Lessons from Teamster Rebellion





“To the men and women who gave me unshakeable faith in the working class, the rank and file of General Drivers Local 574.” Farrell Dobbs

So starts the thrilling tale of the confrontation between the ruling class of Minneapolis and rank and file Teamsters in the summer of 1934. Veteran socialists and union organizers, Ray Dunne and Carl Skoglund had begun working in the coal yards of the city several years earlier intending to unionize yard workers and drivers into the Teamsters. If they were successful, they would then begin the process of trying to unionize all trucking and warehouse work in the city and then the upper Midwest. The book describes in detail the obstacles to unionization thrown up by the Teamster union bureaucracy. 

One of the most important features of the book is its description of the key role played by socialists, like Dunne and Skoglund, in the success of the strikes in 1934. The socialists were not only able to help workers adopt highly effective strike tactics like the “flying squads” which shut down attempts to move “scab” trucks, but also to forge key alliances. Local 574 formed an unemployed section so that unemployed workers could be brought into the fight and would not be used by the bosses as a strike breaking force. They worked with local farmers to bring fresh produce and milk into the city and cut across the Minneapolis ruling class efforts to turn farmers against the strike. They involved the families of strikers in the strike commissary, field hospital and distribution of the strike newspaper.    

Local 574 was a profoundly democratic union, with regular mass meetings and constant feedback between leaders and the rank and file. The socialist leadership of the Local knew that the bosses resistance to the workers could only be broken with a movement that was driven from the bottom up and a growing confidence in the rank and files’  belief in their own power. 

They were prepared for most of the political class of the city and state to turn on them, including the Farmer Labor Party Governor, Floyd Olsen. They relied on the tenacity, courage and intelligence of the union rank and file and the solidarity of the city’s working class to win one of the most significant labor battles in the history of the United States.

For socialists, workers and union members who are grappling with how to build a powerful working class movement, Teamster Rebellion is a must read. For workers who are contemplating being part of a strike wave in Minnesota in 2024, for workers at UPS considering going on strike or Amazon workers trying to unionize, for Trader Joe’s and Starbucks workers trying to win their first union contract, Teamster Rebellion is an indispensable tool. On February 22, 2023 Twin Cities DSA will be holding a discussion on the book. Please look for upcoming details.

By Kip H (co-chair of Twin Cities DSA)