Arne Swabeck

Report on the Mining Situation

Written: August 8, 1928
Source: James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 © Spartacist Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-9633828-1-0; Published by Spartacist Publishing Company, Box 1377 G.P.O. New York, NY 10116. Introductory material and notes by the Prometheus Research Library.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Prometheus Research Library
Copyright: Permission for on-line publication provided by Spartacist Publishing Company for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2005.

Arne Swabeck’s report on the meeting of the national committee of the National Miners’ Convention Arrangements Committee, held in Pittsburgh on July 24-25, is published below, as are the proposals for furthering the miners campaign, which he and Alfred Wagenknecht jointly submitted to the PC. Both the report and the motions were attached to the minutes of the Political Committee meeting of August 8. The PC did not act on either, but referred both to the “Mining Committee.“

The party had begun the move toward founding a new union in the mining industry a few months earlier than it did in textile. On May 16 Foster submitted to the PC a series of proposals which insisted, “our definite immediate goal must be to win away from Lewis in open struggle the masses of organized miners. This inevitably means a split. For this our comrades must be steeled.“ Foster advocated organizing a series of regional miners conventions that would build toward a national convention to found a new union, and his proposals were unanimously adopted by the Political Committee. The “Save the Union“ conference held in May in Illinois’ District 12 voted to “remove“ the District UMW president, Fishwick, and to set up a new district office where locals should send dues.

While the primary motivation for advocating a new miners union was the shifting line of the Communist International (the Profintern’s Fourth Congress motion on the American question, which called for the TUEL to transform itself into “the basic organization for the organization of the unorganized,“ was appended to the minutes of the same PC meeting which adopted the call for a split with Lewis), the new line also reflected the sharp decline of the UMW in the industry. Production had fallen from 970 million tons to 383 million tons between 1923 and 1931, and union membership had fallen from 450,000 to 150,000 in the 1920s. The UMW was threatened with extinction in the bituminous coal fields. In the face of the losing strike in the Central Competitive Field, Lewis had abandoned the attempt to enforce the Jacksonville scale of $7.50 per day-he was negotiating wage agreements district by district, based on “existing wages.“ But however militant, most of the “Save the Union“ support came from miners who were no longer working. The movement had less support in the higher-grade “hard“ coal Anthracite region of Pennsylvania, which was insulated from the industry’s general decline by lack of competition.

The Pittsburgh meeting was held soon after Lewis had abandoned any pretense of saving the Jacksonville scale. The meeting decided to call on all UMW locals to break with the Lewis machine, pay no more dues to Lewis, affiliate to the National Arrangements Committee, and send delegates to the founding convention of the new miners union, set for September.

The meeting of the national committee of Pittsburgh, held July 26th, was successful. It had two main purposes: first to make our policy clear, and secondly to work up more activity for the national convention. While the first purpose may not have been fulfilled as completely as desired, due to the little discussion, the second purpose was particularly well taken care of. Several meetings were also held with the Illinois and Anthracite delegations: with the Illinois delegation particularly with a view to organizing mass resistance to wage cuts, to fight to break the locals away from the machine and to fight the checkoff, and secure a substantial delegation as well; with the Anthracite delegation, particularly with a view to better coordinate our forces there. Matters of both delegations were fully taken care of.

In Illinois the first conference called of organizers and leading elements had 16 attending. Policy for Illinois in accord with national line was adopted. Delegates were all ready for fight. Organizers were sent to the field, mass meetings organized and special efforts made to break the locals away immediately which are under our control. Negotiations are still going on between the operators and the Fishwick machine. Wage cuts will follow and there are reports that the operators fight the checkoff. The sentiment throughout Illinois has become very favorable due to the abandonment of the Jacksonville scale and there is a new fighting spirit developing. In Indiana, similar arrangements have been made for the future activities, negotiations between the machine and the operators have been broken off, pending settlement in Illinois. In Kentucky, we are establishing a number of connections. A conference has been held, participated in by delegates from more than a dozen mines, with good prospects.

The Chicago District Committee has decided to remove Simons from position of industrial organizer and appoint comrade Feingold in his place. This is harmful to the miners campaign, since comrade Feingold lacks experience as a party organizer and is not familiar with the situation.[1]

In the strike areas, the operators have flatly refused to enter into any negotiations with the old machine; there are some prospects of our obtaining a settlement in Avella, but generally speaking, the greatest danger is disintegration because the checkoff is gone, the old union is practically wiped out and it is very difficult to actually have the retreat in face of the lost strike become an organized one. None of the locals have as yet affiliated with the National Arrangements Committee, and in view of the great dangers of disintegration and the necessity of our forces and locals supporting us being kept intact, both where we have control and where we have a minority it is necessary that we greatly intensify the carrying out of our policy and actually affiliate locals and groups with the National Arrangements Committee, so that we may maintain organization.

In the unorganized territory, we are making headway slowly. We have a total of 55 organized groups beginning to function as embryo unions.

In the Anthracite, the forces under Brennan’s control are fighting recognition of the Boylan machine and are discussing strike against recognition.[2] There is some anti-Communist sentiment amongst a number of our supporters there for the new union.

Only 12 local unions throughout the field have so far elected delegates to the national convention and it is necessary that every source be mobilized to greatly intensify our campaign to make the convention a success.

The coming United Mine Workers elections nominations, which have to be in before August 26th, have been considered by the Pittsburgh Committee and proposals for policy are submitted. Likewise in regards to the declaration of war upon the Communists by the bureaucracy of the American Federation of Labor.

