B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(2 May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 29, 2 May 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The stakes in the fight between the United Mine Workers of America and the Appalachian coal operators are growing higher and more important every day, as the large issues confronting the American labor movement project themselves into the scene.

This strike of 320,000 miners who might be joined next week by another 100,000 unionists has significance not merely because of the huge numbers involved – decisive as this itself might be – but also because of the indispensable nature of the coal industry especially in war-time, and because of the strategic role of the U.M.W.A. in the entire C.I.O. movement.

Future prospects of the C.I.O. depend considerably on a victory or at least an avoidance of serious defeat by the U.M.W.A. in its present struggle.

Questions of the role of the union movement in war-time, the next steps in unity negotiations between the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L., and the inner regime of the C.I.O. hinge on the outcome of the coal strike.

Roosevelt’s intervention in the dispute is considered a matter of days. How he uses his powerful position and influence on the strike settlement will reveal much on what treatment labor can expect from his war machine. How John L. Lewis reacts to government intervention should furnish a pretty good gauge of Mr. Lewis’s actions in the next war.

The Main Issue

Main issue of the strike is the U.M.W.A. demand for a closed shop. Already all economic demands have been withdrawn by the C.I.O. negotiators. Lewis has indicated his willingness to compromise still further and insist only on a union shop and the removal of the penalty clause for strikes in violation of contract.

To understand the vital importance of this issue one must remember that the A.F. of L. is supporting wholeheartedly the organizing campaign of its recent affiliate, the Progressive Miners of America, a reactionary and dual union in the coal mining field.

Exclusion of this rival is necessary to prevent a bloody and costly internecine war with the A.F. of L. in this field. Even partial success by the A.F. of L. would spur hopes in William Green and the die-hard clique that ruin of the C.I.O. is possible. The least the A.F. of L. bureaucrats would gain is further weakening of the C.I.O. thereby making probable a unity pact which would definitely tend to be reactionary.

Bill Green’s Game

Latest proposal of William Green to the federal conciliator in the coal strike shows what a shrewd and demagogic game he is playing to stab the C.I.O. in the back. Once a member of the U.M.W.A., Green knows of rank and file resentment within the miners union over Lewis’ dictatorial control and unsavory record of the 1920’s. Green was part of that Lewis machine. Now he proposes a national miners’ referendum to determine collective bargaining representatives, hoping thus to capitalize on the resentment.

Best answer to the phoney Green proposal is introduction of more democracy within the U.M.W.A. Ohio miners, for example, would take more kindly to the Lewis regime if district officers were elected, not appointed. It is the inner flaw within the C.I.O. set-up which the A.F. of L., even more guilty, uses hypocritically. A bureaucratic regime exists in both organizations. Lewis has the additional handicap of placing the albatross of Stalinism around the neck of the C.I.O.

Just as the interests of the entire labor movement are injured by the A.F. of L. attacks on the Wagner Labor Disputes Act, the invasion into the U.M.W.A. territory threatens to bring the possibility of a bigger open shop drive in major industry.

Powerful utility, steel and other industrial forces are backing the coal operators and insisting on an open shop drive. The A.F. of L. fight against the C.I.O. in this industry can only aid in those plans.

B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 15 January 2016