The first major instance of violence was on May 19 when police attacked a group of strikers who were attempting to stop scabs unloading a truck in the city's market area. The market area became a central location for strike action and violence. Police attacks occurred again on May 21 and 22 when officers and members of the Citizens Alliance advanced on a group of 20,000 workers and supporters trying to stop the opening of the market area.
By this time, many other workers in Minneapolis had followed the Teamsters on strike in solidarity. About 35,000 building workers had walked out in protest of the police violence and many more struck for union recognition.
On May 25, employers in the city accepted many of the striker's demands and worked through other issues with the help of mediators appointed by the governor.
The strikers returned to work, but in a matter of weeks it became apparent that the employers were not abiding by the terms of the agreement. Many union members were fired. Between May and July workers filed more than 700 cases of discrimination. The companies also refused to recognize their agreement to let the union organize inside workers.
The workers again took up the strike on July 17. Three days later, the most violent episode of the strike took place. A large group of unarmed workers were fired on by more than 100 police officers. They had been were lured to a street corner by deputies in a scab truck. The incident became known as "Bloody Friday."
A public commission set up after the strike later testified that "Police took direct aim at the pickets and fired to kill. Physical safety of the police was at no time endangered. No weapons were in possession of the pickets". Two pickets, John Belor and Henry Ness, were killed and the hail of bullets. More than 65 other workers were injured. Many were shot in the back.
The police violence left the working class of Minneapolis stunned, and offers of support and donations flooded in from other unions. Workers took part in strikes to protest the shootings, including a one-day strike of all of the city's transport workers. The Minneapolis Labour Review reported that a crowd of 100,000 people attended Henry Ness' funeral.
Governor Floyd B. Olson immediately declared martial law in Minneapolis, deploying 4,000 National Guardsmen at his disposal. Picketing was banned and scab driven trucks -- issued military permits began to move again.
The union, seeing this as an attempt to break the strike, demanded that all permits be revoked and in defiance of the martial law, the workers vowed again to return to the picket lines on August 1. On the night of July 31, the union headquarters were surrounded and raided by the National Guard troops, who arrested many of the strike leaders.
But rather than hide, the union rank and file called a mass rally demanding the release of the arrested union leaders. Nearly 40,000 people marched on the stockade. The leaders were released and the captured union headquarters was surrendered.
The strike finally ended on August 21. Through mediation, the employers and Citizens Alliance accepted the union's major demands. Elections were held in workplaces and many more workers joined the union. Many workers also later won major pay increases through arbitration.
The Citizens Alliance had been broken, and with it the backbone of resistance towards union organization in Minneapolis. Workers in many other industries began to organize themselves, and the city maintained a strong union presence throughout the 1930's
The strike was instrumental in building a strong union tradition in Minneapolis and across the Midwest, with a writer of the Minneapolis Labour Review later noting that, "The winning of this strike marks the greatest victory in the annals of the local trade union movement ... it has changed Minneapolis from being known as a scab's paradise to being a city of hope for those who toil."
The Minneapolis strike of 1934 is widely seen as a pivotal moment for the Teamsters and for the labor movement. Membership in the union grew as barriers against "non-craft" workers came down. The union also grew in stature, proving to be a powerful force in the labor movement. The outcome of the strike also led to the enactment of legislation acknowledging the rights of workers to organize and bargain, including the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Teamsters and World War II
In times of war, Teamsters have always answered the call to service at home and abroad. During World War I, Teamsters enlisted in the armed forces and helped the military move from cavalry to motorized units. Teamsters not only were skilled drivers, but also were among the few trained to fix motor vehicles of any kind. These skills were crucial in the first battles of modern warfare.
Teamster men and women worked in many capacities on the home front and it was estimated that four out of five Teamsters purchased liberty bonds.
Allied in War Effort
World War II saw an even greater Teamster effort. The Union was an integral part of the Allies' victory in World War II, contributing on the battlefield and on the home front.
In 1942, President Roosevelt asked Teamsters General President Dan Tobin to travel to Great Britain and report back on how British unions were helping to win the war. On his return, Tobin urged the U.S. labor movement to emulate the British approach suspending all labor discord in the face of the Axis' threat to world freedom.
