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Coal Yard Workers Win Strike in Minneapolis

Militant Battle Brings a Speedy Victory to Drivers

(February 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 9, 24 February 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Minneapolis. – After a whirlwind strike battle which electrified the whole City and tied up every coal yard tight as a drum, the coal drivers won complete recognition of their union in two and a half days.

The Minneapolis Labor Review of February 16 says:

“The workers of the city were thrilled, both organized and unorganized, at the masterly manner in which the struggle was conducted ... Picketing of the coal yards was carried on continuously during the strike and there has never been a better example of enthusiastic efficiency than displayed by the coal driver pickets.

“A week ago Minneapolis was not paying much attention to the coal drivers. Today organized and militant they are a mighty factor in the industrial world.”

The same paper reports “a memorable meeting of the Central Labor Union, that heard Miles Dunne, member of the coal drivers’ strike committee, declare that anyone who doubts that the American workers will fight for their rights is sadly misinformed. He said that all delegates should report to their unions that the coal drivers’ strike had been a very successful one.”

The Strike was conducted by General Drivers’ Union No. 574. The committee representing the strikers before the Regional Labor Board, which negotiate the settlement, consisted of William Brown, Cliff Hall, Miles Dunne and Carl Skoglund. Roy Wier, organizer of the C.L.U. and attorney John Goldie assisted in the negotiations as members of the committee.

Minneapolis. – With united forces and. fighting determination the Coal Yard Workers gave a decisive answer to the coal bosses who had ignored their demands, claiming that the Union did not represent the workers in the yards.

From Wednesday morning until Friday evening, Feb. 7th, 8th, and 9th, the Strike Committee had complete command of the machinery of coal distribution in the City. So effective was the tie-up, that coal orders for Hospitals, Orphans Homes, etc., could move only upon written permission of the Strike Committee, the union furnishing driver and picket guard who were paid Union wages by the delivering company.

The Coal Drivers and Yard Workers organized into General Drivers Local 574 of the Int. T.C.S.H., displayed a well organized, mobile, fighting picket line that stormed over all opposition, closed 65 truck yards, 150 coal offices and swept the streets clear of scabs in the first three hours of the strike, what proved to be decisive factors in the struggle, long foreseen by those active workers who took the lead in the organization of the Coal Yard Drivers and Yardmen, was the careful preparation for action and the militant mass picket line.

The careful work of preparing, the patient day to day organizational campaign in the various yards and sections of the industry, the devotion of a number of militant workers to the idea of the Union – this must be given FIRST place in any consideration of this or any other strike.

Composed in the main of young men learning the lesson of fighting solidarity in their first labor struggle, the Coal Yard workers have in the ranks many older men who brought to the Union and into the fight valuable experience, supplementing enthusiasm with calm judgment, and therefore striking ability. The older and the young workers found their places together in the powerful drive and sweep of the offensive.

The “Cruising Picket Squad”

Some of the best proposals and many of the most courageous acts came from those workers who, until a few short weeks ago, knew little about strikes or union membership. One of the outstanding features of the strike was the Cruising Picket Squad. This idea came from the ranks and played a great role in the strike. The general strategy of the Strike Committee was to concentrate the pickets at the largest and most dangerous yards, leaving a more or less skeleton line at the other points, picket captains to make the necessary shifts as occasion demanded.

There were more than 60 yards to cover scattered over an area of ten miles square. To guard the St. Paul line, where more than one hundred greedy coal operators awaited an opportunity to force their workers to scab, was a task of no small proportions. (That few St. Paul drivers tried to run the blockade is a living example of the fine solidarity that exists.) Here the Cruising Picket Squad found its work. From the moment of its inception, when it was taken up eagerly by the Strike Committee as well as the whole membership, in the early hours of the strike, no stray scab had any chance to get through. Car after car volunteered for this work. Manned with five to seven pickets they supplemented the main lines, making them virtually ‘coal’ tight.

Inspiration and Example For Union Workers

The methods used and the manner in which the organization work was carried out, stands as a model for the benefit of those who will take up the vast work that lies just ahead. The coal workers section of the transportation industry, has gained its first objective. These workers have tested their organized strength, almost alone, in a sharp and successful engagement with the bosses.

In the course of preparation, and during the fight, many obstacles, hitherto unsuspected by the average rank and file worker, came to light. A careful study of these weak points, with a view to correcting them, will be of extreme importance for the future. The union can be only as strong as an alert and determined membership chose to make it.

First of all: No barrier must be placed in the way of recruiting the membership to full strength. THE FUEL OIL AND GASOLINE DRIVERS AND HELPERS are the next section to be organized, here there must be no delay. This approach connects up the campaign which leads from section to section and gives what assurances can be given in advance that the gains made in the Coal Strike will not be partially sacrificed.

The Open Shop bosses have learned a bitter lesson. That they are far from idle is well known to every wide-awake worker. The example of the whole police force ranged on the side of the bosses in the futile effort to break through the picket lines with scab coal, has only one meaning for the Union and each member of the Union. Be prepared! Be prepared! BE MUCH BETTER PREPARED! for the next test.

Every member of the Union as well as those workers who will be members in the coming period, should be vigilantly watching the Regional Labor Board. What exactly has been its role? It is well to note the fact that in all the efforts made by the Union Committee to present the coal workers demands to the bosses, the Board was only an agency to transmit an insolent reply and a flat refusal of the bosses to deal with the Union. During the most advantageous time of the winter season this Board together with several Labor officials were instrumental in postponing action under one pretext and another, which gravely weakened and endangered the coal workers’ position.

When in spite of these obstructive tactics, the justly angered and aroused workers STRUCK the yards, demonstrating to the bosses and to all who wished to see that the union did actually speak for the coal yard workers and drivers – then the Board, with little delay, came forward with a decision that actually saved the face of the bosses. And not only their faces. A vote in the separate yards was ordered. This played directly into the hands of the coal yard owners who had LOST the Strike.

Here is one of the most important lessons of the strike. It must be discussed again and again in the Union. There must be no misunderstandings. The way to avoid them is through full and free discussion by the membership.

The next phase of the fight for better conditions in the coal industry will open up in the near future. When it is considered that union organization has come to the coal yards for the first time in Minneapolis, the workers in the yards and on the trucks have no reason to take second place in matters of organization and militant action. They have already conducted one of the best struggles that the city has seen in its labor history. The very nature of the work in which they are engaged gives them a responsible and powerful position in the trade union movement.

These workers have demonstrated their power. They have forced recognition of the union while ON STRIKE, a victory of no mean proportions, in the present state of the local Drivers’ Unions. They have, while in struggle, won the loyal support of the rank and file of the Ice Wagon Drivers Union. This and other advantages must be organizationally consolidated, by welding the drivers’ unions into a more solid unit. Those who oppose progress in this direction must take their place with the forces of reaction.

That this can be accomplished at one stroke, no responsible and experienced worker will contend, but any undue delay in advancing along this road will be costly for the whole movement. To follow up the advantage and achieve the greatest good, means for the membership to ready for further devoted work, to stand ready for further developments. Ready at all times to ‘crack down’ if danger threatens the UNION.

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