William F. Dunne & Morris Childs

Permanent Counter-Revolution
The Role of the Trotzkyites in the Minneapolis Strikes


THE two militant strikes of truck drivers and helpers in Minneapolis—in May and July—have raised in the most pressing form the question of the relations between the Farmer-Labor state government, headed by Governor Floyd Bjornsterne Olson, and the labor movement.

The question arose in a particularly sharp form in the second strike—although it was present in the first strike and of basic strategic importance at that time. It came up because the Minneapolis Trades and Labor Assembly was and is dominated by Olson supporters who hold official positions in the trade union movement. Both strikes involved several thousand newly organized workers, and their wives and families. Both strikes had great popular support. In both strikes the workers conducted themselves with the greatest resoluteness, heroism, and discipline. Up to the time Governor Olson sent in his troops and declared martial law, the strikers defeated the employers. They succeeded in the mass picketing, which was aided by great numbers of other workers and unemployed mobilized through the Unemployment Councils and the Communist Party, and in the physical combats with the police and other armed forces of the employers. Truck transportation moved only with the permission of the strike committee.

It is an axiom of working class struggle that the better the organization of the workers’ forces and the higher their morale, the greater is the guilt of the leadership for not obtaining the maximum results in the given circumstances, or for an actual defeat.

The Trotzkyite leadership of Truck Drivers and Helpers Union 574 cannot swear themselves loose from this guilt. Neither can they excuse their defeatist strategy and tactics by pleas of ignorance. Nor can they say that they were not warned of the consequences to the truck drivers and the labor movement as a whole of their toleration (to put it mildly of Governor Olson and his official instruments in the Trades and Labor Assembly.

In estimating the extent of the Trotzkyite trifling with and ignoring of the most fundamental question of the labor and revolutionary movement—that of the class character of the government in any given epoch—we must keep in mind that this gentry pose as revolutionists. They pretend to be far more “revolutionary” than the Communist Party. They take the lead in slandering and vilifying Communists and the Communist International among more advanced workers. Furthermore, before the Minneapolis strike, they claimed they had discovered the magic method by which revolutionists could work in the American Federation of Labor unions without coming into decisive clashes with “conservative” officialdom.

They sneered at the Communists who declared that the exposure of and struggle against the bureaucracy were necessary if the rank and file in any struggle was not to be confused, discouraged and betrayed.

The Trotzkyites laughed off all proposals to make clear the true anti-working class role of Governor Olson in the first strike. Even when he had the National Guard under arias these leaders kept their mouths shut.

From the very beginning, it was most necessary to prepare the workers for Olson’s later military attack. This attack was sure to came if the truck drivers and their working class supporters pressed forward their demands and mass struggle for union recognition, higher wages, and better working conditions. Yet these Trotzkyites, although they claim to be revolutionists, did not remind the workers of what Marx and Engels wrote of the role of government: “The State—that is the executive committee of the ruling class.”

In the first strike, in May, the Trotzkyite leaders, working closely with Olson’s henchmen in the Trades and Labor Assembly, discouraged a general strike for which large numbers of workers and their unions were ready and had in fact already voted.

They signed a “truce” with the employers while Olson kept his troops mobilized. The truce turned out to be the end of the strike. It was hailed as a “victory” by the Trotzkyite press and by the official labor press.

The Trotzkyites wrote long articles in their press denouncing Communist critics of their conduct of the strike. They edged their way into “liberal” publications with glowing encomiums for themselves and sly slanders of the “Stalinites”, of the “official Communists”.

But the victory was a hollow one, as the Communists pointed out. The employers, and Olson, having carefully observed the tactics of the Trotzkyites, and having made their own estimate of the caliber of these leaders, arrived at the conclusion that it was not necessary even to comply with the formal terms of the “settlement”. They refused to increase wages, they discriminated against union members, they refused to abide by working rules or classifications of employees.

They wanted another strike—a showdown. The union was forced to strike; but the probability of victory lay with the truck drivers. The arbitrary attitude of the Citizens’ Alliance and the employers generally had placed large sections of the population on the side of the workers, and the working class as a whole was ready to support their struggle.

