Hugo Oehler Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Hugo Oehler

In Illinois

P.M.A. Starts National Drive; Policies Differ

(June 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 30, 10 June 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Progressive Miners of America are now facing a life and death struggle against the operators, the State, the gun thugs and the Lewis machine. For the past several weeks, the policies of the Right wing leadership have weakened the union and now the rank and file are beginning to assert themselves in order to save the PMA. As yet, it is by no means a losing fight. Proper steps and correct tactics now can make up for the lost ground and will result in a victory and in the development of the struggle to a higher level.

In class struggle – against the Peabody, Horner, Lewis forces – the PMA surged forward, and like a flash out of the dark night heralded a new stage in the American labor movement. After four years of crisis, after the American workers had been driven back year in and year out, when the whole class was still in disorderly retreat from the capitalists’ onslaught on wages and the standard of living, the Illinois miners called a halt and stood their ground. This acted as a temporary rallying ground for the class as a whole. New life began to surge, new hopes began to rise.

But as soon as the union stabilized itself, the Right wing policies in the union took shape and began to dominate. Now it is time to call a halt, to smash the class collaboration policies and to swing out again into the channels of class struggle.

The Illinois miners’ revolt and the birth of the Progressive Miners of America came at a period when the American working class was breaking with its past and entering a new period of labor history based upon the entirely new foundation.

This change in class relations in America, and the contradictions it reflects in the Progressive Miners of America are not understood by the majority of the leadership of the new union. They do not understand this condition and are feeling their way forward the best they can. Quite often they take a few steps backwards. No one can place too much blame upon this leadership. Rather, one must look to the vanguard of the working class and find out how they have understood the situation.

Only one current of Communism, the Left Opposition, understood this situation, laid the theoretical foundation for the rise of the new union, just as the Illinois mines laid it in a material way through the blood of their ranks. All other Communist currents failed miserably. The Lovestonite, Right wing Communists, to this day do not understand what the struggle is about and instead have lost themselves in the fetishism of fear of dual unionism. They say the miners should not have left the Lewis union.

The Stalinists played an equally miserable role. Only after the union was a reality, after it had fought its first major battles, did the Stalinists stop throwing mud at the union. At no time did they understand the upsurge. At no time did they try to criticize its natural shortcomings politically. Now they are trying to make up for lost time and in their clumsy way, they are blundering as usual. Stalinism stands condemned to a greater degree than the progressive leaders who made serious mistakes in their struggle against Lewis.

We have no time to portion out “justice.” The PMA is in a life and death struggle and the Right wing policies must be exposed it is to live. The Left wing forces must be united. Much has already been said in the columns of The Militant about the mistakes of the Right wing and of others. Much more can be said but the main danger now is the danger that the Left wing will not unite, if the Left wing cannot find common minimum demands in action, if they are to remain divided, then the Right wing will continue in its ruinous policy.

There are many progressives who would like to organize a Left wing that excludes the Communists because they think the Right wing may raise a howl and claim that the Communists are trying to capture the union. On the other hand, there are Stalinists who would like to have mechanical control and leadership assured in advance. Both these forces must come to their senses. The militant miners must do all possible to guard against both dangers. No substantial Left wing can be organized without the Communists. No Progressive Miners Union can survive in this period of labor history if the Communists are hunted inside of it like rats, as they are in the unions of the A.F. of L. labor fakers.

The permanent crisis of millions of unemployed, the relief which will pass over to a form of social insurance, the vast army of idle surplus labor that will permanently press down the wage level; the capitalist struggle to maintain a falling rate of profit at the expense of the workers – in short, the Europeanization of the American working class, has already set in. This vast economic change in America and in world capitalism and the new class relationship lie at the bottom of the new period of American labor history. In this, the struggle of the Progressive Miners of America is a prelude to coming storms and battles of the American workers. Trade Unions can no longer stabilize themselves as in the past decades. Reformists must adapt themselves to the new conditions if they desire to serve their masters. But they will not have solid footing. The class struggle of the American proletariat will make life miserable for them.

In this sense, the Right wing policies of the PMA must not be confused with the Right wing of the average A.F. of L. union. There is distinction, which was not brought about by the leaders. The distinction has been brought about by the different conditions and ability of the leaders to adapt themselves to these conditions.

For example, the Gillespie Mass Meeting on Decoration Day heard Flaherty and Pearcy speak about how the action of the bosses was driving the workers into becoming Reds. Flaherty said that if fighting for the union means being a Red and a Communist then he was a red.

The union under the Right wing leadership is slipping fast. The Right wing knows which way the wind is blowing and is already adapting itself to the condition with radical phrases. But the time for phrases is past. We need action now, before it is too late. The more advanced element of the Left wing must proceed to organise a Left wing in every local. No political discrimination. They must fight for the following program, which is not the private property of the Left Opposition, but the collective opinion of other forces as well.

The members must fight for rank and file control and in no way must confuse this with the wrong slogan of “rank and file leadership.” The Left wing must fight for class struggle policies and against the policies of class collaboration. Every attempt, on any trumped up charge, to expel Left wing militants because they are Communists must be fought by the whole membership.

Mass action must replace the present passive attitude of the union. Mass action as the base of the legal fight of the Taylorville cases, the Webb-Wang case and the Mooney case etc., must be started at once. Mass picketing must be resumed.

The Union must take up the fight of the unemployed throughout the entire field. The organization of the unemployed in every coal county into unemployed organizations having the backing of the Progressive Miners of America will enable these workers, who are in the main miners, to obtain more relief than they are getting now. This will keep up the fight and strengthen tremendously the struggle against the operators. Some places (Carlinville and Springfield) the Relief Agents are driving thru forced labor for relief. If this is accomplished, the operators will see no need of paying even a five dollar scale.

The struggle for the six hour day and five day week with wage increases must be put forward as a concrete demand of struggle. The struggle for wage increases to meet the inflation prices (30 percent increases in some mining towns already) must be started.

The miners’ union has already been very successful in drawing in the women. The Ladies Auxiliary has often been the backbone for some spineless creatures in difficult situations. The union must draw in all the youth in the coal camps who are unemployed, potential miners or potential strike breakers, Their power, added to that of the Ladies Auxiliaries, will increase the fighting capacities of the union.

The talk and action of sending organizers to other fields does not answer the important question of how to spread out nationally. The organizing of the Left wing in the UMWA in other fields is necessary, but the main thing on the order of the day is the CALLING OF A NATIONAL CONFERENCE. Invite the West Virginia miners, the Nova Scotia miners, the National Miners’ Union and all Left wing groups in the UMWA. This is the main task of the PMA. Any play with words and talk of a national organization without this move will play into the hands of the Right wing and eventually, the operators.

The Left wing miners should organize their own Left Wing. No one can do this job for them. However, they must not get the opinion that only a coal miner knows anything about tactics for coal miners and only a bricklayer knows anything about tactics for bricklayers, etc. The advice and the help of the whole Left wing must be utilized. The miners’ Left wing caucuses should, however, be for and of miners. We do not need any advice about the danger of outsiders. This is a reactionary slogan. What we need is Left wing action. And the quicker, the better.

Hugo Oehler Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 4 September 2015