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Joseph Keller

Attack on Miners Hits All Labor

Union Calls Two-Week Truce in Strike After Owners Agree to Come to Terms

(18 May 1946)


From The Militant, Vol. X No. 20, 18 May 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


The most savage and concerted strikebreaking assault ever hurled by Big Business and its government against American workers reached its frenzied climax last Friday, May 10, the day the AFL United Mine Workers Union wrested an “agreement in principle” from the coal operators on its key health and safety demands and offered a two-week truce in the 40-day strike of 400,000 soft coal miners.

With a desperation born of fear before the demonstrated power and solidarity of the militant coal miners, the agencies of government, the big corporations, and every capitalist instrument of propaganda were mobilized for a ferocious attempt to intimidate the miners and frustrate their just demands. With the mine strike as a pretext, Congress renewed its drive for laws to shackle the unions and help beat labor’s standards down.

The invective, slanders, lies and threats hurled at the miners increased in volume and unrestraint as it became clearer that the profiteering mine operators and the government were being forced to yield major concessions by the unshakable stand of the mine workers. From all reports, the union’s offer of truce, with retroactivity for all gains finally granted, came only after the operators had wilted and indicated their readiness to talk terms. The day after the truce, the UMW announced its further demands for wage increases totalling 27 cents an hour.
 

Truman Gives Signal

The signal for last week’s coordinated anti-labor offensive had been given by President Truman himself with his scare-head statement of the previous Friday that the mine strike confronted the country with an imminent “national disaster.”

He followed this up by calling “illegal” the miners’ chief demand for a “royalty” to provide a union health and welfare fund. Truman threatened “militant action” to break the strike which he said was “gradually” assuming the proportions of a “strike against the government.”

At its peak, the anti-labor offensive unleashed at Truman’s cue surpassed in ferocity even the strikebreaking drive of the late President Roosevelt against the wartime mine strikes of 1943. Last week’s assault renewed and extended the virulent labor-hating drive that followed V-J Day and reached its previous climax during the General Motors strike.
 

Poisonous Barrage

Advancing behind a poison-gas barrage from the boss press, Congress, spewing labor-hate and denunciations against the miners and their leaders, poured anti-union bills into the legislative hopper.

The Senate even shoved aside its consideration of Wall Street’s militarism program and voted 66 to 9 for immediate discussion of the notorious Case Labor Disputes Bill. This is designed virtually to destroy the right to strike and to disembowel the American union movement.

Both houses began consideration of hastily-drafted measures to make it “illegal” for the mine operators to grant a union health and welfare fund financed by “Royalties” based on production or for employers to grant similar demands to other unions.

The atmosphere for this Congressional labor-hating orgy was created by the Big Business press and radio which turned on a nationwide geyser intended to flood the country with panic and sweep the people into a veritable lynch spirit against the valiant miners.

Newspaper headlines screamed in “disaster” type – special huge ominous black type kept in reserve for announcement of overwhelming catastrophes, like declarations of war. A horrifying picture was painted of imminent famine, water supplies and utilities cut off, millions unemployed and the country lying in ruin.

These horror stories were bolstered by rapid-fire announcements of threatened plant shutdowns, railroad curtailments and “state of emergency” warnings fa big cities like New York and Chicago. To the actual reduction of coal stocks, the capitalist press added fantastic exaggerations.

One after another, big industrial corporations threatened huge lay-offs. General Motors, which only the week before had calmly reported that due to the GM strike it had accumulated coal reserves sufficient for a long period, suddenly discovered it would be down to its last lump in 10 days.

Shameful to relate, the miners also received some stabs-in-the- back from within the labor movement itself. At the very height of the anti-labor attacks on the mine strike, which were being focused especially on the person of UMW President John L. Lewis, CIO President Philip Murray speaking at the Amalgamated Clothing Workers convention on May 9 launched a blistering attack at Lewis, boasting that “no one in the CIO has turned against the Government.”

This attack on a strike leader who was then under fire from the most reactionary elements in the country could only give comfort to labor’s enemies. Moreover, it was unaccompanied by any statement of support for the miners’ strike or their demands.

From another quarter, the Communist (Stalinist) Party and its Daily Worker were conducting a continuous sniping attack on Lewis, stressing particularly his leadership of the wartime mine strikes which the Stalinist leaders had helped try to break. At the same time, like the capitalist press, the Daily Worker called on the capitalist government “to act” in the mine strike – of course, “in the interests of the miners.”
 

Operators to Blame

Under a tremendous flood of scare-head propaganda, Big Business and its government sought to bury the plain and simple fact that the responsibility for the mine strike rested squarely on the rich operators who had arrogantly refused even to consider the elementary demands of the miners for adequate health and safety conditions.

The Truman administration could have forestalled what it called a “national disaster” by the simple device of forcing the operators to meet the miners’ just demands. But Truman did not say so much as a word on behalf of the miners – not even their demand that the new contract Include an agreement by the operators to carry out all safety regulations recommended by the U.S. Bureau of Mines!

What the capitalists and their agents like Truman yelled about was the union’s “illegal” demand for a 10-cent payment on every ton of coal mined to maintain an imperatively needed union health and welfare fund. Yet all the miners have asked for in essence is an increase in their meager share of the wealth their labor alone produces – an increase that will go into a union fund for their mutual welfare.

Truman doesn’t find anything “illegal” about the corporations collecting royalties on anything produced under monopoly patents. The government itself hands billions in “royalties” to the corporations in the form of tax rebates. It gives other billions from the public treasury in “royalties” – subsidies – to the meat and other trusts. Nor does Truman find anything “illegal” about the coal operators deducting tens of millions of dollars annually from miners’ pay checks for COMPANY-controlled “welfare” funds from which the miners never receive a penny.
 

Brazen Tie-Up

Never was it more clearly revealed than in last week’s savage attacks on the miners that American Big Business and the present government are inextricably tied together. All the politicians of the Wall Street- owned Democratic and Republican parties act as cogs in the political machines of big capital.

The fact that a tiny cut-throat gang of Big Business rulers can carry out with impunity such a brazen and unrestrained anti-labor attack as was witnessed last week is directly attributable to the political “company-unionism” of the American labor leaders.

So long as the union leaders in every national election urge the workers to cast their votes for this or that current “friend of labor” within the Big Business political machines, the workers will find themselves politically helpless before the offensive of capitalist reaction, which is spearheaded by the government itself.

The ferocity of the drive against the miners, revealing ever more openly the fusion of government and Big Business, is a further storm-signal to the American labor movement. Labor must have its own independent political weapon, a labor party committed to a real program of struggle against American Big Business, if it is to beat back the assaults of Wall Street and its government and wield real political power in the interests of the American people.


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