Women and Marxism - Class Struggle

Women Active on firing line

From: "The 1934 Minneapolis Strike"

Source: From Revolutionary History, Vol 2 No.1, Spring 1989. Used by permision.
Transcribed and HTML Markup: Sally Ryan for The Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The Minneapolis strikes of 1934 have always occupied a special place in the historical understanding of the Trotskyist movement, as they were the first clearly documented demonstration of the ability of a small Trotskyist organisation to make the breakthrough into the broader labour movement, and to lead one of its sections to victory. Along with the Toledo Auto-Lite struggle and the San Francisco General Strike, they formed part of the revival of the industrial militancy of the working class of the United States from the depths of the slump. They have always been regarded as a model by Trotskyist organisations throughout the world.

We reproduce a series of extracts taken from the American Militant of 2 June 1934 (vol vii, no 22 -- whole no 226), and a speech made in 1952 by Carl Skoglund,'The Story of Minneapolis', which first appeared publicly in the March 1984 issue of Socialist Action, the paper of one of the groups supporting the United Secretariat of the Fourth International in the USA.

The implications of these strikes cannot all be pursued here. Farrell Dobbs' own account is set out in his book, Teamster Rebellion, New York, 1972, and the comments of James P Cannon in Notebook of an Agitator, 2nd edition, New York, 1973, pp 75-94, The Communist League of America 1932-34, New York, 1985, pp 328-340 and the chapter on 'The Great Minneapolis Strikes' in The History of American Trotskyism, 2nd edition, New York, 1972, pp 139-168. A cursory treatment is to be found in Constance Ashton Myers, The Prophet's Army, Westport, 1977, pp 77-82. Carl Cowl offers his own reminiscences in Ceri Jones' 'Minneapolis 1934: An Upsurge in Confidence' in Socialist Worker (9 October 1982), and Jake Cooper and Harry DeBoer in 'Minneapolis 1934', in the American Socialist Action, July 1984).


Women Active on firing line

When the General Drivers' Union made a strong appeal to the wives of their members to aid in every way possible, they met with a response they had not dreamed of. Women came to Strike Headquarters, ready and willing to do any kind of work assigned them. Girls trained in office work took over the routine work. Others gave their heart and soul to the feeding of hungry droves of men.

Women pickets took up the cause on the line of battle. Three of our women were seriously injured in riots with police. One's life was despaired of for several days. Another was taken to the hospital with a very seriously fractured ankle. She is at present confined to her bed, and will be there for some time to come.

Still another was so badly beaten in the Tribune riot that all old operation lesion opened up, and there is danger of internal hemorrhages. Still another was beaten across the arm with a billy. She is still carrying her arm in a sling.

Another interesting angle to this situation was brought out when sympathisers began to offer their services. One young woman, a graduate of the University who had specialised in sociology came down to offer her services. She felt that the power of the women had not even been felt in this class struggle. A young couple, friends of the other girl, offered their services. Using these three as an advisory council, the officers of the auxiliary started to raise money.

A committee, composed of Mrs Grant Dunne as president of the auxiliary and Mrs Farrell Dobbs, as secretary, these three friends, and two other women not connected with the union, met at four o'clock one afternoon. The next night at midnight the auxiliary had in its Commissary Relief Fund, $416.70. The necessity of feeding the families of the men on strike until they would again be able to draw wages was brought home to us very forcibly during the last few days.

The newspapers of Minneapolis, being the instrument of the Citizen's Alliance, were muzzled to such an extent that no news in favour of the strikers was ever published. To attempt to counteract this state of affairs, the women organised a mass demonstration. We marched from the Auditorium on Grant and 14th Streets straight down Nicollet Avenue. Led first by four women carrying our banner, followed by about 500 women, many of them sympathisers, we broke every traffic rule in Minneapolis. Crowds gathered along the sidewalk and followed the procession to the court house.

We marched straight to the mayor's office. A committee entered to present our demands upon the mayor or his emissary -- Mr Guise. The gentlemen were not in. in fact Mayor Bainbridge was in his usual position -- home in bed ill. Mr Guise would be in by 2 pm. It was then about 12:30. The committee decided to wait.

The women, quiet and orderly during the whole proceedings, suddenly were infuriated by something. Inquiry disclosed that the chief of police had thought it smart to parade a batch of his special deputies down the same corridor the women were waiting in. Only quick thinking on the part of the committee saved those deputies from being very badly hurt.

The mayor's secretary arrived in surprisingly short time. The committee waited upon him. They got just what they expected -- nothing. The demands were the immediate removal of Chief Johannes, the removal of all special deputies, and no further interference with pickets. The committee then left. The crowd was addressed by Frieda Charles, and dispersed in an orderly fashion.

In closing let me emphasise again. Let your women work in this class struggle. Their place is right along side of the men, shoulder to the wheel, fighting for their birthright. The Women's Auxiliary of General Drivers' Union No 574 has set an example which we hope will be followed by the working class women throughout the nation.

Auxiliary Member