Problem: Real Wages
John L. Lewis
Carrol L. Thompson
conflicting factors enter into the labor-management
relations of the coal industry.
Part of the problem is caused by the fact that
more coal can be mixed than can be sold at present
has been losing part of its market to petroleum, natural
gas, and hydro-electric power. The industry is faced with two alternatives:
(1) Either a reduction in the price of coal in an
attempt to regain lost markets and keep the miners fully
employed, or (2) an increase in wages and when necessary
prices, to continue to give the miners an income that
would enable them to maintain their living standards.
On March 5, the coal operators and the United
Mine Workers of America signed a new contract.
It provided for continued union control of its welfare
and retirement fund. It
also provided for an increase in basic pay from $14.05 per day
to $14.75, and an increase of payments to the welfare fund by
the operators—from 20 to 30 cents per ton.
The most recent coal settlement, whether or
not it satisfies the miners, will undoubtedly tend to increase
the cost of coal and decrease its use.
Perhaps the United Mine Workers and John L.
Lewis can not help this. Like the miner’s of Mitchell’s day they have to do the
best they can regardless of theory.
Defending the UnSkilled
in a real sense every man who works with his hands is a
potential or actual competitor of every other man who works with
his hands, labor’s struggles for an adequate living wage have
led very obviously to organization in groups to fight for the
wage and to prevent undercutting competition for jobs.
lifetime of Samuel Gompers, the relationship between the
educated, skilled craftsman and the mass of unskilled and
usually illiterate laborers was not clear as it has become since
1924. With the
machine at his right hand, however, the unskilled laborer from
1900 on began to threaten the privileged position of the
maintenance of his position and a guarantee of high wage for
skill became supremely important to Samuel Gompers and the
American Federation of Labor.
It remained for another group of labor leaders, including
some who were born in the coal fields, to recognize the needs
and desires of the unskilled.
preoccupation with a minimum living wage, neither John
Mitchell for the miners nor Samuel Gompers for the
craftsmen (see CURRENT HISTORY) was primarily concerned with a
“fair” wage for labor in general.
The simple guarantee of a minimum living wage,
however, vital as it is, is no guarantee at all that the miners,
or the craftsmen, will get or did get their fair share of the
price paid for coal when the coal they produce is sold on the
Wages vs. Money Wages
Here we face
the complex problem of real wages as differentiated from money
wages. In a time of
high prices it is obvious to all of us that money wages and real
wages are not identical. A
dollar today will not buy, in terms of food and shelter and
clothing, what the same dollar bought in 1935.
Those who receive the seemingly high wages paid today do
not forget that prices as well as wages have gone up, and that
in many cases prices have risen faster and higher than wages.
leaders, John Mitchell among them, were so deeply
concerned with the problem of bare subsistence wage that the
problem of labor’s fair share hardly occupied them.
Mitchell, for example, wanted to improve intolerable
conditions in the coal mines. Not concerned with the possibility that money values might
change, he assumed that wage increases would automatically
improve living conditions for the miners.
His position, for the time he represented labor, was
Mitchell’s leadership, wages and working conditions were
improved. But the
price of coal was continually forced upward as wages rose; thus
the relative position of the miners changed very little.
In other words, their share of the total income from coal
sales tended to decrease because of price increases, higher
taxes, and the fact that machinery increased the output per man.
Gompers represented a different group—skilled
craftsmen—and his concern was, like Mitchell’s, raising the
pay rates and living standards of the men he represented.
Gompers began to grapple with two basic problems as he
became interested in labor unionization and labor theory.
First, it was evident to him from childhood that machinery
replaced men in the short run.
Ordinary observation convinced Gompers, at first, that
when machines were introduced, skilled men were laid off.
Thus one of Gompers’ first interests was to protect the
craftsman from machine displacement.
experience in cigar-making also proved to him that the machine
introduced unskilled labor as a competitor to the skilled man).
This is still basic to much trade union thinking.
himself realized that opposition to machinery might be futile
and was at best only temporary.
