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Hugo Oehler

J.L. Lewis Betrays Miners at Coal Hearing

(August 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 40, 26 August 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The NRA has blown life into the United Mine Workers Union and has given Lewis and Company a new lease on life. After a score of years of the most brazen betrayals and sell-outs, John L. Lewis is appointed Labor’s representative on the NRA. If this were the only act at our disposal to determine what the Roosevelt Government thinks of labor it would be sufficient for condemnation. However, the present government of the imperialists have a long record for the few months they are in power; a record of clever reform, and sugar coated measures for greater subjection and exploitation.

Workers throughout the mine area are flocking to the folds of the U.M.W.A. Not that they have any faith in Lewis and Company, but because they think that they will get a new deal under the NRA, through the conservative union. The sell-out in western Penn. by Lewis a few weeks ago and the revolt against Lewis and Company brought out in bold relief what the actual situation is. Nevertheless, the absence of a Left wing in the U.M.W.A., and the capitulationist Right wing, class collaboration policies of the Progressive Miners of America, all favor the Lewis stranglehold upon the miners together with the help of the government.

Lewis and Class Collaboration

Lewis, speaking before the code hearing said: “The Recovery Act means a rebirth – not the bringing into life again of the forces of former years which we have found impossible. It is now a recognized fact by the most disinterested and authoritative opinion, both within and without the industry, that it cannot save itself without involving the cooperation and supervision of the Federal Government.” Lewis recognizes that the coal industry is a sick industry even if he did not recognize this as part of the decay of capitalism. He also recognizes that some form of nationalization is necessary to pull the coal industry out of the rut. The NRA, as a first step in this direction, will start this process and if more drastic government steps are necessary they will be taken to insure the operators profits.

Lewis says: – “We knew from long experience in the industry that it could only be stabilized and restored to a normal condition through a code which would be national in its scope and its provisions.” But Lewis never thought it was necessary to have a national miners policy and national strikes. If Lewis thinks it is good for the operators and the government to have a national policy then why does he not think that such a weapon would also be good in the hands of the miners against the operators. The separate agreements, one after the other; the strikes on district scales, while across the line the other miners worked year after year, all indicate who Lewis is talking about when he thinks a national policy will be good.

According to Lewis, capital and labor benefit as follows: “The employer is the greatest beneficiary of the Recovery Act. On the other hand, what do the workers either by hand or brain, expect from the Recovery Act. Nothing beyond the right to organize and cooperate with the employer, and to receive what they have always been denied – a fair participation in the output of industry”. In fact the workers won’t even get these crumbs Lewis speaks of.

Lewis and Company is discredited throughout the industry, however the NRA class collaboration plan will give these labor agents a new lease on life. A Left wing must be built in the UMWA where they are such forces in order to give direction to the revolt of the disillusioned workers in the very near future. Proper tactics will be able to guide such a struggle to a higher level than the recent western Penn. experience.

P.M.A. Capitulation and Stalinist Blunders

The Progressive Miners of America lost their most favorable opportunity and now the fruit of the Right wing policy has resulted in lost ground. Their capitulationist policy has not even enabled them to get in on the NRA bandwagon. The Hight wing, or at least a big section of it, is ready to go over to the folds of the UMWA. The Left wing must intensify its work toward the realization of its policy. If the Progressive Miners of America had called a national conference prior to the NRA becoming a law as advocated by the Left wing and has conducted a Left wing policy, a different story would be written now. However the wrong policies of the Right wing of the PMA, and the whole series of Stalinists blunders for years in the trade union field means that we have to retrace our steps to obtain a running start for the coming struggles which are sure to develop in the sick and decayed coal industry. The reorganization of this industry through the NRA will cause increased class antagonisms between the operators and miners as well as between the large and small operators.

The National Miners Union could have saved the day some time ago if the Stalinists had a correct trade union policy, understood the united front and used a little common horse sense. Now they are pushed into a more difficult corner. Due to the Stalinist’s wrong policies and the lost ground, our task is to retrace our steps through the wing of the UMWA and the PMWA Then the Communists can once again take the lead in the coming struggles. To continue to play with the paper National Miners Union is to waste valuable time and retard the movement of the class.

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