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David Coolidge

Fining of Miners Exposes
Government Machinations

(26 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 17, 26 April 1948, pp. 1 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

And so, according to the capitalist judge sitting in the Federal district court in Washington, John L. Lewis and the union of the coal diggers are guilty of “civil and criminal contempt of court.” This “contempt” charge is a handy means the capitalist courts have of kicking the little people around without the little people having much of an opportunity to do anything about it. Almost always it is workers, workers organizations or working class leaders who are held in contempt by some little black-robed servant of the big corporations and big banks.

That’s what has happened to Lewis and the UMWA. Lewis is fined $20, and the union $1,400,000. They didn’t obey an order of the capitalist court to get back into the mines and start digging coal. For that Lewis was haled into court and found guilty.

The court was in a very benign mood before sentencing Lewis and the UMWA. Not toward the miners but toward the Government. Listen to the self-effacing little judge: “Now if the court was to use its individual judgment it would impose a prison sentence upon the individual defendant. But the court is only one man, one individual. So the court feels it should adopt the recommendation made by the government” This is the most transparent eyewash. A one-man court can find you guilty but needs the advice of the government in passing sentence.

What It Means

Why didn’t the little judge sentence Lewis to prison? He knows and we know. We know too why he asked the government for recommendations. There ought to be a lesson in this for Lewis, for the miners, for all leaders of labor and for all the working class. Who is “the government” today? “The government” is the Democratic party, headed by Truman. The Department of Justice is the law enforcement section of the Truman government. The assistant attorney general who prosecuted Lewis and the miners has his instructions from the head of “the government,” that is, the head of the Democratic party which hopes to win the election in November and remain “the government.”

“The government” (Democratic party) was really up against it. Joe Martin (Republican party) had stepped into the situation and had been successful in getting the strike settled. This made little Joe Martin talked about as a possible Republican candidate for president. This would never do; the Republicans must not be permitted to go into the campaign with the slogan “we settled the coal strike.” “The government” (Democratic party) struck back at the Republicans. Lewis and the union had to be convicted.

But they were up against something very unpleasant: they were up against the miners. Miners are not easily seared. The weather is nice and this is the fishing season. The little judge was of a mind to put Lewis in jail. And we believe that “the government” shared this view. That would be a feather in the cap of the small fry from the Justice Department who represented “the government” (Democratic party). That would suit the coal operators, the NAM and the big capitalist newspapers.

“The government,” however, preferred to temper justice with mercy. They did not want Lewis sent to jail. A fine would be sufficient. They recommended a good stiff fine; one bigger than the last fine. This of course is more eyewash.

Labor Loyalty

There is one reason and one reason only that Lewis was not sent to jail: the little judge knows, the Justice Department knows, Truman knows and the coal operators know, that not one ton of coal would be mined by the UMWA while Lewis was in jail. This and this alone is the reason that Lewis was not given a jail sentence. It was the solidarity, the loyalty, the grim and unshakeable militancy of the miners which deterred the government and the court.

It is the business of all labor today to express its solidarity with the miners. All labor should be prepared to back up the miners in the days to come. Who knows what may come next. All differences, all differences should be pushed aside or at least put on the shelf until this case of the miners reaches some temporary adjustment.

We said above that there were lessons in this case for labor. We hope that Lewis learns something. Above all we hope that the miners and the rest of the ranks of labor learn something. The workers see here, right before their eyes, an indecent scramble between the Republicans and Democrats for the right to pick the bones of the miners; for their votes on election day.

But far more important for us is this: we see in this case of the miners and the government, the reluctance of the government to use its full force for fear of arousing the anger of the miners. What does this mean?It means that the miners have demonstrated their might and their strength. This shows that neither the miners nor labor as a whole need depend on the demagogic and rotten maneuvers of a reactionary Republican Joe Martin nor on the good will of an equally rotten Democratic administration, whether of Roosevelt or Truman.

Labor can sail under its own banner and get its own program. Even this little conflict between the miners and the government proves this. Labor does not need the Republicans with their Joe Martin tricks. Labor does not need the Democrats with their “friends of labor” bribery. What labor does need is its own party which will become “the government” and drive the Republicans and the Democrats from the seats of power.

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