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Dunne, Vincent Raymond (1889–1970)

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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.

Vincent R. Dunne, strike committee member, arrested and held at the provost guard stockade at the state fairgrounds, 1934.

Vincent Raymond (V. R.) Dunne dedicated his life to improving the plight of workers. A leader in the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strike and convicted in the Smith Act Trial of 1941 for his involvement in the Socialist Workers Party, Dunne fought many battles in labor and politics.

Dunne was born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1889. He was the second eldest of nine children. At the age of four, he moved with his family to Little Falls (now Pierz), Minnesota. Vincent’s father worked on the streetcar line and was injured in an accident. To help support the family, V. R. left school; at the age of fourteen, he began to work.

At fifteen, he went to North Dakota to harvest grain. There he found the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW), a radical labor union organizing in agriculture, mining, and lumber. Dunne worked as a lumberjack in Montana in 1905 and eventually moved west, where he organized with the Wobblies and was arrested several times for soap-boxing—speaking for the radical cause of the IWW.

When his family moved to Minneapolis in 1908, Dunne returned to his home state. The biggest branch of the IWW was in Minneapolis, and Dunne stayed active as a union organizer while working as an express driver.

In 1914, Dunne settled with his wife, Jennie Holme, in North Minneapolis. They had two children: Raymond Vincent, Jr., and Jeanette Adele.

In 1920, Dunne joined the Workers (Communist) Party. In 1928, he was removed from the Communist Party for supporting Leon Trotsky over Joseph Stalin. The Trotskyists eventually founded their own party, the Socialist Workers (SWP). Dunne made several trips to Mexico City to visit the exiled Trotsky.

In the early 1930s, Dunne had several jobs in the Minneapolis coal industry, including driving an express truck. The Teamsters were organizing truck drivers at the time, and Dunne became a leader in the struggle, along with his brothers, Miles and Grant.

In 1934, Teamsters Local 574 went on strike several times. Eventually, after dozens of casualties, all of the workers’ demands were met, including a closed shop (union-only) hiring policy. The strike put Minneapolis on the map as a “union town,” with 6,000 members organized by Dunne and the Teamsters.

By the end of 1934, Dunne was a renowned labor leader. Trotsky called him "the most effective labor leader in America.”

In 1941, a dispute arose between the president of the Teamsters, Daniel Tobin, and Local 544 (formerly 574). Feeling that Tobin was too dictatorial, 544 left the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Within the local, however, opposition formed against Dunne and the socialist union leaders. James Bartlett and Tommy Williams formed the “Committee of 100,” which worked with the government to ensure that Dunne’s cohort lost their prominent positions. Tobin immediately telegraphed President Roosevelt, and an intra-union struggle ensued.

While Dunne faced opposition locally, the FBI spied on him. By the end of his life, his file was over 1,000 pages long.

On June 27, 1941, the FBI raided the Socialist Workers headquarters at 919 Marquette Avenue in Minneapolis. They confiscated several boxes of papers, two red flags, and a picture of Trotsky.

Under the Aliens and Sedition Act (the Smith Act) passed in 1940, Dunne, along with his brothers and twenty-five others, was charged with conspiring to overthrow the government. The U.S. had not charged individuals with sedition in peacetime since 1798; this case marked the first use of the Smith Act.

The trial started on October 27, 1941. On December 1, the jury handed down its verdict: Dunne and others were guilty. They appealed the decision, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. On December 31, 1943, Dunne and his comrades surrendered to the authorities. Dunne spent sixteen months in Sandstone federal prison.

Dunne’s conviction did not slow his political activity. He ran for mayor of Minneapolis in 1943 and 1947 and embarked on nationwide speaking tours in 1942, 1949, and 1957. In addition to fighting for free speech, he spoke out against the Marshall Plan and the Vietnam War.

An active member of the SWP until the end, Dunne died in 1970.

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“25 Face Indictment in U.S. Raids Here.” Minneapolis Daily Times, June 28, 1941.

“544 Leaders Assailed as Radicals by Tobin: Drivers Union Chief Blasts Shift Into CIO as Threat to Defense—May Boycott Insurgent Truckers.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, June 13, 1941.

“544 Quits AFL and Joins CIO; Shift Follows ‘Red’ Charges.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, June 10, 1941.

“AFL Seizes 544 Headquarters: AFL Drivers Stop CIO-operated Trucks.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, June 18, 1941.

Farrell, James T. Foreword in Witch Hunt in Minnesota: The Federal Prosecution of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544--C.I.O. Los Angeles: Civil Rights Defense Committee, 1941.

——— . Foreword in Who are the 18 Prisoners in the Minneapolis Labor Case?: How the Smith ’Gag’ Act has Endangered Workers’ Rights and Free Speech. New York: Civil Rights Defense Committee, 1944.

Goldman, Albert. The Truth about the Minneapolis Trial of the 28: Speech for the Defense by Albert Goldman. New York: Pioneer Publishers, [1942?].

Haverty-Stacke, Donna T. Trotskyists on Trial: Free Speech and Political Persecution Since the Age of FDR. New York: New York University Press, 2015.

Kramer, Dale. The Dunne Boys of Minneapolis. N.p.: Harper and Bros., 1942.

Novack, George E. The Bill of Rights in Danger!: the Meaning of the Minneapolis Convictions. New York: Civil Rights Defense Committee, 1941.

