Meridel Le Sueur 1934

Murder in Minneapolis

Published: New Masses, August 7, 1934.
Transcribed: for in April, 2002.

WITHIN the sound of a gunshot from where I am writing, Chief of Police Johannes’ gun squad is on call; two blocks west the military is massed under the dictatorship of Governor Olson, supplied and instructed in the use of machine guns, gas, vomit gas, and all the instruments for class war; six blocks away, in the center of the business district, in an old garage, opposite a swanky clubhouse, where more money changes hands in a poker game than these men have ever seen, are the striking truckmen, now denied the right to picket, standing in a dark, swarming dive.

But something further has been known in Minneapolis since the strikers on Tuesday buried their dead. Henry Ness, shot down by order of Johannes, stool and slave of the Citizens Alliance, an organization of employers and fascist-minded middle class backed by the two biggest banking interests in the Northwest, a vigilante organization in embryo.

Henry Ness was shot down on Friday, July 20, when Johanne fired into a squad of peaceful picketers who were bare handed, observing Father Haas’s truce while negotiations were under way. Over forty were blasted and turned into sieves by buckshot in the back. Again it has been demonstrated that negotiation and arbitration are paid for by the blood of the workers, the muffling of the strike, and by giving time for the red herring, now rotten and decomposed, to be drawn across the trail.

The Committee of Employers with lying ads in the papers, the Citizens Alliance, the Minneapolis Journal, have held Minneapolis in a barrage of lies, so cunning, so deliberate, and so wholesale that the citizens of Minneapolis, to learn anything of the truth, have had to pass it by word of mouth, and read it in the daily newspaper edited by the strikers themselves.

These practiced liars have stated time after time after-time that the strike was over. For answer the pickets went out by the hundreds, tying up the trucking of the city. (With one exception: the alliance between strikers and the Farmers’ Holiday Associations, by which agreement the farmers bring in their goods unmolested directly to the consumers.)

They stated that 90 percent of their employes had never quit work. As answers thousands massed at strike headquarters, the picket lines grew twice their former size. The unemployed councils swelled the lines. Words, words have barricaded the city, have been a cover for the bloody tactics of feudal capitalists.

There were cries in the press about the small band of strikers who dared dictate who should use the streets, the “insurgents” who forced the policemen to shoot them down along with neutral citizens. There was a great hue and cry about this “small band of insurgents.”

At any dinner table you could hear graduates of Yale and Harvard, supposed repositories of nineteenth century culture, saying they themselves would arm and shoot these men down like rabbits who dared ask for bread.

But when labor buried its dead this was changed. To the amazement of the Minneapolis Journal, the Citizens Alliance, the banks, etc., forty thousand people marched behind that body of Henry Ness, father of four children. Thousands massed the sidewalks.

The Women’s Auxiliary of the strikers marched a block solid, four abreast, with their little children, in the broiling heat, through twenty blocks in the heart of the city, tying up traffic for three hours. There were six blocks solid of marching overalled men. There were cars that took an hour and a half to pass, filled with men, women, children – workers.

From office buildings leaned business men, aghast. “My God,” they asked each other, who are these people?” An official from the City Hall tried to break that cortege and he was repulsed with anger by the young pickets. “You don’t pass the cortege of labor,” they said. “Nobody breaks our funeral line.” And nobody did.

Labor gave its answer to the words of arbitration and negotiation.

Following the refusal of the employers to accept the agreement of the Labor Board which Gov. Olson attempted to force upon the two contending forces, the city is under martial law. There are no signs of the employers agreeing to any settlement. Their attitude is barbaric feudal. Gov. Olson said at the first there would he no picketing and no convoying of trucks except by permit, which admits of wide interpretation. Picketing has stopped entirely, under protest by the strikers, and at the same time more and more trucks are being moved by permit of the military.

The militia patrols the streets, young boys who are startled by their sudden duties. Two commanders have asked to be relieved of their command and it has been granted. Military courts are being set up. The employers are entrenching themselves bitterly. Amidst this stands the old garage of strike headquarters like a live coal on the dark streets, alive with the its closely packed swarm of men. Cars drive slowly by. Big splendid cars with furtive men and women looking out of them at the strikers. The windows of office buildings are filled with eyes. Everyone knows since that funeral that there is a live, ominous force stirring beneath the city, a mass rising beneath them.

This is the power which asks the withdrawal of the militia and calls “General Strike!”

