From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 47, 24 November 1941, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
In the most significant labor struggle since the General Motors sit-down strike victory in 1937 which established the CIO, the mighty United Mine Workers of America under the leadership of John L. Lewis this week won all the early rounds in its titanic battle against Wall Street’s open shop drive, even though that master politician, President Roosevelt, openly directed the anti-labor forces.
By a series of brilliant and dramatic moves, John L. Lewis rallied the miners and the entire national CIO against Roosevelt’s threats and actions to aid the big steel companies owning the captive mines and thus gave Roosevelt his first major defeat in a year.
When Phillip Murray, president of the CIO, and Thomas Kennedy, secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers, resigned from Roosevelt’s Mediation Board because it openly revealed itself as a union-busting agency, Roosevelt’s plans to hogtie the labor movement into the war machine suffered a serious, setback.
This action killed half the joy of the labor-baiters in America when the National Mediation Board denied what it itself admitted was the right of the United Mine Workers – the right to have a union shop covering the 53,000 miners employed in the captive mines of the Big Steel companies.
Roosevelt’s threats in the guise of “a solemn promise to keep production going,” that he would use federal troops to open the mines, was cheering news to the Wall Street capitalists and their many journalist stooges.
All of these people, ranging from Eugene Grace, president of Bethlehem Steel Co., to The Nation and The New Republic, thought that because of these threats and Roosevelt’s alleged influence among American workers, the UMWA would have to retreat and capitulate, with Lewis being smashed in the process. To their utter dismay and confusion, the crisis deliberately created by the Roosevelt Administration and the steel barons saws the resurgence of the CIO as a militant industrial union movement under Lewis’ direction. Instead of isolation, Lewis and the miners have the unqualified support of the entire CIO, even the Sidney Hillman and Stalinist stooges at the CIO convention being forced to pay lip service (at least) and loyalty to the principles of the CIO involved in the coal strike.
Surveys completed by the United Press and the New York newspaper PM show that the preponderant majority of the miners involved and the entire UMWA are solidly behind Lewis in this struggle to obtain the union shop in the captive mines.
The reactionaries didn’t think a strike was possible. But it was called. It was inconceivable that the whole CIO would back Lewis and the UMWA instead of Roosevelt on this issue. But it happened.
Roosevelt has maintained a discreet and ignoble silence the last few days, instead of immediately denouncing the strike, as he threatened, and calling out the federal troops to break it. For Roosevelt has been dazed, at least momentarily, by the events. He is losing his hold over the labor movement, indispensable to his war plans.
Neither Roosevelt nor the journalists nor the liberals understand the CIO fully. When Murray or Kennedy or the average CIO unionist expresses 100 support of Roosevelt’s policies, it does not mean, as these people think, that therefore the CIO will give up the principles upon which it stands and must maintain to keep itself going. The workers have an altogether different idea of what they think Roosevelt’s policies are and what Roosevelt knows they are.
How strongly the CIO feels about the union shop issue involved primarily in the coal strike is indicated by the fact that even the officials of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, Sidney Hillman’s own machine, had to repudiate his policies and vote for the resolution supporting Lewis! And the strike-breaking Stalinists, too, went along, despite a miserable attempt of Michael Quill, Transport Workers president and big shot Stalinist at the CIO convention, to stick a needle into the UMWA by offering the suggestion that the six CIO vice-presidents go to Washington to assist in negotiating the settlement of the coal strike. This insult to the miners did not go unnoticed. It proposed to send half-baked bureaucrats and incompetents like Dalrymple of the Rubber Workers, a couple of Stalinist stooges, etc., to assist the hard and tough and experienced men around Lewis in the negotiations.
Victory for the CIO is as necessary for its future existence as was the General Motors strike success for its establishment as an industrial union movement.
If the miners can force Wall Street to recognize the union shop in the captive mines owned by the big steel corporations, then the CIO can go forward to achieve an aim long held by Phillip Murray and his associates, as chairman of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, namely, to get a closed shop in the steel industry. That is why the present strike in coal directly involves the entire CIO and is not, as some reactionary writers say, an issue between Lewis and Roosevelt, etc. The settlement of this strike will be the precedent for all contracts in the basic industries between the CIO and the various mouthpieces that Wall Street employs to direct its huge industrial empire.
In his bristling blood and thunder speech Monday to the policy committee of the UMWA, John L. Lewis indicated that he understood what was involved.
Lewis scornfully pointed out the role of the labor-baiting southern congressmen and senators whose speeches against the CIO are printed in all the newspapers as “expressions of public opinion,” when actually they are based only on the industrial bosses’ and plantation owners’ ideas, who send them to Congress only by disenfranchising 12,000,000 Negro voters in the South.
Besides serving to reveal what a puppet of Wall Street Congress is, the coal strike exposed the fraudulent claim of the apologists of American capitalism that there is “national unity” between the workers and the bosses. Much of the bitterness against John L. Lewis in Washington is caused by the fact that he is, at present, the instrument through which the basic conflict in American society expresses itself.
The coal strike emphasizes once again the fact that American labor has not yet been tied down to the war machine, NOT BY A LONG SHOT!
Last updated: 13.2.2013