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The New International, July 1943

Notes of the Month

The Miners’ Strikes and the Labor Party


From The New International, Vol. IX No. 7, July 1943, pp. 197–199.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


After three unanimous responses to as many strike calls by half a million coal miners in the country, it should now be unnecessary to argue whether or not the American workers, even in wartime, are able and ready to act unitedly and decisively in behalf of their just demands. The fact that the great majority of the miners refused or were reluctant to call off their third strike, even after being urged to do so by their union officials, only emphasizes the genuineness of their action, and is enough in itself to explode the preposterous theory that the strike was an action of unwilling but dumb sheep set into motion for some obscure personal political purpose by John L. Lewis.

Perhaps of greater significance is the fact that the sentiments o£ the miners were not confined to their own ranks. Anyone who is seriously in contact with the American working class knows that the overwhelming majority, especially of the organized workers in the country, were as solidly on the side of the miners as the official labor leadership was against them. The mood of the miners was and remains pretty much the mood of the working class as a whole. By their action they showed how precarious is the situation established by the “no-strike” pledges of virtually the entire official labor leadership. The “accident” of the miners’ union leadership being in the hands of men who have their own particular bureaucratic reasons for challenging Roosevelt and the War Labor Board (a matter which requires analysis and treatment on another occasion), was enough to break through the film of restraint that covers the labor movement today.

There is no reason to believe, however, that the action of the miners as a whole was an “accident,” some sort of unique and inexplicably exceptional phenomenon in the working class. The whole labor movement is seething with discontent, discontent especially with the cowardly “no-strike” pledge by which the labor leaders delivered the unions, bound hand and foot, to the employers and the government; discontent with the disgraceful capitulation of the same labor leaders to the abominable Connally-Smith bill. It will not take much more heat for the pot of boil over. With profits continuing their rich flow, with prices not rolled back but even rising, with the whole rationing system in a state of collapse, with the new taxes digging deeper into the standard of living of the workers, the new anti-strike bill will not prove more effective than the old no-strike pledges.

Louis Stark, the New York Times’ labor editor, who is close to the union bureaucracy, especially the AFL’s, acknowledges (June 20) that an analysis of the bill “tends to support the views of organized labor’s spokesmen who believe that the measure will foment strikes rather than prevent them ... The bill does not bring the top leaders of labor into the picture by further pressure to carry out their commitments – a pressure which has prevented a great many strikes. Indeed, it takes from them much of their authority by transferring the seat of power in a labor dispute from the national to the local leadership level ... It is the impression of many impartial observers that the new labor measure would probably be more harmful than helpful.”

We do not know yet if the miners’ strikes had any effect upon the analysis of the labor movement’s prospects and perspectives and upon the policy of the Cannonites. Since the outbreak of the war, their trade union policy, never far from conservatism, took a sharp turn to the right. Their militants were educated and instructed to be preoccupied exclusively with “preserving” themselves in the trade union movement (forgetting Trotsky’s warning to the eminent theoretician at the head of the SWP that if the main concern of revolutionists during the war was with “preserving” themselves, the awakening workers would probably treat them like “preserves,” to be put on a shelf). Why? Because the masses were not in motion and there was no early prospect of working class action in the country. “Strike control,” wrote their trade union expert last year in a polemic against an “impatient” militant, and obviously on the inspiration of The Leader himself, “continues to remain quite firmly in the hands of Roosevelt and his lackeys in the union hierarchy ... Right now we ask the comrades to just be patient. When the time comes that the masses are ready to move, the leadership of the party won’t be in their way.” The last sentence deserves to be distributed far and wide for the consolation of the American working class and to reassure them that any time they decide to act they will not really meet the opposition of the Socialist Workers Party leadership. On the West Coast, and under the personal supervision of the same expert, the local Cannonites accepted a thesis which proved to the very hilt that the miners could not, should not and would not strike. A few days later, the miners, not having had the benefit of this thesis, nevertheless did strike, and then a second and a third time.

On the trade union leadership as a whole, however, we do know that the miners’ strikes had no effect, so far as its policy is concerned. William Green attacked the Connally-Smith bill as a “fascist measure pointed like a revolver at the heart of labor ... It reflects a fascist state of mind in Congress – there can be no question about that. It is definitely totalitarian in character, contradictory of the democratic principles for which America has always stood and for which this war is being fought.” If that is how the Milquetoast of the labor movement spoke of the bill, it is not hard to imagine what the other labor leaders said in attacking the bill and demanding a presidential veto.

The veto came, accompanied by Roosevelt’s own notorious counter-proposal on how to break strikes, and then Congress overrode the veto by the joint efforts of the two capitalist parties. Thereupon? What did the labor leaders propose to do? We consider the bill a vicious assault upon labor’s elementary rights. We do not regard it as quite fascist, because we believe this is an inaccurate use of the term; but it suffices that it is bad enough, and everyone in the labor movement knows it. In any case, so mild-mannered and soft-spoken a man as Green described it as a fascist measure. What is to be done when a fascist measure is incorporated into the law of the land? What do our stout-hearted heroes at the head of the labor movement propose to do to combat this first installment on fascism?

