Minneapolis 1934 Strike Revisited
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/07/2014
Year Published: 2014
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20789
A book review of "Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers' Strikes of 1934" by Bryan D. Palmer.
Few events loom larger in the history of the U.S. Trotskyist-influenced Left than the Minneapolis truck drivers strikes of 1934. While often cited within mainstream labor historiography in conjunction with the San Francisco general strike and Toledo Auto-Lite strike as the opening salvos of the working-class upsurge of the 1930s, the Minneapolis strikes take on an outsized role in the Trotskyist imagination.
Here was a case where a movement often forced to struggle at the margins was able to take center stage. While leftists of various stripes have led many working-class struggles, the Minneapolis truckers' strikes are among the only cases in U.S. labor history where Trotskyists led a major battle.
Thus, the Minneapolis truckers' strikes serve as a touchstone for what appears possible when Trotskyists are in charge: With the right leadership, the right strategy, the right combination of revolutionaries and organic working-class militants, the case of the Minneapolis truckers shows that real working-class power is more than a pipe dream. In scientific terms, it provides a proof of concept. In psychological terms, it provides a reason to keep fighting.
Understanding why the Minneapolis truckers' strikes succeeded therefore remains more than an academic exercise. It offers valuable lessons for building a powerful working-class movement. This is particularly the case for those who identify with the Trotskyist tradition, but it also holds more generally for those who seek to build a stronger and broader labor Left.
In studying the strikes, we see the key role not only of an organized Left leadership, but one embedded within the rank-and-file membership. We see the transformative effect of struggle on ordinary people's sense of what is possible. We see the necessity of dense organizational networks to transmit information between the leadership and membership, develop assessments of quickly changing events, and formulate effective tactical responses.
Importantly, we also see how key it is to retain democratic practices even in the midst of relentless attacks and changing events, precisely at those moments where many argue that discipline and expediency must take precedence over democracy.