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David Coolidge

What Is the Meaning of the UMW Decision
on District 50’s Powers?

(2 November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 44, 2 November 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Next to the break from the CIO, perhaps the most far-reaching decision made at the recent United Mine Workers’ convention was that relating to the further expansion of the organizing activities of District 50. This district, which was known formerly as the Gas, By-Product, Coke and Chemical Workers, District 50, but now known as District 50, UMWA, was given organizational powers by the convention. By resolution it is permitted to “adopt bylaws and rules not inconsistent with this constitution.” It was placed under the “jurisdiction and regulation” of the international executive board of the UMWA.

The amendment to the constitution and the resolution broadening the field from which the UMWA may select members opens the way for taking in workers from variegated types of employment. Because of the very large number of unorganized workers in the country, and with District 50 as a new organizing center, it may be possible for Lewis for the second time in ten years to become the leader of a third national labor federation. In his closing speech to the convention Lewis emphasized that there would be no raiding of other organizations. He said that there were millions of unorganized in the United States that are crying to be organized.

Millions Unorganized

This of course is a fact. When it is considered that the combined membership of the AFL and the CIO does not exceed twelve million, it is clear that there is room for an all-out intensive organization drive. In fact, the new movement can grow to even larger size than either the AFL or CIO should a persistent, intensive and determined effort be made.

In the South alone it is possible to organize a million unorganized workers, including thousands of sharecroppers, tenant farmers and agricultural day laborers. These agricultural workers are at present partially organized into the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packinghouse and Allied Workers of America and in the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. The former organization is controlled by the Stalinists and the latter is under the influence of Socialist Party people. Both are quiescent, passive union groups and have within their ranks only a fraction of the potential membership.

In sections of the UCAPAWA there is great dissatisfaction with the Stalinist leadership. Locals are dropping away. These workers would welcome aid from a militant organization with the record of accomplishment of the UMWA.

Unity Question

The break from the CIO further complicates the question of unity between the CIO and the AFL. There is a desire, of course, on the part of the officers of both federations to exclude Lewis from any important role in any unity discussions and decisions. Neither Murray nor Green would want to give Lewis an opportunity to assume a position of prominent leadership in a united organization. However, it would be difficult to stop this with Lewis solidly backed by the 600,000 miners of an international in such a strong strategical position as the UMWA.

The leadership of the CIO and the AFL, however, is between the devil and the sea. Lewis would be a threat to their leadership and influence inside the merged organization while at the same time he could become just as great a threat on the outside expanding into another large national federation.

The whole question has been further complicated by the constant and direct intervention of Roosevelt in the affairs of the labor movement in the interest of the Second Imperialist World .War. Murray and Green, especially Murray, so far as public statements go, are solidly at the beck and call of Roosevelt, Whatever he suggests or orders they jump to carry out.

When Lewis made his unity proposal last winter, Murray was immediately summoned to the White House by Roosevelt, who let it be known that he would support Murray in any conflict with Lewis. The fact that Roosevelt and Lewis were on the outs and the fact that Roosevelt was “supporting” Murray emboldened all the little fellows in the CIO, like Walter Reuther and John Riffe, to snipe at Lewis. This was a most potent supplementary factor in widening the rift between the CIO and the UMWA.

It seems as though Roosevelt has burned his fingers in his anxiety to isolate Lewis and bring the whole labor movement under his control through the docile acceptance of his plans by the AFL and the CIO. A unified labor movement with the miners on the outside organizing the millions of unemployed workers and getting results for them will not keep the unity for long.

The CIO group is still too fluid and plastic to remain content to be tied to Roosevelt, Green, Hutchinson and Tobin, getting nothing but talk of sacrifice and more sacrifice, while a third group under Lewis might be improving its standards of wages and hours. After all, it is not the rank and file in the CIO who are on the outs with Lewis, but Roosevelt and the CIO leadership.

The question that is being asked over and over, of course, is: “What will Lewis do now? Will he join the AFL or remain independent?” It is my guess that the UMWA will remain independent and wait to see what will happen. In the meantime they wall proceed with an expanded organizing campaign. This seems to be the real meaning of the resolution granting wider powers to District 50.

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