On Black Friday, July 20, Chief of Police Johannes, backed by the Citizens Alliance and the mayor, against the sentiments of the Governor and Father Haas, fired into a bunch of pickets who were totally unarmed, without even sticks or clubs. They fired from all sides into the men as they were picketing the market area in the truck drivers’ strike, shooting with sawed-off shotguns, peppering them with buckshot like rabbits. The murder was deliberately planned. The strike was going peacefully. The Citizens Alliance and the advisory committee to the employers (a high pressure and drawing down a good salary) wanted trouble and wanted to force the hand of the strikers.

Johannes told his men they had shotguns and they knew what to do with them. The Mayor said: “You are not carrying those instruments for pleasure.” Thursday, the day before the shooting, they deliberately tried to provoke strikers into stopping hospital trucks, using a decoy truck. The drama was prepared beforehand, with cameramen and newspaper men present, and an extra was out almost before the event had happened. A convoy was present of a hundred and fifty policemen with guns sticking out of every car. These to convoy a truck with a hundred and fifty pounds of merchandise in it! But the strikers did not fall into the trap.

The next day railroads of armed cops were in the market area. Carloads of pickets matched carloads with them. By noon the market was alive with pickets, sympathizers, cops with guns. It must be remembered that at this time there was presumably a tentative truce while Father Haas was carrying on negotiations. However, the seriousness of arbitration, truces, negotiations as considered by the employers is shown in the Minneapolis strike as clearly as in the Toledo and San Francisco strikes. The employers never have any intention to arbitrate or negotiate.

At two o’clock this bevy of cops prepared to convoy a truck, which was obviously a decoy containing only a few boxes; and amidst a crowd of spectators in a clearing in the street an action took place which should he looked at, ignoring all the fine literature of negotiations. This action reveals the real intention of the reactionary business man, who had given over fifty thousand dollars to break this strike at any cost BEFORE NEGOTIATIONS HAD EVEN STARTED. If this strike wins, they say, Minneapolis will be a closed shop!

The employers’ truck started moving. The picket squad cars drove toward it; the two crashed in the middle of the street. A couple of blocks away summer business was going on, women were shopping. It was two o’clock. The men, obeying the tentative truce, waiting for the tentative and poisonous and futile arbitration, were totally unarmed. They were baredhanded, peacefully picketing. The police opened fire with sawed-off shotguns, splaying a fire of lead and NOT into the sidewalk, or at the feet of the picketers as the papers contended, but into the unprotected vitals of living men coming toward them with bare hands. When the strikers turned for cover they shot them in the back. Henry Ness who died had thirty-eight slugs in his body. He was shot in the chest and as he turned for cover, he was shot again in the back.

In the hot afternoon for five minutes they fired point blank into the bodies of truckmen, most of them trying for cover. The street was littered with bodies. An old man on the sidewalk was seriously wounded, a young messenger boy was shot. Two men were lying in the pickets’ truck, had not even gotten out of the truck, which shows how quickly the police opened fire. Instantly from the picket lines in the face of this fire, which came from BOTH sides of the street and from the center, young pickets rushed forward to pick up their wounded – and were fired upon. The pickets behind them came forward – unarmed men, without compulsion, without orders, advancing again and again in a colossal tide that filled the gap the instant it was opened by a prone man.

The strikers picked up what wounded they could and took them, not to the hospital, but to their own headquarters, where they had set up their own hospital. What wounded men the police picked up were instantly arrested – for violence! A great many of these men were veterans and remarked that even in the war they were allowed to pick up their own wounded.

The wounds from buckshot are most ghastly. One shot splays and splinters the bone instead of penetrating cleanly, and opens the body in a dozen places like a sieve.

One day after the burial of the murdered men, the following communication was sent by the Employers Advisory Committee to Governor Olson:

All Minneapolis business firms are endeavoring to carry on their normal and lawful business, keep thousands of employes at work and preserve and maintain industry in this community.

The truck drivers union, Local No. 574, has arrogantly assumed to control our streets, prevent operation of business, dictate what, if any merchandise can be transported through our streets, and asssumed to block and shut off streets to travel! The Mayor and Chief of Police are doing their duty to uphold their oaths of office and to clear the streets...

We are informed that you are endeavoring to have the Mayor and Chief of Police cease aiding the transportation of merchandise through our streets. Such action only serves to uphold the hands of these law violators by compelling cessation of normal business and yielding to the determination of Local No. 574 to act as the official arbiter of what business shall be permitted to run in Minneapolis.

Father Haas and the committee have submitted arbitration to both sides. Governor Olson waited until noon on Thursday, July 26, before declaring martial law.


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