OH 73
Oral history interview with Vincent Raymond Dunne, April 27, 1969
Oral History Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10446082
Description: Interview with Vincent Raymond Dunne, an organizer of the 1934 Teamsters' strike.

P939: Dunne, Vincent Raymond
Clippings on Vincent Raymond Dunne
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Photocopies of Minneapolis Star newspaper clippings detailing Vincent R. Dunne’s activities as the 1930s founder and organizer of the Socialist Workers Party, especially regarding his role in the 1934 Minneapolis truck strike and relationship with other 1930s Minnesota politicians and leaders. Forms part of manuscript biographies collections.
https://mplus.mnpals.net/vufind/Record/001736541

“Socialist Worker Party Here is Raided By U.S.: Leadership Faces Federal Treason Charge.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, June 28, 1941.

“Socialist Workers Leaders to Face U.S. Sedition Quiz.” Minneapolis Star, June 28, 1941.

“Socialist Workers in City Defy U.S. In Sedition Probe.” Minneapolis Star Journal, June 28, 1941.

“Tobin Statement Lashes Dunnes as Radicals and Hints the AFL May Ban Handling CIO Truck Cargoes.” Minneapolis Star Journal, June 13, 1941.

Schaeffer, Edward. “SWP Chief Conceded Candidate Won’t Win: Party Gain Forecast.” Minneapolis Star, October 22, 1966.

Sedition! The First Federal Peacetime Prosecution for Utterances and Publications Since the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798. New York: American Civil Liberties Union, 1941.

Sherman, Samuel N. “Soft Spoken Dunne Boys Threaten a Labor ‘War’: Switch of Their Powerful Truckers’ Union from AFL to CIO Already Stirs Repercussions.” Milwaukee Journal, June 15, 1941.

Socialist Workers Party (Minnesota Section) records, 1914–1980
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul
Description: Newspaper articles and other print material relating to the struggle between the AFL and the CIO, the Smith Act Trial, and Dunne’s political activity. See especially those boxes related to the civil rights defense committee; the trial; the Local 544 election; the Organizer; and scrapbooks of news articles.
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00632.xml

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

Related Images

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.
Black and white photograph of Vincent Raymond Dunne, Minneapolis labor leader, ca. 1930s.
Black and white photograph of Vincent Raymond Dunne, Minneapolis labor leader, ca. 1930s.
Black and white photograph of Vincent Dunne (left), James P. Cannon (center), and Arne Swabeck (right) in Los Angeles, August, 1954.
Black and white photograph of Vincent Dunne (left), James P. Cannon (center), and Arne Swabeck (right) in Los Angeles, August, 1954.
Black and white photograph of a Socialist Workers Party meeting, ca. 1940. Vincent R. Dunne and Grace Carlson sit in the center of the front row.
Black and white photograph of a Socialist Workers Party meeting, ca. 1940. Vincent R. Dunne and Grace Carlson sit in the center of the front row.
Black and white photograph of Socialist Workers Party Members, ca. 1941.
Black and white photograph of Socialist Workers Party Members, ca. 1941.
Black and white photograph of the National Guard setting up road blocks, Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of the National Guard setting up road blocks, Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of the National Guard seated along street curb, Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of the National Guard seated along street curb, Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of the National Guard with machine gun mounted on a truck, Minneapolis, 1934.
Black and white photograph of the National Guard with machine gun mounted on a truck, Minneapolis, 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.

Turning Point

In 1928, Dunne is forced out of the Communist party for supporting Leon Trotsky over Joseph Stalin. After joining the new Socialist Workers Party, Dunne becomes a renowned labor leader and politician, leading to his arrest and imprisonment.

Chronology

1889

Vincent Raymond (V. R.) Dunne is born in Kansas City, Kansas.

1893

Dunne’s family moves to Minnesota.

1903

Dunne gets his first job: driving a team of horses for a lumber company near Little Falls.

1905

Dunne works as a lumberjack in Montana. He joins the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

1908

When his family moves to Minneapolis, Dunn returns to the state.

1914

Dunne marries Jennie Holme.

1920

Dunne joins the Communist Party.

1928

Dunne is removed from the Communist Party for supporting Leon Trotsky. He helps found the Communist League of America (later the Socialist Workers Party).

Early 1930s

Dunne works in the coal industry and organizes truck drivers within the Teamsters union.

1934

Dunne is a major leader in the Minneapolis Teamsters strike.

June 1941

The FBI raids Socialist Workers Party headquarters. It accuses Dunne and others of “conspiring to overthrow the government” under the Smith Act.

July 1941

Dunne embarks on a nation-wide speaking tour highlighting the Smith Act and free speech rights.

October 1941

Dunne’s trial (and others’) begins.

December 1, 1941

A jury finds Dunne and seventeen others guilty. They immediately seek appeal.

1943

Dunne runs for mayor of Minneapolis as a candidate for the Socialist Workers Party.

December 31, 1943

Dunne and others turn themselves in. Dunne spends sixteen months in prison.

1947

Dunne runs for mayor a second time.

1948

Dunne and friends request a presidential pardon for their convictions in the Smith Act case. It is refused.

1957

Dunne goes on his final national speaking tour.

1970

Dunne dies at the age of eighty.