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David Coolidge

Let the Bosses, Their Press and Their Stooges Howl

It Is Labor’s Duty to Give the Miners 100% Support!

(17 May 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 20, 17 May 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The present strike of the miners is the high point of a half century of almost continuous fighting by these workers to improve their working conditions, gain a decent standard of living and protection from injury and violent death by cave-in and explosion. To gain what little they have the coal diggers have been forced to go on strike almost every year since 1899.

All of these strikes were, like the present stoppage, concerned with wages and working conditions. They cover the administrations of eight Presidents from McKinley to the present Roosevelt. These mine strikes took place in peacetime and in wartime. In 1917–18, over 100,000 miners were on strike. In 1919, over 450,000 miners struck for a 60 per cent increase in pay. They got 27 per cent. In 1935, over 400,000 participated in a strike, and the captive mine strike of 1942 called out 325,000.

The government, in 1919, was able to obtain an injunction making it mandatory that the strike stop. This was the first year that John L. Lewis was president of the UMWA, and William Green was secretary-treasurer. When the officers failed to call off the strike according to the injunction, they were cited for contempt. Before being brought to trial, however, the union officials submitted, Lewis taking the position: “We are Americans. We cannot fight our government.”

What Victory Will Mean

It is interesting that, through all these years, the bosses have never been able to break this union; not even with the aid of court injunctions, threatened prosecution, clubbing and murder by the coal and iron police, and assaults from the National Guard and the Regular Army. Through all this persecution, the privation of long and bitter strikes, the enmity of government officials and labor-hating judges, the miners’ union stands today, stronger than ever, the rock of the American labor movement, the vanguard of the trade union movement in battling for the economic demands of labor in the United States.

Despite this, despite their long past of victories and hard-won struggles, the mine workers face the gravest danger now of their whole militant career. They can suffer a major defeat. And a defeat now for the miners means a set-back for the whole labor movement in the United States. No worker, no member of any union, Should disregard this warning. If the miners win, it will be a victory for every worker, for every union.

The struggle being waged by the miners’ is a struggle against the Little Steel formula, against Roosevelt’s “hold the line” decree and against substitution of government boards for the employer in collective bargaining procedure.

If the miners win, the Little Steel formula will be broken, the “hold the line” decree will have to be modified, the WLB will be reduced to a decorative committee with no real authority – and, above all, the ranks of labor will have received a lesson in the way a union should go about gaining its objectives.

The bosses and their stooges in Congress and on the daily papers understand this. They are united as one man against any concessions being made to the mine workers. They know, and say, that if the miners get a wage increase, demands will come in from other unions which will have to be granted. These increases will cut into profits and reduce the amount available for dividends, big salaries, commissions to war contract brokers, anti-labor propaganda, lobbying in Washington and bribes.

The Mongrel Press

The entire boss capitalist press is calling for the suppression of the miners and a denial of their demands. This is to be expected, and as it should be. There is no reason to expect the capitalist press to defend the interests of coal miners or of any other workers. Hence the attitude of the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Scripps-Howard papers should surprise no one.

Perhaps the miners expected better treatment from that part of the capitalist press that poses as liberal and friendly to labor. For example, that journalistic mongrel known as >PM has always posed as a friend of labor. The Sunday, May 2, edition of PM carried the following head on the front page around a cartoon of Lewis: “Don’t Let This Man Run (and Ruin) the U.S.A.” The second page featured a signed editorial by James Wechsler, ex-Stalinist stooge and PM’s labor reporter.

Here are a few of the gems that Wechsler hands out: “The coal miners must learn ... that their best hope for a decent and fair solution of their troubles lies in Franklin D. Roosevelt, not in John L. Lewis. The stand of this newspaper is plain. We are against John L. Lewis and the strike which he – without daring to issue a strike call – has encouraged and blessed. We believe that the President of the United States must be supported in any moves he makes to insure the uninterrupted production of coal. When this strike ends – no matter how terrible the circumstances – we shall fight, in spite of John L. Lewis, for a full airing and a fair settlement of the miners’ grievances. And we shall also fight to put John L. Lewis out of the business of labor-leading.”

