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Emanuel Garrett

Truman Out to Break UMW Militancy!

Defend the Miners Union!

(25 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 47, 25 November 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

With 100,000 miners jumping the gun on strike action in defiance of a court injunction secured on the application of Attorney General Tom C. Clark, the three-cornered fight between the United Mine Workers of America, the government and the operators moved to a swift showdown this week.

There is no comment by union officials available at the moment of writing, but the long tradition of the mine workers in building their union and resisting all attacks on it, is reason to believe that the UMW will not back down under this bald species of anti-union intimidation. The miners want the operators to sign a contract, grant a wage increase and a change in hours; and it is certain that they will act to get it.

When Attorney General Clark, acting on instructions from Truman and his political advisers, sought the injunction from Judge Alan T. Goldsborough of the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia, he reversed an opinion which he, the Attorney General, had stated earlier; namely, that the miners were within their legal rights in terminating the contract.

According to the New York Times, November 18:

“Attorney General Clark, several week ago, held informally that Mr. Lewis had a right, as the union chief insisted, to reopen the Krug-Lewis agreement of May 29 last. Mr. Krug had been insisting that this agreement could not be reopened because it was written for the period of government possession of the mines.”

Want to Break Unions

Behind that change of opinion is a calculated attempt by the government to break the power of the miners’ union. Several weeks ago, Lewis, acting for the union, announced that the union considered the contract terminated, and called for the opening of new negotiations to discuss wages, which have been cut by rising prices, and hours, which are now 54 per week. Secretary of the Interior Krug was busy at the time “inspecting projects” in the Midwest. On the assumption that the “projects” would run away if left unattended by his casual visit, Krug refused to return for the reopening of negotiations, but the government did appoint a committee to meet with the miners’ representatives. It is now clear that Krug delayed his return to Washington in order to give the government time to consider the nature of its campaign against the mine workers.

Former Secretary of Interior Ickes recently revealed in the newspaper column he writes that last year he had gone to Truman with a proposal that they smash John L. Lewis – their way of saying: Smash the Mine Workers. Truman at the time did not dare challenge the powerful mine workers, whose militancy is unequalled in the labor movement. Today this head of the Democratic Party is willing to undertake the assault on the mine workers, counting on the support of the Republican majority in Congress.

Though ostensibly directed exclusively against the miners, Truman’s action is in fact a test of how far he and a Congress that will be more reactionary than the reactionary Congress that preceded it, will dare go against labor generally in the battles that are shaping up for this winter.

All Labor Menaced

The extent of the government’s scheme is indicated by the rumors that are flying around Washington. Columnist Brew Pearson, for example, has circulated the story that the government will seek to arrest Lewis. It is rather doubtful that the government will do that, for the net result would only be to make the miners that much more determined to stick by their guns. The miners are not known to be the kind who flee in fright every time the government sneezes. Their famous challenge to Roosevelt that he dig coal with bayonets is too well remembered.

But if Truman can get away with this strike-breaking, union-busting action, exceeding the scale of his strike-breaking role in the railroad strike, every union in the country will be menaced. The miners are therefore carrying the ball, as they have many times in the past, for the entire labor movement. It is to be expected that a considerable section of the labor movement will rally to the miners’ defense. Unofficial reports from the CIO convention now in session say that the CIO will back the miners.

The immediate background of the present crisis is the agreement signed last spring by Lewis for the mine workers and Krug for the government, granting the mine workers an 18½-cent hourly boost, now wiped out by inflated prices, a safety code and a welfare fund. With some operators refusing to sign the agreement, the mines remained in government possession – though this did not interfere with the operators’ profits in the slightest degree.

The agreement sighed by Lewis and Krug provided that it would remain in effect “for the period of government possession.” BUT it also provided that clauses in the earlier contract, not changed by the agreement, would also remain in effect. This earlier contract provided for reopening of the contract. Thus, the legal basis of the mine workers’ claim is clear. Krug maintains that the clause is suspended by the “possession” clause.

Miners Will Fight

That should be sufficient to dispose of the government’s virtuous legality. It distorts and twists the interpretation of the law to suit its own reactionary ends. That the mine workers are on a solid legal ground is, however, the smallest aspect of the case. That case rests primarily on their needs as workers, and their rights as union men.

Labor fought for its right to have unions and its right to strike. It is not going to yield those rights easily – not even for the fiction that labor can’t strike against the government (who said so? – the government said so, the bosses said so!).

There is consequently every reason to believe that the mine workers, although they may have to stage a momentary retreat and skirmish for a while in the courts, will emerge triumphant in the end. So long as their union fights for their interests, they will fight to defend it – and not all the mouthings of government officials, Congressmen and assorted reactionaries will change that.

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