From The Militant, Vol. II No. 18, 30 November 1929, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
On November 10, one week following the Belleville conference, the Staunton sub-district conference of the National Miners Union went into session to act on the decisions of the state meeting. The Staunton conference is of tremendous importance because it is the largest sub-district of bona-fide adherents to the N.M.U., and because the bulk of the delegates that walked out of the Belleville conference came from this section of the organized coal fields.
Resentment prevailed in the conference to the methods of internal policy promoted by the Party. The antagonism of a large section of the delegates to the decisions of Belleville on Watt, gave sufficient proof that you cannot transplant the methods of internal factional struggle of the Party when attempting to organize mass unions of the workers.
The conference meeting to act on the decisions of Belleville, had just finished with a reading of the report of the organizational committee, and voted acceptance of the Report on Program and Demands, when Kamenovich proposed that the conference instead of proceeding with the remainder of the Belleville decisions should halt and take up the reports of the locals and act on those. The purpose of this proposal was to draw out the proceedings, until it was too late to take up the matter of Watt. The proposal was accepted but it did not prevent discussion of the remainder of the decisions.
The attitude of the delegates was, that they did not object to the Party participating in the Miners’ union and aiding in the struggles. What they did protest against was the new miners union becoming a forum for the internal machinations of the Communist Party. They foresaw in the present situation in Illinois the possibility of building the N.M.U., but recognized that it could not be done by a narrowing down of the forces that go to make up the union and the forcing of a narrow policy upon the new union by the introduction of artificial dissension and strife. It was recognized that the main fight at the present time must be made against the operators. Lewis, Fishwick, and that unless this was the line of the N.M.U. it would be doomed to failure at the outset.
When the resolution on the Press was introduced, the secretary of the conference Morgan, protested against the series of deliberately false stories that have appeared in the Daily Worker for the past few weeks concerning the situation in the National Miners Union. The stories contained in the Daily Worker, that Watt was refused the floor in the Livingston local, were refuted by delegates present from that section. The charge that Watt was setting up a new district office in Staunton was likewise rejected by the Staunton delegation. The conference instructed to send a statement of protest to the Daily Worker demanding that these charges be publicly retracted and the correct situation be published, namely that the Livingston local did not refuse Watt permission to speak, but on the contrary that Watt did speak there, and that Watt’s activity in Staunton was that of a loyal member of the Union whose activities were commended by the miners of Staunton. The delegates in addition protested the charge that Watt engineered the walkout at Belleville and added that it was thru the efforts of Angelo and Watt that a split situation was prevented and that the miners went back to their respective localities to intensify their activities in behalf of the union.
Toward the close of the conference the resolution of the Belleville conference on. Watt was read. The contents of the resolution stated among other things, that Watt was a renegade, opportunist, enemy of the workers and an agent of Lewis! It concluded by demanding that Watt cease his activities in the union pending the action of the National Board on these charges. It was on this particular section that the delegates expressed their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the union. Watt, who had been sitting at the conference all day without once taking part in the proceedings rose at this point to give his position to the miners. His speech gave the lie to all the charges against him. What he said in the main consisted of the following:
“Brothers, the issue of Watt has been raised in this conference. It has been stated that Watt is a traitor, an enemy of the miners, an opportunist seeking only something for himself. I have been told to keep my hands out of the affairs of the union. That is the decision of the Belleville conference. I am not going to go against those decisions. I am not going to allow the issue of Watt to stand in the way of the building of the Union. If the miners think that Watt should not be the president of the union and that he should not interfere in the activity of the union then Watt will abide by these decisions. But I want to tell you this, men: you must build the union. It is your only solution. There is no other hope except the building of the National Miners Union, and you must do this. It has been said that we must adhere to the Red International of Labor Unions. Lewis has said that the Red Union is unfit for us. He says that we must join the Amsterdam International, that is the place for us. I want to tell you men, that if Lewis says the Red International is unfit for us and that we must join the yellow Amsterdam international then we must tell him our place is with the Red International and against the Yellow International. What is good for Lewis and what he advises us to do, cannot be good for us, or advisable for us to do. In closing, brothers, let me ask you again, not to allow the issue of Watt to divide you. You must go forward united, build the National Miners Union. The charges against me I do not agree with; they are false, but that is the decision of Belleville, and since that is so, I must carry it out. Your hope is your union and you must build it or you are lost.”
This speech of Watt is an answer to all the false charges made against him in recent weeks. The position of the Party is one that will not build a miners union, on the contrary it will split it asunder When Party organizers approach non-party leaders in the union and demand: “You must either join us or we will crush you”, then it exhibits a fundamental misconception of the role that Communists must play in the organization of new unions and in the mass organizations. The attempt to create a “pure” leadership of Communists in the new unions spells defeat since it can only be done at the expense of the widest variety of elements that will participate in the building of the new unions. This is particularly evident in the miners union. Communists must strive to give leadership to these workers, to formulate policy for them, but it cannot force the Party down their throats, it cannot prevent them from taking a leading part in the creation of these unions or else it reduces the idea of new unions to a caricature. Unless the Party makes a complete reversal of internal policy, the result will be the destruction of the union.
Last updated: 21.8.2012