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The Militant, 11 October 1941

Grant Dunne, 1894–1941

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 41, 11 October 1941, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, Oct. 5. – In ill health for a long time as a result of shell-shock suffered during the first World War, Grant Dunne, Organizer for Motor Transport and Allied Workers Industrial Union Local 544-CIO, committed suicide yesterday. Shortly after 6 p.m. he was found fatally wounded on the floor of a bedroom in the apartment in which he lived with his wife and two of their four sons. A 22-target pistol lay at his side. He had been shot through the right temple.

His wife, Clara and their ten-year old son Russell, were in the apartment at the time of the shooting. Deputy Coroner Dr. Emil Johnson officially pronounced the death a suicide by shooting and said that no inquest would be held.

Workers Mourn His Loss

Thousands of Minneapolis truck drivers are grief-stricken over this tragedy which has ended the life of a devoted and courageous trade union leader, who, together with his brothers Miles and Vincent and other Minneapolis militants, built the Drivers Union 544 into one of the most powerful labor organizations in the country. These workers who have gained so much through their union, understand that the blows which had been struck at 544-CIO in recent months by Stassen, Blair and the state apparatus as well as by Tobin, Roosevelt and the FBI, pressed heavily upon Grant who was already in a poor physical condition. Workers who had followed Grant Dunne in the struggles on the picket line and who knew of his fearlessness in the face of danger, appreciate the desperation over his own failing health which finally drove him to end his life.

Grant J. Dunne was born on a farm east of Little Falls, Minnesota, on June 21, 1894. Until he was 15 years old, he lived with his family the poverty-stricken life of hundreds of other families of itinerant lumber and railroad construction workers in northern Minnesota. In 1909 the family moved to Minneapolis where Grant attended South High School until he was forced to leave school in order to help support the family.

He held a variety of jobs with express companies and a number of heating and plumbing concerns. His employment with the Crane Plumbing Company was interrupted in 1918 when he was drafted into the army.

Brought Home on Stretcher in 1919

Sent to France after only a few short weeks of training in the army camps of the United States, he was on front-line duty with Company H of the Third Pioneer Infantry in many of the. great battles along the Argonne front. In the closing months of the war he was severely shell- shocked and spent months in a field hospital in France before being sent back to the United States. He was brought back to this country on a stretcher in 1919 and was hospitalized in a Long Island hospital for a period before his transfer to the military hospital at Fort Snelling in Minnesota.

After a few months in this hospital he was released to complete his convalescence at home. He was a convalescent for a year but the responsibility for the support of a wife and young son (who was born while he was in France) drove him to seek work long before he had fully recovered. He returned to a job in the plumbing business and soon occupied a responsible position as an estimator for the American Plumbing and Heating Company in St. Louis.

Becoming unemployed as a result of the depression which cut deeply into the plumbing business, he returned to Minneapolis in 1931. He found employment as a coal handler and later as a truck driver with the Pittsburgh Coal Company. ,

Miles and Vincent Dunne were also employed as coal yard workers and they, together with Grant and other Minneapolis militants, organized the coal yard workers. The coal strike which took place in February of 1934 ended with victory for the coal yard workers, the first victory which any group of Minneapolis workers had won in that open-shop town for oyer a decade.

Although Local 574 won a victory in this strike, some of the leaders of the strike were victimized, including the Dunne brothers. Despite the need to support four children, Grant Dunne continued his day and night organization work for the union, making a living as best he could by part-time jobs, relief, ERA jobs, etc.

A Leader of Great Strikes of 1934

The great strikes of the Minneapolis truck drivers in May and July of 1934 found him in the forefront of activity. As a militant leader on the picket line, as a writer for the newly- launched Organizer, as a fiery speaker at mass meetings, as a firm and unshakable negotiator for the union with the employers and the government agencies, he served the union in countless ways.

He was elected as Recording Secretary of old Local 574 in 1935 and held this post by successive re-election even after the return of the local to the International when it became Local 544. In 1939 he declined to run for re-election because of ill health. He continued, however, to serve as Organizer for the union.

One of his most notable achievements in connection with his trade union work was the organization of the unemployed. He was in large part responsible for the successful organization of the Federal Workers Section of Local 544. In 1936, Grant Dunne was sent by the union as a delegate to a conference of the unemployed held in Washington, D.C.

It was in 1936 also that he represented the General Drivers Union before the United States Senate sub-committee on education and labor (the LaFollette Committee) which was investigating the activities of strike-breaking agencies.

Although he partially overcame the handicap created by the shell-shock which he had suffered in the war, he never made a full recovery. During all of the years of stress and strain while the union was being built and its gains consolidated, he had many breakdowns. Because he would not permit himself the luxury of the rest and relaxation which might have restored him to good health, he grew progressively worse.

Prosecuted Because He Opposed the War

His nerves shattered as a result of World War I, the hysteria of World War II and the start of prosecutions of trade union militants and working class political leaders for their anti-war opinions weighed on him heavily. He was one of the 29 men and women indicted by a federal grand jury in St. Paul on July 15th on charges of “seditious conspiracy”. Grant Dunne was not only a trade union militant, he was a class-conscious, political opponent of the capitalist system of war and poverty and suffering. He understood fully that the problems of the war-torn world of today could never be solved unless the decaying capitalist system were replaced by a socialist system. He knew that the Trotskyist movement alone among all the political parties of the working class was the instrument which could effect that change.

But Grant Dunne knew too that before a new society was born, capitalism in its “death agony” would lash out at the working class leaders who sought a change. It was not that he feared persecution – he had many times before shown his ability to stand up fearlessly in the face of repeated attacks by employers and government officials, and in front of the flaming guns of deputies and cops. But his health was failing. Since the beginning of World War II, his weakened and over-burdened nervous system had suffered recurring attacks. It is believed that he was in the midst of such an attack when he ended his life.

* * *

Funeral services for Grant Dunne were held under the auspices of Local 544-CIO. Farrell Dobbs, National Labor Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party and a long time friend and associate of Grant Dunne, delivered the funeral address. The services took place on Tuesday, Oct. 7, at Gleason Mortuary in Minneapolis. Burial was at the National Cemetery at Fort Snelling.

Four brothers, Vincent, Miles, Fenton and Paul Dunne, together with Carl Skoglund and George Frosig, Organizers for 544-CIO, served as active pall-bearers at the funeral.

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