Hugo Oehler Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Hugo Oehler

New Ill. Mine Contract

Left Wing Criticizes Provisions of 2 Year Agreement

(April 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 21, 1 April 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Gillespie, Ill. – The Scale Committee of the Progressive Miners Union of America has met with the operators holding contracts with the union, to renew the contract expiring April 1, and recommend to the membership of the union, to sign a contract for two years. A referendum vote of the union will be held Saturday, the 25th. The Gillespie office has sent to all locals instructions and the contract to be voted upon, but up to this date, Wed., March 23, the majority of the miners have not yet seen the new contract or the amendments to the old contract as proposed by the Scale Committee. Regardless of the changes or lack of changes in the new contract the miners should have more time to study the contract, and to discuss it before the referendum vote is taken.

All indications show that the leadership of the PMA consider the contract they present as the most hey could obtain from the operators at this time. The strategy of the Scale Committee and the present leadership seems to be the desire to obtain a two year contact instead of the one year contract in order to obtain a breathing spell which is to enable them to consolidate and strengthen their union. This intention may be the best but the way the action is being carried out is far from the best for the interest of the miners in the PMA.

Shortcomings of Contract

The shortcomings in the contract presented by the scale committee, at least of as much of the new contract as we are reliably informed on, are the following: The contract calls for a two year period instead of a one year period. Such a contract does not favor the miners and a militant union. On the contrary, such a contract will favor the Right wing in the union and the small operators with whom the contract is signed. At this stage of the crisis, and especially since we have the new banking laws that open wide the doors for inflation with possibilities of a wide price change, not downward, but upward, it is not advisable to sign a contract over such a long period, unless a special clause is inserted taking care of such price changes and inflation. The new contract does not provide for this. There is no fundamental difference between the contract presented for referendum and the Lewis contract. Such a contract is presented when the PMA is far stronger than it was when it fought the other (Lewis) contract and had been forced to compromise. This present compromise comes without a struggle – if the referendum is carried, at least so far as the leadership is concerned.

The struggle for the shorter workday is left out entirely, and yet this is a burning problem for the whole working class and especially the miners. It is true that the PMA is confronting great odds and an uphill fight; against the operators, their state force, murder frame-ups, the Lewis machine and the general effects of the crisis, and therefore they will have to be careful in their struggle. The union must now fight for the lives of the Taylorville frame-up victims whom the Peabody Coal Company wants to burn in the electric chair. The PMA must win over Franklin County and all indications are that a powerful strike movement will be upon us within a period of days. Confronted with these conditions the leadership desires a base below them for the fight. All this is true but it is equally as true that a union of the working class will ALWAYS face similar conditions and the united front of the bosses, the state and the labor fakers. The question is: will the two year contract, with no essential difference from the Lewis contract, strengthen or weaken the PMA in the struggle against the operators, the state and the Lewis machine? Our opinion is that the present contract will weaken rather than strengthen the union in the struggle. This is the opinion of the Left wing in the PMA.

The Right Wing Wants “Peace”

The unions came into existence through mass pressure and mass struggles and can only grow through such struggles. The growing Right wing in the union want less mass struggles and long contracts and the respect of the ‘’best people’’ in the mining towns. The Right wing want “peace”, but the Left wing knows that you can only have “peace” if you are strong enough to maintain the union and its conditions. It is the Left wing and the progressives who are carrying on the dangerous work in Franklin county, men whom the Stalinists call traitors.

We may ask the question: How much work will the PMA miners obtain this summer? Very little. In fact, a strike struggle for a better contract, rallying the UMWA miners throughout the nation behind this program will cut the ground from underneath the Lewis control and strengthen the PMA. The PMA is far stronger today than it was when first organized and a far greater influence. It has an excellent chances of winning a better contract after such a fight than by compromising with no gains, before a fight. With such a strike struggle carried on during the coming period, on a national scale, the PMA union would be stronger in the fall than it is now. It is very doubtful if the PMA could be smashed in such a short period. Rather, the PMA would gain throughout the country. The miners are asked to sign a contract, not after a defeated strike, when compromise must be necessary, but before a strike, and when the summer slack period is approaching and most of the mines will be shut down. Trade union leaders must know how to compromise, but in America we need little warning along this line except to the hot headed ultra-Lefts. Above all we do not want compromise before a struggle, before the battle and when we have grown stronger.

Hugo Oehler Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 4 September 2015