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New International, March–April 1950



$500,000 Marked Void


From New International, Vol. XVI No. 2, March–April 1950, pp. 67–68.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


When the half million dollar check was returned to the United Steel Workers, “properly marked void” by the United Mine Workers, it avoided bank clearing houses and consequently never had to get political clearance. As Lewis wrote: circumstances made it impossible to use the generous contribution. Not unnecessary but impossible. Fortunately, the long mine strike was successfully concluded shortly after the check arrived; but had the drawn-out battle continued, “void” might very well have been scrawled in Truman’s handwriting and not in Lewis’. For what Murray donates from his treasury is canceled by what comes out of his Political Action Committee; so that the word “void” is stamped more properly over the Steel Workers political policy than on its checks.

RECENT ANNALS OF AMERICAN LABOR record no other case when so many blows from so many directions rained on the heads of a single group of striking workers. Playing upon the fears of the aged and maimed, coal operators withheld payments to the pension fund; behind them stood the big steel monopolies closely interlinked financially and commercially and when their combined power failed to break the spirit of the traditionally militant miners, the government reached for its Taft-Hartley stick.

Truman hesitated, but not for long. Unfair labor practice charges were threatened against the three-clay work week; the union was compelled to reopen negotiations at judicial gunpoint on terms it had already rejected; government interdiction wiped out a closed shop clause in the old contract, hacked at the “able and willing” clause, and cut away at union controls over the pension fund. While cords were tied around the union at hearings in one chamber, legal processes were initiated simultaneously in another, culminating in an injunction ordering the United Mine Workers to discontinue its strike.

And finally, when the miners showed no inclination to obey, contempt charges wore preferred, aiming to duplicate the infamous fines of Judge Goldsborough. Busy days for process servers and court clerks.

ONLY A DEEPLY INGRAINED CLASS SOLIDARITY, a fierce militancy and a jealous determination to defend every hard-won gain could hold out in this single-handed struggle against a monopoly-government combine. And such are the noble qualities of the miners. If they were successful, it was not with the Truman administration but against it; against an administration which did everything realistically within its power at the moment to press them back to work.

The speedy capitulation of the mine owners, once Judge Keech failed to cite the union for contempt, showed clearly that their previous stubborn refusal to come to terms flowed from an expectation that Truman would do their dirty work for them. They surrendered only when Truman failed.

The union correctly hailed the court decision as a great victory. But in previous cases, under almost identical circumstances Judge Goldsborough ruled against the union. The fate of powerful unions and of hundreds of thousands of strikers is allowed to hinge on judicial caprice. Despite the miners’ victory, a dangerous sword still hangs over the union movement; for the owners may be served by a more compliant judge, or one less disturbed by the catastrophic consequences of his possible decisions, on the next occasion.

BUT TO RETURN TO THE UNCASHED CHECK. By action of Truman’s Attorney General, the United Mine Workers was forbidden to sustain and support a strike that continued nevertheless. If the stoppage had persisted, therefore, the very act of cashing the check, and certainly any distribution of the funds it provided to striking coal diggers would! have been eagerly seized upon by eager prosecutors to prove that the union was in contempt. Such were the circumstances which made it impossible to turn it into ready cash. Thus Truman wrote “void” long before Lewis.

This is not to say that Truman rendered the Steel Workers’ contribution totally useless. It still might have served as small part payment on any fine levied against the miners’ union, in which case it would be recorded as a credit in government balances together with the $2,000,000 already exacted from the union and as a debit in the Steel Workers’ ledger, only not as a strike donation but in the same columns which registered its PAC contributions for the re-election of Harry Truman.

AS A DEMONSTRATION OF SOLIDARITY with the embattled miners, the action of the Steel Workers Union gave positive moral support to their struggle and was a factor in the final victory, although financially its contribution could not weigh in the scales. Under onerous legal circumstances, it may have proved necessary to find other channels to give financial and material assistance to needy miners: but one action could have been nullified by no court order, by no legal dictum ... a powerful political demonstration by the whole labor movement against the vicious strikebreaking policies of Truman’s administration, an action whose electrifying effects would be far more potent than any unusable checks.

But exactly this was prohibited by the political policy of the Steel Workers Union which spinelessly cringes before its “Fair Deal” Democratic allies. Faced by the same enemies as the miners during its own strike last fall, it carefully adjusted its tactics to avoid embarrassing Truman, even though to do so necessitated dropping important demands. Above all, the miners’ triumph proves that a united labor movement independent of the Democratic Party can fight its way through to victory against the combined assaults of industry-monopoly and government-injunction. If this is true in the case of the United Mine Workers Union, which vacillates between the two old parties without a clear, class political policy of its own, how much more true can it become if the labor movement forges its own independent political party.

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