James P. Cannon

The Kentucky Miners

(December 1931)

Written: December 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 36, 19 December 1931, p. 4.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additional bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (February 2013).
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The verdict of guilty in the case of William B. Jones, Harlan County miners’ leader, with the accompanying sentence of life imprisonment, again brings this historic struggle sharply before the working class and warns against any further delay in organizing a genuine national movement in behalf of the indicted men. More than a score of workers are yet to be tried. Their lives are in danger, and with them the life of the organized labor movement in the Kentucky mine fields. The intervention of a powerful workers’ protest in the affair is one of the most important questions of the day. Here is a case of vindictive persecution not of a few individuals merely, but on a wholesale scale. The object is to wipe out unionism and terrorize all of its advocates by a fearful example of class “justice” and revenge. Can that be allowed to happen in comparative silence?

It is by no means a one-sided battle. All the strength is not on the side of Kentucky “law,” which licenses thugs to maim and kill and prosecute workers who defend themselves. The acquittal of Burnett in the first trial a couple of weeks ago demonstrates that the sentiment of the masses is not without effect even on jurymen selected from another class. It shows also that the position of the defendants is legally justified, even from the biased standards of capitalist law. These two factors explain the acquittal of Burnett. A relaxation of general labor interest in the second case, whether from over-confidence or neglect, turned the scale against Jones and emboldened the prosecution to go through with a conviction. The tide must be turned before it is too late. The legal defense, from all appearances, is competent enough. What is needed now is its reinforcement by the mass demands of the working masses.

The factional wrangling over the defense has been a scandal and a direct blow to the men and the cause on trial. In the welter of charges and countercharges around the cases it was hard for a time to ascertain exactly who was handling the defense. One got the impression, in this disgraceful quarrel, that the miners in the dock were regarded as bones to fight over rather than a cause to defend by common efforts. It is clear enough now that the General Defense Committee of the IWW is conducting the legal defense. But is that any reason for Communists to stand aside or – still worse – attack the defense at the moment it is under the guns of the class enemy?

No, that is factionalism in the most perverted form, a factionalism that loses all vision of the class issues, and therefore a corrupt and reactionary factionalism. Class-conscious workers are duty bound to give financial and other support to the defense in every labor case. In the present instance it means to support the General Defense Committee without a moment’s hesitation and provide it with the necessary funds to meet the heavy burdens imposed by the trials. We do not mean by this to express any approval of the propaganda methods of the IWW in the controversy with the ILD. They create the impression that their main fight is against the Communists. This also hurts and weakens the cause at stake. The real enemy is the capitalist class and their judicial agents in Kentucky. We speak for a union of all forces of the labor movement in a common fight against this enemy.

Last updated on: 22.2.2013