Being committed to a movement which has not yet come into its prime–the fatherhood movement–I’m sometimes interested in the stories of the unlikely successes of other social movements.
One of the biggest underdog movements in history to succeed, though we don’t talk about it much, is the industrial labor movement.
Most of the big industrial unions were built during the 1930s, under conditions which, in retrospect, seem mind-boggling. It was done amid massive unemployment and widespread poverty. Unionists had to face off against unscrupulous, lawless bosses and their violent hired thugs, as well as hostile and sometimes violent police. Workers utilized strikes, sit-downs and other methods to build strong, vibrant labor unions. I think one could fairly say that, given what these men achieved, it is impossible to ever claim that any reasonable movement cannot succeed.
One of the key battles in the rise of the labor movement is the famous Teamsters strike in Minneapolis in 1934 (pictured). There striking workers and their supporters squared off against police and company-hired thugs in what’s known as the “Battle of Deputies Run.” At the time, truck drivers worked a six day, 60 hour week for less than $75 a month. They had little or no pensions, benefits or workplace safety protections. According to the New Deal Network:
“In Minneapolis and St. Paul the traditional open shop [anti-union] labor principle was militantly maintained until 1934. Then, in May of that year, Local 574 of the Teamsters’ Union ordered a strike and promptly paralyzed the trucking industry in Minneapolis.
“The highlight of the strike was the battle in the market district, where between 20,000 and 30,000 people watched or participated in what became known as the ‘Battle of Deputies Run.’
“Pickets, police, and deputized businessmen joined the conflict in which two of the citizens’ army were killed and scores of strikers wounded. Complaining that no settlement of the larger issues had been attained, truckers struck again in the following July. This time the killing of two pickets and the wounding of 48 brought martial law. Well organized and supported by several farmers’ organizations, the union finally achieved a substantial advantage.”
The victory secured Minneapolis as a union town and brought great benefits to working class families. And no, the subsequent degeneration and corruption of the Teamsters does not diminish what the 1934 strikers accomplished.