[Labor History Workshop 9-16-1971]

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 Tape starts in mid-sentence. Woman says asks what the rationale is for wages on civil service jobs being frozen for six months instead of 90 days. Staughton Lynd answers and says he was recently with Al Kaplan, National VP of Federal Employees Union in this area. He says the authority under which the President acted for the 90-day freeze is different from the authority under which he enacted the 6 months freeze, because federal employees are governed under a separate law. Within 30 days congress has to act to support or not support the six month decision. Kaplan feels that this could backfire for Nixon if Congress refuses to go along with it.

01:48Copy video clip URL A man says economists have been told that the wage issue is irrelevant compared to an inflationary spiral that has already begun. It’s looked at as a political maneuver rather than something that will have a positive impact. The economists predict that full employment will be reached around July 1972, in time for the coming election.

03:00Copy video clip URL Another guy says he’s noticed food prices going up, and he thinks people will be aggravated. “We should have a revolution right away or something.”

04:00Copy video clip URL Cheryl and George speak. They say they’re both unemployed. George talks about using the dissatisfaction the country is feeling and using it in a reactionary way. The wage and price freeze took American labor off guard. They were hoping Nixon would continue with his mode of action until 1972 and then they could say he hasn’t tried this yet and the Democrats will and therefore we’ll win the election. Nixon made the move to straddle the Democrats rather than because he had any answers on reigning in inflation. He’s been shown to be the ultimate opportunist and a reflection of the confusion that the public has. Organized labor has kept workers blind to the cause of inflation. “I think it’s because we’ve reached a point of no return on our war economy. People are tired of the war. The war is the cause of the inflation in the past few years. It’s up to people like us to educate the people at rallies as to where the inflation is coming from so that the right can’t use it for their own purposes.” He stresses the uninformed public was looking for someone to take action, and since Nixon was the only one taking action, it makes it look like he’s doing the right thing.

10:30Copy video clip URL Ben asks, “What’s going to happen after this 90 days? The key word being used is confusion.” If you did find a supermarket that did jack their prices up it could take 8 months for anything to be done about it and the freeze would be over with by then. I like the idea of educating the working man on the basics of what the wage and price freeze means.

12:18Copy video clip URL Another man says you could have predicted this whole situation two years ago by looking at the Nixon administration’s trend to spending. Nixon has his game plan worked out till next year when he’ll start spending money to bolster the economy so he can get reelected again. He’s very political–he’s timed the Vietnam War to end at the same time that it’s time for re-election. I don’t think realistically anything can be done. The average working man is the one being hurt. “If anyone has ideas, I’d like to hear.”

13:56Copy video clip URL Another man says “I don’t see his game plan working.” A woman says at the end of this freeze “I see everything going back to the way it was, with stocks going down again. I see it’d going to be a vicious circle.” A man responds that the politics and causes involved in the freeze are only one part of it. There are some basic economic problem this country faces that this plan is attempting to fix. One main cause is the trade issue with Japan. The Japanese have very strict laws that limit how much Americans can invest in Japan. The Japanese government doesn’t want to let us in. Also, the question of inflation doesn’t only affect workers. The economy as its structured wants inflation, but only at a controlled rate, 4 or 5 percent a year so there are more more profits. But it’s gone beyond that. The best way for the government to stop inflation is to affect the cost of labor.

16:58Copy video clip URL Cut. The same man is in mid-sentence. There were two things not directly related to the freeze that coincided with it. The first thing that happened was a cry that said strikes are bad for the economy. Anyone on strike go back to work! Don’t worry about wage increase, you’re being selfish. The video stops and starts throughout the man’s speech resulting in fragment statements.

20:36Copy video clip URL Another man in mid-sentence is saying “the only value the dollar has in labor and revolutions any more is the constitutional right to declare change. We need to organize industry, transportation, hospitals to exchange our goods and services with each other equitably. We have to work together.”

21:25Copy video clip URL Another man says “the only one not complaining about the wage freeze is big business, and that it was for their benefit. I’d like to hear from those familiar with history, why are we getting this kind of thing now? After the Depression there were programs like the WPA that gave something to people in need.”

22:48Copy video clip URL Lynd in mid-sentence. It seems to me that the only solution to the problems of the American economy that both parties have found successful is to go to war. Before that solution, both parties tried different, unsuccessful solutions first. In the 1930s the Democrats tried boosting the income of consumers through such devices as the WPA. The Republicans later tried to give business more money so they can invest it. Hence this incredible ten million dollar tax break for corporations.

24:58Copy video clip URL Another man in mid-sentence. He says that the worst hit single group is the teachers. “The action this implies is the strengthening of teacher unions throughout the country.” We’re going to strengthen our union here.

26:34Copy video clip URL A woman in mid-sentence. A boycott might produce something, but we’d have to try to do it ourselves. They talk about setting up consumer committees to check whether stores are in fact illegally raising prices.

27:42Copy video clip URL A man mid-sentence. If a person finds a grocery price that’s been raised despite the freeze, they feel it’s something that just affects them rather than the whole country. Retail stores increase things like produce–watermelon goes up 60 cents in one week–to offset prices frozen on other products. People need to know this is a problem. Video stops and restarts resulting in fragmented statements.

29:30Copy video clip URL Lynd says, “it’s my opinion that the best way to influence what the CCC does after its next Congress November 6, is to get something started in action before that. Have a group doing something which can then go to the first meeting of the new steering committee. I suggest two phases. Phase one would last from tonight to next Thursday, and we should use this time to investigate whether the price freezes are really being honored at stores.” The video stops and restarts, resulting in fragment statements. Lynd continues: “we need to get a line on how much prices as have risen. See who the worst offenders are. The second thing is to read the statutory language, which I have here, having to with stores making available to the public their price books.”

33:00Copy video clip URL Lynd starts reading the statutory language, but the tape ends.



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