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Joseph Keller

Striking Miners Stand Firm
for Social Demands

(20 April 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 16, 20 April 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

APRIL 13 – The 400,000 soft coal miners on strike since April 1 mean business about securing their precedent-making social demands before they will even consider the question of wages. This was brought home sharply to the stunned mine operators when AFL United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis and the UMW negotiating committee dramatically broke off negotiations on April 10 and stalked out of the conference room.

“We trust that time, as it shrinks your purse, may modify your niggardly and anti-social propensities,” declared Lewis at the conclusion of a scathing statement he read to the operators just preceding his walkout.

From the very start of the mine union negotiations, the UMW representatives have insisted on the consideration of a series of life-and-death social demands going far beyond the wage question.

What Demands Mean

These are directed at eliminating the terrible toll of accidents in American mines; providing adequate health, medical and sanitation facilities in the filthy, decrepit company towns; ensuring the welfare of miners’ widows and orphans; compensating the injured and their families; restricting the price-gouging in the monopoly company stores and rent-gouging on company-owned dwellings.

To all these vital demands of the miners the smug, grasping operators replied that the mine union committee was merely bringing up “time-killing trivia with the obvious intent of stalling negotiations and creating a national crisis.”

Terrible Toll

These “trivia,” as Lewis demonstrated at the very opening of negotiations, include the slaughter of 28,000 miners and injury of more than a million in the past 14 years. This casualty list comes from the refusal of the operators to provide proper safety equipment, their resistance to mine inspection and safety laws, their control of state inspection boards.

These “trivia” include scores of thousands of widows and orphans left to starve because the operators have blocked compensation laws. They include disease-ridden, insanitary communities and “homes” because many operators will not use their huge profits to provide even a semblance of modern sanitation and health facilities for their company towns.

The miners are determined to secure decent conditions first of all through a welfare fund, provided from the, operators’ profits, which the union itself will control. They are demanding safety equipment at operators’ expense. They insist that the operators provide them such “trivia” as running water, bath facilities, garbage collection and sewage disposal.

Company Stores

They are seeking an end to the extortionate prices of the company stores through a 10 per cent discount on all purchases at present price levels and 20 per cent on mine clothes and equipment. As Lewis charged, the 3,600 mining company owned stores “were inferior in service and in goods because competition is eliminated and thus prices are high.”

Lewis minced no words in characterising the smug attitude of the wealthy operators towards these “trivia.”

“When we sought surcease from blood-letting you professed indifference. When we cried aloud for the safety of our members you answer ‘Be content – ’twas always thus’ ... When we emphasized the importance of life you pleaded the priority of profits; when we spoke of little children in unkempt surroundings you said, ‘Look to the State.’”

Bread and Roses

Now the operators are complaining that they are willing to give the miners the highest pattern of wage increases but have been “refused with abuse.” The miners answer, in the words of the old labor song, “We want bread, but we want roses too.” If they win their social demands, they will set an example for the rest of American labor that may have far-reaching progressive consequences.

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