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Lewis Triumphs at Mine Convention

(February 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 7, 10 February 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Seventeen hundred delegates attended the thirty-third convention of the United Mine Workers held recently at Indianapolis. The majority gave the John L. Lewis administration a vote of confidence, cheered his pompous convention verbiage and bestowed a goodly portion of the acclaim upon his retinue of mediocre horn-blowing lackeys who constitute the pillars of his high-handed regime.

A whole coterie of officials had come direct from the anthracite coal fields where they had been instrumental in breaking the backbone of the strike conducted by the “insurgent” union. That suited the hand-picked delegates who constituted the majority in the convention. Strike-breaking has become their trade. Lewis ruled supreme at the convention. Opposition was squelched. Progressive proposals were defeated hands down, shelved in committees, or so garbled in formulation that after their adoption they will remain dead letters.

An “Industrial Statesman”

Since the recent revival of the U.M.W., John L. Lewis has been hailed far and wide by the press – which is always on the side of the enemies of the miners – as the outstanding example of labor-industrial statesmanship. But this praise did not refer to the union revival, but to such instances as the strikebreaking in the anthracite and elsewhere. The revival was due to the indomitable spirit of the rank and file miners and their fight for union organization. Lewis enters to collect the check-off.

His career of “industrial statesmanship” began many years ago as a petty official systematically looting the treasury of the Panama, Illinois’ local union. Through that he learned the first lessons in the shady art of buying henchmen. In the highest office of the union he made it into a system. He reinforced this with the methods of deliberate vote stealing, frame-ups, and slugging of opponents. Martin Ryan who led the powerful strikes for union organization in the Pennsylvania coke region sat in jail during the convention, framed up on a charge; of assault and battery. Removing regular elected officials In the various union districts or sub-districts who in any way be came recalcitrant to the Lewis regime, and the institution of what is called provisional government, became a celebrated method. Today most of the union districts are under such provisional government. The appointive power enabled Lewis to make general organizers out of all his decrepit henchmen who were defeated in regular union elections. Today there is a host of such appointed organizers throughout the coal fields Who were at hand to “manage” the convention elections. There was rich opportunity to secure the hand-picked majority of the delegation which claimed to represent a total membership of 360,000.

The Conciliation Hoax

The convention had as its outstanding feature a note of conciliation peace and harmony to be extended to the operators. But when delegate Sloan from Westville, Illinois, dared to make a fight for freedom of political opinions within the union, for the right of union members to choose their own political affiliation, including Communist affiliation, he was threatened with ejection from the convention hall. To affix the seal of “honest” and peaceful intentions upon the proceedings, the secretary of the National Coal Association, the operators’ organization, addressed the convention. But what is the real significance of these declarations of conciliation? Are they intended to secure peace and harmony in the mine camps with a filled pay envelope and a “full dinner pail” for the miners? That is not the motive.

The cringing pledge of these “industrial statesman” before the coal operators is an effort to guarantee that there will be no fight for improved wages and working conditions made by the miners so that Lewis may secure formal recognition of the union and collect the check-off on the dues payments. The operators of the Pennsylvania captive mines, that is, the United States Steel Company empire, showed Lewis that they could beat him at his own game of vote stealing, intimidation, frame-ups, and bludgeoning. They had told the NRA labor board to keep hands off while, by these methods, they carried the elections in their mines for the establishment of their company union. Lewis did his best to betray the miners who struck for recognition of the U.M.W. Now he promises that there will be no strikes so that he may thereby obtain the check-off.

No Strike Assurances

But the convention went on record for higher wages, for the six-hour work day and for the five-day week. Yes, but on this point also, Lewis hastened the assurance that there would be no truculence in the attitude of the union. He warned the delegates not to raise false hopes back home that such desires could be obtained. “We do not wish to cripple the industry or embarrass the federal government or the recovery administration,” he said – There must be no strikes, according to Lewis. In glaring contrast to these assurances, however, it is necessary to recall the fact that never in history have any serious gains been recorded by the miners except by fighting for them, by using the powerful strike weapon.

The most brilliant pages of American labor history carry the story of the valiant fight of the coal miners. But they also record the innumerable betrayals perpetrated by Lewis during the administration covering almost two decades. The Insurgent Unions

In 1925 he made his infamous proposal to drive 350,000 miners from the industry. The scourge of unemployment and the increase of machine mining aided this nefarious plan. Where once upwards of 800,000 coal miners worked in and around the mines, there are now 400,000 men employed. Many revolts against the Lewis regime have occurred, and insurgent unions have been created. There is today an independent union in the anthracite claiming 50,000 members; the Progressive Miners Union in Illinois, which lays claim to 30,000 members. New unions have sprung up in Washington, West Virginia, and Nova Scotia. But the independent union in the anthracite, headed by Cappelini and Maloney has not differed essentially in its methods from the U.M.W. The so-called progressive leaders of the Illinois union have adopted all the bureaucratic methods of expulsions and frame-ups of the Lewis machine.

However, the indomitable spirit of the rank and file coal miners has remained. It is due to their vitality and fighting ability that the U.M.W. has revived and today represents perhaps the strongest union in the country. There are still great latent forces hidden within the smoke-filled mine fields. There is no reason to believe that the policies which prevailed at this Indianapolis convention mark the inauguration of a new epoch. On the contrary. The spirit of rebellion will again assert itself. The economic pressure upon the miners will call forth their resistance against the continuous and increased enslavement. This resistance will reduce the deceptive conciliation and peace proposals to naught. In the mine fields are excellent prospects for new and more serious rebellions and for much more serious contests against the treacherous Lewis machine.

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