Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)

Exposed Enemies, United Friends: Lessons of the Miners’ Strike

First Published: The Call, Vol. 7, No. 14, April 10, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

For 110 days, all eyes were on the coalfields. What we saw was the most significant labor battle in recent years, as 166,000 miners fought back against the coal barons, the government, and the courts and police which serve them, as well as the bosses’ agents within the top leadership of the United Mine Workers union (UMW).

The strike rocked the fortress of monopoly capitalism. In the U.S. coal industry, officials admitted that it may have cost them 88 million man hours and more than 120 million tons of coal, bringing their direct economic loss to $3.5 billion. The steel, auto and power industries were also deeply affected.

Though the miners were forced to return to work with less than they demanded in the contract, their battle was a victory. The determination and self-sacrifice of the rank and file was an inspiration to all workers, and shows that, even though the strike is over, the battle will undoubtedly continue.

The longest strike in UMW history ended in a very close vote. Most of the strikers, however, were far from satisfied with the contract.


Sure, the miners did win a significant pay increase and defeated the stability clause. But the hated Arbitration Review Board still exists, and decisions can be used to discipline wild-catting miners. Miners were unable to win the right to strike written into the contract, equalization of pensions, and full restored, company-funded health benefits.

What the contract provisions do not reveal are the rich lessons which have been learned in this latest of many class battles in coal country. The miners’ strike was truly a school of war–a school which many workers graduated from, having learned that you cannot successfully fight the coal operators without fighting the whole system which stands behind them.

Miners learned also that labor traitors like Arnold Miller and the UMW leadership are a part of this system and must be driven from the ranks of the UMW. Finally they learned that no matter how “neutral” a posture the government tries to present, the purpose of the state is to serve the coal bosses as it serves all big capitalists, and that the real power lies in the hands of the working class.

From the roving picket lines, to the gun battles with cops and goons, to open defiance of the bosses’ Taft-Hartley laws, the miners saw that if united and well organized under strong leadership, they can fight and win.

The capitalist press claims that the “UMW is dead,” that the strike has weakened it beyond repair. But the rank and file has emerged from the strike determined to take control of the union and make it stronger than ever. What has been weakened is the stranglehold that the labor bosses like Arnold Miller have over the miners.

The fighting capacity of the miners themselves has been raised and the unity between Black and white miners has grown through the struggle. Also important was the support organized by miners’ wives on the picketlines and throughout the coal communities.

These are the factors that produced a victory. With a fighting leadership, that victory could have been thorough-going.


But Miller told the rank and file that to win a good contract they would have to follow his leadership. He then proceeded to spend $50,000 to push through contract proposals which, if ratified, would have set the miners back 30 years. Miller denounced the rank and file’s militant attempts to shut down non-union coal operations. These were the same mines which Miller has hardly lifted a finger to organize in his six years in office.

Realizing that to fight the coal operators they had to fight Miller, miners initiated a recall petition, obtaining more than 15,000 signatures. Miller responded by trying to starve the miners back to work, withholding the $4.5 million in strike support funds donated by workers throughout the country.

Miller must be dumped. But this alone will not put the power of the UMW back in the hands of the rank and file. Many class conscious miners know that a whole layer of bureaucrats exists within the UMW who, like Miller, represent the interests of the bosses.

While some, like the old Tony Boyle machine, made little pretense of representing the workers, others, like Miller, have struck a more liberal or “radical” pose in order to use the rank-and-file movement as a stepping stone to power. This is how Miller came to power in 1972 on the coattails of the Miners for Democracy movement. Once in power, the ”new” type leadership has sabotaged the rank-and-file movement at every turn.

The fight against Miller and his like has brought together many of the most active miners who are taking the first steps towards forming a rank-and-file miners’ organization. Such an organization could fight for full democracy on all levels in the UMW, raising the special demands of minority and women miners and for organizing all non-union miners. It could lend organization and leadership to the largely spontaneous wildcat strikes that will inevitably continue to shake the coalfields.


