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Joseph Keller

Widespread Coal Strikes Show
Miners Really Mean Business

(10 April 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 14, 14 April 1945, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

APRIL 10. – The nation’s fighting soft-coal miners weren’t fooling when they voted two weeks ago by an eight to one majority to authorize strike action if they didn’t obtain an acceptable contract.

Last week, following termination of their old contract on March 31 and despite a 30-day further extension of the former contract, an estimated 100,000 miners in some 300 mines throughout eight states engaged in spontaneous strike actions to show the profit-greedy operators they mean business.

Many of the strikes were concentrated in the “captive” mines of the steel corporations, traditionally the worst hold-outs among the mine operators.

The boss press and government spokesmen had tried to picture the miners’ strike vote as a mere gesture. The press actually tried to conceal the extent of the walkouts during the early part of last week. But Secretary of Interior Ickes’ blustering demand last Thursday for a government mine “seizure” and his admission of the closure of over 200 mines disclosed the real situation.

“Tentative Agreement”

In Alabama, some 25,000 of 28,000 bituminous miners, members of the United Mine Workers, were out in protest against the operators’ delay in signing an acceptable contract. In Western Pennsylvania alone an admitted 57,000 were out. Roving pickets saw to it that there was no return to work.

Under this pressure, the hard-boiled mine owners rapidly softened. On April 9, with 200 mines still reported closed, spokesmen for the operators announced that a “tentative agreement” had been reached with the UMW negotiating committee, with only one union demand still in dispute.

According to the first reports, the proposed new contract will provide for $1.25 to $1.50 increased daily pay, through the payment of time-and-a-half for two hours overtime beyond the regular seven-hour workday in the mines. The operators are said to be balking still at the demand for contract coverage of all mine employees except one mine supervisor and one foreman.

WLB Steps In

On the day this was announced, the WLB intervened to declare that it has certified the mine dispute to Roosevelt, through War Mobilization Director Davis, recommending “seizure” of the 200 closed mines. During the strikes two years ago, such “seizures” meant simply making the mine operators government officials and running the mines still under their control.

Meanwhile, 72,000 hard coal miners whose contract expires April 30, are waiting for an NLRB strike poll on April 26. They have presented the anthracite operators with 30 demands, including one for a 25 per cent wage increase, because, as stated by John L. Lewis, they have received “only a 15 per cent increase since 1923,” and the owners are more “prosperous” than in all their history.

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