Minneapolis Labor Review: Cramer era ends, 1957-1966


Part 6 of a 10-Part Series: The Labor Review’s sixth decade: Trustee ousts the CLUC president and retires R.D. Cramer, editor since 1915

For the Minneapolis Labor Review, founded in 1907, publishing its 50th anniversary issue May 16, 1957 brought cause for celebration. The 50th anniversary issue issue reprinted the cover of Volume 1, Number 1 and recounted 50 years of advances for Minneapolis workers and their unions. A page one editorial read: “Through all the years… the great Gibraltar of this publication of the workers has been the rank and file support and the cooperation of the officials of the trade union movement.”

The 50th anniversary issue ran 16 pages as a broadsheet and carried nearly 400 ads (including ads from 20 bowling alleys).

Advertisers included Minnesota Governor Orville Freeman, Lieutenant Governor Karl Rolvaag, Attorney General Miles Lord, and Minneapolis Mayor Eric Hoyer. All these elected officials — all DFLers — were elected with labor support, evidence of the labor movement’s influence in state and local politics.

Nationally, labor union membership was near its peak — about one-third of the workforce.

“No movement can stand still. Either it goes ahead or it slides backward,” observed Labor Review editor Robley Cramer, the weekly newspaper’s editor since 1915. In a April 11, 1957 editorial, the headline proclaimed, “All Must Be Organizers.” Cramer wrote: “In great degree the future of the organized and the unorganized depends on the organizing of the workers not now organized.”

Turmoil for the labor movement was brewing, however.

In Washington, D.C., a U.S. Senate committee headed by Democratic Senator George McLellan of Arkansas in 1957 began an investigation into alleged union corruption at the highest levels of the movement. The committee’s chief counsel: Robert F. Kennedy. The committee’s investigations put the labor movement on the defensive and tarnished the movement for years to come.

Writing October 17, 1957, Labor Review editor Cramer defended one target of the investigations, Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, in an editorial headlined “Innocent Until Proven Guilty.” Cramer wrote: “It is Hoffa’s ability as an organizer that they fear and the will he inspires to complete the organization of the workers of the nation of whom but one-third now are organized.”

By year’s end, a divided national AFL-CIO vote expelled the Teamsters. Walter Cramond, president of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union (CLU), earlier urged the disbandment of the McLellan Committee.

Cramond wrote August 29, 1957 in the Labor Review: “…Many of our members believe and quote the daily press mass media as though it were gospel, not knowing that they are being brainwashed every day — day in and day out — into believing that all labor leaders are scalawags, bosses, dictators or out-and-out racketeers. Many of our members, while knowing full well the benefits that have accrued to the wage earners because of union activities, are being insidiously inoculated into the belief that being a member of organized labor isn’t quite respectable.”

“This Minneapolis labor movement is remarkably free of corruption and has a well-earned reputation for getting rid of any phony that crops up within the ranks in very short order,” Cramond maintained.

Cramond himself was under fire by the daily press, attacked as a dictator who ran the CLU as his puppet. The CLU passed a unanimous vote of confidence in Cramond.

Change was in the air in electoral politics and in union politics.

The next several years saw the electoral defeat of several labor-backed DFL office-holders: Minneapolis Mayor Hoyer (1957), Governor Freeman (1960) and Third District Congressman Roy Weir (1960). (Weir, elected to Congress in 1948, was a former CLU officer).

The period also brought in new labor leadership. Dave Roe was elected president of the Minnesota State Building Trades Council in 1957 — by a vote of 185 to 183, defeating incumbent Nick Smith. (In 1966, Roe was elected president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, replacing Robert Olson, who headed the merged federation for 10 years and also led the old AFL federation for 18 years before the merger).

In 1958, the three-year-old merger of the AFL and CIO at the national level finally came to Minneapolis — amidst dissent. The Labor Review reported June 12, 1958: “The Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council — AFL-CIO was born Wednesday night in an action-packed meeting of the Central Labor Union.” The merger of the Central Labor Union, AFL with the Hennepin County CIO Council passed, but “there was bitter dissatisfaction with the outcome by many of the AFL Delegates as they were leaving the meeting. There were expressions of bitterness and disgust.” The account noted: “Delegate [Robley] Cramer expressed the hope that the merger action would be a force for the advancement of the labor movement.”

Page one of the Labor Review July 13, 1961: brought this news: national AFL-CIO president George Meany had appointed a trustee to take charge of the CLUC “following the receipt of certain allegations concerning financial mismanagement and violations.” The trustee, Pat McCartney, suspended CLUC president Walter Cramond but retained all other officers as temporary officers.

McCartney reported that the CLUC was $50,000 in debt with cash assets of approximately $18,700.

A significant part of the debt: the unpaid Labor Review tab at the printer. The debt had grown because the newspaper had been balancing its books with accounts receivable that were proving uncollectible.

McCartney appointed a temporary CLUC president, Robert Gomsrud, who was president of IBEW Local 292 and also president of the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council.

The name of trustee McCartney began appearing in the Labor Review staff box alongside editor Robley Cramer.

October 1, 1962, the CLUC emerged from trusteeship and delegates elected Gomsrud president.

The new CLUC charter provided for the CLUC president to appoint the Labor Review editor (under the old charter, the editor was elected — Cramer had run and won since 1915 with no one daring opposition).

Under the terms of a negotiated retirement, Cramer would continue to write a weekly column for the newspaper for a $100 per week stipend as “editor emeritus.” His column, however, would be subject to the new editor’s review. The last issue listing Cramer as editor was dated December 27, 1962.

Cramer was honored at a retirement dinner January 30, 1963 at the Leamington Hotel. A crowd of 600 people attended. Minneapolis Mayor Arthur Naftalin presented Cramer with the city’s Distinguished Service Award.

CLUC president Gomsrud served as Labor Review editor from January 1963 until Iowerth Jones, who sold ads for the newspaper, was named editor in April 1964.

Cramer continued to write his weekly column, focusing on imparting lessons of labor history, until he died July 31, 1966 at age 82. He is buried in Lakewood Cemetery.

Cramer’s death made front page news in the Minneapolis Tribune, the newspaper he so often criticized. The news story reviewed Cramer’s long-running role as not just a newspaper editor, but as an orator, a strategist for the local labor movement and an advisor to political luminaries such as Governor Floyd B. Olson.

The newspaper noted that Olson referred to Cramer as “Mr. Minneapolis Labor.”

“He was cited both by friends and enemies — and there were many of each — as the godfather of the Minneapolis labor movement,” the news story read. Cramer died of a heart attack just hours after he wrote a final Labor Review column. In it, he concluded: “There is no brighter spot in union labor history than the trade union movement of the state of Minnesota. It is a splendid rank and file movement. Let us all work to continue its success.”