Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

David Coolidge

Miners Want Local Autonomy – Without Strings

(10 July 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 28, 10 July 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

According to the daily press, one hundred miners belonging to Ray Edmundson’s anti-Lewis faction met in Cincinnati last week. This is the group formed in southern Illinois by Edmundson, allegedly to fight for the restoration of district autonomy in the miners’ international.

The delegates to the conference passed resolutions condemning Lewis’ “autocratic rule,” his rule by his “royal family,” and, according to Edmundson, “when the convention meets in September, Lewis and his royal family can take a licking on the issue gracefully or disgracefully.” Edmundson declared that “liberty, independence and autonomy will be restored to the members of the miners’ union, whether Lewis likes it or not.”

One resolution of the conference said that the fight against Lewis will not interfere with the production of coal or become a strike movement. Another resolution calls for all supporters of autonomy to meet in conference in Cincinnati on September 11, one day before the opening of the international convention.

Democracy Long Overdue

Labor Action believes that full democratic procedure is long overdue in the miners’ union. We believe that autonomy should be restored to the thirty-one districts unless it can be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the UMWA membership that there are districts in which such glaring and anti-union irregularities exist as would jeopardize the welfare of the district and the international if autonomy was restored. It is hard to believe that this is the actual situation in twenty-one out of thirty-one districts. If it is the case that it is necessary to withhold autonomy from two-thirds of the UMWA district, then it seems to us that there is a sickness in the UMWA that should be cured.

The best, manner of providing correctives for any illness that exist in any section of the labor movement is to adopt the practice of the widest possible internal democracy, The opportunity to elect their own officers is an elementary democratic right of union members that should not be abridged. This should apply to districts as well as to locals and the international.

We believe that there is room for vast improvement in the matter of democratic procedure: in the UMWA. We also know that the same adverse criticism can be made of the labor movement in general and one does not need to direct one’s darts at the UMWA and Lewis exclusively. This is all that we can say on this aspect of the question at this time. We can, however, say something in addition on the Edmundson autonomy campaign.

“Liberals” Hate Lewis

In the first place, we know that Lewis, is not very popular in some quarters. He is extremely unpopular with the Roosevelt Administration and with Browder’s Communist Party Political Association. He is not popular with the leadership of the CIO. There is not much love for him at the top, of the AFL. He is also anathema to the so-called liberal journals and papers such as The Nation, the New Republic and PM.

All of this was made very clear during the mine strikes of 1943. All of these people were against the strikes and attempted to make it appear that the miners’ grievances could have been settled without resort to the strike.

They talked and wrote daily about the “war effort,” about “letting the boys down on the fighting fronts,” “isolationism” and “treason.” Despite all this, the miners continued their marches in and out of the mines with superb discipline and union loyalty, They pointed the way for the rest of the labor movement, which was straining at the leash while the Murrays, Greens and the Stalinists were turning heaven and earth to hold the line for their pro-war no-strike pledge.

We are skeptical about this Edmundson autonomy move. At present it seems faintly malodorous. We may be wrong, but we would like to know if there is anything behind this, such as the Roosevelt Democratic Party machine in Illinois. It happens that there is a miners’ convention in September. There is a national election in November, and both capitalist parties would like the miners’ votes. A fight against Lewis on the issue of “dictatorship” and autonomy would be as good as any for the vote hunters, provided they can get a miner to step out front and lead the fight.

We don’t claim that this is the case, but such things do happen. We are sure that if there is any possible way for the Stalinists to crawl into the Edmundson group and render aid and assistance, they will be there bag and baggage. Lewis was the same dictator in 1940 he is today but they raved for forty-five minutes trying to force him to remain as head of the CIO. Edmundson was an $8,000 a year; appointee of Lewis. It is reported that, after he resigned this post, he returned to the mines at a miner’s pay.

A Rank and File Fight

We say again that we are for the restoration of autonomy to the twenty-one districts that are today denied their democratic rights. We believe that this is in the interest of good trade unionism. We believe that the twenty-one districts should wage a struggle in the coming convention for this democratic right. We believe, however, that this struggle should arise in the UMWA and be conducted by the miners themselves. We don’t believe that capitalist politicians, whether Democrat or Republican, have any genuine interest in fighting for democracy in the UMWA or any other union.

Above all, we hope that not a single miner will let the Stalin-Browder Communist Political Association get close enough to be touched with a forty-foot pole?

Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 14 December 2015