John L. Lewis, cantankerous and scrappy son of a Welsh coal-miner immigrant, was a thorn in the side of the Roosevelt Administration throughout the war.
A coal miner himself as a young man, Lewis became involved in union affairs and rose through the ranks to serve as president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1920 to 1960.
Lewis was a supporter of Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930’s, but broke with the President in 1940 to support Wendell Wilkie. He became more and more on the outs with Roosevelt, declaring, “The election of President Roosevelt for a third term would be a national evil of the first magnitude. He no longer hears the cries of the people.”
Coal was crucial to fueling America’s war production machine; Lewis knew it and was seemingly oblivious to scathing criticism that he and his union members were unpatriotic and unwilling to sacrifice for the good of the nation. At the start of the war, the AFL and the CIO had agreed to a no-strike pledge, and union officials lived up to it. The exception was John L. Lewis, who took his coal miners out on strike four times during the course of the war.