Labor Review Centennial, 1907-2007
Workers spied out the truth... and Labor Review printed the story
From the Minneapolis Labor Review, May 24, 2007
By William Millikan
The Minneapolis Labor Review reported September 26, 1907 that Minneapolis employers had spies in the Trades & Labor Assembly, the Carpenters & Painters union and various other Minneapolis locals. Using highly-paid detectives or simply blackmailing workers desperate for jobs to feed their families, the Minneapolis Citizens Alliance would run a sophisticated intelligence operations for decades to come.
How did the Labor Review discover these activities? Workers, of course, were everywhere, even sitting silently in the offices of the banks and mills that paid for the anti union operations of the Citizens Alliance.
In its first year of publication, the Labor Review reported on the activities of the Citizens Alliance as it attempted to break the machinists union and establish its no-union, “open shop” standards on every Minneapolis industry.
Financially backed by the National Manufacturers Association and the Citizens Alliance, local machine shops were forced to abandon negotiations with unions. Dissatisfied strike breakers told their story to Labor Review reporters.
Citizens Alliance agent James Ward was supplying guards with police badges and guns to protect scabs shipped in with their tools from Milwaukee and Chicago by the National Metal Trades Association. If the misled scabs refused to work, their tools were held hostage. Scabs that were housed and fed at the Diamond Iron Works were supplied prostitutes in an attempt to keep them working.
While the machinist strike ground bitterly on, the Labor Review reported on the Citizens Alliance’s extensive lobbying against labor laws at the legislature and for trade education at the public schools. Shipping in scabs from across the nation was exceedingly expensive.
Workers sympathetic to the union cause were busy opening and sorting letters in the offices of Citizens Alliance members like Northwest Bank, Pillsbury, and Dayton. When these firms received mail from the Citizens Alliance, correspondence quietly was forwarded to the Labor Review. Letters revealed appeals to members for strike-breaking funds, for membership drives, to exert pressure on legislators or grand juries, or even to raise an employers’ army — all appeals mysteriously drifting their way to the editorial offices of the Labor Review. Within a week, the latest conspiracy to undermine Minneapolis unions would be exposed on the front page of the latest issue of the Labor Review.
During the summer of 1916, the Minneapolis Teamsters staged a valiant strike for union recognition and a livable wage and managed to shut down all commercial transport. Desperate to break the strike, the transfer companies quickly hired special police to ride on every wagon. When the expense drained their resources, they looked to the Citizens Alliance for financial assistance.
On the front page of its July 21, 1916 issue, the Labor Review printed a copy of a letter from John Haurchild, Chairman of the Citizens Alliance Insurance Committee. The name of the recipient was blacked out. The July 6, 1916 letter solicited funds to defray the $1,500 per day expenses for bringing in special police for the “purpose of sustaining in the City of Minneapolis the vital principle of the “Open Shop.” Forced out into the open for the first time, the Citizens Alliance foolishly revealed the identity of many of its most prestigious members. The List was repeatedly printed on the front page of the Labor Review under the caption “THE BRAVE MEN WHO VOTED FOR STARVATION.”
Three years later, an undisclosed source in Washington D.C. sent the Labor Review a letter written by Judge McGee, the infamous head of the Minnesota Public Safety Commission that ruled the state during World War I. McGee pressured Minnesota U.S. Senators Nelson and Kellogg to get busy and force the government to deport Alexis Georgian, the owner of a radical bookstore and fervent supporter of labor causes.
The letter revealed the intelligence operations of the state secret service, U. S. military intelligence and private detective Luther Boyce. McGee claimed that they had undercover men in all the various radical organizations, including Minneapolis unions. Minneapolis workers, who had put up $3,000 for Georgian’s bail, were not likely to believe accusations that Georgian was “the worst man we have up in this country, as far as disloyalty, sedition, and anarchy are concerned.”
McGee was livid when his remarks appeared on the front page of the May 16, 1919 Labor Review. The Labor Review’s network of workers had trumped the expensive intelligence operations of both the state and federal government.
To avoid retaliation against its informants, the Labor Review sometimes printed intercepted letters from the Citizens Alliance without revealing the name of the company that received it. In December 1927, Citizens Alliance president O. P. Briggs invited Minneapolis businesses to attend a meeting to discuss the findings of two grand juries and to pressure public officials to enact their recommendations. The grand juries, comprised almost entirely of Citizens Alliance members, had investigated the unionization of the Minneapolis police and fire departments. This “alarming condition” had to be eliminated. What if unionized police refused orders to break a strike? The Labor Review headline above the story read “O.P. Briggs Orders ‘Mobilization’ for Offensive Against Public Service Employees.”
On Tuesday, May 22, 1934 the tense class warfare of the famous Teamsters strike boiled over turning the market district into a bloody battlefield. Within an hour, the employers’ army of more than a thousand men fled the streets in confusion. The “Battle of Deputies Run” was over and the Teamsters briefly ruled the streets of Minneapolis. Why had this army been routed so quickly?
The next day the Labor Review revealed a significant part of the answer. On Monday, May 21 the Citizens Committee for Law and Order, a thinly veiled creature of the Citizens Alliance, had sent out a desperate appeal to members to bring friends, neighbors, business associates or employees of “integrity” to the headquarters of the Citizens Alliance army at 1328 Hennepin Ave.
The Citizens Alliance army had been rushed to battle, some directly from the polo fields and golf courses, to fight without training, rifles or bayonets. The Citizens Alliance’s inept preparations dramatically and permanently changed Minnesota labor relations. The Labor Review had little sympathy for the badly-beaten army that wanted “to help starve the wives and children of the truck drivers.”
Attacks on the victorious Teamsters would come from many quarters in the following years. In 1938, the fascist Silver Shirts began organizing secret councils in Minneapolis under the battle cry “Down the Reds and Out with the Jews.” Silver Shirt organizers called for vigilante bands to attack Teamsters Local 544 and destroy them.
On August 5, 1938 the Labor Review revealed that George K. Belden, president of the Citizens Alliance, had attended many of their fascist meetings. Publicly embarrassed, Belden denounced the secret organization while admitting that there were “some good things about them.” The Labor Review was typically succinct, “Silver Shirts, like all Fascists, are the thugs of Capitalism.”
Once again the leaders of Minneapolis industry and their anti-union minions at the Citizens Alliance were unable to protect their dirty secrets from the workers of the mill city, and their voice — the Minneapolis Labor Review.
Minneapolis historian William Millikan is the author of A Union Against Unions, a history of Minneapolis employers and their war against labor unions. He is currently writing a history of the fraud and corruption that established Minnesota’s milling empires. None of his work appears in the Mill City Museum.