[Labor History Workshop 9-23-1971 #1]

An organizing workshop led by activist Staughton Lynd at Indiana University Northwest to discuss organizing around tax policy and investigating grocery pricing in Illinois and Indiana. A month earlier, President Richard Nixon had issued an executive order freezing wages for 90 days. In response, supermarkets were pressured to suspend price increases, although this group felt they were not adhering to this promise.

00:00Copy video clip URL Black.

00:13Copy video clip URL Open on people in a classroom. People introduce themselves. Most are teachers, labor organizers, or unemployed.

02:42Copy video clip URL Staughton Lynd says the objective tonight is to hear from people who went to Indianapolis yesterday (Dennis and Alice) to testify before the legislature about taxes and then to talk about prices in supermarkets.

03:44Copy video clip URL Dennis says they left early, signed up to speak before the Senators to hear pros and cons to the amendment which would allow for unequal taxation of property. It would allow the homestead exemption to be passed by the Indiana legislature to give relief to homeowners. George Sullivan read a statement from the CCC. He says they heard both sides. The opposition to the amendment came from industrial types. They favor an amendment to allow business interests to write off most of their equipment under an added exemption. They hear from 3 sides: one favoring classifications of property, one favoring classification and added others – the industrial field, and one to leave the constitution as it was. If property was classified it would be come political to change the classification. These three sides were the main positions. They presented pros and cons. Alice said on the drive home that basically the testimony was in the end trying to favor tax structure favorable to industry. This had to compare to other states in the great lakes region. The most favorable tax would attract the most industry.

09:46Copy video clip URL Alice, while knitting, says that the feeling was that they have to be sure the tax structure will favor new investment and new industry. She talks about the overall feeling of people wishing there was the possibility of a new amendment that assured business there would be new classifications. She says they were left somewhat confused. They want to ask the legislature further what the implications of all this means. Especially about this second proposed amendment. One senator complimented Sullivan and his speech. He was saying that as soon as you give business what they want, they’ll forget about reform. So she thinks they have to get to a point where property tax isn’t so overburdening. They were questioning if it is right to pick and choose what you get States to support.

12:49Copy video clip URL Lynd asks if there are any questions about how their group is working make taxes less regressive. They move on to supermarket prices. There is the threat of price increases and a freeze on wage increases even though businesses were receiving tax breaks, but few breaks for the working man. There’s concern that wages are frozen, but prices of groceries are going up. Nine or ten people from our group last week said they would make an effort to try and determine if prices were indeed going up since the wage freeze began on August 15. Most of those people are here tonight.

15:10Copy video clip URL Cut to a woman in mid-sentence talking about her experience in a supermarket checking prices. She checked ads in newspapers. She reports sale items were the same as advertised. Quaker oats up 3 cents, peaches were up. Most things in the cupboard were up 2 or 3 cents. Their neighbors feel the same. Cottage cheese up 4 cents. There were some definite price increases. She notes one neighbor shops at the market consistently and notes prices have gone up.

16:39Copy video clip URL Another woman says she noticed certain canned items were up, and sardines were up to 35 cents. But she felt that price was so high that the product must have been mis-marked, since they recently were around 20 or 21 cents. Cheese is up 5 cents–Kraft slices. Another place she went had peanut butter for 49 cents as opposed to the same product being 43 cents at another store. She adds that macaroni and cheese is up two cents.

18:10Copy video clip URL A guy said he picked out a few items and went to the manager saying that he was curious about the price increase. The manager told him he didn’t have a list that showed the rise in prices, but that he could go to the general office for it. He did, but they were closed. “I’ll go back.” He adds that he was talking to neighbors and they think prices hadn’t been raised as much as the national store prices. He adds that he lives in a neighborhood with a lot of pension people; stores are sensitive to that.

20:15Copy video clip URL A woman says she went to the A&P and noticed that every item except milk and lima beans were a penny difference. On the whole they matched prices. She talked to some shoppers and asked about prices. Most said they felt the same, that prices were going up. She talked to people on her block and they said, “definitely, there are price rises!” They’re confused by the signs reading, “special.” They’d remember seeing the same item listed weeks before at the same price as it was listed under “special.”

22:11Copy video clip URL Another woman says she found six items that went up in price. She noticed 4 weeks ago she was charged 4 cents over for chicken, the next week charged 10 cents over, now she’s charged 60 cents over. “They’re tagging on little things.” She wrote a list of items: succotash up 2 cents, kidney beans up 2 cents, confectioners sugar was 2 packages for 39, now the packages are 39 cents apiece.

24:39Copy video clip URL Lynd asks: are these increases only significant to agitators looking for an issue, or are they damaging to the ordinary consumer? A woman responds that she went to the store and saw a very angry woman complaining to the manager about price increases.

26:08Copy video clip URL Lynd leader says, “Alice and I have something to report.” The National Consumers Union in Chicago recently accused Jewel and other national chains of refusing to make price lists available for inspection the way they were supposed to. He talked with the NCU’s attorney and the co-chairperson/co-founder of the organization, Jan Schakowsky. They were enthusiastic to hear that consumers out there were concerned about the same things they are. They said of the chains in Chicago, Jewel and Dominick’s have the price books in individual stores. A&P doesn’t have books in individual stores, but will give you the maximum prices if you call their national headquarters. The NCU says this is crazy and not what’s intended by the law, but feel it’s within the letter of the law. The prices are available for public inspection. National and Kroger haven’t responded to them at all. The union says they have met with Ralph Nader, and they are trying to work out a computer system so if a price hike is reported it can be fed into the computer and a pattern can be more easily determined if that particular item or chain is increasing prices. The stores are afraid of bad publicity and being accused of being unpatriotic. The NCU said if we want them to appear at a press conference of ours, even if it’s in Indiana, they are available. Or if we want to use their office in Chicago. If they want a suit filed, they’ll file it for us. If we got into aggressive action, picketing, who knows how they’d respond. Maybe they would. Maybe they wouldn’t. Someone asks if the NCU has any idea why the prices in stores are going up. They say the rise of cost of living have made food prices rise even though they have not gone up the way gasoline has.

32:02Copy video clip URL Lynd asks what people think about all this. A man answers but his voice is inaudible.

32:27Copy video clip URL Tape ends, mid sentence.



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