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Hugo Oehler

In the Illinois Minefields

Prospects of Development
of the Progressive Miners

The Tendencies in the Union and the Tasks Facing It

(May 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 26, 13 May 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Progressive Miners of America, which took shape in mass struggles against the Operators, their state and the Lewis machine, and which attained a certain stabilization of the union, is now running into a new period of class storms that will determine its life or death, or its crystallization either as a union of class struggle or a union of class collaboration.

The operators, the Peabody Company, the state and the Lewis machine have planned a new drive against the Progressive Miners. The first blows in this new campaign have already been struck. The union was not prepared to meet them and, therefore, they have weakened the union’s position. This does not mean that the position of the Progressive Miners Union is helpless. On the contrary, a systematic campaign and correct left wing policy, the same policy of struggle that was so successful in the birth stage of the union can bring it by the Fall of the year, the period when production will start again on the winter basis, in a powerful position to fight the Operators.

Tendencies in P.M.A.

The Peabody Coal Company, the Operators, the State Forces (State, County and City) and Lewis machine, represent the combined force attempting to crush the Progressive Miners of America. The Progressive Miners of America, like all unions of the working class, is composed of different tendencies, groups and factions with different policies. The struggle against the bosses and their agents cannot be separated from the struggle within the vinion, for a correct program. Within the union we have as definite groups: the Right wing element; the Musteites; the Socialists, Right and Left wing; the Stalinists; the Left Opposition. The Right wing is by no means a homogeneous group. A section would like to go back into the fold of the Lewis machine and another’ section would like to remain progressives, but “progressives” practising class collaboration with the small operators against the Peabody Coal Company.

In most of the struggles that have taken place within the union up to the present, to determine its character and role, these seven tendencies in the main divided into two camps, the Right wing element uniting organizationally, but the left wing element remaining unorganized.

The line-up in the main was as follows: The Right wing consist of a section desiring to make amends to Lewis, of the confused class collaboration “progressives,” and the Right wing socialists who work within the Progressive Miners. The Left wing in the main are: the militant, class-conscious progressives, the Left wing Socialists, and the Stalinist and Left Opposition wings of the Communist Party. The Musteites usually straddle the fence between these two camps, always landing in the camp of the Right wing in the final analysis. It is necessary to prove the above statement.

The main thing necessary at this stage is to point out the road ahead and the necessary plans for the summer period; to unite the different political forces within the Left wing minimum program.

P.M.A. and Unemployment

The first attack of the Peabody forces in the recent period was the bitter suppression and reign of terror against the State Hunger March. The backbone and bulk of the Hunger March were the coal miners and to smash the Hunger March meant to deal a heavy blow against the coal miner’s. The coal miners receive, at the most 75 cents a head for families, while the workers in Chicago and other cities receive far more. With a majority of Progressive Miners facing the summer

months on strike or unemployed, increased relief means strength to the Progressive Miners in their struggle against the Peabody forces. Governor Horner knew this and acted accordingly. The Right wing, the Musteites and the Right wing Socialists opposed the Hunger March from within, sabatoged it, fought against it, and in some cities the Right wing even allowed members of the Progressive Miners to be deputized to beat down the Hunger Marchers.

The struggle of the Progressive Miners for victory over the Peabody forces cannot be separated from the struggle of the unemployed workers, through mass pressure, for more relief. The Right wing element in the Progressive Miners Union have not only allowed this important weapon to lie idle and rust but have attempted to prevent the Left wing element from utilizing it in the struggle against the Operators. Has the Union officially taken one step in the direction of organizing the unemployed coal miners? No. Strike relief is the nearest they came to it, but that alone misses the mark entirely. The Progressive Miners Union must take up the activity for the unemployed miners inside and outside of the union. The Left wing must lead in this fight.

Red Baiting Campaign

Right on the heels of smashing the State Hunger March, the Peabody forces followed up in the southern area by killing two Progressive Miners, arresting scores of others and terrorizing the Progressive Miners in their base of operation just outside of Franklin County. This in turn was followed up in quick order by an attack upon the Left wing forces of the Progressive Miners Union by a charge of Communism and through a red baiting campaign.

