Add The Corrupt Kingdom -- an uncompromisingly severe judgment of John L. Lewis' contribution to the American labor movement...


THE CORRUPT KINGDOM: The Rise and Fall of the United Mine Workers

Add The Corrupt Kingdom -- an uncompromisingly severe judgment of John L. Lewis' contribution to the American labor movement -- to the list of exceptional works on labor history we have had recently, including Joseph Goulden's biography of the AFL-CIO's elder crank Meany (p. 835), Senator McGovern's reworked Ph.D. thesis The Great Coalfield War (p. 377), and, most pertinent here, Brit Hume's investigation into the sooty doings of the United Mine Workers under Lewis' successor Tony Boyle, Death and the Mines (1971). Like Hume, Finley seems convinced that the UMW leadership conspired to murder the insurgent Jock Yablonski, and the current trial evidence is fully aired, though Finley, a labor lawyer, discloses no new proof. But the Yablonski tragedy and concomitant revelations of UMW corruption and election fraud are only a backdrop to Finley's main point: the Union's present decline is directly attributable to a legacy of despotism and violence bequeathed by none other than John Llewellyn Lewis himself; Boyle and his toughs are simply adventitous casualties of that inheritance. It was Lewis who told a Labor Day crowd after the 1937 Republic Steel massacre, ""Labor, like Israel, has many sorrows. Its women weep for their fallen and they lament for the future of the children of the race."" Then it was FDR and the mine owners who had blood on their hands. Now Finley is suggesting that the ""conduct and policies of John Llewellyn Lewis had led directly to the miseries of the United Mine Workers of America in the decade of the 1970's,"" that Lewis must be held historically accountable for Yablonski's blood, that Lewis' chickens have come home to roost. This is a very harsh reading not only of John L. Lewis but union history itself -- one wonders what Mr. Finley might say of Samuel Gompers and his fight against the sweatshops? What this challenging analysis lacks is a sense of Lewis in his time, an appreciation of the changing currents of labor-management relations: to view the current UMW mob as ""tragic"" victims of the iron hand of a dead leader is stretching accountability too far, is extending exculpation too easily. Nonetheless, The Corrupt Kingdom should be read -- its flaws are more instructive than many lesser works' merits.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1972


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1972