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David Coolidge

Wage Raise Is Real Issue in Hard Coal Strike

Boss Press in Ridiculous Effort to Picture Unprecedented Defiance
of Government Boards, Union Leaders as Dues Quarrel

(25 January 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 4, 25 January 1943, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


Roosevelt has ordered the striking miners back to work. As we go to press, it is uncertain what the reaction will be among the miners. News bulletins report that thousands of miners are still out.

For close to three weeks, thousands of coal miners in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania have been on strike. They have so far resisted the efforts of the union leadership and the WLB to force them back into the mine pits.

Following the refusal of the hard coal miners to obey its “order” to” return to work, the National War Labor Board referred the strike to the President for settlement. At the time this is written there is no indication as to what course Roosevelt will take. He can request the miners to return to work. Under his wartime powers he can order the miners back to the pits; or he can call out the Army to drive them back into the mines as he did in the North American strike.

The WLB procedure in turning the strike over to Roosevelt was accompanied by the usual bluster and billingsgate from the most reactionary members of Congress. Ramspeck, of Georgia, declared that “the government should take whatever action is necessary to open and operate the coal mines.” Andreson, of Minnesota, announced that the strike was close to treason. He wants the Department of Justice to hail the leaders of the strike into court. We presume that he intends that they be tried for treason. Strikes and racketeering are the same thing to Andresen: “Labor leaders responsible for strikes and racketeering are doing more than giving aid and comfort to our enemies. They are the advance invasion army of Hitler and the Japs, primarily engaged in sabotaging war production and in destroying public morale and confidence.”

This wild and ignorant explosion will really just scare the pants off the miners. Andresen perhaps does not know that the coal diggers are accustomed to the real thing in explosions and will be no more perturbed by his gas than they were by the suggestion of Hatton Sumners that they might be frightened by electricity.

Outcome Uncertain

We have no way of knowing what the outcome of this strike will be, nor do we know all the facts relating to the causes of the strike.

The papers report that the miners in “The Anthracite” are on strike against the increase in dues voted by the last convention and also for an increase of $2.00 a day in wages. These two demands placed together don’t make sense. One demand is to their own international, and the other to the coal companies. The wage demand involves the government, the union and the coal operators; the dues question is an internal union matter into which the government and the operators cannot enter since neither has any authority there.

It has to be emphasized (as the daily papers have not) that the action of the convention in making the dues $1.50 a month was not an increase in the total amount of monthly payments to tbe union. Before the convention the miners paid $1.00 monthly dues and an assessment of fifty cents a month. The total amount paid now is the same as before. This was explained in the last convention in a speech on this subject by Secretary-Treasurer Kennedy. It was also reported to the convention by the committee on Officers’ Reports that the assessment had been levied by a vote of the membership.

Real Issue Is Wages

On the matter of the demand for an increase of $2.00 a day in wages, it is interesting that this demand by the anthracite miners is in line with the sentiment expressed at the last convention. Lewis himself expressed the view that there should be an increase of about $2.00. The handling of the wage increase was turned over to a special committee set up by the convention, but the general opinion was in support of a $2.00 lift in wages.

It is improbable that Lewis and the other international officers are really against the demand for the increase in pay. However, it is difficult to understand why, with Kennedy, a resident of the area, and on the scene, it has been impossible for the international officers to settle the dues controversy, if this is really a factor in the strike. Also, why does this strike against dues come over three months after the convention? Even if these miners are striking against the operators checking off the extra fifty cents, it seems that the strike would have come sooner. It may be true that Lewis is not popular among the hard coal miners, but the $1.50 dues was voted by a convention of 2,800 delegates by an overwhelming majority.

We are of the opinion that Senator Truman was correct when be gave the opinion that the strike was not over dues but about wages. The coal industry as a whole has not been very much excited by the agitation for keeping the mines at work six days a week. One of the complaints at the last miners’ convention was that the government was demanding the six-day week at a time when thousands of miners were not even working five days, as stipulated in the agreement. It seems that the anthracite operators were the worst offenders of all.

Since the United States entered the war the coal industry has averaged only four days a week. Some mines have worked only a day and a half a week. In the face of a greater demand for coal, due to conversion from oil to coal, the mine owners refused to operate the full five days a week.

If there is a shortage in hard coal it has been created by the mine owners. The production of soft coal for 1942 was around 70,000,000 tons over 1941. Now, when the hard coal miners are on strike, there is a howl about lowering production and sabotage – but nothing is said about the contribution of the operators to the situation.

Sixth Day Problem

John L. Silent

Working six days for the whole industry has been delayed because the international union and the companies cannot come to agreement on the demand of the union for time and a half pay for the sixth day. This is the demand of the union, adopted and approved by the convention. Because of the complexity of the wage structure in the anthracite region it is more difficult to adjust wages than in the bituminous regions. Also, the anthracite operators have demanded an increase in the price if they agree to the wage increase. The union claims that negotiations are being held up by the Office of Price Administration.

All of the procedure of the international in connection with the wage situation, including the old agreement and the proposed amendments containing the demands for pay and a half for the sixth day, have been sent to all districts – including the three anthracite districts. Negotiations were under way but broke down. It is clear, therefore, that this issue is not in the foreground in the present strike.

The question remains, why at the time the international is conducting negotiations for extending the work-week to six days, with the demand for time and a half and weight and a half, the hard coal miners should

strike for a wage increase which a committee has been appointed to negotiate, and against the payment 0f $1.50 dues which represents no increase in the total amount of money paid each month? We don’t pretend to be able to answer this question. Lewis gives no light on the matter. He goes along with his usual silence, acquired the past two years, and simply tells the miners to go back to work, that they are striking in violation of the contract.

Union Leaders and the WLB

There is one side of this controversy that deserves especial mention. That is the miserable and impotent role played by the trade union leaders who are serving on the WLB. It must have been quite a spectacle to see Van Bittner of the CIO and Robert Watt of the AFL, labor members of this government-industry board, led up to the White House by William H. Davis. These labor leaders want to tell Roosevelt that they can do nothing and that it is up to him. This is quite a tangle also because these CIO and AFL men are forced to treat with the Lewis union, which recently split from the CIO and remains independent.

Tom Kennedy of the miners is in a more embarrassing position, if that is possible. He is a member of the WLB and it is his union that has defied this government board, which Kennedy praised so highly at the miners’ convention.

Whose side are these fellows on, anyhow? How long do they suppose they will be permitted to run with the wolves and at the same time pretend to represent those whom the wolves seek to destroy?

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