We don’t quote this because we fear the influence of PM on the miners. We know better than that. We quote it to show where the so-called liberal press stands; to demonstrate that PM is no different from the New York Times, the Scripps-Howard papers or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. All of these papers are willing for the miners grievances to be “aired” and “settled fairly.” But the miners don’t want air!

David Lawrence, in one of his Today in Washington columns, seems to think that the miners are fortunate in having Lewis as their leader. Lawrence says: “Lewis has again out-maneuvered the Administration and ... he has emerged as the most aggressive champion of organized labor that the country has today.”

Despite the fact that Lawrence writes from the position of an anti-Administration commentator, and is certainly no friend of labor, what he says here is simple fact, clear to all except such weasel-word “liberals” as PM and its Wechsler.

The last comment we wish to make about the Wechsler-PM editorial is the threat to run Lewis out of the labor movement. We are glad that Wechsler added this. It makes the editorial funny. Just think, PM, with no influence at all anywhere, and Wechsler will fight to get a new leader for the miners. PM really hasn’t influence enough to drive a two-bit Willie Bioff from the labor movement.

The New Republic, one of the “liberal” weeklies, also commented on the strike. This journal very generously admits that the miners have grievances and that “in many respects they have behaved better than their employers.” But “President Roosevelt’s answer to Lewis’ challenge was the only possible one.” Evidently the New Republic is of the opinion that it was not possible for the miners to get an increase in pay and thus end the strike by that procedure.

This “liberal” weekly thinks that the “no-trespass” slogan of the, miners has a “ridiculous” sound, but it gives the miners “a feeling of standing on respectable ground.” The New Republic goes on: “and though soldiers may not be able to force men to work, they certainly could prevent pickets from keeping away from work any who wished to obey the President of the United States instead of the president of the United Mine Workers.”

That is, the New Republic is saying here that the Army might not be able to break the strike by forcing loyal union miners to work, but the Army could break the strike by covering the scabs who attempted to get through the picket lines and into the mines.

These are samples from the “liberal” press. They will come to the aid of the mine workers AFTER the war is over! In the meantime, these workers can remain hungry, and the coal operators can work full blast at increasing their profits, dividends and salaries.

The Labor Misleaders

Did the mine workers fare any better at the hands of the leaders of labor? They certainly have the right to expect different treatment from those who lead labor. But did they get it? They did not!

Emil Rieve, president of the Textile Workers Union, CIO, and a member of the CIO Executive Council, speaking at the opening of the convention of that organization in New York on May 10, had this to say in connection with the no-strike pledge given by the labor bureaucrats to Roosevelt: “Nothing has happened which should cause labor to deviate from that pledge one iota. No matter how great the grievances of the miners, and that they are great I would be the first to acknowledge; no matter how much the coal operators had sought to take advantage of the situation in their hope of destroying the solidarity of the miners, there is no justification for the complete stoppage of production.”

Here is speaking the complete stooge and traitor. No matter what happens, no matter what attacks they suffer, the workers must go right on producing. No matter if they are hungry; no matter if the cost of living and taxes keep going up; no matter if the coal operators did get a government subsidy and permission to boost the price of coal – what does it all matter? The miners and other workers, according to Rieve, must grin and bear it.

At the recent conference of the AUW in Detroit, while the rank and file delegates were applauding and cheering the miners, the leaders were trying to explain what a fearful man Lewis is. Walter Reuther held that the UAW should back the economic demands of the miners, but “we ought not to support their strike or Lewis’ leadership.” Reuther said that Lewis is only interested in fighting the President, and is using the miners in his personal quarrel with Roosevelt.

Richard Frankensteen, who acted as strike-breaker during the North American Aviation strike, is, of course, against the miners’ strike. Frankensteen is “for the demands of the United Mine Workers, but I’m against their strike 100 per cent and without reservations.”

