William F. Warde

Rail, Mine Workers Face Fierce Anti-Union Attack

Truman Backs Corporations with Strikebreaking Moves

(25 May 1946)

Source: The Militant, Vol. X No. 21, 25 May 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
(William F. Warde was a pseudonym of George Novack.)
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2018 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2018; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

The second great strike wave in the post-war upsurge of American labor reached a climactic point last week as the bitter assault of Big Business and its government against the coal miners and railroad workers mounted in ferocity.

This colossal battle in two of the most strategic industries in American economy has produced a social crisis in the country and a political crisis at Washington similar to that witnessed at the beginning of this year when the CIO auto, steel, electrical and packing house unions were out on the picket-lines simultaneously.

Vicious Drive

In reply to that first powerful strike wave, spearheaded by the General Motors workers, the entire capitalist ruling class and its government agencies rallied around the corporations in their vicious drive to whittle down the demands of the workers and cripple the resistance of the striking workers. So today Big Business and its government agencies are backing up the coal operators and railroad magnates who are determined to deny the just demands of the workers.

The most deadly and treacherous blows against the miners and railroad workers have been delivered by President Truman himself. Truman first put pressure upon the UMW leaders to call off their solid strike for a two week period and then threatened to issue a government order seizing the mines in the event that the strike was resumed on May 25.

Strikebreaking Move

On the eve of the scheduled walk-out of 275,000 locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the nation, Truman commandeered the railroads in order to head off their strike action. This strikebreaking technique continued and duplicated Roosevelt’s strikebreaking seizures of the mines and railroads during the war.

This time the capitalist administration could not camouflage its strikebreaking role behind the pretext that the strikes were interfering with the war effort. It was far more obvious that Truman’s intervention was undertaken simply and solely to aid the coal and railroad magnates and stiffen their unyielding attitude toward the miners and rail workers. Nevertheless, the UMW head, John L. Lewis, and Whitney and Johnston, the leaders of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, yielded to the combined government-employer pressure. Lewis on May 10 agreed to the two-week truce demanded by Truman. Only a few minutes before the rail strike was to have begun on May 18, both Whitney and Johnston agreed to a five-day delay and officially postponed the strike action.

But both the railroad workers and miners manifested their distrust of the government and even a measure of defiance of their own leadership when large numbers of them refused to observe the truces.

Demonstrative Walkout

The demonstrative walkout of the railroad workers in the face of the truce order tied up the entire transportation system from coast to coast for several hours. This action was a milestone in the history of this traditionally most conservative segment of organized labor in the United States. It was a token of the fighting temper which animates American labor today in its efforts to combat the soaring cost of living and the attacks of the employers.

The no less militant temper of the mine workers is indicated by the fact that despite the orders of Lewis, over 25 per cent of the strikers in the key Western Pennsylvania area refused to return to the pits without a signed contract. How correct they were in distrusting the truce and Truman’s promises that the mine operators had agreed “in principle” to the United Mine Workers’ insistence upon a health and safety fund! No sooner did the truce go into effect than the conscienceless operators openly repudiated Truman’s deceitful declaration.

Anti-Labor Acts

At the same time, Congress and other government agencies are preparing new vicious measures against labor. The Smith-Connally Anti-Strike Act is not harsh enough for them. Congress is pushing the still more reactionary Case Bill now before the Senate.

The anti-labor views of Truman’s top staff were most crassly voiced last week by John D. Small, Civilian Production Administrator, who urged Congress to enact legislation completely outlawing strikes for a period of at least six months. The convention of the CIO United Steel Workers passed a resolution May 17 calling for the resignation of Small and denouncing his proposed legislation as “involuntary servitude.”

The frenzied character of this unbridled employer-government drive reflects the fear of Big Business and its servants at the growing power of American labor and the militancy in its ranks. The gains made by the workers during the first strike wave have enhanced their confidence and inspired other sections of labor to similar struggles. They have paved the way for new organizing drives, notably in the still largely unorganized South. The capitalist class wants to stamp out this militancy, if possible, and to push back the unions.

If the labor movement has displayed great power and fighting spirit in these two strike waves, it has also revealed glaring weaknesses. The most obvious is the lack of unity and coordinated action in the fight against Big Business. When the GM workers were forced out on strike, many AFL leaders refused their aid. John L. Lewis even publicly indicted the heroic struggle of the GM workers.

Now, in this second strike wave, CIO President Philip Murray has failed to come to the support of the AFL coal miners’ strike.

Unity Needed

This absence of unity has reached the peak of absurdity among the railroad workers! Here there are 21 separate organizations – and only two among these prepared for strike action.

If all the unions, confronting the same array of enemies in a common struggle, had closed their ranks and solidly supported each other, their struggles would have been incomparably more effective and less long drawn out and costly.

Although the unions have displayed great striking power in the economic arena, they have no party of their own to defend their interests in the political field. The corporations have turned repeatedly to their Democratic and Republican agents in Washington and in the White House, demanded action against labor – and got it.

The most important lesson of the present and previous wave of strike struggles is the urgent need of the unions to sever once and for all their ties with the capitalist-dominated Republican and Democratic machines. They must launch immediately for the coming 1946 elections an independent Labor Party capable of protecting the welfare of labor and waging a real political fight against Big Business rule.


Last updated on: 29 March 2023