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E.R. McKinney

A Question to John L. Lewis

When You Attack Democrats,
Why Defend GOP?

(14 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 15, 14 April 1947, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the past weeks the leader of the miners, John L. Lewis, has made two appearances before Congressional committees on matters dealing with the UMWA and its affairs. As is always expected of him, he has held his own on both occasions. His language has been vigorous and colorful. The press reported that “Mr. Lewis had a field day in tilting with Senators ...” He said that the government used “a blackjack in favor of the bituminous coal operators.” Last week before the House Committee he told the members that “our people are tired of. working in Krug’s slaughterhouses.” Krug is an “arch criminal ... a scheming, designing politician ... a grotesque monstrous mistake ... a modern Hercules with a No. 12 shoe and size 5 hat.”

This is all very well and good. Perhaps it is all true, but neither the miners nor labor in general will be aided much by concentration on Krug. To be sure Krug is a “scheming, designing politician.” And so was Willkie, whom Lewis supported for President against another scheming, designing politician, Roosevelt. Dewey too is a scheming, designing political. Lewis was for him in 1944. The whole leadership of the Democratic Party is a bunch of scheming, designing politicians. This is just as true of the Republican Party. What does Lewis think Taft, Vandenburg, McCormick, Gov. Green are about anyway? Is he willing to leave the fate of the miners and the working class to the tender mercies of Taft, Dewey and Col. McCormick? And does Lewis believe that the Republican leaders wear No. 5 shoes and No. 12 hats?

When Lewis appeared before the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare in March to protest amendment of the Wagner Act, he said that the labor bills in Congress “run to the question of the retention of our form of government ... and everything in our social and political life which we have held to be of value and which has resulted in such a high standard of living and such material blessings that are without parallel ip history.” This statement sounds more like one coming from a coal corporation president than the president of the miners’ union.

Where is this high standard of living and the material blessings for the miners? Does Lewis call their cabins in the mud a high standard of living? Perhaps it would not be out of place to suggest that the top officials of the UMWA take themselves and their families for a year’s sojourn in one of the company houses, say around Morgantown, W.Va.

Labor in the U.S. has the highest standard and more material comforts than labor In any other country. That is true but it is also true that production, profits and dividends are bigger than any country in the world. Last year’s net profits, that is profits after all expenses and taxes, went to a fabulous high. Right now wages could be raised twenty-one per cent, prices stay as they are and still industry would have five billion dollars net of its 1946 profits left.

There are millions of workers in the U.S., including the miners, who have not a high but a very low standard of living. We are talking about the U.S. with its tremendous accumulated wealth and with profits after taxes in 1946 of 12 billion dollars.

Lewis told the committee that nothing was wrong with the coal industry except that it mistreated the miners and according to Lewis that is a personal matter between the miners and the operators. This is an incredible statement. Why do the coal companies mistreat the miners? Because they are bad men or because they are capitalist owners trying to get their capitalist profit, salaries, dividends and the bankers’ interest payment? And isn’t this particularly relevant in this very sick and highly competitive industry?

Role of Government

Lewis remarked that if the government would stop blackjacking the miners, the miners could settle with the coal operators. Following this he stated that the operators have the services of the government, they are satisfied with government operation; under government operation the operators are clearing about $250,000,000 a year. Why does Lewis think the government stepped in with its blackjack except to guarantee that 250 millions of coal profits?

Does Lewis believe that the mines would no longer be “slaughterhouses” if Dewey were President, Gov. Green Secretary of the Interior, and Taft Secretary of Labor?

Lewis has had a great deal to say against the government. But what is he talking about when he uses the term government? It is clear that he means the Democratic Party. This is an interesting light on the labor bureaucracy in its political thinking.

When Lewis talks about the government in a derogatory way, he means the Democratic Party. When Murray takes the same line he means the Republican Party. The whole labor leadership has distributed itself between the two capitalist parties and carries on a constant struggle to win the workers to one or the other of the two parties.

Tilting at Senators

Tilting at senators or labelling proposals of Truman, “quack medicine” will not take care of the serious problems confronting labor. The real “quack medicine” is the politics which is fed to the working class by the trade union leaders. It is quack medicine because it is taken from the medicine chest of the capitalist ruling class, from the medicine chest of the coal operators, the steel manufacturers and the Wall Street bankers. The working class, no matter how strong and militant, can never accomplish anything with a program straight from the National Coal Association, the NAM, the Iron and Steel Institute, or the Chamber of Commerce.

Such a program is the program of the capitalist class for labor; whether brought by Dewey or Truman, Bilbo or Taft. It is no less the program of the capitalist class for labor when such a program is served, with the necessary labor frills, by a Lewis, Murray or Bill Green.

Only labor, the working class, can have a program, a political party and a government at Washington, which will NOT “be a deadening blow to the national economy and the ultimate ruin of all.”

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