April 3, 1947 – John L. Lewis Testifies Before Congress About Mine Safety
April 3, 1947. John L. Lewis, 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).
In this broadcast, excerpts from his now-famous testimony regarding Mine Safety on April 3, 1947, John L. Lewis was called on to testify regarding the Centralia Mine disaster, which took the lives of 111 coal miners, making it the worst mining disaster in U.S. history.
Here is an excerpt of testimony, which is also excerpted in this broadcast from Mutual on April 3, 1947:
John L. Lewis: “ . . .then this inspector’s report was filed with
him in the month of November, it showed that the mine was not rock-
dusted. It showed that coal dust existed there in excessive quantities.
Coal dust is explosive, and is the nearest thing we have to atomic
power in the form of explosives.
That report also showed that there was insufficient air in the mine;
that it was not properly ventilated; that what air was going into the
mine did not reach the working places of the men, miles underground,
that it was lost in transit; that at the last breakthrough the anemom-
eter, an instrument used for measuring air, would not register, show-
ing that there was no air in the mine.
And any man who knows anything of mining will know that there
is no hazard so great in mines, so far as the mass danger to life is
concerned, than the absence of life-giving oxygen.
The exuding gases from the coal strata have to be constantly
neutralized, diffused and carried off by great volumes of air, and there
have to be margins of safety there to take care of the barometric
changes and thermal changes that retard or give impetus to the relief
of the gas from the air strata.
There was no air in that mine. It was filled with explosive dust.
That was a mechanized mine, with the roar of machinery, the stirring
up of dust from the machines was constant. Any little pocket of
gas could have ignited the dust, or any blown-out shot, or flame,
could cause an explosion, and in addition to that, the inspector
showed that they were violating the law of the state in permitting the
men to be underground while those shots were being fired, and the
blasting took place under those especially hazardous conditions; yet
Mr. Krug, in his defense to the Senate Committee, said that there
was no danger imminent, and because the inspector did not report
imminent danger, he did not move to enforce the code.
Whenever the inspector’s report shows those conditions, danger is
imminent. It may come at any moment, or it may be deferred,
according to the mysteries of nature and the providence of God.
But Mr. Krug did nothing.
Now, in fact, Mr. Krug called in Drew Pearson to his office Sun-
day afternoon, and they spent the afternoon there preparing a defense
against this situation, along with Mr. Gardner, and Mr. White, and
others, and Mr. Pearson gave his views on this situation that Sunday
evening, and he has reiterated them since, as has every columnist,
spreading this material for Mr. Krug, and the point of that is that
it is John Lewis that caused the explosion that occurred in Centralia
because he had copies of the inspector’s report and did not do any-
thing about it.
Why, John Lewis had those mines shut down for 17 days, from
the 20th of November until the 7 th of December, so there could not
then be an explosion and our men killed. We had hoped to nego-
tiate another agreement which would have given us improved safety
and reestablish safety conditions at the Centralia mine and all other
mines covered similarly, except that we were enjoined and restrained
and fined, and our men had to go back to the mines, working under
the same conditions.
Of course I knew about the Centralia mine, and of course I knew
about every other mine that is unsafe in this country. The Director
of the Bureau of Mines said there were two mines only that did not
violate the code.
Now, on this particular day of our Lord, Mr. Krug has found 518
mines that he shuts down because they are unsafe.
May God in Heaven forgive him for not finding those out before
111 men were killed, and for not taking action long before these men
died, and in voicing these views, gentlemen of the Congress, I voice
the sentiment in the heart of every coal miner in this country, and
that sentiment is shared by other people who work for a living in
our great productive plants, because they, too, want protection, and
they want enforcement of the safety laws in the callings that they
The disaster, and Lewis’ testimony prompted government officials to ask for improved mine safety, which would be a long time coming, and involved several more similar disasters in the years following.
Here is a portion of that testimony, as broadcast later in the day on April 3, 1947.