Back to top

Minneapolis Teamsters’ Strike, 1934

Creator: 
  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
Black and white photograph of National Guard troops keeping a crowd back during a raid on strike headquarters in Minneapolis, 1934.

National Guard troops keeping a crowd back during a raid on strike headquarters in Minneapolis, 1934.

“No trucks shall be moved! By nobody!” was the rallying cry of Minneapolis Teamsters Local 574 as they struck in the summer of 1934. Their demands were clear: a fair wage, union recognition, and the trucking firms’ recognition of inside workers as part of the union. Despite the violent reaction of the authorities, the 574 won on all these points.

In the early 1930s, an employer advocacy group called the Citizens Alliance (CA) ensured that Minneapolis remained a non-union town. President Roosevelt’s New Deal program gave workers the right to collectively bargain, and Farmer–Labor Party governor Floyd Olson sympathized with unions. Olson’s support, however, proved tepid at best, and the bosses felt the New Deal did not mandate unions. Additionally, large labor groups were more interested in maintaining the status quo than in improving working conditions.

Instead, Local 574 conducted a grass-roots campaign that won the hearts of the rank and file. The organizers were workers themselves, and relied on strong personal connections to develop their plans. Many of those leaders—V. R. Dunne and Carl Skoglund in particular—also belonged to the Trotskyist Communist League, which taught them how to strategize a radical strike. Smart planning, strong leadership, and member loyalty would carry the day.

In February, Local 574 organized and won a coal truckers’ strike for union recognition and better working conditions. Though the gains were minor, the real boost came from the confidence it built among workers. Over the next few months the 574’s ranks swelled with members joining up from all sectors of the trucking industry.

An industry-wide union that included truckers, helpers, and inside workers like packers was unprecedented and entailed a great amount of power. They mobilized for an inevitable strike, creating a radicalized workers’ organizing committee. A strike headquarters was rented and furnished with a commissary, a garage, and medical staff. The 574 also created a women’s auxiliary that included members’ wives and boosted morale.

On April 30, workers demanded a closed shop, union recognition, shorter hours, and standard pay. The 574 presented these demands to the trucking firms, which refused to negotiate with or recognize the union. The workers thus voted to strike on May 16.

Right away there were violent skirmishes between strikers and the “special deputies” who had been organized by police chief Michael Johannes and the CA. These clashes proved inconclusive until the “Battle of Deputies’ Run” on May 22, during which the workers beat and dispersed the strikebreakers, killing two.

Under pressure from the governor, the two sides agreed to a deal on May 25: all workers would be reinstated and the 574 would represent truckers and helpers. Yet the definition of “insider workers” was left open.

By June things were unraveling. The CA leaned on employers to discriminate against union members. The bosses refused to discuss wages or the inside-worker issue with the union.

Workers voted to strike starting July 16. Johannes in turn issued shotguns to the strikebreaking forces and encouraged their use. On July 20, “Bloody Friday,” police opened fire on unarmed strikers attempting to stop a delivery. Sixty-seven people were wounded—most of them shot in the back. Two were killed, including one man whose funeral became a mass demonstration; an estimated forty thousand marched.

On July 25, mediators Francis J. Haas and E.H. Dunnigan issued a proposal that listed minimum wage rates and clearly defined insider workers; it also reaffirmed union recognition. Local 574 accepted the deal but the firms—many of them now represented by the Employers’ Adivsory Committee or EAC—rejected it.

Olson declared martial law, banning picketing and issuing permits only to trucks delivering essentials. The National Guard raided CA and strike headquarters and arrested union leaders. The permit system quickly relaxed. Firms began to deliver wares, causing 574 president Bill Brown to claim that the governor was “the best strikebreaking force our union has ever gone up against.”

On August 5, Olson allowed only those firms that signed the Haas-Dunnigan proposal to get trucking permits. Under pressure, the EAC finally voted to accept it. The strike ended on August 22, 1934.

The Citizens’ Alliance’s iron grip had been broken. Minneapolis’s notoriety as a “scab” town was replaced by a reputation for union support.

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Dobbs, Farrell. Teamster Rebellion. New York: Monad Press, 1972.

Korth, Philip A. The Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1995.

Walker, Charles R. American City: A Rank and File History of Minneapolis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of National Guard troops keeping a crowd back during a raid on strike headquarters in Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of National Guard troops keeping a crowd back during a raid on strike headquarters in Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of a street scene, Truck drivers’ strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of a street scene, Truck drivers’ strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of a street scene, Truck drivers’ strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of a street scene, Truck drivers’ strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of police carrying shotguns during the truck drivers’ strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of police carrying shotguns during the truck drivers’ strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of tear gas being used on demonstrators during the truck drivers’ strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of tear gas being used on demonstrators during the truck drivers’ strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of Vincent R. Dunne, strike committee member, arrested and held at the provost guard stockade at the State Fair grounds, 1934.
Black and white photograph of Vincent R. Dunne, strike committee member, arrested and held at the provost guard stockade at the State Fair grounds, 1934.
Oil on board painting of strike headquarters, 1934. Painting by Jerry Hudson.
Oil on board painting of strike headquarters, 1934. Painting by Jerry Hudson.
Black and white photograph of police and strikers, 1934.
Black and white photograph of police and strikers, 1934.
Black and white photograph of Strike headquarters, 1934.
Black and white photograph of Strike headquarters, 1934.
Black and white photograph of police with guns on a Minneapolis street during the strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of police with guns on a Minneapolis street during the strike, 1934.
Black and white photograph of Minnesota National Guard at the truck drivers' strike, Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of Minnesota National Guard at the truck drivers' strike, Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of the funeral of Henry Ness, a striker killed during the strike, in front of strike headquarters at 215 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of the funeral of Henry Ness, a striker killed during the strike, in front of strike headquarters at 215 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, 1934.

Turning Point

On July 20, 1934, “Bloody Friday”, police open fire on unarmed strikers, wounding sixty-seven and killing two. The event garners strong public support for the workers and pressures employers to settle the strike.

Chronology

February 9, 1934

Teamsters Local 574 wins a modest, though illusory, strike in the coal yards. The “victory” causes union ranks to swell with members from across the Minneapolis trucking industry.

May 16

A general trucking strike begins.

May 22

In the “Battle of Deputies Run,” strikers beat back and disperse police and “special deputies,” killing two of the latter. The event leads to the signing of a deal which favors the strikers.

June 25

Local 574 issues its own newspaper, the Minneapolis Organizer, which counters the “red-baiting” (creating fear of a Communist take-over) tactics of the Citizens Alliance in the mainstream press.

July 17

A second general strike begins.

July 20

On “Bloody Friday,” police open fire on unarmed strikers, killing two.

July 25

The Haas-Dunnigan Proposal is issued, listing minimum wages, clearly defining “inside workers,” and recognizing the union.

July 26

Governor Olson declares martial law, which remains in effect for the remainder of the strike.

August 1

The National Guard raids the strikers’ headquarters and arrests union leaders.

August 3

The National Guard raids the Citizens Alliance headquarters.

August 21

Both the 574 and the employers ratify a modified version of the Haas-Dunnigan Proposal.

August 22

The strike ends.