The Minneapolis strike came in , five years after the Great Depression began, arguably after people lived through the worst of their economic ordeals, and after many less successful attempts. The courage of countless workers who stuck their heads out first, their unrelenting resilience that kept them organizing despite the real threat of retaliation are easily forgotten in light of the grand victories.
In reality, how people persevered though their losses, continuing to build organizations and infrastructure to keep resisting are often times more realistic for movement builders who have to live through the highs and lows of struggles. Class struggle, as one finds through the pages of the book, is nothing short of class warfare. There are friends, there are enemies and there is a battle that needs to be won.
What this translates into is rich people being nice to their poorer brethren.
Great, but not quite enough. It is only through these collective actions that workers have a shot at winning. These social service models assume that through them, workers should deal with their bread and butter issues with no risk, through the tender kindness and patience of social service workers. This perspective seeps into what people think union bureaucracies should be.
Assuming that everyone needs to be cajoled into abandoning their rage and coaxed into receiving a handout is insulting and degrading. Instead of a negotiation team, they sent a 2-person committee who did not have decision making power, and whose sole purpose is to report back what the bosses were willing to offer, for the mass assembly of workers to vote on together. Dobbs recalls the infamous Daniel Tobin, the head of the Teamsters at the time.
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Tobin engaged in the same rhetoric of red baiting as management, toward the organizers. Also, he presented bureaucratic obstacles to the militancy of the rank and file, trying to prevent them from striking by dumping on them the bylaws and constitution of the union. The truck drivers overcame these obstacles by absorbing the executive board structure, traditionally the power-making body in the Local, into the person strike committee, whom they elected. They incorporated the conservative union leaders into a bigger formation where they would have to treat rank and file like equals.
Rather than waiting around for the bureaucracy, the workers took independent action, set up alternative structures and through their power, forced the union leadership to support them. They didnt wait around to go through bureaucratic procedures and red tape.
This was crucial for keeping going the momentum of the organizing and instilling in folks a sense of strength and power. I think the fierce stubbornness and sense of power that the picketers exuded despite police repression cannot be separated from this bypassing of bureaucratic red tape.
Workers power also means workers know how to run society. This ingenuity, and capabilities of the working class is seldom ever recognized. He says:. When the sun rose on May 16 , the headquarters of Chicago Avenue was a beehive of activity. Union caprnters and plumbers were installing gas stives, sinks, and serving counters.
Labor & Struggle
The Cooks and Waiters union sent experts on mass cooking [ They solicited friendly grocers for staples to be served in the comissary and to help out the needy families of strikers [ McCrimmon and two interns from the University if Minnesotta hospital who volunteered their services during off hours. Three trained nurses headed up a larger volunteer stafff that provided efficient care [ They had the skills to be self-sufficient.
They were the experts! How the workers organized to bring in women and unemployed workers into their struggle was also key to their success. The Teamsters involved unemployed workers and included as their demands, the need for more public welfare. Teamster members, because they so often came into contact with workers in other unionized industries, were often called on to support other union strikes, and, despite their small numbers, had developed strong solidarity with several other industrial areas.
American workers in revolt - Counterfire
In February , this solidarity was put on full display when a strike was called in the Minneapolis coal yards with the aim of gaining union recognition from the companies that owned the yards. As mentioned previously, union recognition for workers was a hard thing to achieve in Minneapolis, thus organization was key. On February 7th, 65 of the 67 yards were closed by workers, and a Voluntary Organizing committee was set up by the aforementioned Local members Dunne, Skoglund, and Dobbs. The committee played a large role in organizing strike activities, as well as organizing workers after the strike.
Owing to the especially cold winter of , and the substantial demand for coal, the employers admitted defeat after three days of blockades and strike action, and officially recognized a coal yard union. The victory for the coal workers gave Local and other unions a huge boost in confidence, and inspired workers to join unions en masse, with Teamster numbers growing to 3, by April.
Preparations for the strike included renting a hall to be used as a base-of-operations and infirmary, discussions with sympathetic organizations of farmers to obtain their support for the coming strike, and laying the foundation for the first American daily strike newspaper, The Organizer , which would detail the unions struggle and demands, and give reports on the strikes progress.
On May 16, the strike was officially called. Despite Teamster national leadership opposition, the strike was incredibly successful, shutting down nearly all the commercial trucking in the city. Police brutality On May 19, the first major occurrence of police brutality against the strikers came to a head. Strikers attempting to stop scabs from unloading a truck at the local market were assaulted by police and Citizens Allience-hired private guards, and driven back. Those strikers who were injured during the assault were followed by police back to the strike headquarters, who, upon arrival, were not only barred from the command post, but two of the officers were left unconscious on the sidewalk outside.
A second wave of battles occurred on May 21, when employers and several hundred police deputies attempted to fully open the market. About workers armed with clubs arrived and a large battle ensued.
Over 30 police officers were hospitalized, but no strikers were arrested, though some were badly injured. Fighting intensified the next day, May 22, when 20, strikers, sympathizers and spectators gathered in the central market area. Despite police advances, the strikers quickly gained the upper hand, and successfully drove out the police and Citizens Alliance private guards, ultimately leaving two deputies dead, one of whom who was a member of the board of directors of the Citizens Alliance.
Still, no picketers were arrested. By the time of the May 22 market battle between strikers and police, approximately 35, workers in industries as varied as dock, building and freight had taken the initiative and walked out in solidarity with the Teamsters and to protest police violence. The local AFL American Federation of Labour council organized financial support and convinced other industries to join the strike.
Again, the trucking industry all but stopped, along with several other industries around the city. Upon arrival, policemen armed with shotguns opened fire on the group. Many of the strikers turned to run, only to be struck in the back by gunfire. By the time the animosity ended, an estimated 65 were injured, and two strikers, John Belor and Henry Ness, were murdered.
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Physical safety of the police was at no time endangered. No weapons were in possession of the pickets.