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Joseph Keller

Major Demands of Coal Miners
Rejected by Greedy Operators

(24 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 12, 24 March 1945, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Sitting comfortably atop the greatest pile of profits in their history, the country’s soft coal mine operators last week flatly rejected six of the nine wage demands of the United Mine Workers of America and contemptuously countered with an offer of a few crumbs amounting to 28 cents a day increase.

The UMW’s 200-man policy committee promptly instructed the union’s negotiating committee to reject outright the operators’ counter-offers and to continue negotiations on the basis of the original 18 demands made by the miners at the opening of the new contract parley. The UMW’s wage increase demands, carefully designed to avoid conflict with the formal restrictions of the Little Steel Formula, are estimated to total over $1.60 a day.

Strike Vote

If the present contract terminates within two weeks, on March 31, without an extension of the old contract or a new agreement being reached, the over 425,000 soft coal miners may resort to their traditional policy of “no contract, no work.” The NLRB, in response to the miners’ petition under the Smith-Connally anti-strike law, has announced that it will conduct a nationwide strike vote on March 28.

How the militant miners will vote is a foregone conclusion, as their whole past record demonstrates. In the first sampling of opinion among West Virginia’s 100,000 miners, 300 officials and representatives of local unions on March 18 expressed unanimous approval for an affirmative strike vote.

Government representatives and the Wall Street press, lined up solidly behind the profiteering coal barons, have been circulating dire threats of a government “seizure” of the mines in the event the miners vote to walk out. The Smith-Connally act makes strikes illegal in government-operated properties.

Seizures a Fraud

Roosevelt’s “seizure” two years ago simply meant the appointment of the mine owners and their supervisory agents as “government representatives.” The private operators remained in control – they were just wrapped in an American flag.

The wage “concessions” of the operators were an offer to consider increases in travel time (portal-to-portal) pay, a fourth-shift differential and vacation pay. This included an offer of straight-time pay for one hour of travel time instead of the present two-thirds for 45 minutes; a four and six cents an hour premium increase respectively for the second- and third shifts, instead of the demanded 10 and 15 cents. Up to $50 vacation pay was offered for those with one to five years service and a $100 maximum for all over five years, instead of the flat $100 for all miners asked by the union.

Operators Unyielding

The operators refused the demand for a 10 cents a ton royalty to the union’s welfare and unemployment fund, claiming this was “a new social theory and philosophy.” The WLB itself, however, approved such a fund for the American Federation of Musicians. The clothing workers, both AFL and CIO, have similar provisions in their contracts.

All non-wage demands – including coverage for most supervisory employees, the right to strike to prevent shipments of coal to plants where a “legal” strike is in progress, and the right to terminate the contract on 20 days’ notice – were rejected. Encouraged by the Roosevelt administration and the press, the operators are displaying their typical unyielding and highhanded attitude.

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