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John L. Lewis


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(b. 12 Feb. 1880, d. 11 June 1969).

President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) 1920–60. A son of Welsh miner immigrants born in Lucas, Iowa, he began work as a miner aged 17. In 1901 he began his active work for the United Mineworkers of America (UMWA), becoming acting president in 1919 and president in 1920. A leading member of the AFL (American Federation of Labor), he successfully organized unskilled, mass-production workers into trade unions. This resulted in a clash with AFL policy in 1935, and in 1936 all such unions, including his miners, were expelled from the AFL; they formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), with Lewis as president. During the next four years he led a number of militant and bitter CIO strikes in such industries as steel, automobiles, tyres, and electrical products. In 1940, in protest against Roosevelt's third-term nomination, he resigned his presidency from the CIO. From this organization he withdrew the miners, whose president he remained, in 1942. A strong personality, he would challenge any authority in the interests of his members. Although more moderate in later years, in 1947 he defied the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) out of principle by refusing to declare the fact that he was not a Communist on oath.

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