Thus far, we know only of their first, bold and fearless step: No sooner had the bill become law than Green and Murray rushed to the White House as fast as their automobiles could carry them and ... renewed their no-strike pledge. There you have as courageous and defiant a pair of generals as the labor movement was ever lucky enough to have at its head! They will die in battle before allowing anyone to take from the labor movement its right to strike. Or, more accurately, they will give up this right themselves rather than have it taken from them. As can be seen, the old ladies at the head of the union movement are Virtue Incarnate. They will under no circumstances allow themselves to be ravished. If part they must from their charms, they prefer to give them away freely. Only, in this case, it is someone else’s rights they are so lightly preferring, and it remains to be seen if the workers will be traded off so easily.

Meanwhile, the immediate effect of the Connally-Smith bill, carried, let us remember, by an overwhelming bi-partisan vote, has been to stimulate interest in a Labor Party and the movement toward its formation. In recent months and especially in recent weeks, resolutions have been adopted in favor of a Labor Party and even some organizational steps taken toward forming one, in decisive industrial states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan. So far as the official sponsors of the movement are concerned, the parties in these states are to be a replica of the caricature of an Independent Labor Party that has existed for several years in New York. Its aim, in the view of Messrs. Rose, Alfange, Counts and Antonini, is to be confined essentially to assuring their Messiah a fourth term in the White House. A miserable, paltry, reactionary ambition for a movement as important and significant as a distinct party of labor. Our reformist labor politicians have not’even risen to the low estate of their European brethren. As for the outright bourgeois labor politicians of the Green-AFL kidney, they have not risen at all. Their conception of labor’s rôle in politics is that of running around on all fours looking for a “friendly” boot to reward with a kiss in the hope that when it reaches a congressional desk it will not be too violently or too often directed at their prostrated rump.

Labor in this country must and will enter politics – and politics is in the end the struggle for power – in its own name. The only question is: in what form? Under what program and leadership? There are already important, tangible signs that the movement for a national Labor Party is taking shape, first of all, as mentioned above, in some of the decisive industrial centers. Its present official sponsors naturally want to keep the movement under the closest bureaucratic control in order to guarantee that its program and activity will not be composed of anything stronger than milk and water. In other words, they want a replica in this country of the flabby, ineffectual, conservative, ever-whining, supine reformist workers’ parties that contributed so criminally to the crushing of the working class in Europe. It is possible that, in the first period, they will succeed in establishing just that kind of party. But only possible, and by no means dead certain.

However, it should be considered that these reformist labor politicians still constitute a minority of the labor bureaucracy. The big majority of this officialdom – the Greens, Tobins, Bateses, Lewises, Murrays, Careys, Hillmans and the rest – are bourgeois labor politicians. They do not even favor the organization of such a caricature of a Labor Party as Rose and Antonini have in New York, and want to continue the policy of supporting this or that capitalist politician and capitalist party, year-in and year-out. They have now acquired a fairly powerful ally in support of their Gompersist politics, the Frank Hague-Stalinists.

Inasmuch as the class struggle, and the decay of capitalist society, will not wait another hundred years for these gentlemen of the labor movement to assimilate a mildly progressive idea, it is possible that, given the combination of their bureaucratic control of the labor movement and their utter political blindness, they may successfully stand in the way of the formation or even a reformist, “official” Labor Party, out of sheer terror at the thought of being obliged to make a sharp break with out-and-out capitalist politics.

This is speculation, to be sure, but it is not without its importance. There are powerful forces at work to awaken the political consciousness of the American working class, but there is no law of god or man that guarantees that our primitive-minded labor bureaucracy will adapt itself to this awakening to the extent of organizing labor into a reformist political party. That is possible, it is even most probable, but it is not absolutely assured. Sad experience has shown that the stupidity, provincialism, and subservience to the bourgeoisie of our official labor leadership, know few limits, if any.

If, then, the weight of the labor bureaucracy is thrown against even a reformist political labor movement, does it follow that the working class is doomed for the next period to remain in tow of bourgeois politics? We do not think so. It does follow that the inevitable development of political consciousness, of class consciousness, among the American workers may express itself in the formation and speedy, powerful growth of a revolutionary political movement uncontrolled by the official labor leadership. There is no theoretical consideration that excludes such a possibility, and there is nothing in the objective situation or in the revolutionary world perspectives of tomorrow that automatically prohibits such a development. Should it take place, those who are today already organized and educated in the consistent, revolutionary Marxian movement have a right to look upon themselves, few in number though they are now, as the central, guiding core of the bigger movement to come. Their presence in it will be additional assurance of its sound and triumphant progress.

Such a hypothesis does not, of course, in any way invalidate the need for continuing, today and tomorrow, the struggle of the revolutionists and the militants in the labor movement for the formation of an Independent Labor Party. On the contrary, the extension and intensification of this struggle, its prosecution in a militant, class-conscious spirit, is one of the indispensable premises for the revolutionary political development of the working class. If the labor bureaucracy takes a step forward and leads in the establishment of a reformist Labor Party, that will mark a new stage for the working class and a new stage for the revolutionary vanguard. It will proceed from there and seek to move the working class to a higher plane. If the labor bureaucrats remain serf-minded and stupidly adamantine against any kind of independent political action, the revolutionary struggle for a mass working class party in this country may leap over their heads successfully and thus leap over an important stage in American labor history.

There are no dull days ahead!

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