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George Clarke

Pittsburgh Convention Shows Need
for Unity of Fighting Miners

(July 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 16, 25 July 1931, pp. 1 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PITTSBURGH. – To those who contend that the coal strike is over, or that the National Miners Union is dead, the national conference held in Pittsburgh, July 15, is a living refutation. 682 delegates from 270 mines representing a total of 45,491 striking miners, according to the report, voiced their approval of the militant policies of the N.M.U. The conference was completely animated by a fighting spirit. Miners fresh from the strike battlefront of West Virginia Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, representing all nationalities, black and white, young and old, came to Pittsburgh, demonstrating their determination to continue, to spread and to win in their heroic struggle against starvation.

A Militant Conference

Miner after miner took the floor, painting in no uncertain terms the intolerable conditions which brought on the strike. The ridiculously low wages, outright robbery in the mine and in the company store, unemployment rampant and poverty stalking all over the coal fields, have driven the miners into open revolt. And added to this is the treacherous role of the U.M.W. of A. Only a deaf man could fail to bear from the speeches of the rank and file the undying hatred Lewis and Co. have earned for themselves in the hearts of the coal diggers. The real fighting note of the conference was struck by the picturesque Kentucky delegation. Fresh from the hills of Daniel Boone’s country, they let loose a veritable flow of “Kentucky oratory” upon the conference. Their defiance of the thugs and gunmen cloaked with the badge of “constituted authority” their do-or-die-win-the-strike attitude, stirred the conference. The delegates of Harlan, Kentucky, to a man, pledged their unreserved support to the National Miners Union. This marks a big step forward.

One fact, no one could fail to notice – the growing political consciousness of the mine workers: Peals of stormy applause greeted all remarks however casual, on the Soviet Union, Communism, and a workers’ government in the U.S.A. Even the American backwoodsmen of Kentucky did not fail to express their disapproval of the social system. The name of Reds, they said, didn’t “scare” them at all. Judging from this conference, it is clear that the American working class will “jump a few stages” as they make their way to Communism.

The purpose that the conference should have really had was given in the words of Foster: to realize “a broad enough united front to include miners irrespective of political creed or union affiliation.” This is undeniably an advance for the N.M.U. from its sectarian position of a year ago. Its value consists in the realization that there are tens of thousands of miners, in Illinois, Kanawha, West Virginia and in the anthracite, under influence other than that of the N.M.U. These miners can only be won over to common struggle through a correct application of the united front tactic. And here lies the hitch in the whole policy of the N.M.U. Borich correctly advocated the building of Left wing minorities in the anthracite U.M.W.A., etc. (shades of the “third period”!). But Left wing minorities have their great strength just in so far as they use the tactic of the united front. How is this united front to be accomplished? From below! “No collusion with fakers”; only rank and file committees, representing all unions, was continually emphasized by Foster, Borich, and Co. Keeney betrayed the West Virginia miners: Howat left the Illinois miners in the lurch: all the other progressives are fakers. Therefore, no united front with them. The first part of the reasoning concerning the progressives is absolutely correct. But the second part does not follow at all.

A Fosterite “United Front”

The results of this policy are already apparent. The conference was ostensibly called as a united front gathering. It invited rank and file miners from all groups to attend – at the same time branding their leadership as fake. But it could not be a genuine united front since they were merely invited to attend the N.M.U. convention. The result was that not a single delegate from the Kanawha section of West Virginia, not a solitary representative from the Belleville conference in Illinois (the only Illinois delegates represented a group from the struck Orient mines), a few delegates representing only a handful of those organized in the anthracite.

Instead of these “brilliant leaders” taking note of this remarkable signpost of an incorrect policy, they continue to plunge deeper in the same wrong direction. The same negligible results can already be foreseen from the statement of the program committee, calling upon the “West Virginia miners to fight the Keeney leadership, as tools of the bosses, and to set up rank and file unity committees”. It was recognized by miner after miner that thousands were still under the influence of the “progressives”. Yet the leadership refused to take any cognizance of this fact beyond name-calling; and the mythical “united front only from below”. All this in spite of the fact that the credentials committee showed that, out of a total of 822 delegates, only 65 came from the U.M.W.A. (and they came mostly from minority groups in the mines and not the local unions – approximately three delegates to a mine group.)

Question of National Strike

The conference very properly decided not to call a national strike as yet. The credentials committee report showed that the delegation consisted of representatives of 35,270 miners still at work, and of 45,491 miners who were on strike. It therefore becomes absolutely necessary to spread and deepen the strike at this stage of the game. The national strike is still a matter of the future.

The six-hour day was incorporated into the program. No explanation was given as to why the eight-hour day slogan issued earlier in the strike was changed to the six. The R.I.L.U. gave the word and the “leaders” forgot that the seven-hour day prevails in the Soviet Union ... and the program was changed. What’s an hour or two between friends?

Resolutions were adopted for the release of every class war prisoner possible – but of course, Morgenstern and Goodman were completely (or purposely) forgotten – they are Left Oppositionists.

It can be said with absolute certainty that the delegates are returning home with renewed vigor to carry out the strike to a successful conclusion. And provided adequate relief reaches the field the strike has great possibilities, it can also be said with just as much assurance that the policies of Foster, Borich, and Company on the united front will constitute no help but rather a tremendous obstacle in the way of further growth of the Left wing in the mining industry, and in undermining; the faith of the workers in the “progressives” of the Keeney, Howat, Muste type. These policies must be replaced by a correct approach to the needs of the present situation – a genuine united front.

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