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New International, August 1935

 

Harry Strang

A Labor Lieutenant and Top-Sergeant

From New International, Vol.2 No.5, August 1935, pp.163-166.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

 

DANIEL J. TOBIN, President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Stablemen and Helpers, gets a $28,000 yearly salary. Tobin has mulcted the union teamsters of the country of fabulous sums in the many years he has been a Brotherhood officer. As in the case of the New York milk drivers in 1916, he has helped smash many a teamsters’ strike. It was Tobin who, at the 1934 AF of L convention in San Francisco, went so far in expressing his contempt for the working man that scores of delegates booed him. “Rubbish” and “riff-raff” were the words he used to describe the hundreds of thousands who in recent years have streamed into the AF of L, seeking a basis for organized struggle for decent living conditions.

The “rubbish” consists of the millions of workers in the mass production industries (steel, rubber, automobiles, textiles, etc.). The “riff-raff” consists of hitherto unorganized teamsters such as have recently made labor history in Minneapolis, Minn., and Fargo, N.D., Moorehead, Minn.

Should a whole galaxy of militant locals arise in the Teamsters’ Brotherhood, Tobin’s star must sink, and with it his bank account. As for the influx of mass-production workers, by strengthening industrial union trends they hasten the day when the antiquated craft structure of the AF of L must give way to a form of organization adapted to modern labor struggles ... and the craft bureaucrat to an honest fighting leadership.

Tobin would prefer that the Teamsters’ Brotherhood never hold a convention, but its constitution requires one every five years. Much to Tobin’s disgust, there must be a convention next fall and, in preparation for it, he is scouring the country for his kind of delegates ... and for militants to expel from the Brotherhood. Fearing that Local 574 of Minneapolis and Local 173 of Fargo-Moorehead may become the center of a progressive group in the convention, Tobin has determined to annihilate these locals. It will be the major purpose of this article to show how Tobin has striven for more than a year to suppress working class militancy in Minneapolis. That his actions in this direction have won the applause of the employers, goes without saying. Incidentally, this article will reveal the support Tobin’s union-busting moves have received from the communist party.


The Minneapolis drivers conducted three strikes in 1934, affecting various sections of the general transportation industry: one in February, one in May, and one in July-August. In each,

574 won not only the endorsement of the other Minneapolis locals of the Teamsters’ Brotherhood, but also the official backing of the city’s entire labor movement. Furthermore, 574 forced from the Regional Labor Board and Federal mediators decisions and proposals which the employers repeatedly rejected. Central labor bodies are never anxious to endorse strikes; federal officials do not often allow themselves to be pushed into a position where their formal approval rests, not with the bosses, but with the strikers. That Dan Tobin opposed 574’s strikes even when the union had compelled these confirmations of its claims, is telling evidence of his thoroughly reactionary character,

Tobin never raised a finger to help the strikers. Despite the fact that it had paid thousands of dollars in per capita tax into the Brotherhood treasury, Local 674 has never gotten a penny in strike relief from the Brotherhood. While 574 was striking – its members going hungry on the picket line and bleeding to death in hospitals from wounds inflicted by the bosses’ agents – the Tobin clique denied all strike relief ... and simultaneously voted Tobin $5,085 for a European pleasure jaunt!

Worse yet: in the third strike Tobin gave the bosses the sharp blade of the knife with which they tried to cut the throat of Local 574. It is obvious that the workers of Minneapolis are overwhelmingly non-revolutionary. Moreover, when told by reactionary agitators to think about the problem of revolution, their first impulse is generally to dissociate themselves from everything “Red”, either out of misguided enthusiasm for bourgeois institutions, or in order to get protective coloration against reactionary persecutors. Consequently the “Red scare”, which the bosses utilize much as armies utilize a gas attack. Under its poisonous cover they launch the attack proper. Hoping that the gas will have incapacitated the workers’ vanguard, they plan to sweep forward and force the surrender of the main body of troops, if necessary by violent means (“patriotic” vigilante raids on “Reds”, i.e., on the strikers’ headquarters, picket lines, etc.).

