From the September 1932 issue of The Socialist Standard
At the time of writing arrangements are being made to hold a big parade, and it is claimed that many trade unions and working men have applied for permission to march in it.
The parade is to protest against the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition), and to demand the legalising of beer. The workers are led to believe that if beer is legalised a lot of jobs will be brought back and this will cause a demand for commodities which will put the workers on the road to more prosperous times.
It is interesting to consider why the Eighteenth Amendment was made the law of the land. We will quote Fort, a member of the House of Representatives, in a speech made before the House concerning the economic causes of Prohibition: —
With high-speed machinery and increased specialisation in its use, alertness of body and mind became essential for both the safety of the worker and the efficiency of his work.
With factories organised so that processes were continuous, and a break at any point in the handling chain slowed all the wheels and hampered all the work, each workman’s presence and correct performance must be assured. Midday drinking by one man might cause someone to slip and injure either his fellow workman or the whole system. So, too, the plant must be fully managed every day, each specialised workman at his appointed task. No longer could our industries proceed with a 50 per cent. attendance Monday, 80 per cent. on Tuesday, and 100 per cent., perhaps, by Wednesday noon. In the old days of one or two men it had not been so serious. If necessary the delinquent could work later when sober and make up for lost time. But the eight-hour day and dependence of one man’s work upon the other made that impossible.
. . . Then, too. machines were^st replacing horses. Now a horse would get home with a drunken driver, but a railroad train, trolley car, or an automobile might not . . .
The swelling power of our new economic era, therefore, had to match swords against the saloon.
(Times, New York February 2nd, 1930.)
Charles and Mary Beard support this view. They say: “ . . . . employers of labour, in their quest for efficiency give money and support to the new crusade, for drunken workers were a danger as well as an economic loss to machine industry.** (“The Rise of American Civilisation,” Vol. II., page 733.)
As long as it remained a “moral” issue, Prohibition did not make much headway; but when it was found that drink interfered with the profits of manufacturers, it had to go. The distillery and brewery owners had to be sacrificed for the good of other manufacturers, and their workers lost their jobs. The workers have very short memories, for it is not so long ago that they believed that their poverty was due to drinking, and that if Prohibition were passed they would be better off. But we now find the position of the.worker to be the same as it was before. Prohibition or wet, there is no difference. In relation to the capitalist, the worker is still a wage slave and poverty stricken. Now he believes that Prohibition is the cause of his poverty, but if he would think just a bit and look across the herring pond he would discover many countries in Europe that do not have Prohibition, yet their wage-slaves are in the same condition as in U.S.A., where we do have it.
Thus it can be clearly seen that neither Prohibition nor Repeal is the solution to the wage-workers’ problems. While Repeal might make prosperity for some distillers and brewery owners, the workers will gain nothing.
The contention that the legalising of beer will make more employment cannot be accepted. Although the figures given are not capable of proof there is little doubt that there are more persons engaged in the liquor industry now than before Prohibition. In New York City alone there are more than thirty thousand speakeasies ; it is doubtful if ever there were as many saloons as this. Also, owing to the less efficient methods that have to be used now. than when it was legal, room is made in this trade for extra thousands.
And as for workers not being able to get a drink, this is not due to any lack of beer supply, but that they simply cannot afford to buy it. If you have the price you can get all you want. This state of affairs will continue, whether legally or not. There is not a bit of doubt but that when beer is legalised, Prohibition, or something near it, will still be the lot of many wage-workers. They will be unable to buy much beer owing to lack of money.
Since the introduction of Prohibition, considerable changes have taken place. The capitalist is no longer worried about having to make his workers sober by law. Owing to the unemployment situation, police are now required to control the large numbers of applicants for jobs. The wage-slaves stay sober because they know they can be so easily replaced, and that if they get into the ranks of the unemployed they will have to stay sober, anyway. So the manufacturing capitalist is not worried on this score any longer, and for this and other reasons has changed his outlook. Behind the demand for the legalising of beer is the problem of taxation. This is behind much of the propaganda now being let loose upon the working class.
Making beer legal appears to be in the interest of sections of the capitalist class, who want to shed some of the increasing burden of taxes. They cast about to discover how to shift some of this burden of taxes on to other sections of their class. They see that the brewery owners pay no taxes on beer at present; they know it is being made, so why not make it legal and tax it, thus making the brewery section of the capitalist class pay a share of taxes? They would have less to pay themselves, so they are willing to bring back beer, which, like the poor, is always with us, wet or dry.
The worker, generally, thinks that he, also, suffers from the burden of taxes. So he is easily led to believe that his interests are involved when the question of taxation comes up. If he would examine this point a little more closely, he would find that taxes are a levy on property, and that wage-slaves are, in the main, propertyless. To the workers, as a class, it does not matter a tinker’s damn if the taxes are high or low: all the.worker gets when he works is, roughly, a wage sufficient to keep him in a state where he can continue to. produce efficiently and bring up a family, and no more; just enough to repeat the process of bringing new values into existence, new wealth that did not exist before he applied his labour power. If prices fall owing to lowered taxation, or any other reason, wages tend to follow. The employers, not the workers, gain thereby.
Yet we see that reformer after reformer brings out this question of taxes, which, economically, has nothing to do with the workers. This is done to hoodwink the workers into giving support to this or that section of the capitalist class. That section whose representatives succeed in enticing the workers’ support secures political control of the State. In this position they have the power to shift the tax burden to the shoulders of other sections, thus relieving themselves in proportion.
It is not due to beer, or lack of it; nor is it due to high or low taxes, that conditions are as we find them. It is due to the system of society that divides mankind into classes, those who own the means of wealth production and distribution, and those who own nothing but their labour-power.
Taffy Brown (Workers’ Socialist Party of United States)