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Some Experiences of the Illinois Miners’ Struggle
and the Policy of the Communists

(September 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 36 (Whole No. 132), 3 September 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the present crucial battle of the Illinois miners one question stands out of decisive importance for the future of the American labor movement. It is the question of life or death to the last solidly organized section of the miners union in the soft coal territory. But it is so especially by virtue of the fact that we are here concerned with a basic industry, once well organized, and a union, once attaining to a high degree of militancy, composed entirely of basic proletarians as separate and distinct from the skilled strata of which most of the at present remaining unions are composed. In view of the enormous retreats made by the existing trade unions on every field, both in regard to loss of wages and working conditions as well as in loss of organized strength, this Illinois miners battle becomes decisive for the future.

It becomes decisive in more respects than one; but particularly by what is already clearly indicated, that a victory in this strike must necessarily open up a new chapter laying the basis for an entirely new method and practice of unionism. It must be a final and complete separation from corrupt, treacherous practices of the past and from corrupt officialdom.

A mere victory on the wage proposition with union conditions and leadership remaining as before would at best be only a short truce to be utilized for preparation of new betrayals.

Union Future Hangs in Balance

This strike has gone beyond the bounds of a mere ordinary shut down. There are virtual armies arrayed with mass picketing on a scale never witnessed before. There is additional importance in the miners being the very spearhead of workers resistance against the wage cut onslaughts, and in the double objective of their fight – to also decisively defeat the wrecker’s from within. It is a struggle of gigantic proportions.

The future of the Illinois miners union now hangs in the balance. To estimate its prospect it will be well to note some of the experience of the past, and particularly the all important question of policy pursued by the revolutionists. In this respect a comparison of the views advanced by the Left Opposition and the policy and practice of the official Communist party will prove illuminating.

The Illinois miners do not stand alone. There are sections in rebellion against the U.M.W. of A. administration in every field, some having already definitely split away. The question of future unity of these sections, as a temporary measure, at least a united front on minimum objectives, is still a crucial one. It was therefore completely in accord with the fundamental principles of working class interest and proceeding from a basis ot revolutionary policy that we, at the time of the Pennsylvania-Ohio miners strike of last year urged a united front of these various sections to fight for their common immediate objective. The Pennsylvania-Ohio miners struck under the banner of the party controlled National Miners Union. The West Virginia miner’s were simultaneously on strike under the banner of their independent union, and the Illinois miners were in revolt against the U.M.W. of A. officials. Our united front proposal to be organized through a conference of these sections was rejected by the official party. Now such a step is becoming an ever more pressing duty.

We can go back further into the history of developments. At the time of the Illinois miners break with the Lewis administration, cleverly utilized by the Fishwick-Walker-Howatt combination, we warned against any false illusions toward this combination but at the same time emphasizing the need of the Left wing continuing the struggle within this mass movement. The official party pursued the opposite course and isolated its forces from the movement and from the union.

There was a repetition in the revolt following shortly after headed by the Edmonson forces. Once again a mass movement, though practically leaderless, a new opportunity. The course pursued by the Left Oppositionists in participating in that movement and to point toward the right direction for the future is now bearing its fruits. The Left Opposition Communists has now all the prospects for, and is taking shape as a force in reality, fighting for a correct direction to the present gigantic movement. The official party policy of boycott of mass revolts not entirely controlled by it has led it to its present fatal isolation from the Illinois miners.

This can be repaired still; but only by the official party 1eadership rectifying its mistakes and changing its attitude and policy. The course, which it must adopt has been very clearly indicated by the position we have taken. The correctness of this position has been fully vindicated by the event. The logic of the party position adds only one additional sad commentary further reinforcing this lesson.

The present Illinois miner’s struggle must start a new chapter in the history of their organization. Only a complete break with the past, with the corrupt union bureaucracy, can secure the victory they have set out to win against the operators, against the armed state forces and against the official traitors. The Left Opposition is developing a force in this struggle capable of constantly more serious intervention, and it will show the way.

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