Despite the tirades of Reuther and Frankensteen, the delegates gave the loudest ovatioA to a delegate who said that labor should not straddle on the mine strike by “supporting the UMWA in their wage demands and not John Lewis.” Another delegate said: “Lewis and the mine workers are fighting today the fight that you and I and the entire CIO should be making.”

All of these situations demonstrate just how the matter stands. The miners should know who their friends are and from whom they can expect support. That they cannot get support from the capitalist press is clear. They understand this full well. But it is also true that they cannot get support from the so-called liberal press; these puppets who talk about fighting for the miners after the strike is over, or after the war is over. The leaders of the AFL and the CIO cannot be depended on. They too are against the strike; they stick to the no-strike pledge they, gave to Roosevelt without consulting their membership. And the worst, of course, have been the Stalinists and their slander sheet, the Daily Worker, who have waged an all-out fight against the miners. But we’ll return to these RATS some other time.

For or Against Lewis?

It is clear now, however, that the miners have powerful support. This support comes from the millions of organized and unorganized workers in the United States. These workers know what is at stake; they know that the miners are right and they know that the UMWA is doing what every international, union should be doing today.

The delegate to the UAW conference hit the nail on the head when he said that workers should not listen to talk about supporting the miners while being against Lewis. This is the rankest sort of nonsense. Even the reactionary David Lawrence recognizes this when he says: “If, when it is all over, the miners get more pay – and it appears they will somehow – you can chalk up another sensational victory for John L. Lewis, Who serves his union well for that $25,000-a-year salary which he earns many times over.”

In this particular struggle, to talk about being for the “economic demands” of the miners, but against the strike and against Lewis, is outright betrayal on the part of labor’s leaders. Any talk of this kind coming from the rank and file is plain stupidity. We can criticize Lewis; we have criticized Lewis; and we will criticize Lewis. But our general criticisms of Lewis have nothing to do with the present situation. In this situation, we judge Lewis according to how he lives up to his responsibilities as a union leader, according to how he leads the miners in their fight. Lewis is the leader of a union that is waging a battle for all labor – and waging it properly.

The test of a labor leader is very simple. Does he recognize the existence of these conditions and does he attempt to do something effective to improve conditions.

The miners and other workers attempted to improve their conditions by negotiations and got nowhere. They got nowhere with the employers and they got nowhere with the government. The strike was forced on the miners by the employers and the government. Every other union was faced with the same situation: strike or go hungry.

There was no other alternative but to strike. The miners and other workers have no other weapon. The daily press knows this. That’s why it can only lie and distort the facts. Roosevelt knows this. That’s why he tried to be alternately friendly and tough. The AFL and CIO leaders also know the truth, but they are cowards floating between the pressure of Roosevelt and the upsurge of their own membership.

Can’t Compromise Here

To be “against Lewis” in this fight is to be against the miners and against the interests of the entire labor movement.

The issue is NOT Lewis; it is the MINERS, the miners’ UNION, and the miners’ DEMANDS.

There can be no compromise here, no fence-sitting and no straddling. No worker, and especially no miner, should have any doubts about this. If the miners waver for one second they are lost. If they do not get and hold the complete support of all the ranks of labor, their struggle will be immeasurably weakened. This means that weaker unions, less militant unions and those not so well led as the UMWA, regardless of their size, will have no chance whatsoever to improve their wage position.

The bosses want to break the miners because they are the strongest and most militant link in the labor chain. They have called to their aid, THEIR Congress, THEIR government, THEIR press, THEIR pulpit, THEIR radio and THEIR lieutenants in the labor movement. These are all against the miners and their strike.

But over against these stand the solid and disciplined ranks of the UMWA and the support of millions of workers who wish that they had a union like the miners: unafraid, unbowed and determined. This is something; in fact, it can be decisive and with this the miners can win.

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Last updated: 22 February 2020