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David Coolidge

Coal Miners Fight Labor’s Battle!

CIO Convention Votes Full Support of Mine Strike

But Jingoes Make Effort to Weaken Resolution

(24 November 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 47, 24 November 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT – The CIO is holding its fourth national convention with 500 delegates in attendance. After the happenings of the past week one would expect to see a group of delegates tense, militant and giving the impression of a readiness and determination to carry on against the bosses and even against the government in order to guarantee substantial and specific gains for the millions of CIO members.

Everybody knows that the coal diggers in the captive mines are on strike. All the delegates to this convention at least know that this is not just a strike of coal miners; that this strike is really in support, first, of the steel workers and of all the workers who face the possibility of seeing their unions destroyed.

While the convention has taken a correct position formally on the issue of the “union shop” there is not the enthusiasm for supporting the miners that workers have a right to expect. There is not the enthusiasm that the miners have the right to expect.

The reasons for this are not hard to find.

In the first place, the convention and the CIO leadership felt constrained to make the record on the matter of the war. The leadership of the CIO and most of the leading CIO internationals were anxious to let the country know where the CIO stands on this question. Consequently the first important matter of business was the resolution in support of Roosevelt’s foreign policy. At the Atlantic City convention last November no definitive position about the war and the Administration’s foreign policy was taken. The organization made up for this today.

Back FDR on War

The resolution pledges complete support of Roosevelt’s foreign policy. It calls for all out aid to Great Britain, the USSR and China. It calls for complete cooperation with Great Britain and the other nations fighting Hitler, The resolution “commends President Roosevelt for his forthright foreign policy and the joint action of the President and Congress in the recent amendments to the neutrality law.” The membership of the CIO is urged to “a greater effort in our national defense program, to formulate policies, call conferences .and consult with members of our national administration, our employers and other local groups toward the end that by a mighty joint and united effort we shall have done our part to destroy Nazism and preserve for the future benefit of America our present free and democratic way of life.”

The resolution says that “American workers cannot and will not tolerate any appeasement ... Efforts of any such as Lindbergh to disunite the American people on such un-American issues as anti-Semitism must be ferreted out and exposed as Hitler’s fifth column. The American people demand that all aides of Hitler in this country, be they our home-grown Quislings or the representatives of his puppet states, such as Vichy France, must not be permitted to cause dissension.”

The debate on the resolution was an the whole very low grade and a waste of time. There were men there who were not in favor of the resolution. There were others who spoke in favor but who knew that this resolution didn’t square with what is taking place in the coal fields, with what happened on the National Defense Mediation Board and with their protestations that they will not relinquish the struggle to hold and increase labor’s gains.

There were some, like Krzycki, who were speaking for Hillman and therefore for Roosevelt. They were not talking for the CIO and particularly not for the miners. Krzycki’s speech got a big place in the papers. Sandor Jance, of the United Texile Workers, went the whole hog and proclaimed that “to every delegate here it’s more important that the emergency be met than that 2,500 workers get the closed shop.” Van Bittner, who was presiding, ruled Jance out of order on the ground that the resolution supporting the coal strike was passed the day before.

Hillman-Lewis Rift

One could perceive that the rift between the Hillman men and Lewis was breaking through the convention formalities and niceties. There were Hillmanites present willing and ready to bludgeon Lewis and condemn the miners, but they didn’t have the courage. Dalrymple, a miner delegate from Oregon, said that “they’re trying to say John L. Lewis is a traitor. There’s not a better American in the country today. Just because they’re fighting over in Europe is no justification for our giving up our rights over here. The industries are responsible for the coal strike, and the press is blasting Lewis simply because he is carrying out the mandate of the mine workers.”

Another miner took the floor to say that the miners will win and defeat the steel companies which own the captive mines. He said that this attack on the miners is an entering wedge to destroy the unions and “I thank God that they picked the miners to begin with.”

One got the impression listening to the supporters of the resolution that here were labor leaders who were mainly interested in purging themselves of any taint of “un-Americanism,” who were trying to prove to Roosevelt that they were good boys and he need have no fear.

They were bringing the CIO into the fold. But their speeches didn’t carry conviction, they were hollow. They seemed like men who had concluded that there was nothing to be done and they might as well go along.

Some Dissenters

The only open dissenters were the construction workers and most of the miners. A.D. Lewis (brother of John L.) and his construction worker delegates just sat, they neither spoke, voted nor applauded.

As I said before, there were delegates there who would have liked to pitch into the miners, but little fellows like Walter Reuther and others know that the miners don’t scare easily. Also, these Hillmanites now that they are in a serious contradiction. They know the meaning of the mine strike and what is involved for all of labor. At the same time they must support Roosevelt who is today devising plans for breaking the strike with the army.

When the vote was taken on the resolution, Van Bittner announced that it was carried “unanimously.” He knew it wasn’t and every delegate and spectator knew that it was not. All of the construction workers refrained from voting and the majority of the miners.

Stalinist Skullduggery

The discussion on this resolution in support of the war took place the day after the convention had passed a resolution in support of the mine strike and the action of Lewis and the UMWA. That resolution was unequivocal and called for full support. Murray in his speech blamed the strike on the employers and the “Mediation” Board.

Murray told the convention that he had said to the “Mediation” Board that if the mine owners would accept the union shop, Lewis was prepared to offer the government a continuous and uninterrupted flow of bituminous coal until March 31, 1943, and that there would be no disturbances in the continuity of mining during that period. He said that the vote of the AFL members of the Board was “arch treachery and definite treason.”

In the face of Murray’s condemnation of the “Mediation” Board, the attitude of the employers and the present mine strike, Mike Quill, of the Transport Workers Union and a constant supporter of the Communist Party’s political line, took the floor to offer an amendment. The resolution in support of the miners was too strong for Quill’s patriotic stomach. After telling the delegates that these were “perilous times,” Quill read his amendment which said: the “convention to go on record as sending the vice-presidents of the CIO to Washington to place themselves at the disposal of the President of the United States and the President of the United Mine Workers, to speak officially for this convention, to do everything in their power to bring this strike to a successful conclusion and to get the mines working, so that the national defense program can go ahead.”

In reply to Quill, Murray said: “I prefer immediate action on this resolution. Otherwise the public might get the crazy notion that there is division here on this proposition.” Murray said also that if further aid was requested by Lewis and the UMWA policy committee, they would get it. This ended the Quill amendment, and like a beaten snake that had crawled out to take a blow at the striking miners and the whole labor movement, Quill went back to his hole.

This is the main role that the Stalinists are playing in this convention: treason and treachery. Merrill of the Office Workers, who always like to protest that he is not a Stalinist, in speaking on the war resolution, said that “government, management and. labor are responsible for the lag in production.” And why is labor responsible, according to Merrill? Because labor in the United States has been apathetic to what is taking place in Europe. That is, labor has not been calling for an AEF.

This convention, of course, is not what can be called a rank and file convention. All of the big shots of the CIO are delegates and they run things. All the old wheel horses are here to keep things in order and see to it that nothing unseemly takes place. There are many important matters on the agenda to come and these will be reported on more fully in the next number of Labor Action.

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