From the outset, knowing that Olson and his troops would, if necessary, be used to decapitate the strike, the employers, the Minneapolis chief of police, and the Citizens’ Alliance deliberately provoked the workers. Early in the strike, acting under orders to shoot to kill given them by Chief of Police Johannes, police shot into unarmed pickets, killing two and wounding fifty or more.

Olson promptly brought in the troops. He declared martial law and authorized the issuing of permits for the moving of trucks. Something like 4,000 permits were issued—breaking the strike. A sham battle went on between Olson and the Citizen’s Alliance but the main objective had been reached—the conduct of the strike was taken out of the hands of the unions.

Governor Olson’s troops raided the headquarters of Local Union 574 and arrested something like two hundred leaders and active members. These were placed in a military stockade, and brought before military courts.

It was not until martial law was declared that the Trotzkyite leaders began to criticize Olson. Even then their criticisms were mild, tempered and eclectic.

Their daily official strike publication was edited by one, Solow, until recently one of the editors of the Mevorah Journal and a still more recent Trotzkyite acquisition. It had the crust to declare in a first page editorial—after martial law had been declared—that “the sole responsibility for martial law in Minneapolis rests on the shoulders of the employers”. (Our emphasis). No responsibility on Olson, the governor who sent in the troops and who is their commander-in-chief!

Even after martial law was in force, Goldman, the Trotzkyite lawyer from Chicago, was declaring at Minneapolis mass meetings that Olson was a product of contending class forces, that he had hesitated, that he had gone to the Right and to the Left, etc., “but that as long as he goes to the Left we will support him”, et cetera, ad nauseum!

Why did the Trotzkyites lay off Olson? Ignorance? They know better. They laid off Olson because they were afraid to break with his henchmen in the Trades and Labor Assembly and appeal to the rank and file over their heads—as the longshoremen’s leaders did in San Francisco and other West Coast ports. They thought they could treat with these people. They did, and they treated away the truck drivers’ strike and the general strike that was necessary to drive out the troops and win the strike.

Only when it was too late, when the working class forces were confused and partially demoralized, did the Trotzkyite leaders raise the question of “a 48-hour sympathy strike”.

On the other hand, the Communist Party position on the role of Governor Olson and the middle class Farmer-Labor administration that serves the interests of capitalism in its fight against the working class has been shown by life itself to be correct.

But one instance is needed to prove this contention:

Only in Minneapolis has a labor officialdom dared to take the position openly that the sending in of troops, the declaration of martial law, the raiding of union headquarters, mass arrests by the military, and the issuance of military permits to employers, had for their purpose the winning of the strike for the union!

This is what is actually peddled by the Minneapolis labor officialdom. The spread of this poisonous interpretation of military strikebreaking was made possible only by the Trotzkyite collaboration with Governor Olson’s tools in the trade union movement.

At the present time, the A. F. of L. Executive Council, acting undoubtedly with the consent of Tobin, head of the International Union to which Local 574 belongs, has given a charter to gas station attendants (petroleum workers who were organized into Local 574. The splitting process has begun. The Trades and Labor Assembly officialdom announces openly that if the A. F. of L. Executive Council and Tobin demand the dividing up of Local 574 into a half-dozen unions they will line up for such a scheme. The Trotzkyites are now faced with the problem of fighting the officialdom or of surrendering organizationally—as they have politically.

Among the rank and file of the truck drivers and other Minneapolis workers there is the greatest disillusionment and hatred of Olson; but this does not as yet mean that they are ready to fight it out with his henchmen. They will not be ready to make this fight—and without such a fight they cannot really defeat the organized employers—until the Communists carry still further their campaign to make clear the elementary lessons of the two strikes, and mobilize the decisive sections of the working class around a genuine rank-and-file program of action.

This task calls for still clearer exposure of the anti-working class policy of the Trotzkyite leaders, and the refutation of the thousand lies and misrepresentations concerning the trade union policy and tactics of the Communist Party.

By raising with the utmost sharpness and clarity the whole question of the role of Governor Olson and the Farmer-Labor government in the May strike and the July strike, the Communist Party rendered a great service to the Minneapolis labor movement. The Party has begun to create the conditions for victory for the Minnesota working class in the great struggles which are right ahead of us.


Next: Part 1. The Role of the Trotzkyites in the Minneapolis Strikes