Labor Review Centennial, 1907-2007
Labor Review offers unique chronicle of turbulent 1930s in Minneapolis
From the Minneapolis Labor Review, May 24, 2007
By Barb Kucera
In the storied history of the Labor Review, the newspaper’s shining moment might well be its coverage of the turbulent years of the 1930s, including the Minneapolis Teamsters’ strike. Not only did the newspaper provide a perspective excluded from the corporate-owned media, it offered reporting not found in many other labor publications.
The contrast is most apparent when comparing issues of the Labor Review with those of the St. Paul Union Advocate, its counterpart across the river.
To this day, both cities have vibrant — but sometimes contrasting — labor movements. The differences were most apparent in the 1930s, when the booming industrial city of Minneapolis embraced large-scale organizing, while the smaller, more parochial city of St. Paul focused on its own issues.
Browse through the wonderful Labor Review digital archive for 1934 and you’ll find headline after headline touting workers’ new-found power. Key struggles, such as the San Francisco general strike and the Auto-Lite walkout in Toledo, were covered in regular reports. But the newspaper clearly hit its stride in reporting on its own, hometown campaign — the fight by the general drivers for recognition of their union, the Teamsters.
“30,000 at Mass Meeting Pledge Strikers Support” a front-page headline blasted in the May 25, 1934, issue. “Mass Meeting Friday at Auditorium; All Unions Consider Trucking Strike,” the newspaper proclaimed on July 6, 1934, in huge type.
The scene in the Saintly City could not have been more different, judging from the coverage provided in the Union Advocate. Two years before, the Advocate’s tough-talking, socialist editor, William Mahoney, left the newspaper when he was elected mayor of St. Paul.
His replacement, A.F. Lockhart, probably would be considered radical by today’s standards, but his writings were decidedly more conservative than Mahoney’s. This was especially the case in that Lockhart hewed closely to the line set by the American Federation of Labor, which found itself on the sidelines watching the massive organizing by the upstart Congress of Industrial Organizations.
Not only was the AFL concerned about competition from the new labor federation, it was increasingly wary of Communist influence in organizing. That, perhaps more than anything, explains the lack of reporting on the Minneapolis Teamsters, who were an AFL union, but who were led by openly “red” leaders like Vincent Dunne.
So, while the Labor Review was reporting on massive marches and bloodshed in the streets, the Advocate carried banner headlines about the upcoming “Union Industrial Show” to promote union-made products. The St. Paul paper contained extensive coverage about the unemployment and economic devastation of the Great Depression, but little about how workers were organizing to address it.
The Advocate praised Franklin Roosevelt’s administration for passing the National Industrial Recovery Act, the first legislation to provide large-scale recognition of unions, and proudly printed the NIRA’s Blue Eagle symbol on the front page. “Labor Begins Huge Organization Drive,” the newspaper proclaimed in its June 22, 1933, issue. But coverage of actual organizing is hard to find.
One clue may be the views of union officials like Minnesota Federation of Labor president E.G. Hall, quoted in the Advocate as saying, “there is but one way and that is the trade union movement as exemplified by the American Federation of Labor, run on purely business principles, conservatively and for the best interests of all.”
Labor Review: Minute by minute coverage of 1934 Teamsters strike
The Labor Review provided nearly minute-by-minute coverage of the lengthy Teamsters struggle and eulogized the two strikers, Henry Ness and John Belor, who were killed by police.
“It must be plain to every member of organized labor and it should be to every worker that the strike of General Drivers is not a matter that concerns General Drivers alone,” the Labor Review noted on the front page of its July 20, 1934, issue. “It is a matter that concerns every man, woman and child of the workers. And it concerns those concerns with which the workers spend their hard earned money.”
The importance of the struggle was not apparent to members of St. Paul Teamsters’ locals, who decided not to join their brothers in a general strike to shut down most trucking in the Twin Cities. The St. Paul union conducted a shorter struggle that was resolved in the matter of a couple weeks, while Minneapolis workers had to contend with not only the warehouse operators, but also the powerful Citizens Alliance and its privately-armed militia.
Finally, in late July 1934, the Advocate carried a large front-page article on the Minneapolis walkout, but its context was Governor Floyd B. Olson’s criticism of the Citizen’s Alliance. Most of the article is a reprint of a letter that Olson sent to the Alliance condemning its violent tactics.
To be fair, by 1934 the Advocate had become a major voice of the Farmer-Labor Party and its pages were dominated by articles about the pivotal city elections that spring and the statewide elections in the fall. The Minneapolis strike was clearly viewed through the lens of how it would affect the electorate and the political future of the party’s most famous elected official, Olson.
In mid-August, the Labor Review carried the jubilant headline, “Truck Drivers Triumph in Strike.”
With the struggle nearly over, the Advocate reported that the St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly voted to donate $1,000 to the Minneapolis workers, after an appearance at the Assembly meeting by striker Carl Skogland.
“We may not be in complete agreement on methods,” Assembly president Will Gydesen was careful to note, “but there is no difference of opinion as to the cause of the general drivers, and we are glad to assist them in this measure.”
Barb Kucera edited the St. Paul Union Advocate from December 1986 to July 2000. She now is the editor of the Workday Minnesota labor news website, www.workdayminnesota.org.