Now, in time of strike struggle the worker experiences an immediate intensification of the feelings of antagonism toward his employer. The decision to fight once made and acted on, gives birth to a new confidence; the worker ceases to trust the bosses and their open agents, he trusts only himself ... and others who appear in working class guise. The bosses must at this point find spokesmen in the workers’ camp, men who, at least for a moment, do not seem to be associated with capitalist interests. This applies to the dissemination of “Red scare” gas as to everything. The task can be best performed not by a ranking general in the capitalist army, but by a labor lieutenant.

The Minneapolis bosses’ poison-gas attack was loosed by Dan Tobin, one of capitalism’s most ardent labor lieutenants. The July 1934 issue of the official magazine of the Teamsters’ Brotherhood contained an article by Tobin dealing with the relation of “communists and radicals” to the May strike of Local 574. Tobin “warned” the workers against these “serpents”, “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, “low class riff-raff”, etc. He threatened that the unexampled freedom “enjoyed by the workers of this country” might be endangered by communists in “newly organized local unions, creating distrust, discontent, bloodshed and rebellions”. [1]

On July 7 the Minneapolis Daily Star quoted Tobin at length to open the “Red scare” locally. The Star, and its rival prostitutes, the Tribune and Journal, began to carry full-page ads of the Employers Advisory Committee (capitalist general staff in the strike struggles). These ads, costing $1,293.80 daily (a sum not ex-( pended by the bosses unless they feel that the effect will repay them generously), carried the scare-headline: “LEADERS OF AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR EXPOSE COMMUNIST MENACE THREATENING MINNEAPOLIS.” Quotations from Matthew Woll, Vice-President of the AF of L, and Donald R. Richberg, NRA General Counsel, found places in the ads. But the feature was a quotation from Tobin’s article in the Brotherhood journal. The ads wound up with the question : “Must Minneapolis be paralyzed by a strike to satisfy a handful of communist agitators who dream of making Minneapolis the birthplace of a Soviet republic?”

For some years there has existed in Minneapolis the Saturday Press, a notorious scandal rag whose owner was recently murdered by some scoundrel whom he had been blackmailing. This paper joined in the attack on the union leaders and strikers. Early in July, J.M. Near, its editor, wired Tobin asking him to revoke the charter of 574, to eliminate all “Reds”, and to form a new union “with the cooperation of fair employers”. It is impossible to state whether and what Tobin answered Near. The attack was carried further by a columnist writing for a weekly shoppers’ guide; this :gentleman printed the slanderous charge that union leaders had embezzled thousands of dollars of union money.

One might go on for pages giving details of the poison-gas attack of the bosses and the manner in which Tobin aided it. Suffice it to say, however, that for weeks the boss propaganda machine kept up the barrage, calling the strike leaders “Reds”, racketeers, thugs and crooks.

The charges of embezzlement were easily refuted, and the shoppers’ guide, dependent for circulation on the popular masses of the city, printed an apology. That the Red scare launched by Tobin (and a second edition whipped up at a later stage in the strike) failed, is a high tribute not simply to the strikers’ militancy, but also to the vigorous counter-offensive unleashed by the union leaders. Especially in the pages of the Organizer, daily strike bulletin whose achievements have since been emulated in Fargo, in the St. Louis gashouse workers’ strike, and in the Toledo Chevrolet strike (until F.J. Dillon managed to suppress Strike Truth), the union leaders gave the Red-baiters blow for blow, arguing as follows:

“The employers ... wanted these leaders out because they could not bribe them or frighten them. They launched a vicious ‘Red scare’ campaign against the leaders of 574, under the impression that the union members were four-year-old children who could be scared with a bogeyman. Thereupon the membership replied by giving their officers a unanimous vote of confidence ... In their desperation the employers are now playing their last card ... Don’t imagine we are fooled. Bitter experience of the labor movement in the past, and the fresh experience of San Francisco – all teach a simple lesson: The ‘Red scare’ and the attacks upon leaders by thugs disguised as ‘patriots’ are the first steps in crushing the workers and driving the workers back to their jobs like cattle ... And don’t imagine either that you can bluff us. Just come and try it! Just send down your paid thugs ... The leaders of 574 will be on the platform. Try and take them off of it! Yes, just look like you want to try it!” (July 20.)