* * *

Motions by Swabeck and Wagenknecht

on the Mining Situation

In view of the present great importance of our activities in the Illinois and Indiana coal fields in regards to the inevitable wage cuts resulting from the abandonment of the Jacksonville agreement, the possibility of a mass movement against such wage cuts, the necessity of breaking the local unions away from the Lewis-Fishwick machine and organization for the national convention, the Polcom disapproves the action of the Chicago DEC in removing comrade Simons from the position of industrial organizer and replacing him with comrade Feingold. It is harmful to make such changes at the present time. Comrade Feingold lacks the necessary qualification and experience as a party organizer to fill this position now, and he is entirely unfamiliar with the problems confronting our party in the mining campaign. Comrade Simons is more qualified, has a greater experience as a party organizer and is more familiar with our mining campaign problems. The Polcom therefore recommends to the Chicago DEC to reverse its action and again place comrade Simons as the industrial organizer of the district.

In view of the present great danger of disintegration of the local organizations still existing in the strike areas of Districts 2, 5 and 6,[3] we shall intensify our activities to carry out the policy adopted by the Polcom by the following measures:

1. The Polcom calls to the attention of leading comrades in the mining field, particularly in Districts 5 and 6, that there has been a serious shortcoming in carrying out the policies laid down in the following respects: insufficient efforts to make the retreat in face of the lost strike an organized one, failing to pursue the campaign for breaking the locals away from the Lewis machine and have them affiliate with the National Miners Convention Arrangements Committee, since not one local has affiliated as yet.

2. In all locals where we have a majority steps shall be taken immediately to have them affiliate with the National Miners Convention Arrangements Committee, to be given charters and dues cards (temporary).

3. In locals where we are still a minority we shall be guided by the size of the minority and conditions obtaining whether the local resumes work under an agreement with the coal operators.

4. Where our minority is a fairly substantial one and no agreement exists, the minority shall be given a charter and dues cards (temporary) and function as a local union affiliated with the National Miners Convention Arrangements Committee, endeavoring to organize all the miners in the locality within this local.

5. Where our minority is too small, whether or not an agreement exists, they shall function as organized left wing groups, but be given dues cards, working within the local to win the majority and affect no split until after the convention unless such minorities become majorities.

6. More efforts shall be made to have the striking miners return in an organized manner and have our forces give real leadership at this moment. The party shall give all possible support to carry out the decisions of the Pittsburgh Committee to place an organizer in each subdistrict within these districts, each to be in full charge of their territory and establish functioning left wing blocs in every mining camp, and further to call conferences in each district of progressive elements to better carry our policies into effect, preceding this conference the party fractions to meet for the same purpose. These conferences to have as broad a character as possible.

7. In the event of a strike of the Brennan forces in the Anthracite against recognition of the Boylan administration, our policy shall be to throw our forces fully into this strike but completely carry out our own independent line as already laid down by the Polcom, intensifying our efforts to swing the local unions under control of this group into participation in the building of the new miners union. Simultaneously we shall inject the issues of the economic needs of the Anthracite miners, such as the abolition of the contractor system, etc., and demand that the strike be carried on on these issues as well.

8. In view of the anti-Communist tendencies and propaganda of the supporters of our movement in the Anthracite, the Gaffney group and others, the party shall use all possible efforts to combat and correct these wrong views. Our comrades in the leadership of the new union movement shall personally try to convince these elements of their wrong position and our party units in the Anthracite shall carry on a systematic campaign to show the role of the Communists in this, as in other struggles, as the real champions of the working class. The party Agitprop Department to give special attention to this situation and work out the necessary measures.

9. At the earliest possible date a party membership conference shall be held in the Anthracite to take up this question, together with the general problems of our mining campaign.

10. In order to increase our efforts for mass participation in the coming national convention, there being now only four weeks left with altogether too little of a campaign carried on, comrades Minerich and Watt shall return to the center as soon as possible and comrade Wagenknecht be assigned to give all possible assistance to work up an intensive campaign for selection of delegates by the local unions everywhere, and assist in other matters necessary to make the convention a success.

11. For the present nomination and later elections of national, district and subdistrict officials of the United Mine Workers, our attitude shall be opposition to any participation in general. Our counter action shall be propaganda and organization for the new union wherever our supporters still remain within the old union. For the Anthracite district and subdistrict elections, action shall be taken in each instance after a survey of the situation has been made.

12. The Polcom calls to the attention of comrade Jakira that acceptance of the proposal for us to nominate a slate for the coming United Mine Workers of America national elections at this time would be a complete negation of our whole line of policy in the mining situation.

13. In regards to the declaration of war upon the Communists by the AFL bureaucracy, we shall adopt the recommendation of the Pittsburgh Committee that the party and the TUEL begin an extensive propaganda campaign of mass meetings, etc., to acquaint union labor with the Lewis sellout and the need for organizing new unions in the mining industry, the textile industry and the organization of the unorganized, thus waging a counteroffensive against the attacks of this bureaucracy.


1. The minutes of the Political Committee meeting do not record whether or not Feingold, who was presumably a Lovestone faction supporter, remained industrial organizer of the Chicago District. “Simons“ is probably Bud Simons, who was later active as a Communist organizer in the auto workers union.

2. Brennan, a UMW official in the Anthracite region, had been part of the Communist-led anti-Lewis bloc in the period leading up to the UMW convention in early 1927. But Brennan “simply collapsed at the convention,“ according to Johnstone’s report to the 27 January 1927 Political Committee meeting.

3. The Workers Party divided the country into 15 districts for the purposes of internal administration. District 2 was headquartered in New York City, District 5 in Pittsburgh and District 6 in Cleveland.