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Albert Glotzer

P.M.A. in Perspective

A Review of the Past and Signs for the Future

(June 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 32, 24 June 1933, pp. 2 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

With each passing day it becomes increasingly necessary to consider the situation in the Progressive Miners of America with the aim of ascertaining its tasks in the light of recent developments. The PMA is at the crossroads. The policies it adopts will decide its future. In any discussion of this union, it must always be borne in mind, that the organization was founded on the basis of a militant struggle against the Lewis machine in the United Mine Workers of America.

At the outset, its struggles for existence revolved around two fronts: against the coal operators (primarily the Peabody Coal Company) and the officialdom, of the UMWA (having at its disposal money, materials, etc.), both working with the support of the State of Illinois, its courts, police, the controlled press, etc. With such an array of reaction surrounding it, the course chartered out in advance for the new union was (and it remains so now) a precarious one.

Under such conditions two paths are open for the new union. Either it succumbs to the pressure of reaction or it maintains that militant class struggle character which brought it into existence, and endeavors to spread the union beyond the borders of the State of Illinois in order to make it a truly national union of the coal miners. There is no middle road for the union to travel. The militants in the union must understand that their successful struggle against Lewis in Illinois was built upon the foundations laid years before in the fight made by the Progressives in 1924, by the Save-the-Union movement in 1928 and similar struggles over a period of a decade. The victorious struggle of the Progressive Miners Union came as the mighty wave of these many fights.

The “Red” Scare

After a series of unsuccessful efforts by Lewis and the Peabody Coal Company to destroy the new union, they resorted to a familiar weapon used by all reactionaries and flunkies in the labor movement. The “red scare” was employed. It was directed against Gerry Allard, the editor of the Progressive Miner. By this means they hoped to drive the officialdom of the PMA into reactionary channels. This offensive launched by the reactionaries met a healthy rebuff in the rank and file of the PMA. The leadership of the PMA, sad to say, reacted in a most shameful and pitiful manner. It apologized and did precisely what the reactionaries desired. It too declared itself in deadly opposition to Communism in general and to Communists in the new union. It announced that the union was “pure” of radicalism. Instead of meeting this challenge in a straightforward militant manner it engaged in a “red-hunting campaign.” And in their own way, they now proceed to cleanse the union and direct blows against the most militant section of the PMA, that section without which the new union would have been an impossibility.

One thing is certain, the drive against militants in the new union will spell its inevitable death, and at present constitutes an ill-omen of what will take place in the union, if the leadership will persist in its present course – remaining smug and self-satisfied with early gains; a union in Illinois and a few contracts. In a discussion of the union it is necessary to return to some fundamental questions of tactics and strategy that are indispensable to the miners’ organization.

The greatest possible error that the militants can commit is to consider that the struggle against the Lewis machine in the UMWA was an isolated struggle for democracy and the rights of the rank and file miner in the union as such. It is impossible to make such an abstraction of the struggle for democracy in any workers’ organization. The inner life of any organization is a reflection of its policies. In a like manner the inner life of the UMWA was a result of the policies of betrayal committed by its leadership. It cannot be said that Lewis and his murderous regime is more brutal and vicious than other reactionaries in the labor movement. All of them act alike, when confronted with a desperate and militant rank and file. It is in defense of their policies that the Lewis machine resorted to the vilest methods in destroying the will and desires of the coal miners. In the same manner the basis for the struggle of the miners against their leadership, arose primarily in reaction, not to the throttling of democracy, but to the traitorous policies of the ruling clique.

Why the Fight Against Lewis?

The Lewis machine dedicated itself to the task of helping the coal operators at the expense of the coal miners. Instead of acting as the labor leader of workers and serving their interests, they acted as labor lieutenants in the service of the capitalists – in this case the coal operators. The decline of the once powerful United Mine Workers is a tale of successive betrayals of the miners. Strikes were sold out. Wage agreements were made that aided only the operators and reduced the already low standards of the miners to an even lower scale. Conditions in the mines became steadily worse. With the coal industry, already over-developed and constantly menaced by the development of electric and water-fuel-power, drifting to the south and the unorganized fields, the Lewis regime did not raise a finger in the direction of the organization of the unorganized miners. The unorganized fields steadily increased production until they were mining the great bulk of the coal produced in the United States. Yet the leadership did not budge. Wherever such possibilities of organization existed, as in West Virginia, Lewis betrayed the miners.

