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The New International, March 1938


Carlos Hudson

A Frame-Up That Failed

From New International, Vol.4 No.3, March 1938, pp.73-75.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE MOSCOW TRIALS and the murder of the Bolshevik generation that prepared and made the October Revolution revealed to serious workers throughout the world that the Comintern was in its death throes. In its final agonies, however, the counterrevolutionary terror of Stalin does not confine itself within the borders of the Soviet Union but becomes a commodity of export in return for which the Kremlin receives the good-will of world capitalism.

Now the GPU has transferred its operations to America – and has met a defeat that is all the more impressive and valuable because it was administered by tens of thousands of organized workers. Before the workers of Minnesota and their brothers two thousand miles away on the West Coast, the attempted frame-ups of the GPU centering around the Corcoran case have been exposed and vigorously driven into the ground.

Minneapolis is today the best organized city in the country. Chiefly responsible for the growth and consolidation of unionism in this city are the drivers’ unions. But the drivers happen to be led by “Trotskyists”. So, ever since 1934, the Stalinists have fought these unions and attempted to “get” the leaders. The assassination of Pat Corcoran, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters’ Joint Council, on November 17, 1937, presented them with what they thought was their big chance. They immediately went to work and consciously sought to frame officials of General Drivers’ Local 544 for the murder of Pat Corcoran. When their job in Minneapolis bogged down, they extended it to the West Coast and from Seattle accused Minneapolis labor leaders of plotting the death of Harry Bridges.

That the Minneapolis drivers have inspired and aided workers all over the Northwest to organize, and fight for and win higher wages, didn’t mean a thing to the Stalinists. The drivers are led by “Trotskyists” and these leaders must be exterminated even if it means the return of the Open Shop to this section. To this end, the agents of the GPU resorted to fraudulent documents, forged names, amalgams, phoney committees, affidavits of irresponsible people, lied on the grand scale – resorted to all the tricks they’ve learned from their master in the Kremlin. And they failed. Their black record is available for all to see. They can never live down the fact that they fought side by side with the employers to discredit and undermine organized labor.

Corcoran’s body was not yet in the grave when the mortal enemies of unionism sought to use the assassination against the labor movement, and specifically against the drivers’ unions.

They were blunt enough about it. As the St. Paul Daily News wrote, the day before the funeral: “It is apparent that the truck drivers’ union is strategically the most effective labor weapon in this or any other community.” In the summer of 1937 the St. Paul Drivers’ Union, backed by its sister union in Minneapolis, had given the St. Paul employers a good walloping. So the News spoke of “labor gangsterism”, referred to “labor czars, levying tribute through gangsterism”, initiated a campaign against “labor terrorism”, sought to imply that Pat Corcoran was murdered by his fellow unionists in a quarrel over the division of booty garnered from the “labor racket”.

The daily press of every city within the orbit of the North Central District Drivers Council – of Chicago, Duluth, Fargo, Sioux Falls, Omaha, Kansas City – had ONE line on the Corcoran case: to use the assassination to smear labor, to discredit unionism, to blame “labor racketeering” for the murder. It was a foregone conclusion that this would be the employers’ attitude. While the anti-labor campaign was growing each day in intensity, was beginning to agitate openly for vigilante action against the drivers’ unions, the Communist Party dressed ranks with the bosses. Building upon the bosses’ slander campaign, the Stalinists carried it to new heights, gave lessons to the employers on how to smear labor, spent thousands of dollars to “call the cops” on the union movement.

* * *

How did they develop the frame-up?

1. Their first step was to advertise a “Volunteer Committee for Driving Gangsterism out of the Minneapolis Trade Union Movement”.

The Stalinist “Volunteer Committee” was exposed as a fraud and a forgery by the coroner’s jury which the unions had forced into action to investigate Corcoran’s murder. One after another, eleven officials of the AF of L whose names had been appended to a “Committee” leaflet testified they had never been approached for authorization of their signatures.