The aim of the Peabody forces was to divide the union forces, force the Right wing into retreat, and the left wing, under cover. They wanted the Right wing in the union to make a drive against the Communists and other Left wing elements and thereby, to further weaken the union – in order to facilitate a finishing blow in the Fall of the year. They did not succeed entirely in the last move, that of red baiting. However, the Left wing position was weakened because all those forces, with few exceptions, who were under attack, wasted their time trying to prove that they were not Reds, instead of pointing out the real aim of the bosses “red drive.” The guns cannot be aimed at the Communists as Peabody desires if the union is to live; the guns must be aimed at the Peabody forces and expose the “Red drive” for what it is worth. To be called a Communist when one is only a left winger is an honor. For a Communist to deny being one in the Progressive Miners of America is a first rate mistake.

The Situation in Franklin County

We have already dealt in previous articles with the two year contract; the legalistic attitude of the leadership on the frame-up cases; and the factions in the Gillespie conference. More light can be thrown on this question, if we consider the two year contract in relation to the Franklin County strike. The situation in Franklin County was ripe for the strike weeks before the men were pulled out. The leadership held back, would hear nothing of it – until the Monday following the signing of the two year contract and then they were all for it. Did you ever hear of any worse strike strategy, or rather any better class collaboration “strike” strategy, than to sign a contract with a section of the small operators on Saturday and then to pull out the most strategical county in the state the following Monday? Even some of the Musetites in the field could not swallow this “strategy.”

The Musteites play an odd role in the Progressive Miners of America. Most of their return students make good watchdogs against Communism in general. Tom Tippet is conducting classes in Economics and other subjects for the union. His first outline on Economics dealing with wages is as far from Marxism as Marxian Economics is from bourgeois Economics. He will succeed in sowing confusion and will help strengthen the Right wing elements or its “Left” cover within the Progressive Miners Union.

The Stalinist faction and their policies and blunders have been dealt with many times in the columns of the Militant, so we will only take up a couple of important aspects of the situation. The outstanding factor to consider when one speaks of Stalinism as the official representative of Communism in the Illinois coal fields is the fact that the “vanguard” has control of the .majority of the unemployed councils and the progressives have control of the trade union and the strikes throughout the coal fields. This contradiction cannot be explained away with a jumble of words. It flows from the wrong international approach. The same contradiction was seen in Germany on an enlarged scale where the Communist party had “control of the unemployed” and the “social democrats were strong in the trade union field.”

The greatest contradiction of the Left Opposition is the gulf between its trade union policy, which has been proven correct in the struggle of the Progressive Miners of America, and its lack of material forces. Due to this, the main line of march of our trade union policy is often blurred by the tactical shifts along this line and by mistakes of a member or two.

Tasks for Next Period

A fight against the Right wing class collaboration policy must be launched all along, up and down the line, in the Progressive Miners of America, if the union is to be strengthened in the coming period if it is to be in a position to fight the Peabody forces. The red baiting campaign in the union must stop and the Communists must have the rights of minority expression as well as members of any other political party. The Left wing forces must formulate a minimum program around which to unite. These steps must be taken at once in every mine town, in every local of the P.M.A., if we are to defeat the Peabody, Lewis, Horner outfit.

The class collaboration in policy of the leaders of the P.M.A. was adopted because they “wanted a breathing spell.” But upon this false foundation they have been losing ground to the Lewis machine in many districts Breathing spells, as well as growth, cannot be had on the basis of class collaboration, if one has the interest of the workers at heart. Growth and consolidation is possible only on the basis of a Left wing policy, of class struggle.

Upon such a foundation the union was born, upon such a foundation the union will grow. Words about minority rights and expression, words about unity of all Left wing forces in the coal industry on a national scale, words about unemployment relief, words about the six hour day, words must be changed int action. Not the kind of action in the immediate past. Action where the Right wing sat in their swivel chairs answering phones, sending the militants to the front line to carry on the work and to be used as a cover for their Right wing poliicies. Individual militants and Left wing class struggle fighters may have the best of intentions, but as such they will only be tools in the hands of the Right wing unless they have behind them and are subordinated to, an organized Left wing.

The Right wing uses the Democratic party as their machine in union elections. The Left wing must organize all their forces for their struggles and their policies.

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