John Lewis

1880- 1969

Labor Leader



US labor leader John Lewis grew up in a coal mining community in Iowa, the son of Welsh immigrant parents. He quit school after seventh grade and entered the mines at age 15.

He soon became active in union activities and in 1919 he became president of the United Mine Workers, a position he held until 1960.

Lewis organized the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO, later called the Congress of Industrial Organizations) in 1935 when the American Federation of Labor (AFL) failed to open its membership to unskilled workers. Lewis gave strong support to Roosevelt's New Deal policies. When the US entered World War II, he pledged a policy of "No Strikes." In 1943, however, believing the government had taken advantage of the workers, he led strikes.

In 1946 Lewis led a nationwide coal strike that crippled the US economy and forced the federal government to seize the mines. During the Eisenhower Administration Lewis followed a policy of accommodation with the coal industry. Lewis retired in 1960.