2. By written innuendo and spoken slander, the Stalinists launched a campaign of slander against “the Dunnes”.

The drivers were able to mobilize the entire trade union movement of Minneapolis against the Stalinists’ campaign. Never before was such unanimity of action achieved. One hundred and fifty officials of the Minneapolis union movement met and adopted a resolution that tore at the heart of the frame-up machine. Said the resolution in part:

WHEREAS, The brutal murder of Patrick J. Corcoran, Secretary Treasurer of the Teamsters’ Joint Council, was a blow at the labor movement of Minneapolis, obviously inspired by the enemies of organized labor, and

WHEREAS, The Teamsters’ Joint Council has offered $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the assassins, and

WHEREAS, In order to protect the labor movement and its chosen leaders from a terroristic murder campaign, the most relentless efforts must be made to bring the assassins to deserved punishment, and

WHEREAS, Every attempt to attribute the murder of Corcoran to forces inside the labor movement, and to besmirch the trade unions with the accusation that “gangsterism and racketeering” inside labor’s ranks is responsible for the murder, constitutes a foul slander on the bona fide labor movement and its martyred officer, and shields the real murderers and the dark forces behind them, and

WHEREAS, The daily press controlled by the employers, and the Daily Worker published by the Communist Party have joined in a campaign to smear and discredit the martyred Corcoran and the trade union movement, with the charge that his assassination was caused by “racketeering and gangsterism” in the trade unions ...

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED ... We condemn the mass meeting [called by the “Volunteer Committee”, that is., the Stalinists] as in no way representative of the attitude of organized labor, as being an aid to the mortal enemies of organized labor, and further evidence of an unscrupulous campaign by irresponsible elements to discredit and split the labor movement of Minneapolis.

3. The GPU sought to create an amalgam between Trotskyists and persons who were not Trotskyists. Specifically, they sought to link Ed and Al Firotto and Joe Bellini with the Dunne brothers, charging the former were “Local 544 organizers and part of the Trotskyist machine”.

The Northwest Organizer, weekly organ of the Minneapolis Teamsters’ Joint Council, informed a large section of the American labor movement of what every worker in Minneapolis knew: that the Firottos and Bellini were among the Local 500 officials who came over to the present Local 544 in June 1936, that they didn’t last even a year in the merged union, that by unanimous decision of the union’s executive board these men had long ago been discharged for insubordination.

4. In Minneapolis the Stalinists control the CIO, which they use to fight “Trotskyism”, to split established unions, to weaken labor as an independent force, and to build the People’s Front. Striving frantically to pin the Corcoran murder on the Dunnes, the Stalinists published for the occasion a special paper, the CIO Industrial Unionist. There you can read that Corcoran’s assassination “was the logical outcome of the gangsterism and racketeering fostered in the Minneapolis labor movement by the Dunne-Brown-Dobbs leadership”. There one learns that there are all sorts of tie-ups between the Dunnes, fascism, the election of reactionary Mayor Leach, the sabotage of the Farmer-Labor party, disruption in the labor movement, etc.

The bosses ate it up. Said the St. Paul Pioneer Press of December 4: “... for an exposition of hoodlumism and gangsterism and Trotskyism in the AFL ranks it is necessary to look in the CIO organ, the new Industrial Unionist”. And the Press “looked”. And so did every other boss paper.

Ever more hysterical became the tone content of the Stalinist slander. They didn’t hesitate to call for a special police investigation to pry into the records of the drivers’ unions, nor to call for a Minnesota “Dewey” to “cleanse” labor.

The more the employers applauded, the more the workers gagged. Sections of the Minneapolis union movement which had hitherto stood aloof from the “Stalin-Trotsky squabble” were galvanized into action and formed a mighty bulwark around the drivers and their leaders. Thoroughly alarmed at the anger of the workers, George Cole, regional CIO director, denied all knowledge of the contents and refused to accept responsibility for the Stalinist CIO Industrial Unionist. From a section of the CIO, the Minnesota State Council of Packinghouse Workers, came a thunderous denunciation of the Stalinists for their vile attempts to “dishonor the memory of Pat Corcoran” and for their actions “which could only destroy bona fide unionism”.

5. To float the frame-up, the Stalinists published scurrilous leaflets, called meetings, made blocs with “church, social and civic organizations” and “public-spirited persons” like the well-known scab-herding preacher, Mecklenberg, used the People’s Press, published special editions of the Daily Worker, etc.

To all the old lies, this special edition contained two new ones: that the Dunnes were linked to the Northern States Power company, and that “all was not peace between the Trotskyists and Corcoran”.