Later, he began to think in terms of under-consumption as
the cause of depressions. His
immediate reaction was that a constantly increasing wage rate
would provide constantly increasing consumption.
Before World War I he assumed that monetary reform would
help both production and consumption. The war was, of course, financed by the Federal Reserve
plants were built. Wages went up.
So did prices. The living standards of all the employed improved.
before the crash of 1929 proved that a combination of the
Federal Reserve Act and wage increases would not guarantee
constant employment at constantly rising wages.
But no clear
proof of the futility of feather-bedding was accepted and it
still continues. It
unquestionably touches the relationship between productivity
and pay and it is at the same time uneconomic and
impractical on a large scale.
labor, in order words, cannot rely on restrictive
techniques to limit the capitalist’s profits.
labor leaders, John L. Lewis among them, have dramatically
before their eyes the difference between real and money wages.
Wartime conditions in the coal fields, where prices in
company stores shot sky-high, provided ample illustration of labor’s
need to established real rather than money standards of value
for services rendered.
It cannot be
forgotten, however, that the shortest, easiest way to raise real
wages in time of inflation is to demand large increases in money
wages in an effort to “beat the rising prices.”
Partly because this is true, and partly because labor
leaders, like most other Americans, tend to think in terms of
money wages, there has been little concentration on the problem
of real wages even during this inflationary period. John L. Lewis has publicly declared himself in
favor of high prices and high wages and, partly for personal
reasons, has opposed price ceilings and price fixing
wherever and whenever possible.
spent the larger part of his efforts securing higher money for
the U.M.W., just as Mitchell did.
Unlike Mitchell, he saw clearly the competition that
the unorganized laborer represents for the organized laborer,
and he early became a very successful industrial organizer.
Today, there is an obvious and definite relationship
between the wages of, for example, coal miners and the wages of
* * * *
Lewis was born on February 12, 1880, in the coal mining
community of Lucas, Iowa. His
father, Thomas Lewis, was a Welsh coal-miner-immigrant, recently
arrived in the United States and an active member of the Knights
of Labor. Throughout
John’s childhood, he lived in a typical mining community,
surrounded by the resentments and tensions of the miners and
first experiences with mine operators were also typical.
Time and again his father was blacklisted for union
activities, with consequent hardships to the Lewis family.
Of John’s childhood little else has been made public.
He went to the public schools of Lucas with his brothers
and tales of Lewis’ early life imply that they were a
school and left it at the seventh grade.
To help support the family, he soon went into the coal
mines with his father and his brother, Tom.
Now Lewis’ personality begin to emerge.
Of his quick mind there could be little doubt.
“When the Lord gave out brains to the Lewis children He
gave most of them to John,” admitted his brother Denny later.
And John himself boasted of his physical strength “I
come from a long line of stalwart progenitors who bequeathed me
a rugged constitution.”
In his early
twenties, Lewis wandered through Western mining towns, like
other discontented miners before him, but in 1906 he returned to
Lucas. This was the
year of his first union effort. He was elected local delegate to the U.M.W. convention and,
according to biographer James Wechsler, “From that moment the
Lewis career began to suggest a master plan.”
He was now 26 years old, and recently married to Myra
Edith Bell, an Iowa schoolteacher.
career of John L. Lewis is the career of an able politician.
When he moved from Lucas to Panama, Iowa, in 1909, he was
elected president of the Panama local.
Less than a year later he became state legislative
representative for the U.M.W.
Now his talent for public speaking could be appreciated.
In 1911, Samuel Gompers, heading the American Federation
of Labor, named Lewis as a field representative.
Lewis held this post until 1917.
learning about union politics, and about the difficulties of
organizing industries other than coal.
While A.F.L. field representative, Lewis had his first
experience with the steel workers and the corporation managers
who fought the union. Other
organizing assignments were handed to him:
in the rubber, glass, lumber and copper industries.
None was particularly successful, partly because of the
strict craft unionism practiced by Gompers and his followers.
same period, Lewis was rising in the U.M.W. itself.
