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What’s the Situation?

V.R. Dunne Interviewed

(November 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 44, 3 November 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

MINNEAPOLIS – Those readers of Labor Action who have followed closely the valiant struggle of Local 544-CIO for its existence as perhaps the most outstanding militant and progressive union in the country, will be interested to know whereat stands today. V.R. Dunne, one of its prime leaders, gave me a brief interview which, while by no means giving a complete or detailed picture, indicates the present state of affairs.

Ray Dunne is, without question, one of the outstanding leaders of the American labor movement. His name, as I have had occasion to find out, is practically a household word in Minneapolis. The old guard, reactionary AFL Tobin men and the Stalinists hate and fear him intensely. But they all grudgingly admit his ability. Were it not for his unswerving devotion to the principles of socialism, he would readily be accepted by the official labor leaders as “one of the boys.” As it is, he is primarily responsible, through his patient, skillful work and his militant working class policy, for smashing the open shop in Minneapolis, for building the powerful teamster movement in Minneapolis as well as in the adjoining states.

Dunne began by telling of the background of the case with which most Labor Action readers are familiar: Tobin’s move against No. 544 and his attempt to destroy its democratic rights; the vote of No. 544 to join the CIO; the importation by the AFL of several hundred Tobin goonsters, hopheads and rapists in order to intimidate the men; the outrageous decision handed down by Governor Stassen’s labor conciliator, Blair, which denied the teamsters the rights to an election and awarded exclusive bargaining rights to Tobin; and finally the government indictments.

“What is the present state of affairs?” I asked.

“I think it is difficult for you, without a first-hand acquaintance, to understand what’s going on. There are 5,000 teamsters. The overwhelming majority support us; they voted with us at the meeting where we decided to leave the AFL. Yet due to the fact that Labor Conciliator Blair awarded bargaining rights to Tobin, the men are forced to belong to the AFL union, for the most part, if they want to continue working. We’ve appealed the case and it comes up for review in Ramsay County on November 29.”

“What happens afterward if the legal appeals open to you are denied?”

“That question can’t be answered since it is so indefinite. It depends on what happens at the CIO convention, to what degree the various pro-war and anti-militant forces in the CIO can carry the day; it depends on what happens to the movement to unify the CIO and AFL; it depends on what happens to the war drive.”

“Are you getting support from the CIO and from the United Construction Workers Organizing Committee?”

“As much as they can give us. You probably know that A.D. Lewis is tied up in a lot of other situations, like the Currier case in Detroit, and a whole series of other fights, and the UCWOC is not as liberally supported as some of the other new unions were. But we are getting national support from them, as well as from numerous individual teamsters in Tobin’s union. The Stalinists, who control the local CIO council, are of course fighting us tooth and nail – a beautiful sabotage job on their part – and in the Teamsters Union they’ve come out for support of Tobin, critical support to be sure.”

“What is the work of Local 544-CIO at present?”

“First, appealing the reactionary Blair decision. If we can only get a democratic election among the teamsters, we’re on our way. In the meantime, the AFL has the contracts. We’re carrying patient organizational and propaganda work through our staff and press, for which we’re putting on a special drive.”

“In other words, the Blair decision gives the Tobin crowd control of all the union members?”

“Yes. But the men vote with their feet. Not more than 125 attend union meetings. We are in very close contact with the drivers who still consider us the legitimate union.”

“The AFL has claimed that you could get only 170 witnesses to the state labor hearing and that most of them have since joined the AFL. They say that these men came from only a few shops.”

“They came from the biggest and most representative shops. It was the most impressive labor hearing I’ve ever heard. But the AFL didn’t put up one rank and file member as their witness, only the leaders. Of course, many of the witnesses have since joined the AFL. When a squad of Tobin goons come abound and say: Sign, and when their blackjacks are backed up by the fact that they have bargaining rights and therefore control the jobs, there’s little else the men can do except sign. But we are absolutely certain the men support us.”

“The AFL is raising a big rumpus about how you fellows can’t pay wages to your staff as proof of your lack of support.”

“Well,” smiled Dunne, “the only kind of a union those fellows can imagine is one where the leaders get paid. That’s its main purpose, in their eyes. It’s true that our organizers are not getting paid. When you have a union which needs organizers and business agents to check up on every detail and fight with the boss on the contract and similar things, then you need a large, paid staff. But now we don’t. As a matter of fact, 544 was built on the basis of an unpaid staff of volunteer, full-time organizers and afterward, when the union consolidated and established itself it put on some full-time organizers. But the Tobin boys can’t understand that – it’s too radical for them.”

“Some people here with whom I’ve spoken, who say they’re friends of 544, believe it would have been wiser to have knuckled under to Tobin in order to avoid this situation,”

“That’s the typical attitude of an opportunist,” answered Dunne. “There are, of course, certain compromises which are necessary in the trade union movement, but to compromise here would have meant to surrender, to give up the democratic rights of the local and to betray the members. We don’t intend to do that.”

“Suppose the defendants are convicted, how will that affect the union?”

“It will be a severe blow, of course, since they’ve indicted almost the entire union staff. But I think that we’ve got a pretty good chance to win our case since, first, we’re innocent of the charges and, second, the tide of public opinion seems to be turning toward us. In my case, I’m absolutely convinced that 544-CIO can go on.”

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