Most importantly, it could organize the resistance to Miller’s sellout leadership in such a way as to prevent his replacement by simply another bureaucratic clique. It could promote the struggle to put the UMW in the hands of the workers, turning it into a class struggle union.

Miller has relied on a divide and conquer scheme to stay in power. In 1976 he banned communists from the UMW convention in Cincinnati. Miller worked overtime trying to isolate left-wingers and communists and to cut revolutionary leadership off from the rank-and-file struggle.

Throughout the strike Miller swore that it was only a “handful of revolutionary miners” who were keeping the majority from returning to work. He tried to maintain this myth even after the rank and file rejected the second contract proposal by a two to one margin.

In fact, communists have been among the hardest fighters in building the UMW since its earliest days. They have been out on the picket lines and in the forefront of the movement to build a fighting rank-and-file organization within the UMW.

During the recent strike, the CPML has been active in the coalfields, and has united with other organizations to build broad support for the miners’ strike throughout the country. Through the pages of The Call, the CPML has spread the lessons of the miners’ fight in factories, communities and schools throughout the country.

The miners’ strike has also served to differentiate communists who work in the interests of coal miners from opportunists who masquerade as “revolutionaries,” while serving the interests of Arnold Miller and the coal operators.


The revisionist CPUSA, for example, has joined with Miller and the capitalist press in attacking the “Maoists” as the main reason for the upsurge in the coalfields. Despite Miller’s open betrayal of the strike, the CPUSA refused to utter one word of criticism against him, denouncing those who did as ̶-;traitors.” Only on March 30 did they even mention that Miller kept the relief funds from the rank and file during the strike.

The CPUSA also promoted government seizure of the mines as the means to resolve the strike, and government ownership of the mines as the solution to miners’ oppression, giving no hint as to the class character of the government or who it really serves. It was left to Carter himself to show what capitalist democracy really means–“vote my way or I’ll send in the troops.”

The revisionists’ work during the strike is in line with their whole strategy in the trade union movement–to ally themselves with liberal traitors like Miller and promote them as saviors of the rank and file in order to gain access to the workers.

Another group of self-proclaimed “communists,” the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), has identity with the CPUSA in letting Miller off the hook. Claiming that “Miller has already been exposed,” the RCP shunned the work of showing how Miller represents a whole stratum of class collaborationist labor bureaucrats who must be all replaced with class conscious leaders.

The RCP is a small group of sectarians, trying only to build their “Right to Strike Committee” off of various spontaneous struggles that break out. In fact, most miners who have been attracted to the Right to Strike Committee in the past have been driven away by the RCP’s splitism and divisiveness.

While these opportunists don’t pose any threat to the capitalists, they are a small but destructive force within the miners’ movement. By fueling anti-communism among the miners, they play right into Miller’s hands.

Finally, there are lessons to be learned from the outpouring of support for the miners from millions of people in the U.S. and throughout the world. Millions of dollars in relief funds were raised from union members and unemployed workers alike. The striking farmers donated thousands of pounds of food.

This broad support demonstrated the common bond which exists among all people exploited by capitalism. Contrary to what the capitalists tried to portray in a barrage of propaganda, the masses of people supported the miners’ strike because they saw it weakening the same system which they fight against every day.


Furthermore, every victory that is won in strikes such as this one helps to make the working people understand that strikes alone are not enough. Even if all the demands from the last convention had been won in full, the miners would still be left digging the riches out of the earth for the profit of the biggest coal bosses. Strikes such as this one help open the horizons for the working class and enable them to see more clearly that as long as capitalism exists they are fighting on a treadmill.

The huge price increase by the steel companies immediately following the strike shows that the bosses are already trying to get back everything they lost to the miners and then some.

The miners’ strike exposed the enemies of the working class and united its friends. Those 16 weeks are a worthy continuation of a long history of working class struggle and point the direction for future battles to come.