The “Red scare” was beaten. Ranks held firm, and the strike ended victoriously. The bosses had to make concessions which they had taken oaths on a stack of bibles never to make. They had to deal with union leaders whom, they had sworn they would never talk to. As for Tobin, he was now confronted by the unpleasant fact that thousands of union members had followed through thick and thin a group of leaders whom he had insulted and vilified. He made up his mind to “get” Local 574, and to get it before it could raise its voice in the Brotherhood’s convention as the leader of a progressive opposition to the salary-grabbing bureaucrats of the Tobin clique.


After Local 574 had emerged victorious from the July-August strike, General Drivers’ Local 173 of Fargo-Moorehead asked it for organizational aid. Miles Dunne, who had done much to build 574, was given leave of absence to help organize Fargo. There he played a major role in building the union, which was soon engaged in a bitter struggle for existence. The bosses utilized police, thugs, vigilantes, tear gas, injunctions and every other conceivable weapon to prevent 173 from duplicating 574’s successes. Dunne is today under a framed-iup indictment for inciting to riot, and the general issue between the Fargo bosses and Local 173 is far from being settled.

Tobin began his attack on Local 574 late in March by indirection: he revoked the charter of Local 173, giving as his excuse the fact that the local is behind in its payment of per capita taxes. He called on the city central body to expel 173’s delegates. In the central body, however, it was well known that 173’s per capita tax difficulties arose from the financial drain caused by the strike: relief, hospital and legal bills. An opposition arose, led by the AF of L Teachers’ Union of Fargo-Moorehead, which refused to unseat 173’s delegates. The central body split, and the progressive forces continue to stand solid with 173 in defiance of Dan Tobin and the bosses.

Late in April Tobin attacked 574 directly, revoking its charter and calling on the Central Labor Union of Minneapolis to expel 574’s delegates. Again he pointed out that per capita taxes were overdue. This time he added the charge of violating jurisdictional regulations, i.e., enrolling drivers properly belonging in other locals, such as the ice-wagon drivers, milk-wagon drivers, etc.

Neither of Tobin’s complaints bears examination from the viewpoint of a union man. True, 574 is behind in its tax payments, having conducted strikes which entailed huge costs, not only in strike relief (of which the Brotherhood gave nary a nickel), but also in legal expenses to fight boss-controlled prosecutors and hospital bills for the healing of peaceful pickets shot down by the police. The union could not deliver on the dot the huge sums demanded by the Brotherhood’s Executive Board so that Tobin may be guaranteed his $28,000 per and his European junkets. The union had informed the Brotherhood of its financial difficulties, had paid $500 in per capita taxes in January 1935, and had asked time to make up other outstanding sums. The request was never answered one way or the other. [2]

As for the jurisdictional question, disagreements had arisen on one or two minor points between Local 574 and other drivers’ locals in Minneapolis, but all had been straightened out by agreement among the locals, with the Teamsters’ Joint Council acting as referee. The truth is that Local 574 has taught a lesson to other craft locals by taking in several categories of workers connected with general transport work aside from drivers and helpers (platform men, inside workers). It has, however, never infringed on other drivers’ locals or any other AF of L unions. Quite the contrary. Local 574 has used its power in time of strike and at other times to help the milk-wagon and other drivers to extend their locals. For this service, 574 has won the thanks of the other Minneapolis drivers’ locals and of the whole union movement. Incidentally, one of the jurisdictional complaints made by Tobin is that Local 574 refuses to support his effort to disrupt the Brewery Workers Union (one of the few industrial unions in the AF of L) by claiming jurisdiction over organized drivers of brewery trucks!

The Central Labor Union is well aware that Local 574 is the spearhead of the movement to make Minneapolis a union town, and as such the favorite not only of the laundry workers, auto mechanics and others whose strikes it has aided in a practical way, but of all the organized workers of the Twin Cities and the surrounding territory. (When 574 was able to prove that it had in no way violated union rules, the CLU voted to support it in its fight. A minority in the CLU advocated refusal to unseat the 574 delegation, but the plea of the conservative president of the CLU that this would endanger the charter of the whole CLU, won a majority. The body did, however, elect committees to visit Tobin in Indianapolis and William Green in Washington in order to win the reinstatement of Local 574.