With such a background of constantly worsening conditions for miners, is it any wonder that within the rank and file a wave of resentment developed into a stormy revolt? In order to enforce its policy of betrayal, the Lewis machine resorted to every means at its disposal to check the revolt of the miners and thereby, to successfully carry through his policy. To accomplish It, he had to steal elections; expel militants by the hundreds ; kill, maim, torture; and destroy every vestige of democracy in the union. The union was no longer an organization of the coal miners. It was a place of loot for the agents of the coal operators in the union who, in carrying through this great betrayal of the miners also proceeded to rifle its treasuries.

What should have been the course of the UMWA? Assuming it to be a genuine organization of workers, it should have proceeded on a bold scale to unionize the unorganized fields, extend the struggle against wage cuts and for wage increases, for a general improvement of the working conditions of the miners. Needless to say, it did exactly the opposite. As has already been cited above, in order to enforce his external policies, Lewis resorted to a destruction of the inner life of the union. It is to be observed thus, that the struggle for democracy in the Lewis union, was dependent upon raising at the same time the question of policies.

Every movement of revolt in the UMWA, whether or not it momentarily raised the question of democracy as a forefront issue, nevertheless had to first of all present to the miners a program in contradistinction to the prevailing program of the Lewis union. Of what value is a program for democratization of union, which is not accompanied at the same time with program of vital, militant struggle to save the union (through its extension) ; against wage cuts (for increases) ; for retaining the improved conditions in the mines (and their extension)? Obviously it can not be of much value.

The Howat Movement

The outstanding experience of th Howat movement which rode the wave of one mighty revolt, and gained power in Illinois, was that in spite of its cry for democracy, and the need for turning the union into the hands of the rank and file, it failed miserably, brought about no changes in the life of the. union, acted as a perfect agent for Lewis, because its policies were identical to those of the Lewis machine. Unless any movement can tear itself from the policies of betrayal to the adoption of the course indicated, all its pretenses of democracy, of a “rank and file” union, will fall to pieces.

The democracy of the union will be achieved only on the basis that the union is militant, and aggressive in the interests of the rank and file miners, not in words, but in deeds. This applies with particular emphasis to the PMA, as it does generally to all unions. Conversely, a lack of inner-democracy, a rule of bureaucrats, is an indication of the need of this same bureaucracy to enforce a policy of betrayal which finds resentment apace in the rank and file.

In 1932, the struggles of the Illinois miners resulted in the organization of the Progressive Miners of America. The apparently immediate reason for this development lay in the struggle of the miners for democracy, for a rank and file union. Behind this struggle for democracy (which at that moment rose to its highest pitch through the big steal of the miners ballots on the wage cut) lay the real issue. It was a light against the policies of betrayal of the Lewis machine, which endeavored to force a wage-cut upon the coal miners.

At its inception, the PMA not only promised democracy in the union, the rights of the rank and file, the rights of minority opinion, inviting also those expelled by Lewis for their militancy, but at the same time sounded a militant tone in its program of struggle for the interests of the miners as against those of the operators. Precisely in the latter sense did the union give much hope for its future. The union pledged itself to spread nationally, to wage just a struggle in the interests of the miners as Lewis had refused and prevented. Any other course would have established no distinction between the two unions. The distinction did exist, however, in that the new union promised to fulfill the desires of the miners and to wage struggle in their behalf.

“Stabilization” of the P.M.A.

Since that time much water has flowed under the bridge. The new union stabilized itself momentarily through the gain of local contracts throughout the state. It was able to make these gains only through a heroic struggle in which the union gave up many martyrs. Without this struggle the present solidification of the union would have been impossible. During the period of conflict, when the union was earning the name of the Progressive Miners of America, all forces stood united at least on one question – the maintenance and stabilization of the organization. Everyone recognized that this was impossible without waging a fierce struggle for recognition and against the Lewis Union, which has within its ranks, a minority of the miners, and the greatest number of these kept in the UMWA through coercion. It was this stage in the development of the union that pointed to its great future.

