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Gertrude Shaw

Coal Miners Walk Out;
Fight WLB Run-Around

(25 October 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 43, 25 October 1943, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In appealing to the striking miners in Alabama and Illinois to return to work, their union president, John L. Lewis, said:

“I know how discouraged and embittered you are because of the shabby treatment you are receiving. You are denied a wage that will provide adequate food for your families while the coal operators are making the greatest profits in history.”

Apparently for this very reason, the 22,000 miners out in Alabama continued their strike which is at this writing in its seventh day. Lewis acted at the request of the War Labor Board, which said: “This strike is contrary to labor’s no-strike pledge and the national policy.”

However, the miners who get coal out of the earth never gave a no-strike pledge. Moreover, they have a policy which is not to work without a contract.

For six months now the miners have been waiting for a contract, and while the so-called truce period expires on October 21, a contract is not yet forthcoming.

John J. Hanratty, international representative of the UMW, urged the men “not to argue the whys and wherefores” of the case, but to “get on your muckers and get into the mines today if that is necessary to produce a record tonnage of coal tomorrow.” And he added: “If any man tells you that your union is giving you this advice ‘with fingers crossed’ he is either a fool or a liar.” However, he also told the strikers that they are “conspicuous among groups denied even a fair return for their labors” and the miners don’t see why they should not ask the reason why portal-to-portal pay is being denied them.

A United Press dispatch about the strike contains this passage: “An example of the response of the miners was in these words of one employed at the Mylan [?] shaft of the Tennessee Coal & Iron Co.: ‘To hell with the union and to hell with the WLB. No contract, no work; and this time that stands.’”

It is very doubtful that this irate striker meant to hell with the union in the same sense as he meant to hell with the WLB. Miners know too well the importance of their organization. They are, however, angry about the advice to return to work before their grievances are settled and at the union leaders who give it.

A Silent Understanding

A special report to the New York Times of October 19 gave this significant description of how the miners are conducting their strike:

“According to reports from the striking areas, the miners were refusing to attend meetings lest they incur the penalties of the Connally-Smith Act and they had somehow set up some form of a ‘silent understanding’ with each other whereby they did not even need to speak, but would act as individuals as long as their wage grievances were not redressed.”

The miners seem to have the know-how.

The result of the strike so far as the WLB is concerned is the announcement of a public hearing on October 21 to listen to arguments on the proposed contract agreed upon a long time ago by the UMW and the Illinois coal operators but opposed by the Appalachian operators.

The WLB also proudly asserts its policy not to consider a case “at the point of a gun” and threatens not to hold the hearings after all unless the striking men return to their jobs. Without the muzzle of the strike in their hacks, the WLB members, did not see fit even to call a public hearing.

The Appalachian operators have made haste to state that they reject the terms of the proposed agreement, that it is a “subterfuge” covering a “hidden wage increase” – and of course, these capitalists bursting with war profits are worried about the “hold-the-line” order, you bet! So, the same old run-around begins again.

The Questions Posed

The miners have again pioneered for the labor movement. The Alabama and Illinois mine strikes pose to the whole labor movement once more the need to fight to end the Little Steel wage formula, to repudiate the no-strike pledge, to call labor’s representatives off the WLB – and to put labor in a position to bargain collectively for its legitimate demands.

For the miners themselves, the Alabama and Illinois strikes again pose the question of nationalizing the mines and placing them under workers’ control.

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