James P. Cannon

“Local 574 Is Invincible!”

(26 November 1935)

Written: 26 November 1935.
Published: New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 49, 30 November 1935, p. 5.
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MINNEAPOLIS, Nov. 26. – The union-wrecking racket which used to work so smoothly under the guise of the “Red purge” is not what it used to be. Not in Minneapolis at any rate. And union militants all over the country can learn something from the manner in which Local 574, spearhead of progressive labor in the northwest, has beaten off the latest attack directed by William Green’s personal representative and gained ground steadily in the four weeks since it was first announced in the nation’s headlines. As things stand now it is conceded on all sides in the labor movement that Local 574 has the upper hand over the union wreckers. The impression is widespread – and strongest of all in the ranks of its own membership – that Local 574 is invincible. The name, or rather the number, has become a legend.

Bosses Wary of 574

It is highly significant that the bosses, who tried their hands at breaking the union in the great strikes of 1934, have nowhere ventured to come out in the open to support Tobin and Meyer Lewis. To be sure, this cautious attitude has not been directed by sympathy for the union under attack and its outspokenly radical leaders. Their hearts were with Lewis, but they didn’t trust him to make good his boasts that he would break up the “outlaw” union. They told him frankly in more than one private conference, the reports of which found their way into local labor circles, that they had had their share of expensive trouble last year and had become convinced that their trucks could not operate without 574 drivers. The union has signed new contracts with several new groups of employers, and renewed its contracts with others, since the formal revocation of its charter by Tobin last summer, and has even made new gains since the formal launching of the ill-starred “Red purge” by Meyer Lewis on Oct. 30.

Local trade union leaders of the traditional non-militant type, despite their entanglement with and dependence upon the official A.F. of L. machine and their lack of any real affection, for the “wild men” of Local 574, have likewise shrugged their shoulders at the appeals of Green’s special union-buster. The action of the Central Labor Union in shouting Lewis down and then instructing its executive board to confer with Local 574 with a view toward a peaceful settlement of the difficulties was a remarkable tribute to a so-called “outlaw” union. It bears testimony to the strength of Local 574 and to the respect in which this strength is held by the local leaders of the official trade union movement of the A.F. of L.

The Grand Strategy

In its reply to the Central Labor Union the executive board of Local 574 reiterated the position which it has maintained throughout the long struggle: As point one, it declared the desire of the union to remain a part of the general labor movement represented by the A.F. of L. and asked the aid of the Central Labor Union in securing the restoration of its charter in the Teamsters’ International; it disclaimed any quarrel with the other unions, pointed to the record of its cooperation with them in the past and expressed the desire to continue this cooperation in the future; and, finally, the leaders of Local 574 restated the firm determination of the union to maintain its organization and to defend itself against all attacks.

In these three points is contained the gist of the policy of Local 574 which has brought it such brilliant success: a policy of militancy, plus cooperation with all other legitimate unions; a deliberate policy of affiliation to the A.F. of L., and of unceasing struggle for reinstatement, plus a refusal to sacrifice its organization or to capitulate to union wreckers masquerading as labor leaders. This policy, in my opinion, is a model for the internal union strategy of the trade union militants everywhere, just as the policy exemplified by Local 574 in the great strikes of 1934 can serve as a model of strike strategy.

Meticulous attention to every detail of organization is another one of the secrets of Local 574’s astounding success. For the strike battles of last year the union set up headquarters in a big garage, equipped it like a field headquarters for the rapid mobilization of the picket “cruising squads,” and hurled them like a militant army into action. The bosses, accustomed to dealing with horse-and-buggy unionism, represented so pathetically by a dickering business agent, were knocked out of the water by these militant mass tactics. These tactics prevailed eventually even against the police and the militia and wrested settlements which made it possible for the union to consolidate itself, heal its many wounds and begin to grow as a day-by-day organization. For that a different technique was needed. Grand strategy had to make way for detail and routine.

The spacious new headquarters on Plymouth Avenue North present a picture of Local 574 in this stage of its development as a full-blown union, taking care of the daily business of its membership, but poised for action all the time. Occupying two large floors, with two or three times the space of the headquarters of the Central Labor Union, with an auditorium seating 1,500, adequate office space, several conference rooms and a bar, Local 574 is equipped for business and does plenty of it As many as six different meetings of separate categories of workers, including those employed on relief projects, take place on a single night. Over three thousand people were packed into the halls on the night of the demonstration against the Green-Lewis “Red” drive, with a large over-flow crowd in the streets listening to the loudspeaker. In addition, the headquarters serve as a social center for the membership. Every week there is one kind of an affair or another, dances, smokers, lectures, frolics. Sports are organized around the union – baseball, football and soccer teams compete with amateur rivals in the uniform of Local 574. All this is reflected in signs, announcements and gatherings at the headquarters.

Local 574 is a mass movement, drawing its people ever closer to the union, taking hold of them at their work and in their hours of recreation, welding them together. A formidable, new movement. A really inspiring union, the pride of the whole northwest, strong in the affection of the working masses. A hard union to bust, as the bosses of Minneapolis know, and as Tobin, Green and Meyer Lewis are learning. Local 574 is strong in itself, but its great advantage in every struggle is the enthusiasm and devotion with which the rank and file of the other unions rally around it. Local 574 has won this devotion by the inspiring example it has set before them and by the ready and effective cooperation in time of trouble. From a formal standpoint Local 574 is an “outlaw.” They have revoked its charter and declared it “outside” the general labor movement. But in the real essence of the matter Local 574 is “inside” – in the hearts of the rank and file of all the other unions.

These things are the real capital of Local 574 in the struggle. In spite of all, it is conceivable that the united forces of reaction in the labor movement could crush and destroy it as they have crushed other isolated unions before. But the tide is not running that way at present. The workers are in a more militant mood. They are clamoring for industrial unionism, sick and tired of the policy that brings nothing but defeat. Craft unionism is cracking at the seams in the A.F. of L. The reactionaries have too many fights on their hands to concentrate on Minneapolis alone. The ardent sympathy of progressives and militants everywhere is on the side of Minneapolis, and that helps in various ways. For all these reasons it appears to me that the militants of Local 574 have a fighting chance for victory again. That’s all they ever asked for.

Last updated on: 2 February 2018