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Right Wing Wins at Gillespie Mine Workers Conference

Miners Militant but Small Left Wing Fails to Stop $5.00 Day Scale Adoption

(October 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 42, 15 October 1932, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Progressive Miners constitutional convention, just concluded at Gillespie, Ill., had before it, as its main job, the matter of laying a militant union foundation. Second in order came the question of the wage scale. The break with the decrepit Lewis-Walker clique, which led to the formation of the Progressive Miners of America, ostensibly occurred over the issue of the betrayal by the former of the basic $6.10 a day wage scale. In reality, of course, it had a far more deep-going cause. Nevertheless the question of the wage scale, the manner in which it found its “solution” at the convention and the consequences which will flow from it in the future are of real importance.

It is in respect to this that we can say confidently that the correctness of the fight made by the delegates of the Left wing, by Allard, Fraser, Steed and others against a retreat will be more than vindicated in the future. The convention, however, concluded by accepting the reduction to the $5.00 a day scale, recorded in a vote of 98 to 47.

But even in this retreat the true revolutionists and the proven militants in the field will know their duty. Their sympathy, their warmest and unstinted support, their every ounce of energy and ability of sacrifice as well as their resources of strength extends to and belongs to the cause of the new union. That we can affirm even with the knowledge that the future course of the union cannot yet be foreseen. We know today that it is a union created by the will and determination of the rank and file to have forever done with the corruptionists, fakers, grafters and capitalist agents of the bygone days. They have taken measures to draft their constitution so as to give the utmost possible guarantee against a repetition. It is a union belonging to the miners and it can become the harbinger of a real militant national coal diggers union.

The Left Wing Position

The Progressive Miners of America now constitutes a serious challenge to the rule of corruption and servility to the operators of the Lewis-Walker combine. That is its great capital which it is duty-bound to preserve. But it will be faced with a serious combat to survive, to strengthen itself and to grow.

It is from this point of view that the fight made by the Left wing against a wage cut retreat assumes enormous significance. There was serious substance to the arguments made by Alex Fraser, showing that under the $6.10 wage scale the Illinois operators had gained 9.4 percent in coal markets; that the operators could afford to pay the $6.10 was demonstrated by more than 100 independent mines signed up on the above scale with the P.M. of A. prior to Oct. 3; that it was not the P.M. of A. but the Belleville operators who had called for the scale conference which showed their desperate circumstances and that a definite attitude and an intensive drive would also force Peabody to his knee.

But the Left wing did not carry its point and it would be wrong to argue that the convention was not made up of delegates at least a majority of whom were directly from the pits and knew the question involved. Undoubtedly even the majority of those 98 who voted for the retreat were rank and file working miners. The convention was an affair mainly observing the rules of working class democracy. We gather that it particularly felt the weight of a situation essentially created by the traitorous action of the Lewis-Walker sell-out. But there were two aspects to the question which influenced the convention decision, deserving some special attention.

The Opportunists Favor Retreat

First of all, the opportunist elements within the leadership, who glaringly showed their timidity and lack of moral courage wore essentially animated by fear of courting the displeasure of capitalist society. Their cry was: “We must not soil our hands with the Reds”. The logic of their position drew the conclusion to avoid any sharpening of the struggle by any means. Their arguments showed clearly that they did not even approach this question from the point of a temporary retreat compelled by a situation over which they had no control and to be overcome again by a renewed and strengthened offensive under more favorable conditions. No, their position was rather the one of admitting defeat in advance for the sake of collaboration with the enemy at all costs, and to remain respectable in his estimation.

Such was the essential character of the position taken by Pearcy, Keck Jones, Picek, Humphries and others. By this they were marking out further their Rightward course. They were speaking to a young movement, as yet inexperienced in conducting its own union, and the false position carried its weight in influencing the decision for a retreat. There should be little doubt, however, that the miners in general will look upon it only as a temporary one and turn their attention toward speedy preparations for a new offensive to regain what has been lost.

But there was another factor of at least equal importance playing its part in the decision. It was expressed in the numerical weakness of the Left wing. Those among the delegates in agreement with the position we have advocated, had to make the fight alone. The comrades of the Left Opposition proposed to the leaders of the official party, who were on the spot, a united front for the Left wing program of militant unionism, including a fight against proposals to accept a wage out retreat. The party leaders refused this offer. They thus bear the responsibility for the weakening of the Left wing.

To the Right or to the Left – Which?

The new union is now starting out with a handicap. Only fools would contend that it cannot be overcome, or that what is lost cannot be regained. But the success of this depends entirely upon the course the now union will steer in the future. So long as the Lewis-Walker machine will be able to maintain the remnants of the U.M.W.A. intact and bolstered up by the favors of the Peabody company, so long will the new union be in a position of a rival union. There should in that very position be many factors at work which will press it in a Leftward direction. As far as the objective conditions are concerned such is undoubtedly the case, but the union course is not decided by the objective conditions alone. Much depends upon the union leadership. And it is time to say with all possible emphasis that the degree to which the opportunist elements are permitted to hold sway in the leadership to that degree the danger of a backward direction increases. A sentiment, as expressed by them today, for collaboration with the operators rather than struggle will tomorrow become a sentiment for rapprochement and collaboration with the Lewis-Walker clique as well.

It is in this respect particularly that the miners must watch themselves on the road of retreat which they have chosen. With a militant union leadership, one step backward, which sometimes may become unavoidable, will mean only preparation to gain two steps forward later. Given this condition the Progressive Miners of America will be able to perform its duty. But a militant leadership is still to be created and the experiences which will inevitably How from this retreat will help the rank and file miners in making their selections.

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