Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

David Coolidge

UMW Fine Raises Question
of a Basic Labor Program

(3 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 18, 3 May 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The miners are returning to work once more. By the time this is in print virtually all of them will be back in the pits digging coal for Big Steel, Little Steel, GM, the railroads, home consumption and for ERP export. They are back at work with their pensions of $100 dollars a month. This victory cost the coal diggers several weeks wages and $1,400,000 out of the union treasury. Within a period of two years the UMWA has paid $2,100,000 in fines into the U.S. Treasury.

We do not believe that two million dollars or five million dollars are too much to pay to win a struggle. We do not believe that the loss of several weeks wages is too high a price to pay to win a struggle against the capitalist bosses and their government. That is, we believe that such sacrifices are correct and necessary if they really push the labor movement and the working class ahead;if such sacrifices represent manifestations of conscious class struggle and are therefore examples of the heightening and intensification of the class struggle.

We are discussing this question as of 1948: months after the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, years after the Great Depression, nearly three years after the close of the Second Imperialist World War; at a time when preparations are being made for the Third Imperialist World War, even before the debris of the Second World War has been cleared away, and before the maimed and butchered have recovered from their wounds. We are discussing this question at the time when the capitalist exploiters and ravagers of our country are reaching out for more and more profits, higher prices and lower wages. We are not discussing this question therefore in general but in a specific and concrete setting.

Aside from the above, what is the nature of the scene in which the working class, including the miners,carries on its struggle for wages, pensions, better working conditions and security? It is a situation in which the capitalist ruling class finds it necessary to keep the country constantly alerted for war. There must be a huge air force, larger and larger stockpiles of war materials, universal military training, the peacetime draft. This from the side of the Government, whose business it is to maintain vigilance for the protection of the country’s national and international interests and security. This means, of course, standing guard over the class interests of the capitalist ruling class.

The capitalist ruling class seeks through its government at Washington to maintain “law and order,” capitalist law and order. They seek a “government of laws” “and not of men.” They are determined to keep the working class and the trade unions within the framework which capitalism and the capitalist ruling class has prescribed for labor and organizations of labor. They must do this because, only in this way, can our capitalist masters maintain their class domination.

The capitalist ruling class in the U.S. today seeks to combat Russia, to establish economic dominion over all the earth and its people, and to raise profits to increasingly higher levels. They seek the aid and intervention of their government in accomplishing these purposes. They approach the Executive, the Congress and the Judiciary. They seek new decrees, new laws and new convictions. They resort to trickery, bribery, intimidation and boycott. They will not hold back from frame-up and physical violence, either private or by their government. These are the reasons for their Taft-Hartley law, their plans for the complete and permanent militarization of the country and its inhabitants and their agreed upon formulas for slight wage increases or no wage increases.

Political Struggle

This is the situation which con-fronts the working class, the unions and the masses. A greedy, grasping,degenerate, reactionary, destructive ruling class, half afraid, senile, but determined to have its profits and maintain its rule; a ruling class bearing misery and degradation, but insistent on ruling and taking its dividends.

It is in the midst of this political,economic and social setting that the coal miners have had two strikes recently. We have said before and we repeat: the miners do not grasp and understand the nature of today’s political setting. They do not understand that their struggle and the struggle of all labor is or should become a political struggle. To put it very bluntly this means that the fight of labor today should become a struggle for political power. To put it very bluntly this means to carry on a struggle for a government of our own; a class government of the toilers and the masses.

To continue the explanation, this means for labor, the working class to assume the leadership of the nation. This question must be faced squarely and objectively. Are the miners willing to go on being dragged by Democratic Truman into Goldsborough’s court and fleeced of a million dollars? Perhaps some workers think that things would be different under a Republican Taft, Dewey, Stassen, Vandenberg or Martin. Then they wouldn’t be dragged into court. Or if they were it would be into the court of some “friendly” judge. If one is guided by the cloudy and reactionary politics of Lewis this kind of mythology might be accepted and believed.

Three Courses

Lewis, of course, does not understand these things and he never will.