In 1916 he had been appointed to the U.M.W.’s
Interstate Scale Committee; at the convention that year he acted
as chairman of some stormy sessions.
His appointment as chief statistician of the Union
followed shortly. By
1919, John L. Lewis was acting president of a union of more than
president John P. White had resigned to serve on the War Labor
Board. His successor, Frank J. Hayes was an affable, rather weak
leader more interested in congeniality than in leading the
union. When he
designated John as vice president, he in effect handed him the
John L. Lewis
was now 40 years old, the youngest president of a big American
Mitchell had been a young president before him.
He headed the national U.M.W. before his twenty-eighth
birthday. But the
union had been weaker and smaller then, and Mitchell had worked
his way through the ranks the hard way.
As president, Lewis was an illustration of the power of
political maneuvering. Almost
every one of his rising series of offices had been appointive;
only his first position as head of the Panama local was really
an elective post.
* * * *
the Presidency of AFL
The first big
test of Lewis’ ability as a union leader came in September,
1919, after the close of World War I, when conflict between the
union and the mine operators precipitated a widespread strike.
The U.M.W. convention of 1919 had demanded a sixty cent
increase in pay, the five-day week, and the six-hour day.
The operators refused the demands and although the
government declared it illegal in the light of the war-time
Lever Act, the strike was begun.
3, 84 union officials were cited for contempt and Lewis was
arrested; the strike ended with a White House-led compromise
four days later. “I
will not fight my government, the greatest government on
earth,” declared Lewis in 1919.
(In 1943, he changed his mind).
The strike settlement was not accepted by the miners with
good grace. Although
the miners eventually received a pay increase of 27 per cent,
the demand for a 30-hour week was not met.
Lewis’ unpopularity spread as the country experienced a
post-war economic let-down.
in 1921, Lewis dared to stand for election to the presidency of
the A.F.L. against his old friend, Samuel Gompers.
This was a bad political error.
Lewis’ defeat was overwhelming—25,022 votes for
Gompers and 12,324 for Lewis.
William Green had delivered the nominating address:
candidate I am to present served as a boy in the mines, he
learned the lesson of the mines, his education was given to him
in this university, he learned to be courageous and unafraid as
only a miner can learn these things. …
I say to you that if I possessed the eloquence of
Demosthenes or the logic of a Lincoln I could not by anything I
might say add a single whit to the qualifications he possesses.1
Defeat has never been easy
for Lewis; yet he acknowledged his error humorously in 1921:
feel somewhat like the young man who entered the ministry.
After a most difficult time his mother said to him one
day: “John, why
did you enter the ministry?”
He said: “Mother,
I heard a call.” The
old lady pondered quite a while and finally said:
“John, are you sure it wasn’t some other noise you
John tried to take the setback graciously, and declared that the
U.M.W. men who opposed him “exercised the prerogative that all
men have,” he worked at the next U.M.W. convention, to push
through an amendment requiring the mine workers’ delegation to
A.F.L. convention to vote as a solid bloc.
For the next
ten years Lewis worked to consolidate his power in the mining
towns. All reports
indicate that his methods were ruthless, lawless, and
dictatorial to a great degree. As convention chairman, Lewis tolerate no criticism and
critics were usually tossed from the hall before union business
was begun. To
critics at the 1924 convention Lewis is said to have called out,
the chair state that you may shout until you meet each other in
hell and he will not change his ruling!”
period, Lewis rode roughshod over many leading union men who
threatened his growing hold on the U.M.W.
Among those eliminated by the Lewis machine were capable
John Brophy, Harvard graduate Powers Hapgood, and politician
Frank Farrington. Lewis
began to make “provisional” appointments in districts
hostile to him, replacing the elected officials with puppets of
his own choice. This new “provisionalism” became one of his most powerful
weapons in organizing solid backing.
1930, Lewis was making a salary of $12,000 a year. He was able to put down a major inter-union rebellion and he
saw that Brophy, Howat, and others of the opposition lost their
1930’s saw Lewis developing a laissez faire philosophy of
1925, he had written his only book:
The Miners’ Fight for American Standards.
