NOVEMBER 19, 1946
NEW YORK, Monday—For several days now, the chief headlines in the papers have been held by John L. Lewis and his threats against the Government. Curiously enough, what he says rarely stresses the one point which I think is important—namely, that the conditions under which the miners today are working may need to be changed. He insists that there must be a strike, but one has the feeling that it is not because every effort to better the miners' condition has failed, but because Mr. Lewis wishes to show his power.
There was a time, a long while ago, when I thought Mr. Lewis one of the best labor leaders in the country. I thought he cared about the men in the mines. I know that the reason he has kept his hold over them is because they thought he cared. They knew that, at the time when they needed help, he was the only person who got them even the slightest consideration. I remember what conditions for the miners were at their worst. I remember what they were in the early '30s, in the black days of the depression. I have always had respect for the work they do and a desire to see all possible improvements made in their working and living conditions.
The miners still trust Mr. Lewis, and the long-distant past would justify that trust. But a nearer view makes one begin to wonder. For a long time now, it has seemed that John L. Lewis and those immediately around him feel that they rule an empire. The people who make up that empire seem to be there mainly to serve a lust for power which seems practically insatiable. No one could read Mr. Lewis' last letter without being struck by its arrogance.
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A strike in the coal mines will mean the stopping of hundreds of industries—industries which are necessary to the rebuilding of the economy in our own country and in the world.
I cannot help wondering which of two things Mr. Lewis is trying to achieve. Number one—is he expecting recognition from the Republican Party if they should win in 1948? Has he entered into an understanding with the owners of the mines whereby, if he breaks the contract with the Government, he hopes to force the return of the mines to the owners and then to make a better contract with the owners? This would make him a great figure in labor. The Republican Party and the industrial leaders might feel that they had some one whom they could safely place in power, because he would be amenable to their interests in the long run, even though he might ask enough for labor to hold his power over them. That power the practical Republican leadership knows is essential.
The only other alternative, of course, is that he does not realize how much resentment a strike in an essential industry is going to cause on top of the other strikes which have only just been settled. It is just possible that what he is doing now may lead to a demand in our country for the nationalization of the coal industry as a basic utility which the people themselves must control.
I would be sympathetic with a plea for better conditions, but I cannot help believing that, at the moment, we have to subordinate ourselves to the paramount interest of getting our economy running full blast. How can the people of devastated countries hope to succeed in this if we don't succeed?