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Government Hits Mine Union
with Huge Fine for ‘Contempt’

Pennsylvania CIO Condemns Attack on Coal Miners

(26 April 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 17, 26 April 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

APRIL 22 – Enraged and vindictive, the capitalist government has framed up the United Mine Workers and John L. Lewis on trumped-up charges of criminal and civil “contempt.”

Federal Judge T. Alan Goldsborough, a faithful Democratic wheelhorse, for the second time has levied an extortionate fine on the miners for their defiance of federal strikebreaking injunctions.

On the recommendation of Truman’s Attorney General, Judge Goldsborough on April 20 exacted the punitive fine of $1,400,000 from the UMW and $20,000 from Lewis, the union’s president, on the criminal contempt conviction.

Threat of Reprisals

At this writing, the judge is still holding over the miners’ heads the threat of further reprisals if they do not end their protest, strike against the convictions by Friday, April 23.

If the contempt prosecution was intended to crush the fighting spirit of the miners, it has proved a miserable failure. When Goldsborough handed down his contempt conviction on April 19, the miners began pouring out of the pits once more.

Confronted by more than 250,000 miners still on strike and the certainty of a total shutdown if Lewis were railroaded to prison, the most the government dared do at the moment was to rob the miners of some of their hard-earned dollars. But the union remains solid as granite, determined and unyielding as ever.

Not that the miners are out of danger or even assured of their pensions. In announcing the sentence for criminal contempt, Goldsborough invited the mine owners to sock the union with a federal Court injunction to big damage suits on the basis of his civil contempt ruling. Moreover, the operators are now seeking a federal Court injunction to hold up the pension payments approved by the majority of the miners welfare fund Board of Trustees.

Crudely Biased

From start to finish, the government has appeared crudely biased in favor of the operators and malevolent in its open hostility to the miners. Spearheading the conspiracy of the government and operators is the Democratic Administration.

When the miners went on strike March 15, Truman almost immediately set his strikebreaking machinery into motion, this time with the aid of the Taft-Hartley Act. He set up a “fact-finding” board of three men notoriously hostile to the miners. They promptly “found” that the mine strike constituted a “national emergency” and had been “induced” by Lewis when he reported to the union that the operators had dishonored the contract.

It was mere child’s play for Truman to get a compliant federal judge to issue an injunction barring the strike and commanding Lewis to “order” the miners back to work. Lewis insisted that he had never ordered the men out in the first place, that they had ceased work of their own accord on the basis that union miners never work without a recognized contract.

“Contempt” Charges

At this juncture, the final frame-up machinery was set in motion. The government filed “contempt” charges. And, very conveniently, the same “tough” judge was ready at hand to perform the same service as in 1946.

Remember, the UMW and Lewis have not been convicted of violating any law – not even the Taft-Hartley Slave Labor Law. They are convicted of defying an arbitrary judge-made law – an injunction issued without even a hearing.

Even so, the judge had to twist the law beyond recognition and invent the main evidence in order to justify his utter violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.

No Evidence

First, he had to establish that the UMW and its officers had officially called the strike. There was not a shred of evidence, supportable before any honest jury, that the miners had walked out on orders. But, said the judge, the simple fact that Lewis, had informed the miners that their contract was dishonored was, in effect, calling a strike. It was like “a nod or a wink or a code.”

But can you say a union leader called a strike when he merely exercised his rights of free speech and his duty by giving certain vital, information to his union? That argument of the judge was too crude, too transparent. So he invented a new and unprecedented point of law! “A principle of law which, as far as I know, no court has ever been called up on to announce,” he himself admitted.

That principle is: “That as long as a union is functioning as a union it must be held responsible for the mass action of its members.” Neat – and deadly!

What frameups can be engineered under this judge-made principle! A corporation deliberately provokes a strike – the union leaders can be sent to jail. Provocateurs incite an incident – the union can be fined. Workers cease work of their own volition – the union and its officers as a whole can be prosecuted and persecuted.

On the basis of an unproven assumption of fact and this new “legal principle,” the judge handed out an unprecedentedly savage penalty. A frameup and the precedent for future frameups in one package.

Here’s what the action against the miners means for all unions:

Any judge can halt and break a strike by issuing an injunction. Even if the whole procedure is illegal, failure to obey the injunction can mean any penalty the judge chooses to exact for “contempt.”

A union leader risks imprisonment if he reports anything to his membership which might, even at some future time, provide a reason for a strike that subsequently may be banned or enjoined.

Any judge can order workers at any time to work against their will, and fine and jail them if they refuse. This is the principle of forced labor and involuntary servitude with a vengeance.

This is a set of anti-labor precedents that should bring the whole American labor movement to its feet – fighting! Indeed, the instincts and sentiments of the workers in the shops and plants are to fight this raw frameup tooth and nail. The Pennsylvania State CIO convention voted stormy approval of a resolution condemning Judge Goldsborough and supporting the miners. The big Westinghouse CIO United Electrical Workers Local 601 in Pittsburgh voted to strike if Lewis were sent to jail.

Green and Murray?

But where are CIO President Philip Murray and AFL President William Green? They don’t want to “embarrass” the Truman administration; they are too full of factional hatred for Lewis to challenge this danger to their own unions. Murray has said nothing. Green has issued a last-minute pip-squeak verbal protest. Their failure to act must be branded as criminal.

It is up to the ranks of every union to take action. Pass resolutions in support of the miners and denouncing the government’s frameup. Mobilize united labor mass meetings and other mass protests in every community. Demand that the top union leaders call a United Conference of Labor, with representation from CIO, AFL, Mine Workers and the independents, to map out an immediate action campaign in defense of the miners and to smash the Taft-Hartley Law.

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