In the meantime, since certain agreements come up in June, 574 is girding itself for further struggle against the bosses. The latter, delighted with Tobin’s action, hope to get away with the violation of their agreements by isolating 574 from the rest of the labor movement. The union leaders, however, refusing to be provoked, are continuing to fight to get back into the Brotherhood. They have and are striving to maintain the formal and real backing of the Minneapolis union movement, and to get back into the Teamsters’ Brotherhood.


Having traced the main lines of Dan Tobin’s activities and their effects, let us turn for a moment to consider the role of the communist party in these struggles.

Early in the July-August strike, a CP leaflet entitled Why the Red Scare? denounced the leaders of 574 as “yellow.” Here was some difference, at least, from Dan Tobin’s color estimate. But the Daily Worker of July 13, distributed in Minneapolis several days later, declared that Miles Dunne, strike leader, “did not permit expression from the floor by the union members”, a charge made by the bosses and echoed by Tobin in order to justify the outlawing of the strike and the denial of strike relief! The Daily Worker of July 28 carried a headline stating that the “Trotskyite Leaders Try to Split the Ranks of Men on Strike”, thus supporting by a lie Tobin’s charge that 574’s actions were not a strike for higher wages but a Trotsky-inspired “bloody rebellion”. A leaflet entitled Martial Law! published by the District Committee of the CP charged the leaders of 574 with conniving at deceiving the workers with false promises – the charge made by the Employers’ Advisory Committee and echoed by the Tobin clique. The ugly rumors of corruption and theft invented by the boss press were spread among the strikers by Stalinists – but unlike the boss press, the Stalinists never apologized for their slanders. Toward the end of the strike, the CP openly called for the removal from the union leadership of Vincent R. Dunne, Karl Skoglund and other militants ... just as the bosses, Near of the Saturday Press, and, more circumspectly, Tobin had done earlier.

There is no need to go on. In every possible way the CP tried to discredit and dislodge the leadership of 574 in the midst of the militant, successful and epoch-making July-August strike. Let us now consider the activities of the CP in the present fight against the charter revocation. Determined to destroy the Workers Party in the Northwest, the Stalinists recently launched a new weekly paper called United Action (the name being a tribute to Earl Browder’s genius in discovering that all CP members are in favor of a united front with “social-Fascists”, and a Labor party). The first issue of this “organ of the CP, Minnesota District” contains an article which “supports” Local 574. It says in part:

“In not paying the per capita tax, the leadership of Local 574 gave Tobin an excuse to revoke the charter. If for the last few months the local did not pay the per capita tax to the International, then why was this tax collected from the truck drivers ? The Minneapolis Labor Review of April 19 also reports that the Teamsters’ International ‘was willing to cancel considerable back tax if current payments were kept up’. If this is true, then why hasn’t the leadership of Local 574 settled with the International, instead of giving Tobin an excuse to revoke the charter? Every union man knows that a per capita tax must be paid to the International and reinstatement of Local 574 in impossible without settling this question first.” [3]

This article “advises” members of 574 that “to prevent the spreading of all sorts of rumors about financial irregularities in Local 574, a large rank and file auditing committee [should] be elected to issue a financial report”. In plain language this means that the CP is not satisfied that the union officials are honest! The CLU, well aware of the reason for the delay in paying per capita taxes, endorsed 574, its position, its leaders, and after carefully examining the entire situation pledged itself to fight for re-instatement. But the CP, which echoed the bosses’ charges of embezzlement during the July-August strike, revives them again to justify Tobin’s revocation of the charter !

All independent unionism is now considered a crime by the leaders of the CP, who yesterday called the AF of L a “Fascist organization” and were all for dual unions. The United (with Tobin) Action article “advises” members of 574 to “vote against the forming of an independent union and insist that the local remain part of the American Federation of Labor”. The implication is that the leaders of 574 are trying to lead the workers into an independent union. The truth is, of course, that the leaders of 574 have neither proposed a vote on the question nor have they advocated anything but reinstatement in the Brotherhood. The spreading of this insinuation has been labelled by the Northwest Organiser as a blow to the whole labor movement of Minneapolis; it plays into Tobin’s hands and consequently into the hands of Tobin’s inspirers, the Citizens’ Alliance of Minneapolis, leader of the open-shop drive.

