Arne Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page


Miners Face Big Tasks

Progressive Miners of America Must Be Class Union

(October 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 44, 29 October 1932, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

From the day the Progressive Miners of America began to take on organized form it was clear that the real tests of its existence as a union, and particularly as a militant union, were still ahead. These tests, of course, could not be expected to be easy ones. It could not be merely a matter of going out to line up the membership and collecting dues. No, the job is a far more serious one. The existence of the new union will be conditioned upon its ability to give battle and its ability to fight to win. That also presupposes a much greater degree of clarity of views as to what really constitutes a militant union – one which can actually win over the combined enemy forces, the Lewis-Walker clique and the operators.

Only a few weeks have passed since the day of formation of the union, and the test is already beginning. The operators have extended their line of the battle front against the new union. In this they have obtained some measures of success, at least temporarily. That this could be possible, there need be no doubt, is due to some of the weaknesses displayed by the new union leadership at the Gillespie convention and since.

Carrying the Offensive to the Miners

In Franklin County, it will be remembered, the powerful Peabody company had, at the time of the convention, with the help of the Lewis-Walker clique, plus the terror of unheard of proportions, succeeded in preventing the strike and compelling the miners to submit to the $5.00 scale and with it to submit to the UMWA. These efforts had been extended to Taylorville, but there the miners were still fighting on the picket lines and solidly with the new union. U.S. soldiers were on guard at the Peabody mines there. U.S. soldiers also invaded Canton, in the Peoria territory, to break the strike. And now the mass picket lines appear to have been given up entirely by the new union.

This question of the picket lines is, of course, not the only point at issue. That itself is merely a part of the general strategy pursued. But for a new union, for a progressive union, which has to meet the enormous obstacles of all the enemy forces combined and merged into one, the question of stratgy becomes a real problem. The rank and file will and readiness to fight can be depended upon but the strategy of the fight must be a superior one. It must be one which will outwit the combined enemy forces.

In this respect it is necessary to note the very first weakness represented by the acceptance of the $5.00 scale at the Gillespie convention. For this those leaders who advocated its acceptance are fully responsible. The weakness lies not merely in the sense of its immediate effect but more so in the fact that the operators jointly with the Lewis-Walker clique are bound to take advantage of it. They will use it in this situation to strengthen the Lewis regime. They will be on the offensive, further extend the attacks to new territories and prepare for new and additional wage cuts. Naturally we are not unmindful of the fact that the logic of these measures inevitably brings their own conclusion in new and greater contradictions, new and greater antagonisms between the miner’s and the operators But in this respect also the direction and the leadership given by the new union becomes the decisive question.

Organization of the New Union

The now union starts out with the disadvantage of the retreat to the $5.00 scale. This part of the basis is thus equal for both unions. Which one will prevail? That question is more fundamental than the wage scale. It is now an open direct struggle between the two. But the strategy to be pursued must take into account the conditions existing in the various localities. It is not a matter of a direct head-on collision everywhere. It is clear that in Franklin Co. the process of winning the rank and file for the new union is by no means completed. Their strike was broken, they are still in the UMWA. For the Progressive Miners of America the task is therefore the one of working from within to strengthen its foothold, to regain what is lost and to prepare for the complete break with the Lewis-Walker regime.

The Taylorville and Canton territories, on the other hand, present a different picture. The new union is solidly rooted there and has already replaced the U.M.W. The issues can be settled to its advantage, its interests can be maintained, only in the direct collision with the enemy forces. Any relenting in this respect will surely react by the latter gaining ground, if not gaining the upper hand. This will surely hold true wherever the operators extend the battle front into the new union territory.

The Left wing must particularly make this clear to the mines. It is a part of the process of building a militant union. The issues, the conflicts can find their solution only through struggle against the enemy forces and not at all through collaboration with them. From the opposite direction the Peabody interests, which are the dominant interests in Illinois, have assumed this kind of an approach and are attempting to advance in head-on collision everywhere. This company is the main controlling factor in machine mining. As such it represents the crux of the problem of job control and union control. The Progressive Miners will in this respect have to meet the Peabody company face to face on its own ground.

The Lewis-Walker clique is perfectly aware that the danger to their regime refraining its former position does not come from the conservative elements in the new union leadership but from the Left wing. In the Illinois Miner, the sorry sheet which functions as their official organ there is a constant barrage against the Communists. Formerly it was directed against the official party, now the main guns are trained against the Left Opposition. This sheet, while attempting to define, as it puts it, the Right wing Communists, the official party, and the Left wing Communists, the League, warns against our “flirting with the Progressive Miners of America” and against our “doing the best to get control of it.” This sheet further concentrates its attacks upon Gerry Allard attempting to reduce his position purely to the one of holding down a job. Of course, to this kind of scribbler no other motive is understandable than the one of holding down a soft job. They complain that Gerry was first with the National Miners Union, then with the UMWA and now with the Progressive Miners.

Such efforts to discredit a Left wing leader will not get very far with the miners, however. To them Allard’s position as a militant and as a revolutionist gaining in the ability of pursuing a correct class policy is becoming increasingly clear. Nor will the rank and file miners be much disturbed over their warnings against the Communist League of America. We have taken our position squarely with the new union, as is the duty of all revolutionists, not at all in the sense of supporting the direction which the reactionary careerist elements attempt to impose upon it; but on the contrary, to help the rebellion against the enemy facing the miners in combined force and to help develop it into becoming truly a militant class union. That is the direction which our comrades and supporters in the field pursue.

Arne Swabeck Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 5 December 2014