Passages read like a G.O.P. party platform.
of the United Mine Workers of America … is neither new nor
revolutionary,” wrote Lewis.
“It does not command the admiration of visionaries and
Utopians. It ought
to have the support of every thinking businessman in the United
States because it proposes to allow natural economic laws
free play in the production and distribution of coal.
In the same book, Lewis made
public his scorn for the academicians:
us admit at the outset that the coal industry was not conceived,
planned, and blueprinted by scientific supermen or young critics
just out of Harvard, who are fully equipped to tell us all the
mistakes our granddads made. …
In time the industry, like others, was overdeveloped, and
overproduction became chronic. This overdevelopment and overproduction3 would
have been checked, as in most other industries, if economic laws
had been given free play. …
seems that it is now up to the Labor Unions to compel
capitalists to act like capitalists and to discharge the social
functions of capitalists.
Lewis’ long career has he looked at the union as anything
but a bargaining tool. “Trade unionism,” he wrote, “is a
phenomenon of capitalism quite similar to the corporation. One is essentially a pooling of the labor for purposes
of common action in production and in sales.
The other is a pooling of capital for exactly the
same purposes. The
economic aims of both are identical—gain.
moreover, has he looked with any kindness on government
intervention or interference in the conflicts between labor and
he was not above taking full advantage of the N.R.A.’s section
7-A, in 1933, to further his organization and recoup some of his
lost popularity. Section
7-A, sponsored and partially planned by Lewis, provided that workers
had the right to bargain collectively and to pick unions of
their own choosing.
section was accepted, Lewis put the U.M.W. machine in high gear.
By 1934, Lewis was able to report to his convention that union
membership was over 400,000.
Uncertain of N.R.A. constitutional status, Lewis later
pushed through the Guffey-Vinson act, “little N.R.A.” for
coal, which created a National Bituminous Coal Commission.
career was now flourishing; he was beginning to look for new
fields to conquer. Slowly
the realization had been growing in Lewis that craft unionism
could not successfully organize the thousands on thousands of
unskilled laborers in the country. “The miners had the idea, get ’em all in one union from
the trappers to the pickmen.”
At the 1935
A.F.L. Convention in Atlantic City, a strong minority, including Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, David
Dubinsky of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, Thomas
Brown of the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers and of course
Lewis, pushed for the organization of new “vertical” unions.
Charles P. Howard of the Typographical Union
introduced the minority report:
those industries where the work performed by a majority of the
workers is of such nature that it might fall within the
jurisdictional claim of more than one craft union, or no
established craft union, it is declared that industrial
organization is the only form that will be acceptable to the
workers or adequately meet their needs.
Basically, Lewis was thinking
of the steel industry which actually controlled
conditions in the captive mines:
organization I represent has an interest in this question.
Our people work in a great base industry, basic in its
service to the American people and the economic and commercial
processes of the nation. They
struggle against great odds and against great influences, and
the intensity of their struggle and the weight of their burden
is greatly increased by reason of the fact that the American
Federation of Labor has not organized the steel industry and a
few other industries similarly situated.
are anxious to have collective bargaining established in the
steel industry and our interest in that is, to that degree,
selfish because our people know that if the workers were
organized in the steel industry and collective bargaining was an
actuality there, it would remove the incentives of the great
captains of the steel industry to destroy and punish and harass
our people who work in the captive coal mines throughout the
country, owned by the steel industry.
I talk to you now, 21,000 of our members are on strike in the
state of Alabama—not on strike, they are locked out, and the
operators will not accept wage increases granted in the
Appalachian Join Wage Conference, which they are obligated to
do. They are locked
out because the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, owned by the
United States Steel Corporation, the Schloss-Sheffield Steel
Company and others there are encouraging the poor, defenseless
commercial coal operators of Alabama to fight the United Mine
Workers of America and to refuse to apply these wage agreements.
