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Carl Cowl

The Clothing Strike in Minneapolis

(October 1929)

From The Militant, Vol. II No. 16, 15 October 1929, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The needle trades strike in Minneapolis, embracing about 300 workers in the men’s clothing industry is the largest manifestation of revolt against the miserable open shop conditions existing in this city for a number of years. The strike, called by Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, found fertile ground. Since the first shop struck 10 weeks ago, 4 other shops have followed suit. Four large shops must yet be called out. Workers in every industry of this city, long famed as a lush field for exploitation, are watching the outcome of the strike. The spreading and winning of the strike will give tremendous impetus and inspiration to the organization of the unorganized workers of Minneapolis.

A review of the handling of the strike to date will give us some conception of the forces in operation, and the direction in which the strike is going. If we are at all to understand the situation and give guidance to the workers, we must look at the facts as they are. The calling of the strike 10 weeks ago, in spite of the lack of preparation, resulted in the walkout of four of the smaller overcoat and leather shops. The workers, ready and willing to put up a militant fight for better conditions were held together by the promise of a general strike of the entire industry in Minneapolis. It seems that the words and deeds of the leadership of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America are at variance and sharply so. In the weeks that have elapsed since the calling of the strike, a marked reluctance to spread the strike on the part of the A.C.W. heads, Kaminsky, Genis, and Rosenbloom is apparent. They avoid the organization of the ladies’ garment workers, furriers, etc., employed in the struck shops with the excuse that “We invite no jurisdictional disputes with the I.L.G.W.U., Furriers, Cloak-makers: we cannot go into their fields”, and then they make no effort to get these other unions to act.

The agreement with the Excell shop signed three weeks ago above the heads of the workers, has created, along with the reactionary policy of the leadership, a very serious situation among the strikers. The agreement, undated, grants tentatively the more harmless demands of the union; the 44 hour week, pay for seven legal holidays, time and a half for overtime, recognition of the union. The vital question, that of piecework rates, is left unsettled – the agreement specifies that the workers continue at the old rate till the other shops settle, with the union. With the shortening of the work week, this results in a cut in wages.

What does this mean in actuality? What effect has this great “victory” on the morale of the strikers? The workers feel that the Excell Manufacturing Co. boss and not the workers is deriving the benefit of this agreement. They are putting out his work. He is obtaining new and large orders lost by the struck shops. Now he is using the agreement as a club over their heads when they demand a raise in the piece-rates. The strikers in the other shops feel that if the strike nets them a cut in wages, why fight for the union? On the other hand, in the eyes of Kaminsky, Genis, and Rosenbloom, the Excell Manufacturing Co., is a shining example to the bosses of Minneapolis that the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union is no danger to business, but rather, a benefit. Furthermore the Amalgamated Bank, in taking over Excell’s notes foreclosed through the influence of the Citizens’ Alliance, at the same time compels the union to supply “passive” workers without “labor trouble”, or else risk losing the notes.

The puny-minded Stalinites, “stalwart leaders of the workers in fierce class battles” have found in the new “revolutionary” trade union line of the party a new excuse for deserting the workers in this strike. Under the false and non-Leninist slogan that all existing unions cannot serve the interests of the working class, they are capitalizing this situation to demonstrate that the old unions are fake unions, that the strike is a fake strike, that the only recourse for the workers is to abandon the old union, and join the new “mass” needle trades union (locally consisting of five members). The strikers are a thousand times more loyal to the strike than the Stalinites believe, and are bitter against the Party’s leaflets denouncing the strike. They do not seek to abandon, but to win the strike. And finally, it is significant to note, the Daily Worker “fearless organ of the revolutionary masses”, has not been able to find space to mention this strike – even in ridicule. With its present policy the Party is a nonentity in this strike situation.

The crying need at present is the organization and development of a militant Left wing group to fight the fight of the workers, broadening and deepening the strike into every field in the industry. Thru the initiative of the Communist League such a group has been formed. Pressure must be exerted in the strike for the demands of the workers for organization and better conditions. That pressure, to become effective, must be a result of the concerted and organized demand of the strikers themselves. The tasks which the Left wing must set itself and take responsibility for are heavy. Each militant step towards winning the strike will come from this group, determined to push forward the interests of the garment workers, in spite of a reactionary leadership and a cynically “disillusioned” Party, to victory. Our slogan is:


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