James P. Cannon

Daily Strike Bulletin

Minneapolis—August 23, 1934

What the Union Means

Thanks to the historians at the Minnesota Historical Society for help in locating the The Daily Strike Bulletins of General Drivers Local 574 and other documents from the 1934 Truckers Strike

THE victory of unionism in our industry has already been won. In two great battles which stirred the whole country-first in the May strike and then in the strike just concluded-the drivers, helpers and inside workers of Minneapolis showed their determination to have a union of their own, free from the influence or coercion of the employers. Now there is to be an election to see if the workers really meant it. Very well. We shall have the election and go through the formality. Our big task now is to get ready for it, and to roll up such an overwhelming vote for the union that the question cannot be raised again.

There hasn’t been a free and honest election held anywhere to our knowledge that did not result in a majority of- the workers voting for a union of their own. Even on those railroads where trade unions have been outlawed and “company unionism” has been forced on the workers, the elections now taking place, under the auspices of the National Mediation Board, are resulting in sweeping victories for the bone fide unions, according to the report in Labor, the national weekly organ of the railroad unions.

The awakening workers of America, in every trade and industry, are moved by one common, overpowering impulse which can be expressed in a single word: UNIONISM! Every intelligent. worker understands that that is the first step on the road to a better and freer life. “in almost every case”, says Labor, “the paramount issue is the right of the workers to organize”. Once that is accomplished, the worker, weak and helpless as an individual, becomes strong and independent. He has the confidence to demand improved conditions and better wages. And-united with his fellow workers-he has the strength to get them.

And that is just the point. In clinging to the idea of unionism, and fighting so doggedly for it, the workers are inspired by the thought of what the union means!

The union means bread and butter. The union is the weapon by which the workers wrest better wages from the profit-mad bosses. It means more and better food for the workingman’s kids and a decent dress for his wife to wear. It means a few nickels in his own pocket to pay for a glass of beer or two if he feels that way. In fighting for a union, the worker in reality is fighting to improve his standard of life and to give his family a chance to live like human beings.

The union means protection and a certain degree of security in employment. Once a strong union appears on the scene the arbitrary powers of the employers over the lives of the workers are limited. The old system of hiring and firing according to the whim of the bosses gives way to seniority rights. The union is a protection to the individual worker against discrimination. In fighting for a union the worker is fighting for certain rights of “citizenship” in industry. He is fighting for the right to have something to say about his job. Without a union this is impossible.

The union means the beginning of independence. The unorganized worker has no rights whatever which the boss is obliged to respect. No matter how proud and sensitive the individual may be, he has to take what is offered and keep his mouth shut. Long hours, miserable wages, all kinds of abuse-the worker has to put up with all of that and has no comeback, no means of redress. The unorganized worker is as helpless as a slave.

The union man stands up on his feet and looks the world in the face. He has something behind him, a power to which he can appeal. The individual “bargain” between the worker and the boss, in which the worker is licked before he starts, is replaced by “collective bargaining” when the union is organized. That doesn’t apply only to the question of wages. The union is the “collective” representative of the worker in any dispute he may have with the employer. Feeling that strength behind him, the worker gets more confidence in himself, more self respect, more of the sense of human dignity that befits a useful and productive member of society.

It is because the union means so much in the daily life of the workers that the movement for unionism is rising like a tidal wave. The workers want a new life and a better one, and the first step on this path is organization.

All Minneapolis workers will watch the election with sympathy and hope for 574.

We are sure of victory if our members remain alert and active from now till Tuesday under the great slogans:

Vote for Local 574!

Make Minneapolis a Union Town!