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David Coolidge

Miners, Too, Need a Labor Party

(11 September 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 37, 11 September 1944, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The regular biennial convention of the United Mine Workers of America will convene in Cincinnati on September 12 to 21. The UMWA has had a unique history and today occupies a unique place in the organized labor movement.

For decades the miners were members of the American Federation of Labor, the outstanding example of Industrial union organization in the AFL long before the formation of the CIO.

It was the miners’ organization which led the fight inside the AFL for industrial unionism and later made the first cash contribution toward the beginning of industrial union organization. Not only this, but the miners also furnished the leading corps of experienced organizers for the new Committee of Industrial Organizations.

John L. Lewis, the miners’ president, was the first president of the CIO and remained at its head until the fall of 1941.

Today, however, the UMWA is an independent organization: outside the AFL, where it was affiliated for fifty years, and outside the CIO, to the formation of which the miners made the largest single contribution. This means thatt there arre today virtually three trade union organizing centers in the United States: the AFL, the CIO and the UMWA, with its District 50. The somewhat abrupt proposal made by Lewis in January 1942 for unification of the three organizations was rejected by the AFL and the CIO, in part through the intervention of Roosevelt (who selected a six-man board from the AFL) to meet with him on labor matters. Later the UMWA’s application to return to the AFL was turned down with the statement that the terms demanded by the miners were not acceptable to the AFL.

The coming convention of the UMWA is the first since the wave of militant strikes of 1943 which the miners carried through. There will be many things coming up in the convention in connection with these strikes, the results and the benefits gained. The final results are not in yet. Lewis pointed out in his Not Guilty article in Collier’s Weekly recently that the miners are still owed $18,000,000 in back travel time pay by the operators. Also, there are many other grievances yet unsettled, as can be seen in the recent strikes and stoppages in eastern and western Pennsylvania.

The 1943 strikes of the miners had the most stimulating effect on the labor movement. These actions by the UMWA created great enthusiasm among the most militant and aggressive workers in the CIO unions. These strikes, coming as they did at the time when the AFL and CIO leaderships were most vociferous in their support of the no-strike pledge, demonstrated to the ranks of labor that here at least was one labor union that did not intend to accept the no-strike pledge as an eternal principle of the labor movement, or to cringe before an anti-labor WLB.

A Welcome Militancy

The Workers Party and Labor Action enthusiastically welcomed this militant action by the miners and their great organization. Labor Action supported the four strikes of 1943 without qualification and without reserve. In fact, Labor Action, so far as we have been able to learn, was the only labor paper in the United States (aside from the UMWA Journal, of course) which gave full and unqualified support to the miners in these struggles right from the beginning.

Labor Action understood the issues involved and the justice of the demands the coal diggers were making. Furthermore, and just, as important, we know what kind of union the UMWA is. We knew that if their demands were not met the miners would lay down their tools and remain away from the mines in the most disciplined and loyal manner. This they did in 1943 on four separate occasions. They should have had the most enthusiastic support of the whole labor movement.

Organize the South!

Another field of organizing which the UMWA with its District 50 could take the lead in is among the agricultural workers in the South. Here are the most miserably exploited workers in the United States, black and white. They want to be organized. They would be among the most loyal and courageous workers in the whole labor movement. The UMWA could render a great service both to these workers and to the labor movement if it should begin to organize these .agricultural workers, sharecroppers and tenant farmers in the South.

The UMWA convention will have up for consideration the continually recurring contention over the matter of autonomy for the districts. For some weeks past, Ray Edmundson of District 12 has been carrying on a campaign in connection with the autonomy issue. Labor Action has already expressed its opinion on the matter of autonomy and of the Edmundson “revolt.” We said that we believe that all the districts should have autonomy, as this is understood and practiced in the UMWA. This should be the rule and not the exception. We can understand that at times, in the interests of union welfare it is necessary for the international board to assume control and administration of a subordinate section. But such administration should be temporary and only for the purpose of protecting the local, the district and the international. As soon as this has been achieved, autonomy should be restored. In general, we believe that the lifting of charters, the suspension of union officers and the appointment of administrators is undemocratic and quite often extremely reactionary. The trade union movement can only make genuine progress by the most enlightened and democratic procedures. As Labor Action said before, we do not intend that these observations shall serve as an endorsement of the Edmundson campaign. While we are for full democracy in the UMWA and all other unions, we are a little suspicious of the Edmundson movement. We would like to know just to what degree, if any, the Democratic Party nationally and in Illinois is involved and whether or not the Stalin-Browder Communist Political Association is crawling inside the pants leg of some of the Edmundson forces.

The Politics of Reaction

All of these things are important, but the biggest issue that will come before the UMWA convention is the political issue. Lewis and the UMWA Journal have already come out in support of the Republican Party and Dewey. Lewis and the editor of the Journal pretend to see in the promises of the Republican Party platform something of value to the working class and organized labor far superior to anything which the Democratic Party has to offer.

Lewis evidently believes what the Republican platform says about it opposition to the freezing of wages and its protestations on labor front trends of the Roosevelt government. This is certainly a very naive and we might say non-political manner for the leader of a great organization like the Miners Union to render or withhold political support to either of the two capitalist parties.

In his stand, Lewis is fundamentally neither better nor worse than the other labor leaders. He and Hutcheson go to the Republicans. Tobin and Murray go to the Democrats.

When we say that the Republican Party offers nothing to labor, do we intend the inference be drawn that the miners and the rest of labor should support the Democratic Party? We do not. We say to our fellow workers throughout the ranks of labor: Don’t support either of these two capitalist parties. Don’t throw away your vote. “But there is an election coming,” you reply, “and we must vote for somebody.” That is what we have been taught by the capitalist politicians and the capitalist employers; that we have to vote for their candidates; that if we don’t vote for their hand-picked candidates, then we throw away our vote.

Organize Labor’s Own Party

We don’t have to vote for the candidates of the Republican and Democratic Parties, the two capitalist parties. We can organize our own party, a LABOR PARTY, and vote for pur own candidates; labor’s candidates selected from the ranks of labor and under our own control.

The fact that we have not organized our party yet is no reason for supporting the capitalist parties. We can start today attending to our own political business as workers. Important labor conventions take place before the November elections. We can start in these conventions with resolutions for independent working class political action and a Labor Party.

For the railroad workers’ paper, Labor, and the UMWA to chastise the CIO Political Action Committee for chasing after Roosevelt and themselves go chasing after the Republican Party and Dewey, is no answer to the anti-labor policies of the Roosevelt government.

The miners cannot settle the labor problems of the day by mere adverse criticism of the CIO and AFL. In the political field, where all important questions must be answered today, the UMWA is not one step in advance of the AFL and CIO. This is a serious matter for such a militant organization as the UMWA. Here we see tremendous and outstanding militancy on the one hand and appalling political backwardness and indifference on the other.

A Great Choice for Miners

The choice for the miners and labor is not the petty bickering that goes on in our ranks among the leaders as to which capitalist politician we have put into office, but for all of labor to decide to get rid of the whole crew of boss-dominated capitalist politicians. Not whether to vote for Roosevelt or Dewey, but to reject and repudiate both of them; the parties which they represent and the capitalist masters whom they serve.

A mass party of labor is the answer. The miners took the lead in militant trade union action. They took the lead in breaking away from the outworn practices of craft unionism and established the industrial union movement. Let them break from outworn political action, from subservience to capitalist political parties and candidates. Let them take, the lead in forming labor’s own independent party: a national Labor Party.

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