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Arne Swabeck

Illinois Miners on the March!

Cossacks Used, but the Miners Don’t Scab

(December 1929)

From The Militant, Vol. II. No. 21, 21 December 1929, pp. 1 & 2.
transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On the very first day of active strike of the Illinois coal miners, called by the National Miners Union, military forces were at hand to attempt to crush it. At Taylorville the strikers, men and women, led by Freeman Thompson, fought a splendid battle against a combination of the Peabody coal company and their flunkeys, the Fishwick-Farrington administration of the United Mine Workers, flanked by six hundred national guardsmen with fixed bayonets and machine guns mounted at the mine shaft. Before this battle was over the strikers received encouraging reinforcements from all the members of the U.M.W. of A., employed at four Peabody mines at Taylorville, Tovey, Kincaid and Langley, who refused to go to work while soldiers were on guard. The strike became 100 per cent effective in these mines.

Capitalist Solidarity

The soldiers were brought there from Decatur and Springfield, the latter section, traveling in buses furnished by the Illinois Power Company manned by their regular drivers, in this manner the company could show its solidarity with the hard-pressed operators.

At Pana, the two mines were closed down tight. The coal diggers had no patience with Frank Davis, whose efforts as the representative of the old union officialdom and the coal operators, went all in the direction of preventing a strike. He was kept out of the meeting where the strike vote was taken. At Auburn, at the Panther Creek mine, at Buckner and at one large mine in the Belleville sub district the miners responded and downed tools, with other points, at the time this is written, expected to follow.

At Auburn occurred the next example of the combination of forces against the strikers. Representatives of the Fishwick-Farrington administration called a meeting of the local U.M.W. of A., of which all the miners are still members. Only the members who were in opposition to the new union were admitted. The vote to return to work naturally carried. Immediately the state government came into action to play its part. Mobilization of two score highway patrolmen was ordered with instructions to clear the roads leading to the Panther Creek mine. The pickets were dispersed and those miners who did return to scab thus met no opposition.

Wholesale arrests is but another means used against the miners fighting a desperate battle against desperate conditions. It is not the leading elements alone who have landed in jail, charged with inciting to riot, disorderly conduct, unlawful asemblage, etc. to be let out only under exorbitant bail. No, those arrested have been carried off in truckloads, deportation proceedings to be instituted against all non-citizens.

Prior to the actual beginning of the strike the sheriff of Franklin county issued a proclamation of his intentions to use all the armed forces available against the strike. He recognized only the United Mine Workers Union and its contract with the operators. It chimed in well with the proclamations of the guardians of this notorious contract, signed by Harry Fishwick, assuring all and sundry that in any event the contract would be lived up to. The Illinois Coal Operators’ Association has filed affidavits in the courts pledging its readiness and forces to uphold the contract. All of them agree, to fight [for] this contract. No wonder that the [...] miners take the opposite view. Th[e] [words missing] this contract represents [words missing] of the sell-out career of the old union officialdom. It legalized the speed-up, wage-cut system and the complete loss of union conditions. The miners knew that before the contract went into effect and they voted against it. A canvass made of 177 locals of the U.M.W. of A. shortly after the referendum vote showed only 14,000 votes in favor with 39,000 against.

This Illinois miners’ strike once again demonstrates how quickly the governmental authorities will respond to the call of the employers and order out troops to smash the workers’ ranks when they dare to enter into open struggle for the needs of their daily life. Particularly is this the case when the workers’ militancy is feared. There is not the slightest lack of unity between those who have common interests: the coal operators, their fellow capitalists, their government, and their faithful lieutenants placed as officials in the union corrupted by them, the U.M.W. of A. But this time also the Taylorville struggle showed a remarkable display of working-class solidarity: the rank and file members of the U.M.W.A. refusing to work while troops were mounted against their brothers in the National Miners Union.

The response of the coal miners to this strike, known to advance to be against heavy odds, shows their temper, which has been steeled under conditions growing constantly worse. Mechanical mining has definitely established the worst features of the speed-up system and mass unemployment. Added to these features are reduced wages, all made possible for the benefit of the capitalists by a corrupt bureaucracy of the old union. The miners are beginning to see the only way out of this dilemma is through struggle. In growing numbers they welcome the new union. It has great possibilities.

Strike Shortcomings

With the heavy odds against the strike, in spite of which the conditions for further extension are favorable – because of the splendid fighting mood of the miners – the absolutely inadequate preparation prior to to the strike call falls back upon the leadership as a heavy responsibility. Lack of preparation in this instance is the greatest handicap. Calling of a general strike is a serious matter even under the most favorable conditions. It requires first of all a concentration on the issues of the strike in such a way that not only the most militant workers know what the fight is about but so that the broadest strata can be aroused to active participation. While all the demands made in this strike certainly represent the needs of the miners there can be no question that with a concentration on a couple of the most prominent points a broader basis would have been provided, making it much more possible that the workers employed in the heavy coal producing territory of Franklin, Williamson and Saline counties, could also have been brought out, thus creating a real basis for victory.

Ever since the present squabble for the division of the spoils between John L. Lewis and Fishwick began, the favorable possibilities for establishing militant unionism and building the National Miners Union have increased manifold. It presented the opportunity for organization and strike preparation. It required the establishment of of correct tactics and real solidarity. This opportunity was squandered by putting up straw men to be knocked down. All efforts were concentrated on fabrication of false issues against the national president of the N.M.U., John J. Watt. This brought about a practical split situation at the Belleville convention just when the building of solidarity should command all attention. For this the leadership of the Communist Party is fully responsible animated purely by its false theory of complete mechanical control of all organizations in which it wields an influence. The results so far have been failure to prepare as conditions demand, and if continued can be nothing but a disastrous narrowing, not only of the basis of the present struggle, but also of the organization itself.

Rally All Support!

However, despite all shortcomings the struggle is on and is not merely the concern of the miners but of the whole working class. It demands their support, and particularly does it demand the support of al class conscious workers. Relief for the strikers must be furnished. It will come only from the working class. To be effective, such relief action must be organized on a broad united front basis endeavoring in this manner to bring in large number of workers to understand the need of solidarity with the struggling coal miners.

The Illinois coal miners are struggling against the combined forces of the capitalist powers and corrupt traitorous union officials. They are struggling for the building of militant unionism. Real working class support will bring victory so much nearer.

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