Remembering John L. Lewis: Tribune, Rebel, Autocrat

Remembering John L. Lewis: Tribune, Rebel, Autocrat

John Llewelyn Lewis was a miner, and he was very Welsh, his huge lungs filled with the coal dust, bitterness, rebellion, and majestic rhetoric of the Welsh coal fields. An Iowan by birth, Lewis became the voice of the American miner and his fearsome prophet.

“I have never faltered or failed to present the cause or plead the case of the mine workers of this country … 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.”

The prophet was eloquent. He was learned, witty, and courageous. He was also ruthless, vindicative, and weirdly conservative, sometimes even reactionary. He created and he destroyed. Without him there might not have been a CIO. He was more than its first chairman. He found the way—the money and the men—to help organize workers in steel, rubber, auto, metal, and meat-packing.

...