“Vigilantes Aimed at Unions” blared the page one Labor Review headline April 9, 1937. The accompanying news story detailed Farmer-Labor Governor Elmer Benson’s on-the-scene intervention in a strike in Albert Lea by the Independent Union of All Workers at the American Gas Machine Company. There strikers had been attacked by an army of “some two hundred special deputy sheriffs, recruited from non-union company employees and from nearby towns — some from Iowa…”
As the Labor Review reported, the army of special deputies, armed with clubs, attacked picket lines and next besieged the union headquarters, firing hundreds of tear gas bombs and then arresting and jailing dozens of strikers.
Word spread to nearby Austin, where union workers left their jobs and rushed to Albert Lea. By noon, “several thousand” gathering workers faced the clubs and machine guns of the special deputies. “Physical violence and bloodshed on a large scale was certain to follow,” the Labor Review reported.
Benson arrived in town, summoning company officials, union leaders, the county sheriff, county attorney and chief local judge to his hotel room. “He insisted that negotiations start at once and said: ‘I will not leave here until a settlement has been reached,’” the Labor Review account continued.
Negotiations continued until past 4 a.m. when an agreement was reached. “Peace to Albert Lea was restored,” the Labor Review wrote.
The story added: “Workers charge that the county is unable to meet its relief load, unable to feed its hungry population, but is able to find sufficient money to pay special deputies and purchase for them tear gas bombs to destroy the union.”
Even today, the story makes dramatic reading. (For the full story, visit www.minneapolisunions.org). As the story illustrates, the enactment of the federal Wagner Act of 1935 had advanced workers’ right to organize — on paper. Unions still faced violent resistance from employers supported by local police.
That April 9, 1937 Labor Review marked the weekly newspaper’s 30th anniversary. In that edition and the ten years to follow, the Labor Review editor Robley Cramer sounded alarms about creeping fascism in the state and nation. Come the United States’ entry into World War II, Cramer championed the fight against fascism in Europe and against Imperial Japan.
Today, we often refer to the 1934 Teamsters strike as a struggle that broke the power of the anti-union Citizens Alliance and made Minneapolis a union town. But, in the Labor Review of the late 1930s, workers faced continuing threats.
The Labor Review repeatedly urged readers to support Farmer-Labor Party candidates or suffer dire consequences.
“When the night sticks are being pounded on your heads and the Citizens Alliance thugs and gunmen are shooting you down… it will be just a little bit too late to realize that the city election of 1937 was a very important event,” read “Emergency,” a front-page editorial running May 28, 1937.
“Citizens Alliance ready for the guns,” warned a July 23, 1937 headline.
The newspaper campaigned against a series of business-backed Minneapolis charter amendments that would make the police more independent of elected leaders and allow the police to enlist special deputies to quash strikes.
Cramer’s sharp prose attacked business policies conceived at “the usual loafing places at the Minnikahda Club, Minneapolis Club and Athletic Club.”
For years following the 1936 death of Farmer-Labor Governor Floyd B. Olson — Labor’s hero — page one of the newspaper marked the anniversary of Olson’s death with his photo and continuing tributes.
The newspaper labeled business and political opponents as Fascists and Nazis.
The Minneapolis daily newspapers, according to the Labor Review, were “Public Enemy No. 1,” full of lies and deceit.
Following the defeat of Farmer-Labor Governor Olson in 1938, the Labor Review warned about a new Minnesota Labor Relations Act passed by the legislature and signed by the new Republican Governor, Harold Stassen: “Stassen calls it a bill to promote industrial peace. this is as hypocritical as most everything he says. It is a measure intended to provoke industrial warfare, to obstruct the right of collective bargaining, and enslave the workers.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt — whose 1932 election as President was viewed warily by the Labor Review — was heralded as labor’s champion in each subsequent election.
Labor Day issues began featuring equal-sized photos of Roosevelt and Floyd B. Olson side by side on the same page.
1941: War and change
Up through 1941, the newspaper continued to report tens of thousands of people attending annual Labor Day picnics at Powderhorn Park.
Documents at the Minnesota Historical Society provide a snapshot of the Labor Review in 1941. The newspaper reported an average circulation of 15,191 copies per week. Yearly income included advertising revenues of $19,787.44 and subscription income of $14,233.18. Expenses totaled $33,693.41. The annual mailing cost was $725.50. (Circulation today: 68,000-plus copies monthly).
With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, the Labor Review and the labor movement abandoned an anti-war stance. “In democracy there is an honor that makes men ready to die for freedom and liberty,” read the December 12, 1941 issue.
Union members enlisted in the U.S. military and served with distinction.
Through the war years, the Labor Review promoted victory rallies and — with banner headlines atop page one — urged readers to buy war bonds. “Buy Defense Bonds and You Buy Defeat for Dictator Adolf Hitler” read one example.
The newspaper also documented Labor’s support for the war effort: increasing production, refraining from strikes, raising funds for military ambulances and the U.S.O.
Cramer’s rhetoric quieted for a time but he then resumed his advocacy: “Labor expects to make sacrifices, to make every sacrifice necessary to win this war. It does not number among those sacrifices being chained so that some masters of industry and finance can fleece it of its rights.”
In 1943, the Labor Review celebrated a new champion for Labor: Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey ran for Minneapolis mayor that year — but lost. Nonetheless, wrote the Labor Review, “there is a new name emblazoned on the political skies of Minneapolis and Minnesota that is destined to cast a lustre over the future of the state.” Humphrey ran again for mayor in 1945 — and won. Labor entered a new era in Minnesota.