And the Youngstown Sheet and Tube in Western Pennsylvania
has our people locked out.
The steel industry is anxious to eliminate the United
Mine Workers of America from its captive mines, so that they
will constantly have that buffer between the coal-mining
industry and collective bargaining in the steel industry.
know that to be true, because I have conferred with the officers
of the United Steel Corporation in relation to our contracts and
they frankly admit that they oppose making collective bargaining
contracts in the coal-mining industry because they do not want
that power to follow and annoy them in the iron and steel
industry,—and they have no more fear of the iron and steel
workers annoying them than they have that the League of Nations
will come over and impose a mandate or sanctions upon them.
minority report was voted down, Lewis and those who supported
his industrial unionism formed the Committee for Industrial
Organization (C.I.O.) within the framework of the A.F.L.
The first victory for the C.I.O. was the recognition of
the United Rubber Workers by the Goodyear Rubber Company, after
a bitter six weeks of sit-down striking and mass picketing.
Workers Organizing Committee was established in 1936.
Lewis himself broadcast on a national network to rally
public support for an organizational drive in steel:
This organization drive in the steel industry will be conducted
in full, open gaze of the public, or in other words, through the
radio and the press, the public will be continually informed.
him who will, be economic tyrant or sordid necessary, pit his
strength against this mighty upsurge of human sentiment now
being crystallized in the hearts of thirty million workers who
clamor for the establishment of industrial democracy and for
participation in its tangible fruits.
He is a mad man or a fool who believes that this river of
human sentiment … by the erection of arbitrary barriers of
union was taking strong steps to push steel organization, a
widespread strike in the plants of General Motors (including a
sit-down strike at the Fisher Body plant) provide another major
test of C.I.O. strength. After
42 days, General Motors capitulated, and the C.I.O. chalked up
another victory. The
leaders of the United States Steel and the S.W.O.C. quietly came
to an agreement shortly thereafter, without a strike.
By the end of 1936, the 510,000 men in the steel
workers union formed a unit second in size only to the United
1937, the C.I.O., now legally separated from the A.F.L.,
boasted 3,200,000 members as against 3,600,000 craft unionists
in the Federation. In December, 1935, C.I.O. membership had been less than
1,000,000; the rise was truly spectacular.
The defeat of
the steel workers striking against Little Steel was unfortunate
for the C.I.O.; it was perhaps even more unfortunate for
Roosevelt’s New Deal administration.
Despite the fact that Little Steel (Republic) managers
were responsible in large measure for the ruthless Memorial Day
Massacres of striking steel workers (1937), Roosevelt hesitated
to announce administration support for the C.I.O.
Most unfortunately, he announced his attitude as “A
plague o’both your houses!”—a statement never to be
forgotten nor forgiven by his one-time supporter, Lewis.
The following Labor Day, Lewis attacked Roosevelt
like Israel, has many sorrows.
Its women weep their fallen and they lament for the
future of the children of the race.
It ill behooves one who has supped at labor’s
table and who has been sheltered in labor’s house to curse
with equal fervor and fine impartiality both labor and its
adversaries when they become lacked in deadly
By the time
the U.M.W. was ready to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in
1940, Lewis was strong enough to offer Roosevelt threatening
opposition on the national stage.
At the 1938 convention, Lewis had accepted a salary
rise from $12,500 to $25,000 yearly; other officers’
salaries had also been doubled.
The Committee on Industrial Organization, A.F.L., had
been formally changed to the Congress of Industrial
Organization, independent of the A.F.L.
House interference in the settlement, the coal strike of 1939
had resulted in a union shop agreement for the U.M.W.
* * * *
John L. Lewis
was now formulating the bitter isolationist policy which was
destined to dog him later on.
Hostility between Roosevelt and the U.M.W. leader reached
new heights. At the
mine workers’ celebration of the Golden Jubilee, he attacked
the Democratic administration publicly:
the last three years labor has not been given representation in
the Cabinet, nor in the administrative or policy-making agencies
of the government. … Labor
today has no point of contact with the Democratic Administration
in power except for casual, occasional interviews which are
granted its individual leaders.
