Mr. John L. Lewis hates Mr. F. D. Roosevelt, Mr. Roosevelt dislikes Mr. Lewis and fears Mr. J. P. Morgan, and Mr. Morgan is wary of both the other two. All three are having a personal prestige free-for-all over 53,000 soft coal miners, while the U. S. is threatening war with Japan on the Pacific and erasing the Neutrality Act on the Atlantic.
Stripped of its national defense cloak, Lewis has the strongest case of the three. He wants a closed shop in coal mines individually operated by six of the nation's largest steel companies, and the records of the National Defense Mediation Board and of the steel companies themselves give him a tight argument. N.D.M.B. findings show that "90 per cent of the total annual production of bituminous coal is under union-shop contracts." And voluntary check-off cards reveal that "a large majority of the (steel companies') mine workers, exceeding 95 per cent in many of the mines, now belong to the union." So that, if the matter had taken its natural course and been brought up before the Mediation Board, the recommendation probably would have been pro-union, as it was in the almost similar Kearny Shipyard case. But the Mediation Board preferred to pass the buck, because, it claimed, any stand would influence present negotiations between the CIO and "Little Steel" on the same issue. Meanwhile, the strike date was approaching, Mr. Roosevelt sent three letters to Lewis requesting that he hold off until a settlement could be reached, John L. turned a deaf ear, and the issue rode into its present crisis stage.
From Lewis' point of view, his refusal to hold off was a smart move. It robbed the Mediation Board of any credit which it might have gained by settling the dispute, and, with Congress threatening anti-strike legislation, it forced all of labor to rally behind the President of the United Mine Workers.
Roosevelt's only come-back was to make a national issue out of the pending strike, and ask Lewis to stall it in the interests of national defense. The steel companies, Congress, and public opinion naturally sided with the President. But the 53,000 miners struck despite this, and now Lewis is being forced to negotiate with U. S. Steel's Myron C. Taylor, while the President is contemplating a "new legal approach to the problem of minimizing defense industry controversies."
If the Congressional outbursts which have resulted from this triangular antagonism are to be trusted, the "new legal approach" will take the form of either anti-striker or anti-closed-shop laws for the duration. This would be even more disastrous than the temporary loss of fuel, for Lewis has a case and the whole of labor would grow militant in its own defense. Lewis is certainly open to strong criticism for taking advantage of the Mediation Board's chicken-heartedness and refusing to delay the strike pending mediation. He seized this moment, opportune for him and inopportune for the country, to further his own gains. But the Mediation Board should be criticized for trying, stupidly, to maintain labor's status quo by doing nothing. Morgan and his cronies have perverted the defense cloak in order to maintain an unjust open shop. And the President, his feet grown cold since the famous 1932-33 days, has failed to force settlement on the purely union-shop basis and thus to thwart the personal ambitions of Lewis and Morgan.
The President should use his personal prestige and the power of his office to head off general anti-strike legislation, steer the present quarrel back to N.D.M.B., and get Lewis to suspend his walk-out.