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David Coolidge

Boss and Government Machinations
Fail to Break Coal Miners’ Ranks

(14 June 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 24, 14 June 1943, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This piece is being written on June 9, just eleven days before the new “truce” in the mine strike situation expires. It is probable that a settlement will be reached before the “truce” expires. The settlement will not come because of anything that the operators have contributed, or because Ickes or the WLB decided to gather up their marbles and go home. The strike will not end because the miners have been scared by a bill presented to Congress by a couple of backwoods “statesmen” from two poll-tax states of the South.

The strike will probably be settled before June 20 because it must be clear by now to everyone, the WLB included, that the miners are getting mad. It is about time. This runaround has gone on long enough.

All the forces lined up against the mine workers realize now” that they put their foot in it. Now they are only trying to save face. They know now that they haven’t scared the miners, and that they are not likely to. The WLB, a group of labor leaders, big business men and something known as the “public group,” attempts to wield the big stick with a great deal of bravado and strutting, but no one is impressed, certainly not the miners. This board has no prestige and should quit and go home. Its hatchet man and chief cop in the present dispute is Wayne Morse, law professor and “liberal.” Mr. Morse has the nice-sounding title of WLB “compliance officer.” In the past. Mr. Morse has talked about strikers being charged with “treason.”

Mr. Ickes has entered the scene again with statements and telegrams. He is the “custodian” of the mines but he has no authority. It is reported that Roosevelt was inclined to let Ickes handle the dispute and reach a settlement, but the WLB took the position that, if Ickes was given authority, the board would resign. The WLB won out, and saved its face for the present.

The operators don’t like the situation either. They have been sitting tight since March 10, hoping that the miners would crack. They depended on the government to do their dirty work for them, but the miners’ ranks have held firm, even in the face of this threat. Now the operators feel that their WLB has made a few mistakes.

Mr. Burke, representing the Southern Appalachian operators, in commenting on the order of the WLB to cease negotiations, said that while the instruction of the UMWA officials to the miners to return to work “was not technically in compliance” with the WLB directive, “it is a sufficient compliance so that we could at once proceed with our efforts to reach an agreement.” Mr. O’Neil of the Northern Appalachian operators used stronger language when he said: “As far as I am concerned, the board made a grave mistake. I think the action constitutes a wholly unwarranted and unnecessary obstruction to the work of the conference.”

The instructions of the UMWA leadership for the miners to return to work on Monday wasn’t enough for the little WLB. They wanted to see every last miner all over the country actually back on the job before permitting the resumption of negotiations. Said “Compliance Officer” Morse: “... the United Mine Workers of America and the coal operators are not to resume contract negotiations until the mine workers are actually back at work.”

It is clear that the miners have the whole bunch backed against the wall. If they keep them there they will win. The miners should take full advantage of the disagreements that must be under discussion behind the scenes. The WLB quarrels with Ickes, and Ickes quarrels with the WLB and the operators. The operators, after putting all their eggs in the WLB basket, now perhaps feel that the WLB has let them down since the board hasn’t been able to frighten the miners yet.

The operators were hoping that the government would break the strike quickly. They are afraid that the miners will win a substantial award that will be retroactive. This means they will have to pay out a lot of money in back wages. That’s the reason they did not agree with the WLB decision to halt negotiations until the miners were actually back at work. They haven’t been able to break the ranks of “the UMWA, and they would like to get on with negotiations.

When the last walk-out began, the press reported the President had sent for Murray, Greenland other labor leaders. We, don’t know why. It is difficult to see what Murray and Green could contribute. They don’t have any influence with the UMWA. In fact, there is reason to believe that these two gentlemen are losing influence iri their own organizations. The AFL has just lost the machinists, and it has a few strikes on its hands. Murray has seen the Chrysler and rubber workers strike for several days despite HIS pledge to Roosevelt that there would be no strikes.

We would like to suggest to Murray that he keep away from the White House and spend some time in Detroit at the Packard plant, where 20,000 white workers struck because a few Negro CIO members and workers were given better jobs.

Bill Green might also stay away from the White House and give /his attention to Jim Crow and discrimination inside the AFL. Along with other problems this matter of union discrimination against Negroes can well occupy the time of Green and Murray. It seems that the miners are capable of handling their own affairs.

Cards Are on the Table

The miners are still in a very strong position, despite the many truces they have consented to. It is our opinion that this “truce” should be the last. We have the impression that this is the opinion of the UMWA. If their demands are not met in a substantial amount by June 20 it will be clear to every miner that there is nothing to be gained by any further extensions.

The cards are on the table now. The miners know what the operators are up to. They also know what the WLB game is.

There is the Smith-Connally bill, but there have been “anti-labor bills before. For centuries the labor movement has been fighting its way against, anti-labor legislation and anti-labor decisions of the courts. If Murray and Green had let it be known that they and their organizations would not tolerate the anti-labor rampage that is now going on in Congress, this body would not dare pass the Connally-Smith bill. And Murray, and Green would get the solid support of the ranks of labor – with the exception of the Stalinist stooges in the unions.

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