Strike in Minneapolis

Farrell Dobbs book, Teamster Rebellion, reviewed by Pete Smith in Militant Irish Monthly, No. 111, May 1983. Added to SP archives online, 10th Feb. 2005

This book tells the story of one of the most crucial Labour organising drives and strikes in America in the 1930s.Minneapolis, an American Midwest trading city, was a citadel of the open shop and anti-union bosses. The trucking industry was of vital importance in this trading city, but the truckers union, the Teamsters, was an almost non-existent shell dominated by conservatives, with little power.

The truckers, in hard times needing radical leaders with radical solutions, pushed the Dunne brothers and Farrell Dobbs, all Trotskyists, into leadership of the union local (the branch) in the city.

They organised three strikes in 1934. Then local businessmen declared martial law. The National Guard was sent in to attack the strikers. The police killed two pickets and protest rallies of up to 40,000 were held regularly during the strike.

These famous strikes were like none seen before in America. The strikers had patrol cars of their own, stopping trucks entering or leaving the city. A daily newspaper, loud speaker broadcasts, an advice centre, ambulance services for the wounded, canteens to feed the pickets, were all organised and the wives of the men were involved in the strike.

The Teamsters Union of the time had 80,000 members and a conservative bureaucracy receiving high wages and expenses, living in the plush world of Washington and siding with the bosses against the workers. Daniel J Tobin had been President of the union for 27 years before the strike and wrote in the union journal at this time: "We don't want people to join the union if they will go on strike tomorrow." He lived aloof from his members and tried to expel them if they opposed him.

The Teamsters were very weak. Tobin's idea of getting a wage increase was to go to the White House and plead with senators. The local in Minneapolis had a handful of activists before the strike and 75 members in 1933. After the first strike in 1934, under the leadership of the Trotskyists, membership went up to 600, and more after the strikes. The workers won a wage increase of 25-50% and job security, instead of the $1 wages cut that Tobin proposed.

This is the real tradition of American labour. The Marxists and the Communist Party played a major role in the unions of the 1930s, organising and winning victories. The Trotskyists played a major role increasing Teamster membership from 80,000 to over the 2,000,000 it is today, making it one of the biggest unions in the world.

The methods used by the Minneapolis Teamsters were adopted by other unions in the 30s and the subsequent strike movements. The strike took place in the same year as the Toledo Autolite strike, the San Francisco longshoremen's strike and these inspired workers throughout the country and paved the way for the formation of the Confederation of Industrial Organisations- the American Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The Minneapolis Teamsters had to fight against the so-called 'Citizen Alliance', an association of bosses, its staff, money and spies. They had to fight against the conservative union bureaucracy for union democracy. They had to deal with police attacks, reactionary politicians, the lies of the press, adopt positions against 'independent arbiters' and win the strike - invaluable lessons are to be learned from this.

This book is a must for all trade union activists, written by one of the leaders of the strike with a Marxist analysis. It is part of four volumes, but this is the best book. These are the real traditions of American labour . Traditions of struggle and victory.

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