Monday, July 27, 2009

One Day In July: Remembering The 1934 Minneapolis Teamster Strike

THE 1934 MINNEAPOLIS TRUCKERS STRIKE On "Bloody Friday", July 20,1934,at 3rd and 6th, 67 striking truckdrivers and their supporters were shot by Minneapolis police, acting on orders from the Citizens Alliance, an anti-labor employers' group, which controlled city government. Seventy-five years later, WE REMEMBER THEIR SACRIFICE!

This weekend Minneapolis returned to an old tradition and celebrated the 1934 general strike in Minneapolis, that brought unionism to Minneapolis. The first day was a music festival in the streets where the fighting took place. Today was a picnic attended by relatives of strikers, and representatives of the UE who took part in the Republic Windows occupation in Chicago. No known 1934 strikers are living.

Teamsters got their name from starting out organizing drivers of teams of horses. There was less time between the 1934 stike and the Civil War, than the strike and today.

By Dave Riehle

Three successive strikes by Minneapolis truck drivers in 1934 resulted in the defeat of the Citizen's Alliance, the dominant employer organization that had broken nearly every major strike in that city since 1916. The strikes also established the industrial form of union organization through the medium of an American Federation of Labor (AFL) craft union and set the stage for the organization of over-the-road drivers throughout an 11-state area, transforming the Teamsters into a million-plus member union. The strikes were notable for their almost unequaled advance preparation, military tactics, and the degree to which they drew the active participation of union, non-union, and unemployed workers in Minneapolis alike into their struggle. Veteran union militants expelled from the American Communist Party in 1928 as Trotskyists led the strikes.

Carl Skoglund and V R. (Ray) Dunne, the central leaders, had also been expelled from the AFL Trades and Labor Assembly in Minneapolis in 1925 for their political views, along with 20 other Communists. In 1931 Skoglund obtained membership in Teamsters Local 574, a small general drivers. local. The president, William Brown, was supportive of their perspective for organizing drivers, helpers, and inside workers into an industrial union formation that could break the hold of the Citizen.s Alliance.

By late 1933, working in Minneapolis coal yards, they had consolidated a volunteer organizing committee, including Grant and Miles Dunne (V.R's brothers), Harry DeBoer, and Farrell Dobbs. Dobbs, DeBoer, and Shaun (Jack) Maloney became key leaders of the over-the-road drivers' organizing campaign from 1935 to 1940.

On 7 February 1934, a strike was called in the coal yards, shutting down sixty-five of sixty-seven yards in three hours. Under the leadership of DeBoer, an innovative strike tactic was introduced for the first time, cruising picket squads patrolling the streets by automobile. Cold winter demand for coal brought a quick end to the strike two days later, resulting in a limited victory for the union. Local 574's membership rose to three thousand by April, as the organization drive continued.

In preparation for a general drivers. strike, 574 got agreement for active support from Minneapolis unemployed organizations and the Farm Holiday Association, allied with the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party. On 15 May, Local 574, now 6,000 members strong, voted to strike all trucking employers, demanding union recognition, the right to represent inside workers, and wage increases.

The union deployed cruising picket squads from strike headquarters, a big garage where they also installed a hospital and commissary. A strike committee of one hundred was elected, with broad representation from struck firms. A women's auxiliary was established at the suggestion of Carl Skoglund.

On Monday, 21 May, a major battle between strikers and police and special deputies took place in the central market area. At a crucial, point, 600 pickets, concealed the previous evening in nearby AFL headquarters, emerged and routed the police and deputies in hand-to-hand combat. Over thirty cops went to the hospital. No pickets were arrested.

On Tuesday, 22 May, the battle began again. About 20,000 strikers, sympathizers, and spectators assembled in the central market area, and a local radio station broadcast live from the site. Again, no trucks were moved.

Two special deputies were killed, including C. Arthur Lyman, a leader of the Citizen's Alliance. No pickets were arrested. On 25 May a settlement was reached that met the union's major objectives, including representation of inside workers.

