Trying to transform small labor movements into one larger movement
West explains that his goal to transform the small efforts of diverse groups into a broad movement found expression in Kentucky, where he directed the Kentucky Workers Alliance in the late 1930s.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
- JACQUELYN HALL:
So you were working in the mines. Did you have some formal relationship
with the United Mine Workers?
- DON WEST:
There weren't any United Mine Workers then, you see.
- JACQUELYN HALL:
Well what was going on?
- DON WEST:
Practically nothing was going on. It was some of us who would like to get
something going on. There was one man—I don't know
whether I put a letter in that thing from Norman Link. Norman Link was a
local coal miner, native Kentucky miner. He had been involved with the
National Miners Union, see. Jim Garland was not active then, but Jim was
there. And there were Silas Burge…. There were numbers of
native Kentucky coal miners who wanted something to get going. And we
were just trying to get something started. That was the end of 1934,
after I left here, you see. There were little sprinklings of
organization beginning among unemployed miners and unemployed people.
The WPA was a thing that was to be. At Corbin. I don't
remember what they called it. A bunch of unemployed people got organized
at Corbin. And up at Lexington there was the Wage Earners Inc, an
organization of unemployed and poor people. They incorporated
themselves. Over at Paintsville was the Unemployed League. That was a
Trotskyist sponsored thing. Trotskyite party. Arnold Johnson. He was the
leader. He was with the Trotsky party with
what's his name, this great peace fighter that
died—A.J. Muste. Arnold had been with Muste and I knew Arnold
very well then. He helped to get together the Unemployed League and in
one or two places there was the unemployed council, the workers
alliance. The workers alliance was SP. What was the CP? The unemployed
council? I guess it was. And the league was the Trotsky group. And then
there were several, like Wage Earners, Inc., that had no political
orientation at all. No connection. In Corbin and over at Paducah and in
Louisville. Lots of little spontaneous groups that got together. Our
effort, all over the country but Kentucky illustrates the general thing,
the effort was to get all these small beginnings together and form one
big organization. Which we were able to do. And we had the workers
alliance. As I say, it was a cooperatively led thing. SP, CP and what
ever the Trotskyist group had. So it became the main organization. I
gave you one of those little song books that had our demands. It sort of
makes you smile to see how modest our demands were. That's a
little song book we got out during that period. A vest pocket size song
book. And the demands on the back page were just almost unbelievable,
now. But we had none of that, you see. We had nothing.