Gordon Haskell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Gordon Haskell

Truman Clubs Miners with T-H
in Fair Deal’s 8th Use of Law

(13 February 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 7, 13 February 1950, pp.  1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

President Truman has again invoked the Taft-Hartley Law against the coal miners of America.

This makes the eighth time Truman has used the “slave-labor act.”

It has been invoked to club the miners back to work without a contract for at least eighty days. And at the end of that eighty-day period the miners will presumably be faced with what the attorney general has called the president’s “inherent powers” under the Constitution to seize the mines and force the miners to work without a contract indefinitely.

The miners are up against it. Ever since their contract expired last June it has been clear that the mine owners are out for the kill. One thing they are out to kill is the clause in the present contract which forces the miners to work only “when willing and able.”

They plan to get rid of the contract provision under which the United Mine Workers union controls the pension and social-security fund. And it is quite possible that the most aggressive of them even dream of killing the union itself, or at least of so weakening it that it can be killed off as an effective force some time in the future.

Even before Truman stepped into the situation, the mine owners had got Denham, the iron-fisted Taft-Hartley counsel of the NLRB, to file an injunction in the courts to restrain the union from pressing some of its demands. Then the president asked both parties to agree to submit their case to a voluntary “fact-finding” board which would render an advisory opinion in seventy days, during which time the miners were to return to a five-day work week.

But John L. Lewis has seen how these “fact-finding” boards have worked in the past – on the railroads and in the steel dispute. He knew that in every case such boards tend to give the workers only crumbs. He knew that in the steel case such a board had guaranteed a pension of $100 a month including social security, while tire miners already have a $100 a month pension on top of social security.

The mine owners were delighted with the president’s proposal, but Lewis would have none of if. All the mine owners want is to keep the union without a contract till the end of the winter. Then, with the demand for coal falling off, they would have the workers at their mercy.

Now, with the Taft-Hartley injunction hanging over the treasury and leaders of the miners, the owners hope to have their way. They do not think John L. Lewis will dare to buck the injunction, when such action has cost the union so heavily in the past.

Let ’em Dig Coal!

The mine workers have so far met the threat of the injunction only with defiance. For the past month, up to a hundred thousand workers have refused to mine coal on a three-day week basis without a contract, despite the frantic efforts of their union leaders to get them back into the pits. (See last week’s Labor Action article.)

Last Monday, without a strike call from the union, every soft-coal miner in the United Mine Workers east of the Mississippi not covered by a new contract was on a “no day” week. All reports indicate that despite the terrible hardship in the mining areas which has resulted from loss of work due to the long-drawn-out struggle with the employers, the rank-and-file miners intend to stay out regardless of the Taft-Hartley Law.

Will they actually stay on strike in defiance of an Injunction which will be handed down this Monday? Will they dare to again defy the law passed by a labor-hating 80th Congress, kept in force by the 81st, and invoked eight times by a president who is ardently supported by the great majority of unionists?

Now they are saying: “Let Truman and Taft come down here and dig the coal ... You can’t dig coal with injunctions ... No contract, no work ... and to hell with Taft-Harley.” But it is quite possible that ’the union leadership will try to get the men back into the pits before the deadline, and to keep them there for the duration of the injunction.

But, under these conditions, how much coal will actually be dug? The miners and their families need the money badly. But it is quite likely that even if they are forced back into the pits less coal will come out of the ground in eighty days than during any other eighty days on record when there was no strike.

Get Behind The Miners!

The United Mine Workers is asking for 95 cents a day more in wages, and for 15 cents more a ton for their social-security fund. But their demands are not the center of this struggle at all. Lewis has made it quite clear that he would be willing to negotiate over the size of these demands. It is the employers who arc standing pat and refusing to negotiate on anything till they have succeeded in gutting the contract of its strongest features.

The leaders of the rest of the labor movement are standing by, as usual. There is no sign on the horizon that they plan to back the miners in any way. As a matter of fact, their attitude, as reported in the daily papers, is anger at Lewis for having “embarrassed” them by “forcing” Truman to blackjack the miners with Taft-Hartley. That eight-time record will not look so good when it comes to selling the workers on the Democratic Party at the next elections.

The mine workers ore out on a limb. That is clear to most of them. They are out on a limb because the rest of the labor movement has made a political deal with the Democrats which they are not yet willing to break. They have accepted “fact finding” boards instead of fighting it out with the profit-laden corporations. They have maintained their alliance with the Fair Deal wing of the Democratic Party despite the failure of this alliance to achieve repeal of the Taft-Hartley Law or the other major demands of the labor movement. They have followed a cautious, conservative policy in collective bargaining despite high employment and high profits, at least in part so as not to embarrass their ally in the White House.

It is high time that they stopped worrying about “embarrassing” Truman, and started worrying about the “embarrassment” of the miners and their families who do not have enough to eat. If the labor movement as a whole would rally to the side of the miners, they would no longer be on a limb. They would be on the solid ground of the solidarity of labor against capital and its governmental allies.

Gordon Haskell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 8 March 2023