In the following weeks, it became clear the employers were not carrying out the agreement. Over 700 cases of discrimination were recorded between May and July. Another strike was called on 16 July. The union's newspaper, The Organizer, became the first daily ever published by a striking union. Trucking was again effectively closed down until Friday, 20 July, when police opened fire on unarmed pickets, wounding 67, two of whom, John Belor and Henry Ness, died.

The Minneapolis Labor Review reported attendance of 100,000 at Ness's funeral on 24 July. A public commission, set up later by the governor, reported: "Police took direct aim at the pickets and fired to kill. Physical safety of the police was at no time endangered. No weapons were in possession of the pickets." On 26 July, Farmer-Labor Governor Floyd B. Olson declared martial law and mobilized four thousand National Guardsmen, who began issuing operating permits to truck drivers.

On 1 August, National Guard troops seized strike headquarters and placed arrested union leaders in a stockade at the state fairgrounds in Saint Paul. The next day, the headquarters were restored to the union and the leaders released from the stockade, as the National Guard carried out a token raid on the Citizen's Alliance headquarters. The union appealed to the Central Labor Union for a general strike and the governor issued an ultimatum that he would stop all trucks by midnight, 5 August, if there was no settlement. Nevertheless, by 14 August there were thousands of trucks operating under military permits.

Although the strike was gravely weakened by martial law and economic pressure, union leaders made it clear that it would continue. On 21 August, a federal mediator got acceptance of a settlement pro-posal from A. W. Strong, head of the Citizen.s Alliance, incorporating the union.s major demands. The settlement was ratified and the back of employer resist-ance to unionization in Minneapolis was broken. In March 1935 International president Daniel Tobin expelled Local 574 from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). However, in August 1936 Tobin was forced to relent and recharter the local as 544. The leaders of 544 went on to develop the area and conference bargaining that exists today in the IBT. Local 544 remained under socialist leader-ship until 1941, when eighteen leaders of the union and the Socialist Workers Party were sentenced to federal prison, the first victims of the anti-radical Smith Act, a law eventually found by the United States Supreme Court to be unconstitutional.



The Sentinel said...

How about a bit of honesty and integrity Renegade Eye?

I didn't even remotely blame the UK muslims for all the problems in the world in that last thread, not even remotely - can you really substantiate that extraordinary smear made before you took away the opportunity for rebuttal? Or is it just hysterical, biased rubbish in reaction to nothing but facts and the truth?

Delete away my friend, you obviously seem to have been won over by the DHG school of dirty tricks: Smear, cut, close and / or censor.


Anonymous said...

By your own account, it sounds like the Union drew first blood, Ren. You guys proud of sending thirty cops to the hospital?

Anonymous said...

ps - If it's any consolation, I don't think it was your post, Sentinel, which served as the reason for closing down the last thread.

Desert Mystery said...

Sorry for an unrelated question, Ren.

Why is the Democratic party in Minnesota called the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party? Are they left of the national democratic party?

SecondComingOfBast said...

And to think I didn't make one single solitary comment in the last thread, so no one can blame me for its problems. Which is a relief, as I was starting to feel like one of those UK Muslims. But, since I am in general agreement with the "party line" here, I guess it's safe to comment.

FJ-Good on you in that last thread, by the way, but as for this one, what were the cops doing there to begin with?

And as for the thirty cops in the hospital, what about this-

"Trucking was again effectively closed down until Friday, 20 July, when police opened fire on unarmed pickets, wounding 67, two of whom, John Belor and Henry Ness, died."

I've done a lot of rethinking and re-evaluating my support for unions lately, but from the looks of things, they were pretty much the "good guys" here.

I admit I don't know that much about the situation. I can be convinced. Hell, here lately I've started to wonder if even the Mafia was really all that bad. I'm about two inches away from wanting to put Jimmy Hoffa's mug on Mount Rushmore.

SecondComingOfBast said...

