Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934 (Historical Materialism Book Series)
Bryan D. Palmer
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Minneapolis in the early 1930s was anything but a union stronghold. An employers' association known as the Citizens' Alliance kept labour organisations in check, at the same time as it cultivated opposition to radicalism in all forms. This all changed in 1934. The year saw three strikes, violent picket-line confrontations, and tens of thousands of workers protesting in the streets. Bryan D. Palmer tells the riveting story of how a handful of revolutionary Trotskyists, working in the largely non-union trucking sector, led the drive to organise the unorganised, to build one large industrial union. What emerges is a compelling narrative of class struggle, a reminder of what can be accomplished, even in the worst of circumstances, with a principled and far-seeing leadership.
organization. . . . it possessed centralized committee control, a disciplined membership, a permanent staff of highly paid functionaries, the backing of the Minneapolis banks, the cooperation of the police, and one of the most thorough labor spy organizations in the country. It was a redoubtable antagonist for any rank-and-file rebellion’. Small wonder, then, that Minneapolis workers were regarded as defeated and demoralised as they entered the 1930s, the city known as ‘the worst scab town in the
outgrown the northwest, from which it must live, and now that the days of expansion are over its classes are fighting among themselves for what is left’. Walker laid stress on this apparently inevitable clash of class-forces: ‘If the workers and farmers, the lumberjacks, shovel stiffs and factory operatives – rank-and-file builders of the empire – failed for the most part to share in the imperial spoil or to influence the confident policies of their masters in the period of the empire’s 12. ‘One
the general organising of an industrial union of all those employed in the trucking industry must cease and that negotiations with employers should continue through the auspices of the Regional Labor Board of Roosevelt’s NRA. When he could not dam the flow of workers into the rising industrial union, and with his business-agent, the evercautious Cliff Hall, holding back payments of per capita taxes on new members to International headquarters, Tobin pulled out the stops and did what he could to
strikers often received terms in the workhouse, ranging from 10 to 45 days.4 In the end, the sticking point for the employers, as it had been for Dan Tobin, was the issue of ‘inside workers’. As James Rorty noted, ‘The employers immediately saw the implied threat: if Local 574 took in chicken pickers and fruit 3. Dobbs 1972, pp. 89–91; Korth 1995, pp. 99–102; ‘Workers Committee Will Submit Peace Proposals to Union but No Recommendation’, Minneapolis Journal, 25 May 1934. 4. Walker, 1937, pp.
Committee of 100 broke into the Eighth Avenue building and began to plan Tuesday’s picket-activities. By four in the morning, pickets had been established around the city, ‘all streets being guarded to prevent entrance or departure of trucks not excepted in the strike order’. Local 574 would soon learn that Governor Olson, while proclaiming his neutrality in the strike and seemingly straddling the fence, was, instead, acting quickly, if incompletely, in acceding to Mayor Bainbridge’s written