In a handbill reproducing the article from United Action, and in the Daily Worker, the CP repeats its slanders and insinuations. To read this material, one would think that the leaders of Local 574 have stolen funds paid in by the workers as per capita tax, and that in order to escape from the perfectly fair and reasonable demands of Dan Tobin, these crooked rascals are trying to take the workers away from the AF of L into an independent union where they can go on stealing to their hearts’ content!

In short, every bit of CP propaganda on the current struggle against Tobin is in support of Tobin. It is all calculated to raise in the minds of the workers the idea that Tobin was “justified” in revoking 574’s charter, and that the only way to get back into the AF of L is to remove the leaders who built the union and led its historic and victorious struggles.

As during the strike, so now the removal of these leaders is the goal of the Citizens’ Alliance, which knows that the employers can evade their obligations to 574 only if they first eliminate the militant leadership which crammed those obligations down the bosses’ throats in hard-fought battles. As during the strike, so now the removal of these leaders is the goal of Dan Tobin, who does not want to see any of 574’s militants on the floor of the Brotherhood convention next fall.

As during the strike, so now the removal of these leaders is the goal of the CP, which does not hesitate to wreck a workers’ movement at any time, if it can thereby deal a blow to the Workers Party which presents a challenge to the bankrupt Stalinist movement nationally and internationally. If Dan Tobin is a labor lieutenant of the capitalist class – and who can doubt this? – Earl Browder, boss of the communist party, is Tobin’s top-sergeant. The CP record in the case of Local 574 shows that Stalinism has nothing in common with progressivism in the labor movement, nothing in common with the ideas and practises of revolutionaries.

If Stalinism is in any way part of the labor movement, it is one of least progressive parts, a handmaiden of reaction à la Tobin. Having abandoned the internationalist revolutionary position for a program of National-Bolshevism which sees the working class as a pawn in the diplomatic chess game being played by Stalin, Litvinov and Co., the CP has lost all sense of class solidarity. In order to deal a blow at the only organization whose theory and practise enables it to expose the degenerate character of the Stalinized Communist International, the CP makes an alliance with Dan Tobin against the militant leaders and members of Local 574.

As for Tobin, in order to maintain his hold on the Teamsters’ Brotherhood and his $28,000 a year plus pickings, he makes an alliance with the Minneapolis employers against the leaders of 574, the members of 574, the local itself. On the very eve of a new struggle against the bosses, the local union is stabbed in the back by its International President. The bosses take heart and prepare for a finish fight. In that fight they will undoubtedly have the backing of Tobin, who looks forward to the day when, having smashed Local 574, he can issue a new charter to a hand-picked clique of scab-herders, who will collect per capita taxes for him and never disturb the plans of the bosses.

Not until the whole cabal of these bureaucrats – top sergeants as well as lieutenants – has been swept in the junk-heap, will the American working class be able to organize itself for the final decisive struggle against its exploiters. The militant trade unionists of the Northwest will undoubtedly be able to take a long step forward toward this goal. The Workers Party has a great role to play in the struggle. At the moment the continued building of Local 574 and militant unions throughout the country, the rallying of the whole labor movement to the support of such champions of its cause as Local 574, and the launching of a new counter-offensive against the Citizens’ Alliance and the bosses behind it, will constitute the most appropriate and effective answer to Tobin, Browder and Co.

 
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Footnotes

1. Needless to say, references in this section are to members of the Minneapolis branch of the Communist League of America (now part of the Workers Party), and not to the isolated, impotent handful of communist party members. Not one member of the CP belonged to or exerted any influence in Local 574 – or does to this day.

2. Details of 574’s answer to Tobin’s charges may be found in the Northwest Organiser, Vol.I, no.3, published in Minneapolis. This issue also contains the report of the Central Labor Union’s special investigating committee which examined and endorsed 574’s contentions. A report appearing in the April 19 issue of the Minneapolis Labor Review (official organ of the CLU), stated that, before revocation, Tobin offered to cancel 574’s back taxes if it would meet current per capita obligations. The report was false. Its publication gave an impression that the CLU was going to back Tobin, but it has since given its support to Local 574.

3. The italics are not in the original. They emphasize a view which would justify the expulsion of almost every local which every goes on strike and thereby runs into debt! The reference to the Labor Review is to the false report mentioned above. The CP does not mind quoting a false report from what it has called a “social-Fascist” paper ... even when that paper, if only by implication, subsequently repudiates the false report.

 
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