The ranks of the miners and all other workers, however, must begin to understand. We put it very brutally, in the case of the miners. There are three courses and only three courses for the UMWA: (1) adopt a no-strike policy or a partial no-strike policy; (2) continue as heretofore, have an injunction slapped on, be convicted for violating the injunction, receive a million dollar fine; after this go back to the mines with no gains or relatively small gains; (3) take the course which we have outlined above: the way of political organization and working class political action, assume the leadership of the nation, establish a workers’ state and a workers’ government, begin a real struggle to transform capitalist society into a socialist society.

These are the choices before the miners and there are no other. These are the choices before the entire working class and there are no others. Murray thinks he can escape by announcing that, although U.S. Steel has said “no wage increases,” the steelworkers will abide by their two-year no-strike agreement. When Lewis is faced with this kind of situation he merely notifies the miners that no agreement has been reached and they stay away from the pits.

It is nonsense, however, to talk about the miners being the militant spearhead of labor, basing oneself merely on the fact that the miners strike oftener than other unions. It is not sufficient to call Lewis the ablest labor leader in the country, belabor Murray for class collaboration, conservatism and what not, and let it go at that. The steelworkers and the miners are in the same ditch. The militant, progressive and far better educated and trained automobile workers are in that same ditch.

In fact, there is no “spearhead” in the trade union movement today. There cannot be so long as no union and no labor leader steps out in front with the call for political organization and independent working class political action. It is time for the shelving of all romanticizing and word-mongering in this connection. It will not do the miners or any other workers any good. The miners get enough of word-mongering from their own phrase-laden leader. We remember that when Lewis appealed to the Supreme Court after his last bout with Goldsborough, he announced pontifically to the miners that this is a “constitutional court ... it has been and we believe will always remain the protector of constitutional liberties ...” This protector of liberties decreed that he should give the U.S. Treasury $10,000 and his union $700,000.

We say very frankly, that labor cannot emerge from the present-day wilderness by bombast, the paying of fines, by the simple procedure of strikes, by mere refusal to strike, by Truman vetoing a Taft-Hartley bill, by drafting Eisenhower or by the Olympian statesmanship of the Honorable Joe Martin.

New Outlook Needed

We are making no demands here for “labor to throw out the present leadership” and elect another leadership. We are not telling “the workers” what they “must” do. We are not interested in increasing the volume of gas in the universe nor the sum total of verbiage. We are trying to the extent that we are able to explain to workers and particularly to the miners that the times have changed. We tried before to explain to the miners that they cannot use their old slogan,“we do not work without a contract” in the same way as in past years. That slogan can no longer be upheld and supported by the economic strike alone. The UMWA discovered this last year when the union was fined and sent back to the pits. That slogan can be properly advanced in the future only by a workers’ organization which is ready and prepared to engage in a conscious and planned political struggle. A union, however, which understands this, will also understand that an orderly retreat for reenforcements or for the organization of an offensive, is to be preferred to a rout and a scattering of the forces.

The strategic need of the labor movement today is not so much to elect new individuals to office but to have a new program, a new outlook and a new goal. We can envisage the possibility of the labor movement getting a worse leadership than the one it has now if the emphasis is placed on getting new individuals into the offices. We can think of no one in the UMWA who would make a better president than Lewis. We could only prefer Reuther to Murray as president of the CIO because Reuther advocates a program of a more advanced sort than Murray. But even here we have to say that in the long run there may be no ground for a choice between Reuther and Murray, because while it is true that Reuther has a program and Murray doesn’t, Reuther is not very aggressive and steadfast in the advocacy of his program.

All of the above is an attempt to elucidate what we meant when we said at the beginning that the sacrifice of wages, the union treasury, and any other sacrifice, is not too much provided we are farther ahead after the sacrifice has been made. We are not for the martyrdom of the working class but for its victory over oppression, exploitation and capitalism. Labor does not need to look for sacrifices to make; there are enough sacrifices forced on us.

Before the miners are faced with the next conflict with the coal operators, which is sure to come, they should think things through. The little judge is still in Washington waiting for them to be hauled before him again. He knows they have more millions in their treasury. The coal operators know this too. They and the little judge are friends.

We are for the miners going to Washington. We are for their going into Goldsborough’s court. But we want to see a coal digger sitting in the big chair in the high place. We want to hear a steelworker, or sharecropper perhaps, representing the government. We want to see this jury of 12 class conscious toilers. We hope to be there to hear the little judge tell this jury why he took $1,400,000 from the miners in 1948.

Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 3 March 2018