Rise to Power
In the 1950s, Lewis won periodic wage and benefit increases for miners and led the campaign for the first Federal Mine Safety Act in 1952. Lewis tried to impose some order on a declining industry through collective bargaining, maintaining standards for his members by insisting that small operators agree to contract terms that effectively put many of them out of business. Mechanization nonetheless eliminated many of the jobs in his industry while scattered non-union operations persisted.
Lewis continued to be as autocratic as ever within the UMWA: until the passage of the Landrum-Griffin Act in 1959, the UMWA had kept a number of its districts in trusteeship for decades, meaning that Lewis appointed union officers who otherwise would have been elected by the membership.
Lewis retired as president of the UMWA in 1960 and was succeeded as president by Thomas Kennedy until his death in 1963, when he was succeeded by Lewis-anointed successor W.A. "Tony" Boyle, who was just as dictatorial, but without any of Lewis' leadership skills or vision.
Lewis purchased the "Lee-Fendall House", in Alexandria, Virginia in 1937. He resided here with his wife and daughter for 32 years until his death in 1969. He is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois.
"I have pleaded (labor's) case, not in the quavering tones of a feeble mendicant asking alms, but in the thundering voice of the captain of a mighty host, demanding the rights to which free men are entitled."
(Asked about the number of communists and other radicals he had hired as organizers for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee) "Who gets the bird, the hunter or the dog?"
"The union miner cannot agree to the acceptance of a wage principle which will permit his annual earnings and his living standards to be determined by the hungriest unfortunates whom the non-union operators can employ."
"A CIO contract is adequate protection against sit-downs, lie downs, or any other kind of strike" (Quoted by Jeremy Brecher on page 226 of Strike!, 2nd edition)