Earl R. Browder

The Labor Movement

Great Labor Conflicts in the United States

(31 March 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 27 No. 2 [vol. 2 No. 27], 12 April 1922, pp. 203–204.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). 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.

March 31st, 1922

Six hundred thousand miners stop work tomorrow in a great nationwide strike. The largest and strongest union in America, the United Mine Workers, goes into battle with the great trustified industry, the mine owners, and behind them the banking syndicates and the railroad magnates. The Government is aggressively on the side of the employers, but the extent to which it will directly engage in the battle is not yet known. The strike is sure, however, and its seriousness is grave.

The miners are making no demands except the continued life of their unions while the employers are determined to break the labor organizations. The miners have demanded that their wages shall not be cut, but have agreed to negotiate even that question. The mine-owners refuse even to meet the men. The situation is favorable to the employers. The coal-bins of the country are full; it is estimated that the country has ninety days supply if not another ton is mined. Unemployment is rampant; hundreds of thousands of miners have not worked three months out of the last year. Other unions have been receiving wage cuts right and left, and when they have fought, they have usually been defeated. All along the line the workers have been in full retreat for a year or more, while the entire employing class is united in a vicious drive against wages, working conditions, and even the very life of the union organizations.

At the same moment that the miners enter upon a strike, the million and a half railroad workers are engaged in hearings before the Railroad Labor Board, which body has jurisdiction over wages and working conditions of all railroad workers. The Board has already given the railroad unions two cuts in wages, and has revised the working rules, abrogated the national agreements which equalized conditions all over the country and gave the workers something of a united front, and has generally played havoc with the unions in this industry. There are prospects of serious conflicts on the railroads before the spring is over.

Just last month there was a meeting between the heads of the railroad unions and the miners’ union, to consider joint protective action. This conference resulted in little, so far as the published documents are concerned at least, but the fact that such a meeting was called was symptomatic of the times. The capitalist press hailed this conference with a deluge of “good advice”, and commented generally to the effect that this gathering was not dangerous because the character of the men engaged was such as to be a guarantee against any real action being taken; but also expressing some alarm at the idea that if such an alliance should be formed with real fighters, like Wm. Z. Foster and John Fitzpatrick at the head of it, that it would be a dangerous and “antisocial” combination which would threaten the peace of the country.

Many partial strikes have been on the steel industry for the past several months. These conflicts have taken on a violent character in some instances. In Newport, Kentucky, in one of the steel trust mill towns, the Governor of the State sent in troops, with armored cars, and ruled the strike-torn town with an iron fist for more than month. These men are largely disorganized, however, and the strikes could not spread, and were gradually smothered under the armed forces of the steel trust and the State. Unrest is smouldering, and undoubtedly in the case of a general strike movement the steel workers would become involved to a greater or lesser extent.

The building trades unions have been engaged in a series of fights, local in their character, for over a year. The employers are organized nationally, and have been carrying on a well planned drive against the unions, taking them one city at a time and defeating them in almost every case. The unions have contented themselves with making the local fights, without drawing in the forces of their national organizations into effective resistance. The result has been that they have suffered defeat after defeat. Seattle, Butte, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Denver, and now the Eastern cities, have gone down to defeat. A bitter fight is now raging in Chicago and New York, and the general result so far has been some degree of success on the part of the employers. The building trades are fighting stubbornly, but their division into some 25 different craft unions breaks up their strength, and prevent unified action.

A great spontaneous strike of the unorganized in the textile industry is raging, principally in the New England states where the great mills are concentrated. The strike was brought on by drastic wage cuts in an industry which has always been famous for its low wages. Two cuts within six months, amounting to almost 50%, drove the slaves to revolt, and more than 50,000 workers have been on strike for two months. On March 27th, 25,000 more textile workers, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, joined the strike, and the indications are that it will grow to even greater proportions.

The printing trades unions have also been engaged in a terrific battle. One union alone, the Typographical Union, has disbursed more than $7,000,000 in strike benefits, within the past year. They have succeeded in maintaining some of the conditions they were fighting, for, but on the whole they have also fallen back joining in the general retreat of labor forces.

Out of the whole situation, there is arising a movement from the rank and file of the unions, for aggressive action, a pooling of all labor forces for a general offensive against the capitalists; to change the present retreat into an advance. In the miners union, this tendency is represented by Howat, of the Kansas miners, who has been fighting against the Kansas Government, and its “industrial court” to the point of going to jail. In the railroad unions it is taking the form of a movement for the amalgamation of all the railroad unions into one body, the principal figure in this move being William Z. Foster. In all the unions, a great ferment is going on, a new leadership is being demanded, and the Red Trade Union International is being discussed. Important and radical changes may be confidently expected to come out of the events of the next few months. Just what direction they will take, it would be rash to prophesy, but that the American labor movement is due for another step forward is certain. News from America should be carefully read with this in mind.

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