In the Congress the unrestrained baiting and defaming of
labor by the Democratic majority has become a pastime never
subject to rebuke by the titular or actual leaders of the party.
In October, 1940, Lewis threw
his public support to Willkie’s candidacy.
think,” he declared, “that the election of President
Roosevelt for a third term would be a national evil of the first
magnitude. He no
longer hears the cries of the people.
I think the election of Mr. Wendell Willkie is imperative
in relation to the country’s needs.
I commend him to the men and women of labor as one who
will capably and zealously protect their rights, increase their
privileges and restore their happiness.”
In the same
speech, Lewis pledged himself to resign from the presidency of
the C.I.O. should the labor vote go to Roosevelt. This
promised Philip Murray the presidency in the November, 1940
Why had Lewis
supported Willkie? For
one thing, his personal hatred of Roosevelt had if anything
increased since 1937. Secondly,
Lewis had never been a “liberal”—he had
successively supported Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover in his
younger days. Willkie’s
struggle against the T.V.A. fitted in well with Lewis’ fight
against the threat to coal of hydroelectric power.
defeat left Lewis for the moment on the sidelines of the
American labor movement. The
subsequent break between Lewis and Murray was probably bound to
come in time, unless Murray proved himself completely a Lewis
puppet. This Murray
refused to be. Lewis’
bitter hatred of Roosevelt and his equally violent isolationism
emphasized the growing rift between the mine leader and the
leader of the C.I.O. congenial to the White House.
Guided probably by his prejudices instead of his reason,
Lewis chose to rely more and more on the left wing of the labor
movement and particularly on the Communists who before June of
1941 were isolationists also.
No love of the Communists influenced Lewis, but a
mistaken theory that he could dominate them as he dominated the
June of 1941 and the German attack on Russia.
When Lewis refused to alter his foreign policy, he soon
discovered that he was a forsaken leader.
Communist-dominated unions now joined the rest of the
C.I.O. in what seemed to be an all-out attack against the mine
leader. After a
bitter quarrel, Murray and Lewis parted enemies.
Workers Withdraw from CIO
withdrawal of the U.M.W. from the C.I.O. was postponed only long
enough for Lewis to fight for the captive miners.
The so-called captive mines were owned by the seven major
American steel companies producing 70 per cent of the nation’s
steel, and for these companies the mines produced all the coal
needed by their steel-owners.
Of the 53,000 miners working in the captive mines, more
than 95 per cent were union members, with the union the
recognized bargaining agency.
Lewis’ demand for a closed shop would have forced the
less than five per cent non-union members into the U.M.W.
This was important to Lewis to advance the solidarity of
the coal workers in the face of an inevitable war.
The closed shop in coal would also embarrass Murray in
the steel industry. His
union was not such a cohesive entity as the U.M.W.
victory over the steel companies and over President Roosevelt
was announced on December 7, 1941, when the three-man
arbitration board, weighted at Lewis’ insistence for the
miners, announced that it favored a union shop.4
victory chalked up, he proceeded against his former friend, Phil
Murray. First of
all, he electrified the public and much of the labor movement
with the proposal for unifying the A.F.L. with the C.I.O.
This hardly altruistic suggestion was circumvented with
the expert political assistance of Roosevelt himself.
After this failure, Lewis drove Murray from his position
as an officer of the U.M.W., in humiliating showdown.
Finally, in October of 1942, the U.M.W. voted, 2867 to 5,
to leave the C.I.O.
familiar with the battles between Lewis and Roosevelt during
World War II, battles in which Lewis time and again struck or
threatened to strike despite the possibility that the United
States war effort might be impeded. Lewis’ supporters maintain
that Lewis at no time allowed coal stocks to dwindle to a danger
point. This may
well be true. Yet
his defiance of the federal government in war-time will never be
On the other
side of the ledger, the miners will never forget the gains Lewis
wrung for them from a nation at war.
