A. B. Elsbury

British Trade Union Blacklegs


Source: The Communist, August 26, 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


IN the long period of Trade Union history there have been many ghastly spectacles of the treachery of so-called organised workers towards each other. Every thoughtful worker and trade unionist has recognised this fact, and the last twenty years may be said to have been largely occupied by these workers in reforming these abuses to the best of their ability.

The American Miners’ Fight

The greatest coal strike in the history of the United States is now in its fifth month. Six hundred thousand members of the U.M.W. came out on April 1st, and another 100,000 have since joined them. The Miners’ demands are for a 24 per cent. increase to bring their wages up to 1,400 dollars for a year, or half the sum laid down by government statisticians as the cost of living standard. The full force of the American Government has been brought against them, together with the powerful private detective, thug and blackleg agencies which are maintained on a huge scale by American “Big Business.” Lynchings, shooting and murders are being practised with frequency against the strikers as aid to that greatest weapon of Capitalism, starvation. Still they stand solid. Only one thing can break them—ample SUPPLIES OF BLACKLEG COAL.

It is impossible to obtain these in America. Britain is doing its best to supply this blackleg coal, every particle of which helps to bring the American strikers to their knees. Viewed from the workers’ standpoint, this is tragedy, but it has also its humorous side, though the humour is grim.

Every piece of this scab coal is being brought to the top by union labour.

From the pit-heads it is being transported to the docks by union labour.

At the docks this coal is being loaded on the ships by union labour.

The ship is being taken to America to smash the strikers by union labour.

Let us see now what Herbert Smith, Acting President of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, had to say in America two months ago, speaking to the American Federation of Labour Convention:—

“When the British miners had their strike” Smith said, “they received every co-operation from the United Mineworkers of America. Although some American coal sent to England at that time, I am certain that this was from the non-union mines here (America). The British miners have not forgotten this aid and are standing at the back of the American miners 100 per cent. strong. We will not do anything which might help defeat them in the great fight they are making—a fight which is being watched with the most eager interest by organised labour throughout the world.”

Ernest Bevin writes thus to Frank Hodges:—

We are again being pressed to introduce a third shift of tippers, which, if conceded, will considerably reduce the earnings of our men. . . . It is due, we are told, to the demand for coal from America owing to the strike there. It does seem to us that to extend our working hours to get increased orders due to a strike elsewhere would be an act of international blacklegism.”

We see, therefore, that, according to Bevin, to increase the hours on this work is “international blacklegism,” whilst there can, of course, be no objection to “blacklegism” during normal hours.

International Miners’ Congress Final Kick

And now comes the final touch, as though these were not sufficient.

The Miners’ Federation, to hang matters out and evade responsibility for their blackleg work and Smith’s American promises, referred the matter to the International Miners’ Congress which took place in Frankfurt last week. Now at least, it would be imagined, the American miners would receive their just backing. The International Miners’ Congress replies:—

“The decision was that there should be no Trade Union embargo on the export of European coal to America, but that 10,000 should be placed at the disposal of the American strikers.”

By this decision the American miners are to be throttled by their British comrades after being presented with a cough-drop. The international decision, whilst it was the greatest betrayal was at least devoid of hypocrisy.

Go ahead now, you British miners, and dig like hell. Every blow you give with your pick helps to knock down the strikers. Possibly they may remember it someday and give tit for tat.

Either that or bestir you like men and play a man’s part. You KNOW WHAT TO DO.