The Teamsters led organized labor in a pledged to refrain from all work stoppages for the duration of the war. Tobin fully subscribed to this policy, maintaining that, "A man who quits work now without the consent and approval of his union -- which he cannot get -- is and should be and will be classed as an enemy of our nation and of our government."
Buy War Bonds
The National Conference of Teamsters was formed to help meet the economic and military crises facing the U.S. by actively promoting war bonds. Teamsters local unions, joint councils, and regional conferences followed suit, raising more than $2 million in war bonds during the first 18 months of the war. And, the Teamsters offered to give the government an interest-free loan of $8 million from its treasury to help win World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt politely declined the offer, but stated, "(Your offer) should be an example to the whole country."
The Teamsters determination to make sure Allied Forces were victorious did not stop there. The union invested 60 percent of its liquid assets in U.S. Treasury bonds during World War II. And it continued to buy bonds as a show of support.
Teamsters General President Dan Tobin summed it up: "We weren't fooling when we told President Roosevelt that all of our assets were behind the government in the war and we weren't fooling when we said this war must be won regardless of cost in men and money. The Teamsters are supplying men and money to the limit of their resources."
The National Committee also organized all kinds of "drives" to help with the war effort, including drives to collect scrap metal and rubber to be used in military supplies. Nationwide, Teamsters took these activities very seriously.
Members of Local 364 in South Bend, Indiana were a perfect example of the Teamster spirit during the war. They collected 2 million pounds of scrap metal from old stoves, fences and other materials that went to the battle fronts in the form of guns, tanks and ammunition. Their effort won national recognition from the War Services Board.
On the Front Lines
By 1942, 125,000 Teamsters were in military operations for the Allied forces. The Allied victory would not have been possible without the Teamsters who drove troops to the front.
Teamster members did not hesitate to volunteer for service after the attack on Pearl Harbor, often going down in groups with other members from their locals to sign up together. They served in every branch of the armed forces, engaging in everything from building the Burma Road and implementing the Red Ball Express supply line in France, to landing on the beaches of Normandy.
Teamsters won scores of medals for bravery and dedication to duty in all times of crisis, including three members who received the highest honor, The Congressional Medal of Honor. Gen. George Patton, Gen. Omar Bradley and the Allied Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower all commended the Teamsters for their dedication, skill and service in the armed forces.
Teamsters at Home
As in WWI, Teamster women did their part for the war effort too. Women took on many jobs previously held only by men and proved they could hold their own in any work setting. They did every job given them and did them well. Teamster women also served in the women's branches of the military at posts in the United States and overseas. Many employers were sorry to lose the women workers when they gave up their jobs to the returning veterans in 1945.
Following the war, the IBT made sure all Teamster veterans kept their seniority when they returned from the war and went back to work. The Teamsters were one of the only groups to do this for their members. A decade-long national campaign, "Have It Delivered," promoted Teamster freight and delivery services, creating more jobs for members returning after wartime service.
Intense organizing campaigns in booming post-war industries such as the automotive trades, food processing, dairy, and workers servicing vending machines were also used to create more Teamster jobs.
The Teamsters have continued to serve their country in many ways in times of war and national crisis. Our members have served honorably in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. Local and Joint Councils continue to support and aide soldiers and veterans as well.
Currently the Teamsters support a program called Helmets to Hardhats, a training program helping returning vets find jobs in the construction industry.
Master Freight Agreement
January 15, 1964 became a monumental day in Teamsters history when the first National Master Freight Agreement was signed in Chicago. This contract would provide solid, standardized protection and benefits to more than 450, 000 over-the-road and local cartage drivers across the country.
The contract, which was described as an impossible task by critics and friends of labor alike, was a milestone for labor unions everywhere. James R. Hoffa, architect, chief negotiator, and overall firestorm of energy behind the agreement, considered this the crowning achievement of his tenure with the Teamsters.
A Dream Becomes Reality
The NMFA of 1964 brought more workers into the middle class than any other single event in labor history. Hoffa was determined to improve the standard of living for workers, and increase respect for "non-craft" laborers such as over-the-road drivers.
The agreement was the first step in a larger dream to nationalize union contracts. And it revolutionized the way in which goods of all types were moved across the country.
Over-the road and cartage drivers -- empowered through economic gains, stability, and a strong Teamsters Union -- became a force in America's political landscape. Political leaders began to realize the concerns and interests of this group must be recognized, as they could easily mobilize into a formidable voting block as never before imagined.