The bottom was jerked from under these lies by the Northwest Organizer, which published

  1. a statement from the business representative of the Electricians’ Local pointing out that “when the workers in the Northern States Power Co. went on strike, they received the fullest cooperation from the Drivers’ unions. The very fact that Local 292, representing the Northern States Power Co. workers, shares the building with the Drivers, indicates the friendship and cooperation existing between the two labor organizations ...”; and
  2. a statement from the business representative of the Milk Drivers’ Union that “as one who has associated for over a decade with Pat Corcoran in the Milk Drivers’ Union, I want to nail the lying story that Pat was preparing to ‘challenge the power of the Dunnes’ ... Pat and I and all the other officials of the Milk Drivers have had the most harmonious relations with the officials of Local 544 ...”

6. When the unions had them on the run in Minneapolis, the Stalinists took a wild chance. Calling their final play of the game, they cooked up an affidavit from one Robert Bell, erstwhile member of the Minneapolis General Drivers’ Union, testifying that he was hired by a Minneapolis AF of L representative to proceed to the West Coast and murder Harry Bridges, Stalinist tool. This was a double-barrelled job, aimed at the Minneapolis progressive unions, and at the militant Sailors’ Union of the Pacific, the stoutest enemy of the Stalinist machine on the West Coast.

Completely demolishing the Bell affidavit, labor brought the frame-up machine crashing to the ground. The Northwest Organizer published the full story of the relations between Local 544 and Robert Bell, who is a mental case. In a public statement, a local AF of L representative pointed out the lies and contradictions in Bell’s story. Cole, who had read the affidavit before a public meeting, shamelessly confessed before the coroner’s jury that he knew all the time that “the party mentioned was unreliable and no good”, and that he had so warned the Seattle CIO director.

Finally, Mrs. Bell, wife of the man alleged to have been hired to kill Bridges, presented an affidavit which revealed the lengths to which the Stalinists had gone to frame progressive unionists. Says her affidavit:

“I have read the alleged affidavit dated November 17, 1937 from Seattle, Washington, supposedly signed by my husband and made public in Minneapolis by George Cole, regional director of the CIO ... I can state, as a matter of personal knowledge, that the alleged facts contained in that affidavit concerning events in Minneapolis, are deliberate lies ...”

One by one, Mrs. Bell refutes the itemized statements in her husband’s story, tells of his terrible war wounds which make him subject to irresponsible actions, and so exposes the whole flimsy plot that the Communist Party has not even dared to mention the affair since. With the demolition of the Bell charges, the GPU’s frame-up collapsed. In its first offensive on American soil, it had met defeat.

* * *

The true measure of the success with which the frame-up has been smashed is seen in the resolutions of condemnation against the Communist Party for their use of frame-up methods, which have been passed by the AF of L Central Labor Council of San Francisco, the Central Labor Assembly of Albert Lea, Minneapolis, and scores of individual unions throughout the Northwest. Recent Minneapolis events are yet more revealing. In the middle of December, Local 544 won a complete victory in the four-days grocery strike. This test of strength, the first since Pat’s death, showed that despite the torrents of slander directed against it, the union was stronger than ever.

On January 8 balloting for the 1938 executive board was concluded in Local 544. All officers were returned to their previous posts. The following day the first anniversary meeting of the’ North Central District Drivers’ Council drew 135 delegates from 46 drivers’ unions in 8 states – a reflection of the formidable growth of unionism in this part of the country.

Finally, on January 14 the Minneapolis Teamsters’ Joint Council held its election. Miles Dunne was unanimously chosen for the post of secretary-treasury, to fill the vacancy left by the murder of Pat Corcoran.

* * *

The Minneapolis labor movement, through a lengthy acquaintance with Stalinist treachery, was too alert for the frame-up. Every last lie was branded on the forehead of the liar. The Communist Party has been isolated from the mass movement as never before. And yet a warning note must be sounded. As John Dewey has stated, in speaking of the Corcoran frame-up:

“This is a fresh example of the way that what went on in Russia is used to disrupt the ranks of labor in this country. It won’t be the last time.”

Day by day, the poison disseminated by the Stalinist machine throughout the world becomes more venomous. With a recklessness born of despair, the Comintern police carry their bureaucratic machinations to ever new heights. The closer become the state relations between the United States and Russia, the more intense will become the GPU attacks on militant American workers. The reverberations of the Minneapolis frame-up had not ceased before the “Robinson-Rubens” case was launched. New plots, new frame-ups involving the progressive labor movement in many parts of the United States, are unquestionably already in the making, waiting to be sprung. Only pitiless publicity and constant vigilance can protect American labor from the bloody terror of the GPU.

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