Felix Morrow

Labor in Northwest Rallies to
Local 544 in Court Defy

Militant Stand of Drivers Union Wins Thirty-Day
Stay of Court Order to Open Books for Bosses

(August 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 33, 13 August 1938, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

MINNEAPOLIS. – On Thursday, July 28, District Court Judge Frank E. Reed ordered General Drivers Union Local 544 to surrender all its records for inspection, photographing, etc. to five finks who, having brought suit against the union, petitioned the court to enable them to examine all records the better to prepare their case.

On Friday, August 5, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Andrew Holt signed a writ of certiorari, automatically holding up execution of Judge Reed’s order for thirty days. At the end of that time, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not it will review Judge Reed’s order.

Judge Holt is one of the most reactionary figures on the Minnesota Supreme Court. That he signed the writ is to be explained by what happened in the eight days after Judge Reed’s order was issued.

The timing of the issuance of Judge Reed’s order was shrewdly calculated. Since it appeared in the morning papers, it must have been in the editorial offices Wednesday night – the night of the bi-weekly meeting of the Central Labor Union and the night when the two labor papers, the Northwest Organizer, organ of the Teamsters Joint Council, and the Labor Review, organ of the central labor body, go to press. Publication of Judge Reed’s order on Thursday morning gave the reactionaries the longest possible time before the labor movement would swing into action. Wave of Reaction

Judge Reed’s decision could only be understood, not as an isolated incident, but as one aspect of a growing wave of reaction in Minnesota. During the past year, the signs have multiplied of growing desperation on the part of Minnesota’s employers and bankers; and the seeds of reaction they are sowing have found fertile soil. Big Business hates the Farmer-Labor administration of Governor Benson and threw support to Hjalmar Petersen in the vain hope that he would defeat Benson in the primaries, split the Farmer-Labor forces and assure a reactionary Republican victory. Vile anti-Semitic propaganda about Benson’s “Jewish advisers” was unleashed in the countryside, as well as portraying Benson as dominated by racketeering labor leaders.

Many farmers and small business men, impoverished, promised nothing substantial by Benson – who in national politics hangs on to the New Deal and who therefore does not criticise the New Deal’s farm program and its failure to ease the burden of small home owners, etc. – listened to the anti-Semitic voices of reaction and voted against Benson.

Boss at Fascist Meeting

Benson’s primary victory has only driven Big Business more desperate than ever. Imagine the chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers participating in a fascist meeting! Yet precisely this happened on a local scale the night after Judge Reed’s decision, when George K. Belden, head of the Associated Industries, took part in a Silver Shirt meeting. When his presence there was exposed a few days later, he naturally explained he was there merely out of curiosity and that some of his best friends were Jews – but there is a real index to the desperation of Minnesota’s capitalists.

In no other part of the country are the Silver Shirts as active and as well-financed. The meeting which Belden attended was semi-public – admission by invitation only but publicly announced – and the crowd of between four and five hundred were first properly inflamed by anti-Semitic propaganda and then called upon to organize armed raids upon Local 544’s union hall. Only four days later, a second Silver Shirt meeting was held.

Drive on 544

Meanwhile, another arm of reaction, the “Associated Council of Independent Unions,” known to be financed not only by the local Associated Industries but by national manufacturers’ groups, maintains a considerable and well financed apparatus warring against the bona fide unions. Having failed in its attack on Drivers Local 544, the “independent unions” appear to be concentrating their fire at present on the building trades unions. Among other moves, it is now attempting a frame-up against Walter Prank, leader of the lathers, against whom a fink swore out a warrant charging burglary.

It was in this atmosphere of desperate reaction that Judge Reed struck at the most powerful and most militant of Minneapolis unions, the General Drivers Local 544.

It was clear to all except cowards and traitors that if Local 544 obeyed Judge Reed’s order, it would mean the decisive turn in the battle. Four years of onward marching of the unions since the great 1934 strikes would be turned into a disorderly retreat. Judge Reed had to be challenged in a head-on collision.

Union Defies Judge

And that is just what was done! After the most careful preparation, the Executive Board of Local 544, on Tuesday morning, August 2, handed to the press a 3,000 word statement challenging Reed’s order. The statement exposed the plaintiffs who had secured the order as agents of the Associated Industries. It sharply attacked the judge for not sending alleged union members back to the tribunals of the trade unions to hear their cases first, as even the settled law of the land requires. Finally, it pointed out the irremediable damage to the union which would result from surrendering its innermost secrets to agents of the employers and made clear that the union stood ready to fight Judge Reed’s order.

With Local 544 the outstanding union, not only of Minneapolis, but also leader of the North Central Area drivers’ movement, that statement was news! All three Minneapolis dailies carried the full text and gave it the day’s headlines. Wherever one went that day, there was only one subject of conservation uppermost – 544’s case against Judge Reed. Labor Movement Rallies

Meanwhile, the trade union movement was being mobilized. The Teamsters Joint Council, constituted by ten drivers’ unions and the direct superior of Local 544, backed it in its stand and its organ, the Northwest Organizer, made that abundantly clear. The Minneapolis Labor Review, organ of the central body, came out on Thursday with flaming headlines in defense of 544 and a slashing editorial attack on Judge Reed. Across the river, the organ of the St. Paul unions, the Union Advocate, ordinarily none too friendly to the “radical Minneapolis drivers,” gave its headlines and full space to the complete text of the 544 statement.

With the unions so aroused, even the timid Minnesota Leader, organ of the Farmer-Labor party, felt called upon to publish a favorable story, though there were many sighs and groans on Capitol Hill about what the fight might do to Governor Benson’s chances of election.

So far as the purely legal aspects of the case went, Judge Reed’s order was an “interlocutory decree” and if so defined, not appealable. Nor need one doubt that, in the ordinary course of events, any attempt to bring Reed’s order before the Supreme Court would have been refused by the august judges.

But in the eight days after Reed’s order had been published, the entire labor movement had been aroused. If nothing else intervened, there would be an immediate showdown: Judge Reed would have to try by force and jails to enforce his order against 544. And with an aroused and organized movement, that would mean a gigantic collision of the opposing class camps.

What to do? How far can the reactionaries go? They probably haven’t decided, and much of their decision will depend on whether the labor movement remains aroused to the danger. Meanwhile, however, a reactionary judge has stayed execution of Judge Reed’s order. The ensuing thirty days can be turned to good advantage by the labor movement in mobilizing its forces for future eventualities.

Last updated on 5 May 2018