Fritz Heckert

The Labor Movement

The Lessons of the Last Miners’ Strike

(15 March 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 26, 15 March 1923, p. 206.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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.

The strike of the French miners which ended on February 21 raises the question of how far the struggles of the miners have any possibility of success when conducted on national lines. All great strike movements among the miners during the last few years have in the main failed. Either the strike collapsed as a result of betrayal on the part of the reformist leaders, or it has been defeated by the forces at the disposal of the capitalist state. The workers have only in a very few cases attained a partial success. And only then when the circumstances were particularly favorable, This latter was the case in the American miners’ strike, and in the strike of the French miners. But all other fights have been lost, and were bound to be lost under the circumstance in which they took place.

Two currents are struggling against one another in the trade union movement: the one in favor of working unity with the bourgeoisie, and the other opposed to this – the revolutionary current. Nearly all the miners’ unions are in the hands of leaders who support working unity. These leaders are of the opinion that the class interests of the proletariat should be subordinated to the general interests of the state, that is, to the needs of the capitalist state. Since the revolution, every strike undertaken by the German miners has been systematically wrecked by the trade union bureaucracy, and this trade union bureaucracy has invariably explained to the workers that state necessity demanded the abandonment of the strike. This was the case in Czechoslovakia, and in Poland. We can still clearly remember the utterance of J.H. Thomas, the chairman of the Amsterdam Trade Union International and leader of the English railwaymen’s union: it was thanks to the command issued by him to break off the last miners’ strike in England that the fall of the English governing power was prevented. The Frenchman Bartuel was one of the most zealous advocates of the dictates of the Spa agreement, which forces the German miners not only to toil for the German capitalist, but to permit himself to be robbed at the same time for the benefit of French imperialists. The revolutionary section of the workers however, is of the opinion that every endeavor must be directed to defend the interests of the workers as a class. The interests of the workers unlike the interests of the bourgeoisie, do not clash on any national frontier. The workers of all countries have one common interest, the bourgeoisies have opposing interests. When revolutionary workers stand for a ruthless struggle for the defence of workers’ interests, they, at the same time, stand for the international action of the proletariat against capitalism and its attendant dangers.

The coal agreement made at Spa threw great numbers of English miners out of work, and rendered the French and Belgian miners incapable of delending their wages and working conditions with any prospect of success. The low wages of the German miners are to blame for the low wages and misery of the miners in all other countries. The reformist miners leaders know this very well, it can scarcely be assumed that they are too stupid to see it. But their relations with their national bourgeoisie are much closer than their relations with the international proletariat, and with the collective interests of the working class.

This is again plainly illustrated by the miners’ strike in France. In the first place the French capitalists had created adverse conditions for obtaining coal supplies, in both areas, by the occupation of the Ruhr. Germany is cut off from the Ruhr coal. Transport to France is prevented by the counter-action of the German railwaymen, who have stopped work on the railroads of the occupied territory. For the first time for many years the French miners had the opportunity of utilizing the embarrassment of the French capitalists for the purpose of gaining better wages and working conditions. The revolutionary miners utilized the situation, but the reformist leaders demanded blackleg service from their followers. They could not permit a wage strike of the miners to hinder the imperialist adventure of the French capitalists. Thus Bartuel and his friends have deprived the French workers of the success of their wage struggle, and have sided with Poincaré.

The case was exactly the same in Czecho-Slovakia. The miners, long suffering from capitalist attacks, during the last few weeks, attempted to fight for better wages. But as Czechoslovakia has friendly relations with France, the reformist leaders of the Czecho-Slovakian miners thought fit to oppose the fight of the Czech miners. In England the miners’ leaders also seized the opportunity of rendering their ruling class a service. The struggle in the Ruhr area and the strike of the French miners gave the English colliery owners the chance of doing good business. Now they were able to sell coal to the Germans and French. This favorable state of their market was utilized by the English bourgeoisie, who doubled the price of coal. The English colliery owners triumphantly announced that, thanks to this stale of affairs, the number of English unemployed had sunk by 125,000. The English reformist leaders share the joys of their bourgeoisie so fully, that Mr Hodges replied to the demand made by the revolutionary miners of various countries, for the organization of a joint action against Poincaré’s imperialist policy, with the answer that the situation was not suitable for starting such a movement. And indeed, why should the chairman of the miners’ international trouble about proletarian measures for international fighting, so long as the English bourgeoisie is doing good business, and few crumbs from its full table fail to its lackeys.

In England the rise in the the price of coal is accompanied by a rise in food prices, and it will not be long before the English miners will have to fight to have their wages adjusted to the higher prices. If Poincaré is victorious in the Ruhr, enormous quantities of cheap German coal will speedily appear on the French market, and it will be impossible for the French miners to defend their working conditions against the capitalists. Should the Ruhr conflict end with the victory of Poincaré, the Czech miners will also be forced into a precarious position. Should the German bourgeoisie come to an understanding with the French in the Ruhr, it will not be long before the English miners will be again, out of work. The German bourgeoisie utilizes the Ruhr conflict to lengthen the working hours of the German miners. When once these worsened working conditions have been introduced, then it is a matter of indifference whether Poincaré or Cuno is the victor, for the bad working conditions imposed on the German miners will have a decisive influence on the working conditions of the miners in other parts of the world. Instead of the miners of Europe mutually supporting each other by joint action for the defence of their class interests, and thus striking a severe blow at their class enemy, they have, under their reformist leaders, done precisely the contrary. The most favorable moment for joint action is again missed. The hand outstretched by the revolutionary worker for the formation of a united front is scornfully rejected. Hodges refuses any alliance, that is, with the working class, but not with the English bourgeoisie. Bartuel, who organized the blackleg action of the reformists in France, has not only thereby helped French mining capital out of a critical situation, he has at the same time weakened the labor organizations, and rendered hundreds and thousands of workers incapable of fighting.

But the behaviour of the German reformists during this period has been the most idiotic of all. They are desirous that the English and French labor leaders, especially the miners’ leaders, help them to ward off the attack of French imperialism. At the same time they are in such a state of senseless rage against workers holding communist views, that they attack the fighting communists in the most despicable manner and do not desire the victory of the revolutionary miners of France, but the victory of the reformist Bartuel, the ally of Poincaré. Is it to be wondered, under such circumstances, that the workers are reduced to impotency and the Stinnes of every country triumph?

The French miners’ strike has once more demonstrated the complete bankruptcy of reformism. The cowardly and bourgeois-coalition attitude of the reformist leaders can serve nobody but the capitalists, nobody but the national bourgeoisie of each country. The breakdown of economics, and of the labor movement, is bound to become continually worse under such circumstances, unless the revolutionary workers succeed in completely overthrowing the whole wretched reformist policy. The mining strike in France has opened the eyes of many thousands of pit slaves. They have recognized the dangers of reformism, and are turning to the revolutionary trade union organizations of the C.G.T.U. The example set by the French combatants has had a stimulating effect upon the Belgian miners. The resistance of the Belgian coal miners against their employers is growing; these miners are no longer listening to the hoarse shouting of the Belgian reformists, who maintain that the unrest among the Belgian miners is solely the result of communist agitation. The revolutionary miners must utilize the unrest obtaining among the miners of every country. They must show their fellow-miners that only by joint action can they hope for success, that they must no longer permit themselves to be exploited by their reformist leaders for the benefit of their national bourgeoisie, but they must all stand together in one common front for the ruthless defence of their class interests. Fresh conflicts are arising all round; it must be our work to prepare ourselves thoroughly for the fight, that it may end in a victory over the capitalists and reformists.

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