MAY 9, 1946
NEW YORK, Wednesday—For a very long time, the coal industry of this country has been in a bad way. During the depression, we discovered how badly organized it was, and that the miners were among the people who suffered more than any others in the working groups of this nation.
It should not have been a surprise to us even then, for we had had a number of investigating bodies looking into this industry, each one of which had made recommendations. When my husband was Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the last war, I can remember that Mrs. Borden Harriman served as a member of one of these groups, and that, when I spoke to Justice Louis Brandeis hopefully about the reorganization of the coal industry, he remarked: "My dear, nothing will happen. These findings will be pigeonholed just as all the others have been."
John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers, became an important labor leader because he cared enough about the miners to do something on their behalf. But even today, despite all the publicity that he has gained in one way or another, the basic wage of a coal miner is still low and the working conditions are still deplorable. Many other union leaders have succeeded in getting industrial leaders to cooperate on a far broader scale and have achieved far greater results than Mr. Lewis has achieved in his dealings with the coal-mine owners.
We have to admit that he has some tough gentlemen to deal with, but he is said to be tough himself when necessary. He does not even trust his own followers enough to tell them how he intends to administer the welfare fund he is asking for their benefit, and yet that is of vital importance to them. His good name and theirs is at stake. This fund should be placed under every possible safeguard and handled with proper publicity.
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I see by the papers that Mr. Lewis is not at all disturbed by the present discomfort and future hardship which he is creating for his fellow citizens throughout this country, nor by the much more serious implications in the present situation for the people of other countries who are struggling toward recovery in a war-torn world. Mr. Lewis takes their hardships with calmness because he feels that the anger of the people will turn against the mine owners and not against his labor leadership.
However, I am afraid that, for once, his judgment is not entirely correct. True, the people will be angry with the industrial leaders who have been lacking in vision for so long, and they will feel, as I do, that these industrialists have shown themselves incapable of real leadership in the economic and moral field in this great world crisis. Nevertheless, the industrialists are not going to be blamed alone. When the man in the street is really uncomfortable, he is going to blame also the leadership of any labor group which brings about his discomfort.
One so rarely sees either an industrial leader or a labor leader who puts these questions on the plane where they should be—in terms of what our actions mean to the world, not to ourselves alone, and what the results of our actions today are going to mean to our workers and to our entire economy five years from now.