Minneapolis is under martial law. The police have opened fire on unarmed strikers, and the governor has called in the National Guard. What’s all the brouhaha about? This is the story of the 1934 Teamsters Strike, a series of three strikes in which a group of truckers struggled to unionize despite the overt antagonism of the Citizens Alliance, an employers’ group that ran the show in Minneapolis back in the day.
On Saturday, July 25, from 2-10 p.m., people are gathering at 7th Ave N & 3rd St N. in the Minneapolis Warehouse District to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Teamsters’ strike.
Billed as “a street festival for the working class” by One Day in July, the organization responsible for the festivities, Saturday’s gathering will feature free admission, a history booth with newspaper clippings from that era, 1930s cars, and a wide variety of musical performances, including the Ska band 2 Tone Runts, who reference the strike in one of their songs.
Jim McGuire, a member of the One Day in July committee, said the strike is an important part of Minneapolis and U.S. history, so it is also important to hold this celebration, and to remember the strike.
Prior to the Teamsters Strike, the Citizens Alliance had quashed almost every major strike in Minneapolis since 1916. But Minnesota was hardly alone in its tensions between union and nonunion factions.
“The anti-unionism was national. The effort to create a labor movement was national” stated Peter Rachleff, a Professor of Labor History at Macalester College.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt came down on the side of unions, saying “If I were a working man, I would want to join a union.”
It was in this environment that radical Trotskyist Carl Skoglund joined together with Ray Dunne to create the nucleus of Minnesota’s first successful industrial union strike. The strike eventually broke the Citizens Alliance, and for the first time, industrial workers in Minnesota had a say in their wages and working conditions.
The Teamsters Strike drew national attention, and similar strikes were held in Ohio, Rhode Island, and San Francisco. The strike in Minnesota was one part of a national movement for change. The following year, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act, which changed how workers could organize.
The street festival is meant to draw attention to the history of working class Minnesotans. And that’s all to the good, according to Rachleff. “Usually history is about the great people, the untouchable people,” he said. “The history of the ordinary people is the one kids should learn.”
Marinda Bland is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities.