John L. Lewis

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Lewis at a labor rally in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, meeting with mine workers.

John Llewellyn Lewis (February 12, 1880June 11, 1969) was an American leader of organized labor who served as president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) from 1920 to 1960. A major player in the history of coal mining, he was the driving force behind the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which established the United Steel Workers of America and helped organize millions of other industrial workers in the 1930s. After resigning as head of the CIO in 1941, he took the Mine Workers out of the CIO in 1942 and in 1944 took the union into the American Federation of Labor (AFL).


  • I have pleaded (labor's) case, not in the quavering tones of a feeble mendicant asking alms, but in the thundering voice of the captain of a mighty host, demanding the rights to which free men are entitled.
    • Speech at United Mine Workers convention at Indianapolis (March 1940), quoted in Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren R. Van Tine, John L. Lewis: A Biography (1986), p. 278
  • Who gets the bird, the hunter or the dog?
    • When asked about the presence of communists and other radicals working as organizers for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee; quoted in Life magazine, October 25, 1954

Labor and the Nation speech (September 3, 1937)[edit]

Labor and the Nation" speech in Washington, D.C. (September 3, 1937)

  • The workers of the nation were tired of waiting for corporate industry to right their economic wrongs, to alleviate their social agony and to grant them their political rights. Despairing of fair treatment, they resolved to do something for themselves.
  • No tin-hat brigade of goose-stepping vigilantes or bibble-babbling mob of blackguarding and corporation paid scoundrels will prevent the onward march of labor, or divert its purpose to play its natural and rational part in the development of the economic, political and social life of our nation.
  • The organized workers of America, free in their industrial life, conscious partners in production, secure in their homes and enjoying a decent standard of living, will prove the finest bulwark against the intrusion of alien doctrines of government.
  • If there is to be peace in our industrial life, let the employer recognize his obligation to his employees - at least to the degree set forth in existing statutes.
  • Labor is marching toward the goal of industrial democracy and contributing constructively toward a more rational arrangement of our domestic economy.
  • Workers have kept faith in American institutions. Most of the conflicts which have occurred have been when labor's right to live has been challenged and denied.
  • Labor, like Israel, has many sorrows. Its women weep for 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 locked in deadly embrace.

Quotes about Lewis[edit]

  • the corrupt mismanagement of UMWA president Tony Boyle had tanked the UMWA-controlled Welfare and Retirement Fund, which previous UMWA president John L. Lewis had implemented in the 1950s to provide for workers who had given their bodies (and often, their lives) to the mines.

External links[edit]

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