When Lewis finally broke down the Little Steel formula
which tied down their wages while prices climbed, the coal
miners were joined in their thanksgiving by thousands on
thousands of other wage earners.
When Lewis savagely attacked those who were making huge
profits on cost-plus contracts, American taxpayers of every
class owed him gratitude.
unquestionably beat Franklin Roosevelt at his own game of
politics during the war. He
has been somewhat less successful in dealing with Harry Truman.
In 1946, Judge Goldsborough of the Federal District Court
in the District of Columbia fined the U.M.W. $3,500,000 and
Lewis, $10,000 for defying of the King-Lewis agreement.
Supreme Court later reduced the amount of the fine against the
union to $700,000, the clear-cut victory for Truman remained.
How did it happen that Lewis, who time and again bested
Franklin Roosevelt, was defeated by Truman?
Saul Alinsky offers one explanation:
was so accustomed to dealing with a subtle, brilliant, wary
Roosevelt that he could not anticipate the directness of a
politically insensitive Truman.
Yet Lewis is
not a man who can be defeated once and forever, and between 1947
and 1950 he has continued to fight the administration, the A.F.L.
and the C.I.O. on behalf of Lewis and his mine workers.
Although he “rejoined” the A.F.L. in 1946, 1947 saw
his withdrawal with a brief, scornful note:
He had not been able to persuade or compel either the
A.F.L. or the C.I.O. to follow his tactics against the hated
Taft-Hartley Act, i.e., to ignore it.
saw Lewis again fined by Judge Goldsborough; it also saw the
inauguration, after a bitter struggle, of the hundred dollars a
month pension plan for retired miners.
A royalty of 20 cents per ton on every ton of coal mined
financed the U.M.W. Welfare and Retirement Fund.
In gratitude, the U.M.W. convention of 1948 doubled
Lewis’ salary, now $50,000 yearly.
the Career of John L. Lewis
figures have been assembled showing Lewis’ contribution to the
raising of living standards in the American mines.
Equally impressive stories are widely circulated proving
the harsh, dictatorial brutality of this man, who so completely
dominated the American labor movement and who still overshadows
every other American labor leader.
There is no
denying Lewis’ contribution to the miners.
There is no denying the truth of much if not most of what
his critics claim. It is probably true, also, that most American miners at times
have cursed Lewis, albeit quietly.
But in 1950 the overwhelming loyalty of the American
miners still belongs to Lewis.
The lack of
historical perspective makes it next to impossible to appraise
Lewis’ career today. He
is the man primarily responsible for the rise of industrial
unionism in the United States. He is the man almost entirely responsible for the remarkable
improvement in American mining condition.
At the same
time, more than any other labor leader, Lewis has brought the
wrath of public opinion down on the heads of organized labor.
He is unquestionably responsible for most of the
anti-union sentiment in the United States today.
Much more important from a long-term point of view, Lewis
is at least largely responsible for the increasing use of fuel
oil and natural gas in preference
to coal and the consequent restriction of coal markets in the
His policy of
striking and threatening has added to the instability of an
already sick industry. His
current policy of restricting coal production by a three-day
week shows his basic adherence to the economic theory that
over-production rather than under-consumption represents the
danger to the workingman.
difficult to analyze the theoretical beliefs of a man as devoted
to action as Lewis. According
to the only book he ever wrote, he is a laissez faire economist
devoted to the capitalist system.
Many of his activities belie this picture.
It seems certain that Lewis has never been interested in
economic theory in the sense that, say, Gompers, became
interested in his later life.
opportunist, he is less interested in the basic “fairness”
of labor’s demands than in getting “more, now.”
The relationship between prices and wages is more than
clear to him, but Lewis is more interested in continually
raising wages than in attempting in any way to reach an
equilibrium between prices and wages.
So far the
miners have succeeded in getting “more.”
They have succeeded in restricting coal production.
Hourly rates and prices have gone up.
