Every newspaper in the country has joined in the current "John L. Lewis is a terrible old man" chorus. Lewis is more than a terrible old man. He is the enemy of labor and industry and government and the nation. He has two aims: first, the political aggrandizement of John L. Lewis; second, the improvement of the position of his loyalty-blinded and misled miners. Lewis, out of his hate of President Roosevelt and out of his love of grandiose, climactic triumphs, has precipitated today's delicately balanced crisis which the President is trying to resolve by his back-to-work exhortation of last night. If soft coal production stops at midnight tonight when the U.M.W.-bituminous coal operators contract expires, it will be one of the darkest midnights of the war. But there is much more to the problem than the crafty gyrations of John L. While close to one hundred thousand miners have already "wildcatted," the War Labor Board, like every other major agency designed to deal with labor disputes, has thrown up its hands and passed the buck, this time to the President. The buck could go no further. The President has acted, fighting back with a vague threat of force. How much of the blame can be thrown on political ham Lewis and how much on the mine operators and the government?
When Secretary of Labor Perkins was approached by the mine operators after the initial negotiations and then John R. Steelman's conciliation had failed, the good madam, following the regular procedure for settling disputes in war industries established under Executive Order 9017 of January 1942, certified the dispute to the War Labor Board. The operators, because they knew the board's desire to "hold the line" (as requested by the President) on wages and prices would result in a decision in their favor, were delighted to accept the order. The U.M.W., with a real grievance lying back of their demand for a $2 a day pay increase and pay on a "portal to portal" basis, defied the order and refused to appear before the WLB's fact-finding panel or to order strikers back to work. What lay behind the mineworkers' refusal is evident from their statement to Miss Perkins that, "The ukase of a discredited political agency is no substitute for free collective bargaining." This, and other statements which show the miners as feeling pretty certain that most of the inhabitants of Washington, D. C., are engaged in a conspiracy to make life miserable for the coal-diggers, smells of the campaign of confusion among the nation's coal miners that vindictive politico Lewis has been waging for many months. Then confronted with rising living costs and a Little Steel Formula, which prevents an adjustment, they have reluctantly concluded that what this country needs is a damn big strike to give the workingman a break.
In his reports to the President, prepared before the present crisis, John R. Steelman, director of the U. S. Conciliation Service, pointed a finger directly at the operators, accusing them of failure to bargain collectively with the union and refusal to make counter proposals when they refused the union's demands, something which the NLRB has called an unfair labor practice. He pointed out that the operators had throughout the negotiations maintained an aloof, purely legalistic attitude, supporting themselves on the evasive contention that under the Economic Stabilization Act and the various allied executive orders the miners were not entitled to any wage adjustments and that the matter should go to the WLB without further discussion. The men who own coal mines should know better than to shut their eyes and point to the law when Lewis tells the Truman Committee, "When you ask me are the coal miners hungry I say yes."
Now the President has spoken, setting tomorrow morning at 10 as the back to work deadline. So far the Government has not answered Lewis; it has only threatened. It has taken no vigorous steps to ease the living-cost-crisis that faces these men. Unlike the English Parliament, Congress has refused to prevent the rich from living as usual. It is no wonder that these miners follow Lewis so blindly through his political odyssey. A few decisive measures must follow the President's speech at once. You can't loosen Lewis's hold with threats. You can't mine coal with bayonets.