Lewis, John L.

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Lewis, John L. (Llewellyn)

(1880–1969) labor leader; born in Lucas, Iowa. He went to work in the coal mines at age 16. After serving as president of his local of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), UMWA state lobbyist in Illinois (1909–10), American Federation of Labor (AFL) field representative (1910–16), and UMWA vice-president (1917–19), he was appointed acting president, and then elected UMWA president (1920–60). During the 1920s he won a reputation as an autocratic and aggressive leader, but he could not stanch the decline in UMWA membership. However, in 1933 he launched an organizing drive that rebuilt a powerful UMWA. He played a central role in the organization of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), serving as its president (1936–40). He backed Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, but in 1940 switched to the Republicans, and resigned his CIO presidency when Roosevelt was reelected for a third term. Lewis went back to leading the UMWA, taking the miners out on strikes that twice got him convicted for contempt of federal orders. By the mid-1950s he had become an advocate of cooperation between the miners and mine owners, but he could never shake his reputation as an old-fashioned labor leader, famed for his bushy eyebrows and fiery rhetoric.