this is the wages-system, capitalism; and that Socialism is a practicable alternative ?


Scott Frampton,
Workers’ Socialist Party of U.S.A.