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David Coolidge

They Are Fighting for Every Worker –

The Coal Miners Must Win!

(7 June 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 23, 7 June 1943, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

As this is being written, a half million coal miners of the UMWA are holding THEIR line from eastern Pennsylvania through West Virginia to Alabama and the bituminous regions of the Middle West.

Without intending to do so, the very reactionary New York World-Telegram pays a high tribute to the UMWA. Says the World-Telegram: “The work stoppage became general today when the morning s lifts in the biggest coal producing centers ignored whistles at the shafts and remained at nol ie, apparently unimpressed by the fact that they now were striking against their government and face the possibility of military action to open the pits.”

The miners had nothing else to do; they had no other alternative. Every proposal they made to the coal companies was rejected. Every compromise suggested by the UMWA was rejected by the operators. ,Th| miners have agreed to extensions and truces, but the operators have refused to give ah inch. The owners of the mines (the real owners) have violated every principle of collective bargaining procedure. All of their scheming, all of their planning have been originated with one purpose in mind and that is to replace collective bargaining with WLB “directives” and presidential decrees aimed solely at the mine workers.

What the operators really have in mind is to create a situation where the government would claim justification for sending troops to the mine fields, Or a situation where the Senate could claim justification for the passage of the Connally-Smith bills by Congress. The operators want the government to break the strike even if it is necessary to resort to armed force. They want the government to come to their aid and help them to break the miners’ union.

They know that if they can break the UMWA, other employe ers will have an easier time in their anti-labor fight against other unions. The coal operators and all other employers and their paid press know that the miners are the fighting spearhead of the organized labor movement today.

The miners are not “apparently unimpressed” by any of the important and serious matters they face today. That they take many things into consideration is proved by the fact that the

UMWA has consented to the various extensions and truces, even in the face of the bull-headed, uncompromising and reactionary deportment of the coal operators, and the run-around which they have had from Ickes and the WLB.

The latest compromise on the part of the miners is the proposal that the portal-to-portal pay be $1.50 a day instead of $2.00. This was rejected by the operators. Not only did they reject this proposal, but they spread the lie that the miners were holding to their $2.00-a-day demand.

The miners also proposed that a coal commission be set up with equal numbers from each side to study the portal-to-portal question during a thirty-day period while the $1.50 portal-to-portal arrangement was in effect; the arrangement not to be binding on either side after the thirty-day period. This proposal was also rejected by the operators.

The operators have written to Mr. Ickes that “you may be sure that within the limits of the directive of the War Labor Board we, in our individual capacities, will do everything necessary to assure continuous production of coal on a normal basis.” When the whole course of the operators is considered, all that this can mean is that they will do everything possible to maintain coal production except bargain collectively with the miners and pay the wages that the miners are justly demanding.

The operators say, further, that the responsibility for the present situation is the fault of the miners, “who have refused to recognize the wage stabilization policies of the government as reflected in the laws of the United States and executive orders of the President of the United States.” Now everyone, including even the dullest mine owner, knows that this statement is only a lot of hooey.

The miners refuse to recognize a boss-controlled government political board that is stacked against them. They refuse to recognize the pompous antics of “Custodian” Ickes, who blustered around and then capitulated to the WLB. They refused to recognize that they should accept a wage scale lower than that of other workers in the war industries. The UMWA refused to submit to the procedure of the coal operators, whose plan was to wreck all collective bargaining processes and the mine union. They refused to work without a contract and to go hungry. When Roosevelt and the government accept the position of the coal operators and reject these just demands they prove again that they represent the bosses and that they are against the miners and the rest of labor.

In his telegram to the operators and the miners, Ickes says “the failure of the union members to work constitutes a strike against the government of the United States, which is in possession of the mines.” The government is “in possession” of the mines and Ickes is custodian for the government, but he has no authority. The WLB claims authority, but it has no influence either with the operators or the miners. The operators only follow those “directives” of the WLB that fit in with their own interests.

Mr. Ickes goes on to say that there are “a few powerful operators who from the beginning have deliberately opposed any compromise which might lead to a reasonable settlement.” This is true and binds the case of the mine workers. But the government does not put any pressure on the operators. Workers should not be deceived by the fact that the government is “in possession of the mines.” They are still private property, owned by coal companies, railroads and banks.

Ickes also says: “The president of the United Mine Workers cannot escape responsibility, for the cessation of work today ... I call upon the president of the United Mine Workers to cause the members of the UMW to return to their wartime posts of duty.”

Of course, Lewis cannot escape responsibility for the strike. He is the chief officer of the UMWA. None of the leaders of the UMWA can escape responsibility. Not a single individual miner can escape responsibility. So far as we can see, nobody has tried to escape responsibility. The miners are out in a solid mass. That is the proof.

Why do Ickes, the WLB, the employers and the capitalist press think that the miners elected Lewis their president? To work in the interests of the coal operators, or in the interests of the mine workers? Whom is he expected to represent, the coal diggers or the coal owners?

Lewis and the other UMWA leaders have the responsibility to fight until the miners win. This is the only basis on which the miners can have any reason to support Lewis and the other leaders.

Ickes calls on Lewis “to cause” the miners to return to work. But Lewis’ primary responsibility is not to Ickes but to the miners who elected him their president and who pay him a salary of $25,000 a year from their low wages.

We have no way of knowing what will happen. We do know that the UMWA is in an impregnable position and that it can win its just demands if the miners stick it out and hold THEIR line.

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Last updated: 23 May 2015