Recent months witness a recession in this policy of the P.M.A. The campaign of red baiting testified that something else is brewing. This can be described as a settling process. The early cry of building a national union has now become less sharp and the leadership wants to be respectable as well as respected. It is interested in the “legal” aspects of their existence. It wants peace in the Illinois coal fields and for this it even enters into false negotiations with the Lewis union. It promised two statements to Lewis: one calling for a referendum of the coal miners to ascertain their support of the two unions, the result of this vote deciding which union shall remain in Illinois (this correct proposal was naturally unacceptable to the Lewis machine) ; the other: that the unions function where they are a majority (a division of territory) declaring that they recognize the UMWA is an organization existing in the interests of the miners, i.e., a miners’ organization.

A Glaring Error

This latter statement reveals glaring errors which can react only against the P.M.A. In those areas where the UMWA is in the majority, it is so because the miners are compelled to remain in the union by force. In recognizing that the UMWA is a union existing in the interests of the coal miners, an actual betrayal of the interests of the P.M.A. is committed. For what reason, then, one may ask, should the P.M.A. exist? Its wage-scale is the same. If the Lewis union is an organization existing in the interests of the coal diggers, then why the organization of a new union? This second statement was a surrender to the Lewis interests, even though it was presented as a concession, a compromise. Such a compromise can only cut the heart out of the new movement. Alongside with this gradually milder tone of the union, Its attempts to be a “respectable” organization, to negotiate with Lewis, to put matters in the hands of the “impartial” Governor Horner, comes this red baiting campaign and the attempts to expel a number of Left wing elements from the P.M.A. One of the chief accomplishments of the P.M.A. was its invitation to all expelled UMWA militants, to join the P.M.A. But when after a few months of existence, it in turn, begins an expulsion campaign against these very persons, something is wrong in the union.

There exists a great contradiction in the P.M.A. The contradiction exists between the rank and file and the leadership. The rank and file is militant. It is serious. It has not carried on its valiant struggle for nothing. It sought to build an organization that would recoil at the mere mention of Lewisism. The leadership, however, which rose during the early struggles, is trying to check this militancy, to become respectable, to insure the existence of the union for at least two years through the contracts signed and is closely treading on false grounds. The leadership is adopting a course that is bringing it closer to class-collaboration. The miners on the contrary, want to continue the splendid struggle they began.

There is a great dissatisfaction in the ranks of the union against this policy of the leadership, which can have only one effect: that of weakening the new union and leading it to collapse. The weathervane is the drive made against the militants in the union and the raising of the red scare. We pointed out above that for Lewis the destruction of the democracy in the union led to the institution of his policy of class collaboration with the employers, to the detriment of the coal miners. These acts of the leadership of the P.M.A. do not stand on a much higher plane. It will become clearer day by day, that their weakening of the democratic rights of the members of the P.M.A. is only a reflection of the introduction and strengthening of such policies, as are coincident with the policies of Lewisism.

The strength of the new union lies precisely in that all Left wing and militant elements in the union are permitted to exist and function actively. If this right, gained by a heroic struggle against Lewis, is to be snatched from them in the new union, then it is only a question of time, when this organization will follow the path of the old. There is no pre-ordained guarantee for the new union. Its existence will depend entirely on how it appplies its policies by which it came into existence, on how it extends and enlarges them. By beginning a campaign against those very elements that distinguished themselves in the first days of the new organization, the leadership is preparing its doom. It must by no means embark upon the course of expulsions. It must maintain the character of its early militancy. It must truly attempt to become a national union, to strugle for wage increase, for improved working conditions, to fight for the unionization of the unorganized miners. If the union leadership were following this line, there would be no need for it to resort to those dangerous and false steps that characterize its recent activities. But it is precisely because it does not meet its test, because it has fallen down on all its early promises, because it is preparing to revise its whole line of action, that they must needs resort to a diminution of the democratic rights in the union, through the threat of expulsion against Left wingers in the union.

The miners must understand these developments. The greatest need in the union is the organization of its Left wing, not only as the safety valve against the methods of Lewis in the P.M.A., but to foster and fight for those policies of struggle, by which the union may live and gain greater life. That, at present, is the most important task of the Left wing elements in the P.M.A. Without an organization of its forces, it will be blown to smithereens, and they will see the organization that they brought into existence, dwindle to nothing through the false policies of its leadership and through the heavy assault of all the forces of reaction in the Illinois coal fields who look with glee upon this campaign against the militants in the union.

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