Perhaps this policy has resulted in “fair shares” for
the miners. But
there is another party at interest, the consumer.
is not moved by whether or not the miner is getting his “fair
share.” If oil will produce power and heat for less than coal he will
turn from coal to oil. This
turn has helped create the biggest problem in John L. Lewis has
had to face.
Quoted in James Wechsler’s The Labor Baron.
It is perhaps significant that Lewis thought even then of
overproduction rather than underconsumption.
On the board were Fairless for the operators, Lewis for
the miners, and John Steelman, Lewis’ friend, for the
Source: Current History, April, 1950
* * *
* * *
The Shadows of Youth
The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights
By Andrew B. Lewis
With deep admiration and rigorous scholarship,
historian Lewis (Gonna
Sit at the Welcome Table) revisits the
ragtag band of young men and women who formed the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Impatient
with what they considered the overly cautious and
accommodating pace of the NAACP and
Martin Luther King
Jr., the black college students and their white
allies, inspired by Gandhi's principles of
nonviolence and moral integrity, risked their lives
to challenge a deeply entrenched system. Fanning out
over the Jim Crow South, SNCC organized sit-ins,
voter registration drives, Freedom Schools and
protest marches. Despite early successes, the
movement disintegrated in the late 1960s, succeeded
by the militant Black Power movement. The highly
readable history follows the later careers of the
principal leaders. Some, like
Carmichael and H.
Rap Brown, became bitter and disillusioned.
Julian Bond and
Lewis, tempered their idealism and moved from
protest to politics, assuming positions of
leadership within the very institutions they had
challenged. According to the author, No organization
contributed more to the civil rights movement than
SNCC, and with his eloquent book, he offers a
* * * *
Michelle Alexander: US Prisons, The New Jim Crow
Judge Mathis Weighs in on the execution of Troy Davis
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
mass incarceration of people of color through the War on
Drugs is a big part of the reason that a black child
born today is less likely to be raised by both parents
than a black child born during slavery. The absence of
black fathers from families across America is not simply
a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time
watching Sports Center. Hundreds of thousands of black
men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away
for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed
by whites. Most people seem to
imagine that the drug war—which has swept millions of
poor people of color behind bars—has been aimed at
rooting out drug kingpins or violent drug offenders.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This war has
been focused overwhelmingly on low-level drug offenses,
like marijuana possession—the very crimes that happen
with equal frequency in middle class white communities.
* * * *
Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The
Permanence of Racism
grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black
former Harvard law professor who made
headlines recently for his one-man protest
against the school's hiring policies,
hammers home his controversial theme that
white racism is a permanent, indestructible
component of our society. Bell's fantasies
are often dire and apocalyptic: a new
Atlantis rises from the ocean depths,
sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white
resistance to affirmative action softens
following an explosion that kills Harvard's
president and all of the school's black
professors; intergalactic space invaders
promise the U.S. President that they will
clean up the environment and deliver tons of
gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens
take all African Americans back to their
planet. Other pieces deal with black-white
romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job
Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine
And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back
in some of these ominous allegories, which
speak from the depths of anger and despair.
Bell now teaches at New York University Law
* * *
Representing the Race
The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer
By Kenneth W. Mack
Representing the Race tells the story of an enduring paradox of American race relations, through the prism of a collective biography of African American lawyers who worked in the era of segregation. . . . Mack reorients what we thought we knew about famous figures such as Thurgood Marshall, who rose to prominence by convincing local blacks and prominent whites that he was—as nearly as possible—one of them. But he also introduces a little-known cast of characters to the American racial narrative. These include Loren Miller, the biracial Los Angeles lawyer who, after learning in college that he was black, became a Marxist critic of his fellow black attorneys and ultimately a leading civil rights advocate; and Pauli Murray, a black woman who seemed neither black nor white, neither man nor woman, who helped invent sex discrimination as a category of law. The stories of these lawyers pose the unsettling question: what, ultimately, does it mean to “represent” a minority group in the give-and-take of American law and politics? /
For Love of Liberty
* * * *
Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered
the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It
By H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
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* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
8 July 2012