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‘Captive’ Mine Workers
Forced to Arbitrate

Government Strikebreaking Threats, Lack of
Full CIO Support Lead to Ending of Strike

(29 November 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 48, 29 November 1941, pp. 1 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Overwhelming government and employer pressure, aided by the refusal of the Hillmanite-Stalinist leaders of the CIO to give more than lip-service to the fight of the United Mine Workers, CIO, has forced the “captive” coal mine workers to end their strike for the union shop with an agreement to submit the issue to binding arbitration.

Faced with the threat of large- scale military intervention – 50,000 fully-equipped regular army troops were mobilized for strikebreaking duty – and lacking the assurance of decisive support from the pro-war leaders of the CIO, representatives of the “captive” mine locals met last Sunday and agreed to the settlement approval by the UMW policy committee at the demand of Roosevelt.

It is possible that Dr. John L. Steelman, “resigned” director of the United States Conciliation Service who was named as the decisive arbiter on Roosevelt’s three-man arbitration board, may finally vote the union shop or some compromise to the “captive” miners as an attempt to revive faith in the government’s “impartiality.” But there is no question that labor has suffered a blow with respect to those basic issues – the right to strike and to oppose compulsory arbitration – that developed out of the mine controversy and far transcended the immediate union shop demand directly involved.

Roosevelt used the strike to invoke his “no-strike” policy and to establish in practice the principle of compulsory arbitration. This raised the mine strike from the plane of a dispute over the union shop to a conflict between the entire CIO and the government over the right to strike.

Roosevelt’s Anti-Labor Hand Strengthened

In this latter sense, the miners’ acceptance of arbitration under compulsion of Roosevelt’s threat of army strikebreaking has undoubtedly strengthened the antilabor hand of Roosevelt and heightened the assurance and boldness of the Administration in its drive to force the union to surrender their right to strike and submit to government domination and control.

It is no discredit to the militancy and courageous union loyalty of the striking miners that they have been compelled to yield on their traditional opposition to compulsory arbitration. They showed by their overwhelming support for the strike, backed by the growing sympathetic strike action which involved almost 200,000 commercial mine workers by the time of the settlement, that they were ready and willing for a last-ditch fight. They held their picket lines in the face of the murderous violence of the companies, whose agents shot and knifed over a score of strikers, and against the almost unprecedented pressure of the government, big business forces and the propaganda barrage of the capitalist press.

Miners Faced Tremendous Odds

If the miners retreated it was because they felt that they were confronting insuperable odds against which they would be smashed to pieces in a continued frontal assault. They had to withdraw to a defensive line which they continue to hold.

This position was forced on them in part by the attitude of the Hillmanite-Stalinist leadership of the CIO. which ran hog-wild in the recent CIO national convention in its sycophantic demonstrations of support for Roosevelt’s war program. They were restrained from openly backing the Administration against the miners only by the tremendous pressure from the CIO ranks and the fear that their own union would be undermined by a ruinous defeat of the mine union, the very heart of the CIO.

The action of the CIO convention in voting unanimous support to the miners unquestionably was the decisive factor in staying the hand of Roosevelt from an immediate and violent strikebreaking attack on the miners.

But this action was so far nullified by the unqualified political support accorded Roosevelt by the vast majority of CIO leaders, that the CIO resolution of endorsement for the mine strike constituted no guarantee of continued united CIO backing should the strike have eventuated in a real showdown.

Strike Brought Out Contradictions

The mine strike brought into sharpest focus the insoluble contradiction in the policies of the CIO and the trade union leadership generally. The necessities of Roosevelt’s imperialist war program, which the Hillmanite-Stalinist CIO leaders support unconditionally, demand a totalitarian organization of the economic and political life of the country. The boss war economy comes into inevitable conflict with the needs of the workers, whose rights and freedom of action the government seeks to stifle at all costs. The trade union leadership wants to reconcile this fundamental conflict of interests. This is impossible.

An example of this is the policy of that group in the CIO which is centered around Philip Murray. CIO President and former right-hand man of John L. Lewis. At the CIO convention, Murray initially took a strong stand in support of the mine strike. But this support became increasingly weakened as his political support of the war became the dominant expression of his position. He could not reconcile the Irreconcilable contradictions between his support of the strike and the war. His political line determined his final attitude, which was a clear readiness to capitulate on the mine issue.

Murray’s position was distinguishable from that of the Stalinists and Hillmanites only to the extent that he still reflected some desire to attempt to reconcile the basic contradictions. The Hillmanite-Stalinist leaders have since abandoned the attempt. They are unreservedly for the war and have openly made their choice with the bosses as opposed to the workers.

As for John L. Lewis and bis followers, their position in the mine strike was weakened basically by the failure of Lewis during the past two years to mobilize the CIO forces around a program of fundamental opposition to the war.

As a result there was an absence of sufficient pressure from the ranks of other unions upon the CIO leaders to fully support the strike.

Immediate Conferences

As an immediate consequence of the advantageous position Roosevelt has achieved through the outcome of this strike, the Administration is now pressing ahead with its plans for legislative curbs on labor. It is a virtual certainty that Roosevelt will demand the enactment of antistrike and compulsory laws despite the opposition of the unions, confident that this opposition will not express itself in militant and effective forms.

This does not at all mean that Roosevelt has already succeeded in shackling labor. It merely means that he is in a more favorable position to do so. On the other hand, the actions of the Administration in this union struggle have made the labor policies of the government more suspect than ever to millions of workers Roosevelt’s open partiality to the steel corporations, his strikebreaking threats, the exposure of the anti-labor role of the National Defense Mediation Board, have immeasurably reduced the prestige of the government in the eyes of important sectors of the workers.

Moreover, as the war progresses, Roosevelt will attempt to make greater and greater inroads into their living standards and impose ever severer regimentation. Inevitably, the conflict between the needs of the war and of the workers must flare up into renewed and fiercer battles.

The mine strike crisis has revealed the crisis of organized labor as a whole. It is a crisis of program and leadership. Defense of the interests of the workers is predicated squarely on opposition to the war. Only that leadership can successfully lead the workers in defense of their rights and conditions which upholds a program of uncompromising opposition to the imperialist war.

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