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Gertrude Shaw

Sequel to the Miners’ Strike

(7 February 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 6, 7 February 1944, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The miners fought a nine-month struggle to get a little more money to meet the high cost of living. They were vilified. Their leader, John L. Lewis, was vilified.

Labor leaders, hog-tied to the Roosevelt Administration by the no-strike, pledge, trembled at the “bad” example the miners were setting for the whole labor movement. But the rank and file of labor admired the miners, knowing that sooner or later they would all have to do likewise or be the suckers of the war profiteers. The government stepped in, as the saying goes. Secretary of the Interior Ickes became government operator of the mines. The miners returned to work. After much negotiating, the leaders of the United Mine Workers finally entered into an agreement with Government Operator Ickes by which certain very modest gains were clinched for the miners. Among the gains was portal-to-portal pay.

Whereupon the miners were returned to their “rightful” owners – AND THE SAME OLD PROFIT-SQUEEZE BEGINS ANEW! The mine operators now contest the portal-to-portal pay clause in the agreement. A test case is brought by Jewell Ridge Coal Corporation, a Virginia concern. Solidly behind the Jewell company is the Southern Coal Operators Association. They want to continue getting for nothing the many hours of miners’ time consumed in traveling underground.

The other day Judge A.D. Barksdale ruled in the Jewell case. This judge of the Federal District Court, meting out “justice” according to his capitalist lights, naturally decided against the UMW and in favor of the coal barons.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, this learned judge declared, was not intended to force mine operators to pay underground employees for the time they consumed traveling in mines to and from their places of work. No, of course not. It was, by inference, intended that this well-earned pay should be pocketed as profits by the mine owners.

The Southern Coal Operators Association is jubilant about this anti-labor decision. Its president, Edward R. Burke, proclaims that the Jewell decision “sweeps away the framework upon which portal-to-portal agreements were made between Secretary Ickes, as government operator of the mines, and John L. Lewis’ UMW.” The United Mine Workers will, of course, appeal the case either to the Circuit Court or immediately to the United States Supreme Court. In a word, a legal fight is on – AFTER THE NINE-MONTH BITTER AND HARROWING STRIKE STRUGGLE FOUGHT BY THE MINERS.

But, under the circumstances, what else could be logically expected? Loudly and clearly, the miners are called upon TO CHANGE THE CIRCUMSTANCES.

Government operation of the mines for the avowed purpose of breaking a strike is of no benefit to the miners. As soon as the mines are returned to private ownership, the exploiters of the miners get busy with new vigor. FOR THE SAKE OF THE MINERS AND OF THE NATION AS A WHOLE, THE MINES HAVE TO BECOME THE PROPERTY OF THE NATION.

But that does not say everything. The question is: Under what kind of government should the mines be nationalized?

There are plenty of government employees today who are exploited, as badly as, if not worse than, employees in private industry. No worker wants to jump from the frying pan into the fire. Furthermore, a government so constituted that capitalist-dominated courts can nonchalantly break the agreements made by it, is not what the workers want. What, then, is the way out?


The interests of the miners and of all the working people must become the paramount concern of government. Nationalization of the mines, the railroads and all industry under a workers’ government will mean that the workers themselves will actually operate industry for human use instead of inhuman profit. The capitalist government gives to the workers with one hand and takes away with the other – thus maintaining the supremacy of the capitalists and their ever-increasing exploitation of labor.

The class-conscious and pioneering spirit of the miners is traditional in this country. The eleventh hour has struck for a real break away from the capitalist merry-go-round. Will the miners arise to this task?

Will they come out with the absolutely necessary demand for nationalization of the mines?

And will they follow the logic of this demand which calls for independent class political action through a national Independent Labor Party – fighting for a workers’ government.

The workers have to vote as they strike – NOT WITH, but AGAINST the capitalists!

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Last updated: 11 August 2015