They do the same thing in New York, Desert Mystery. I think it was originally a way of forming coalitions.

And with that, I am back into hibernating mode.

SecondComingOfBast said...

Okay, just one more point and I'll shut up.

Kudos to the union for this-

"Cold winter demand for coal brought a quick end to the strike two days later, resulting in a limited victory for the union."

Give them credit for common sense at least.

SecondComingOfBast said...

Okay, I misread that. From the looks of it, I guess it was the bosses who ended the strike because of the bad weather. So, good on them.


Frank Partisan said...

Just a few notes. I'll comment more later.

1) The union organized an unemployed union, so they would not cross the picket lines, and in fact be on them.

2) It was the first strike with a daily newspaper.

3) They invented cruising pickets. They would allow trucks to leave the yards, and stop them blocks away.

4) They had a ladies auxillary, that cooked food and did healthcare. Strikers didn't use hospitals.

5) The depression started in 1929, but actions like this occured around 1934/1935. Consciousness follows events.

6) It was organized by the Communist League of America, the Trotskyists in the US. Trotsky had disagreements with how they organized it. They were great unionists, but poor Marxists. They didn't call for a break from Roosevelt and Democrats, or call for nationalizations.

Desert Mystery: Minnesota had a populist party called the Farmer Labor Party, that merged with the Democratic Party in the 1940s.

Pagan: The coal strike was the first in a series of three strikes. They closed 650 coal yards.

FJ: Violence was defensive. I've seen videos.

Anonymous said...

FJ: Violence was defensive. I've seen videos.

I don't think an ambush like the one you described can really be fairly classisfied as "defensive", Ren.

At a crucial, point, 600 pickets, concealed the previous evening in nearby AFL headquarters, emerged and routed the police and deputies in hand-to-hand combat. Over thirty cops went to the hospital. No pickets were arrested.

And the police "massacre" described later almost sounds like retaliation for the violent ambush.

I'll admit I don't have any facts. I'm merely stating what it sounds like. First blood.... then retaliation by a superior force.

Frank Partisan said...

This is about how the bureaucrats, Stalinists and gangsters, tried to sabotage the strike.

Sentinel: It would have been disasterous to keep going with the last thread.

Pagan: The coal strike was militant. Coal was dumped on the street, when the trucks were stopped.

Desert Mystery: See my previous comment.

FJ: Your favorite source on the 1934 strike; Wikipedia.

tony said...

The States Has A Proud Labour Tradition.
It's A Pity (no surprise though!)That The Media Hides The Fact.
People Should Know Their History.

Anonymous said...

You should have related the events of May 19.

The market was to be the scene of the fiercest fighting during the earliest part of the strike. On Saturday, May 19, 1934, Minneapolis Police and private guards beat a number of strikers trying to prevent strikebreakers from unloading a truck in that area and waylaid several strikers who had responded to a report that scab drivers were unloading newsprint at the two major dailies' loading docks. When those injured strikers were brought back to the strike headquarters the police followed; the strikers, however, not only refused to let the police into the headquarters, but left two of them unconscious on the sidewalk outside.

It better sets the stage for the events of 21st (the ambush) although it does sound like the workers may have been capitalizing on their "mobility tactics" and were cognizant of the fact that the cops would now likely pursue them back to their HQ (setting out the bait they needed for the ambush).

Frank Partisan said...

Tony: People here don't know their history. The ones that do, have a hard time with the dialectic between today and the thirties. Young people don't know the words to Solidarity Forever.

FJ: There isn't any controversy that the workers were violent. Minneapolis used to have a picnic to celebrate the victory of the workers of three strikes. The bosses created the Aquatennial Celebration to counter the picnics. Now the Aquatennial wants to add a pro labor event. Only in Minneapolis.

Harry Barnes said...

Labour : What Is To Be Done? See -

Frank Partisan said...

Harry: I changed my links to reflect your new blogging direction.

In the US, a labor party is a revolutionary idea, whose time has come.

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