Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934 (Historical Materialism Book Series)

Bryan D. Palmer

Language: English

Pages: 342

ISBN: 900425420X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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.

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the Electric Auto-Lite Company, refused to permit the smashing of their ranks by injunction and the militia, and finally won a 5-per-cent wage increase, a six months’ contract, and the death of a company union’ (p. 64) For the Business Week commentary, see ‘Government by Strike’ and ‘General Strike’ (21 July 1934), pp. 7–8 and 36. 26 • Chapter Two monstrosity: organized labor’.14 Not every mass strike, then, ended in workingclass victory. The mass walkout of textile-workers in 1934 suggested,

notice that, ‘Blood ran in Minneapolis’. In the summer of 1934, the Communist League of America found itself at the centre of this Minneapolis upheaval, in which Trotskyists ‘led a general strike of truck drivers into a virtual civil war’.19 18. Walker 1937; Le Sueur 1934; 1945, pp. 289–97; Charles Rumford Walker, ‘Notes for Life-Story of a Truck-Driver’, Box 1, File ‘American City: Preliminary Prospectus and General Notes’, Charles R. Walker Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul,

Husbands began to talk to wives, young men to girlfriends, sons to mothers. Cannon would later capture this process (and perhaps help to consolidate it), in an imaginative fictionalisation of a striker’s letters to his country girlfriend. The column, ‘Letters to dere emily [sic]’, would become a routine fixture in Local 574’s daily strike-bulletin, The Organizer.4 It outlined – through the presentation of an intimate, but routine, correspondence – how young men could break out of understanding

militants at the head of Local 574 who organized this magnificent movement, steered it through the strike and the settlement, and still remain at its head. The work they have done already is bound to influence future developments of the left-wing labor movement on a national scale. And they are not finished yet.15 The Communist Party, not surprisingly, accepted nothing of this interpretation. It proved constant in its carping. It was unrepresented in the leadership of the strike, of course, but

Trotskyists and assailed Floyd Olson, the Farmer-Labor Governor, as a strikebreaker. When a Stalinist ‘Rank and File Committee’ leafleted a mass meeting of Local 574, attacking the Union’s leadership, denouncing the recent strike’s conduct and its ostensibly botched settlement, two members of this committee, sporting General Drivers’ Union buttons but unable to produce union-cards and proof of their membership in the Local, were escorted from the hall. Only Bill Brown’s pleas from the podium to

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