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Joseph Keller

Who Is the Despot?

(14 June 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 24, 14 June 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

T. Alan Goldsborough, the Democratic wheel-horse and federal judge who grinds out strikebreaking injunctions for the Truman administration, abandoned his pretended juridical calm toward the close of his latest injuhction decree against the coal miners and delivered himself of some poisonous personal remarks against John L. Lewis.

The issue involved was the refusal of the United Mine Workers to deal with the Southern Coal Producers Association as the bargaining agency for all the southern coal operators. The reason for this refusal was simply stated by the miners’ spokesmen. The SCPA is an organization designed to frustrate and defeat the legitimate demands of the mine workers and is a notorious strikebreaking outfit. Its purpose – as has been proved repeatedly in the past – is to obstruct and prevent collective bargaining and union contractual relations.

Now, Justice Goldsborough was not content to order and direct the UMW to bargain with the SCPA. He wound up by hurling a number of literary quotations, inappropriate but venomous, at Lewis. He quoted Lord Acton’s saying that “Power always corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He recited from the ancient Cicero’s Oration against Catiline: “It is your boundless audacity, O Catiline.” And he added for good measure that “there is no such thing as a benevolent despot.”

All in all, he drew the picture of Lewis as a “tyrant,” running roughshod over the country and doing as he damned pleased to the poor coal bosses and everyone else.

The word “despot” in the mouth of Goldsborough has a peculiar ring. Here is the judge who twice has decreed, under threat of fine and imprisonment, that the 450,000 soft coal miners must work under conditions dictated by the profiteering mine owners.

Here is the judge who by his single order decreed forced labor for the hundreds of thousands of miners and abrogated their right to strike. Here is the judge who by his sole word established a precedent whereby any federal judge can break any strike that the 15 million organized American workers might be forced to undertake.

This same judge, when his injunctions were twice defied, levied fines of $3,500,000 and $1,400,000 against the miners – one man made a law, then acted as judge, prosecutor and jury in penalizing alleged violations of his law.

Goldsborough, of course, isn’t really concerned about Lewis being a “despot.” He’s concerned with defending the profits and privileges of the coal operators. If Lewis used his great influence and prestige in the UMW to curb the workers’ struggles, as so many union bureaucrats do, Goldsborough would be ready to hail Lewis as a “labor statesman.”

The truth is that Lewis’s great authority in the UMW rests on his militancy as a leader, his readiness to fight for what the members want. Lewis’s politics are utterly reactionary but when he fights the coal bosses, he speaks the will of every miner.

Goldsborough is the hand-picked juridical tool of a corrupt political machine run by the rich. Lewis is the elected representative of the half million miners, the struggling poor. One dictates in the interests of the greedy few against the many; the other defends the will of the many against the few. Who is the despot?

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