Although the strikes of 1934
happened in Minneapolis, they affected many people in our
area who worked in the City. Much of the following
information is from "The Dunne Boys of Minneapolis" by Dale
Kramer, as published in Harpers Magazine, March 1942.
This is a stripped-down account to be sure.
The Dunne Brothers organized a truck drivers' strike in
Minneapolis that shut down commerce for five months and
featured violent confrontations. Brothers Vincent, Miles
(“Mickey”), Grant, and Fenton Dunne were Trotskyites during
the time that Trotsky had split from Stalin after the death
The Communist Party was becoming more popular after WWI, and
although it went underground for awhile in the wake of
action by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (the “Palmer
Raids”), Minneapolis was ripe for labor agitation in the
early days of the Depression. The Gateway had been the place
for laborers to be hired for railroad gangs, lumber camps,
or harvest crews. When those jobs evaporated, some got jobs
in other industries, but the area deteriorated into a skid
row that would persist until urban renewal in the 1950s.
Social unrest was inevitable and there were many political
factions competing for support. Much of the story of the
strike has to do with battles between rival union
organizations as it does the drivers and their employers.
Vincent Dunne had obtained a job “teaming,” which involved
handling horses. He worked himself into the class of express
drivers, “sweeping through the streets ahead of the rest.”
As the brains of the bunch, his efforts were concentrated on
unionizing the teamsters in order to obtain higher wages,
more reasonable hours and better working conditions
The leaders of Local 574, left to right: Grant Dunne,
Bill Brown, Miles Dunne, and Vincent Dunne upon their
release from the military stockade in 1934. Far right is
Communist League of America lawyer Albert Goldman.
The first strike of 1934 started on May 16 and was centered
on the market north of Hennepin Ave. On May 19 the strike
became violent, as strikers battled police
and hundreds of ersatz deputies: “observers gave the edge to
the drivers, but the battle was not decisive.” The battle
caused such a commotion that 25,000 people showed up the
next day to watch the violence, and radio coverage ensured
that everyone could keep score. On one side were 700 police
and about 1,000 deputies – one in a football helmet and one
in his polo outfit. A deputy was found dead, and union members
referred to the skirmish as the “Battle of Deputies Run.”
Governor Olson, a Farmer-Laborite, reluctantly sent State
troops to keep order. Fighting was over by May 22 with
the workers seemingly the victors.
May 19, 1934 - photo from Minnesota Historical Society
The second strike began on July 16. On July 20
(“Bloody Friday”), hundreds of workers gathered
at the intersection of 6th Ave. and 3rd Street No. in
downtown Minneapolis, about where Target Field is today. Chief of Police Mike Johannes (“Bloody
Mike”) ordered police to open fire on a group of strikers who were stopping
a truck. Two men were killed: Local 574 striker Henry
Ness, and unemployed worker John Belor. 67 were injured, most of them
shot in the back. Governor Olson declared martial law.
Funeral procession of striker Henry Ness, July 24, 1934
On July 26 Governor Olson declared martial law and 4,000
National Guardsmen, headquartered at the State Fairgrounds,
patrolled the city. Photo from Minnesota Historical
On August 1, 1934, the National Guard raided strike
headquarters and arrested Vincent Dunne and others, but
backed down and reversed the actions soon afterwards.
Photo from Minnesota Historical Society.
Mediation leaders Father Francis J. Haas and Eugene H.
Dunnigan shared handshakes with Governor Floyd B. Olson
after the strike was settled on August 18. It had
lasted 36 days.
Photo from Minnesota Historical Society.
The Dunne Brothers were charged with sedition in 1940.
Before the trial, brother Fenton had dropped out, and Grant
shot and killed himself. Vincent and 17 others were
convicted of conspiring to undermine the loyalty of U.S.
military forces and publishing material advocating the
overthrow of the Government. They were found not guilty of
sedition. Miles and four others were acquitted of all
counts. Vincent was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Despite
their heavy-handed ways, Minnesota labor leaders credit the
Dunnes with making Minneapolis a union town.
There is much more to the story; the
Labor Standard website can lead you to more sites.
An extremely detailed four-part article written by Ron
Jorgenson in 2009 is posted at the
World Socialist Web Site.
A great site for information about the
labor movement in Minneapolis comes from the Hennepin