Minneapolis marks 1934 Teamsters strike

By DAVID JONES and BILL ONASCH

— MINNEAPOLIS — The shots fired by Minneapolis police on Bloody Friday, July 20, 1934, still echo 80 years later for the descendants of Henry Ness. Nine members of the Ness family, including grandchildren, great grandchildren and at least one g-g grandchild, attended events organized this July to honor the sacrifices and celebrate the historic victory of the men and women of Teamsters Local 574.

At least 50 descendants of the strikers participated in one or more of five events last month commemorating the strikes of Minneapolis truckers, including a six-hour Saturday street rally and a family picnic the following day. Responding to an invitation from Teamsters Local 120, the successor to 1934‘s Local 574, the descendants joined the march of hundreds of members of the Teamsters Union on Saturday, July 19, through the Minneapolis Warehouse District to the site of Bloody Friday. That was where strikers Henry Ness and John Belor received fatal wounds from police bullets, and 60 others were wounded, some severely.

The march was led by the iconic Teamster semi-trailer truck seen at innumerable labor rallies in Minnesota, and the Mayday Community Brass Band, playing labor favorites such as “Union Maid,” and “Which Side Are You On?” Inscribed on the side of the Teamster truck are the words of Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party governor Floyd B Olson, “The rights that labor has won, labor must fight to protect.”

On arrival at the site of the police shootings, Teamsters carried an elaborate floral wreath from the truck to be placed on the precise location where Henry Ness fell. A moment of silence was called for and a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” Even the most hardened hearts were moved by the emotion and solemnity of the occasion.
Henry Ness was shot in the back by a police .38 revolver while laying prone on his stomach, as documented by the report of his treating physician. The single bullet entered his lower back and traveled upward, lodging in the frontal part of his chest, near his heart. He died of severe internal injuries, despite desperate efforts to save his life by Dr Herman McCrimmon, who had volunteered his aid to the union.

It is a reasonable presumption that Ness was lying prone to escape police gunfire. Most probably, he had crawled under a vehicle to seek protection from the bullets. Ness was shot about one block from the point where the union’s picket truck had intercepted the police decoy truck. Given all the attendant circumstances, the conclusion is inescapable that he had been shot by a ranking police officer—they would have been the only ones to be carrying pistols—and that the intent was to carry out what was in effect an extrajudicial execution.

Among the events that stood out among those scheduled as a part of this year’s commemoration:
• On Thursday evening, July 17, there was an SRO audience in a big meeting room at the Minneapolis Central Library for a panel discussion, “A Fresh Look at the Minneapolis Teamster Strikes After 80 Years.” Moderated by Peter Rachleff, panelists included Minnesota historian Mary Wingerd, who wrote the introduction to a new reprinted edition of “American City”; William Millikan, author of “Union Against Unions,” a history of the bosses’ nefarious Citizens Alliance; David Thorstad, who became a close associate of Ray Dunne during his final years; and Canadian labor historian Bryan Palmer, author of “Revolutionary Teamsters—the Minneapolis Truckers’ Strike of 1934,” published earlier this year by Haymarket Press. A lively discussion after the presentations was concluded only by the closing of the building.
• The Sunday Family Picnic Gathering, in a lovely setting in Minnehaha Park, appropriately began with a lunch—donated and served by the UFCW. The centerpiece of the program was “Respecting the Descendants.”

There are no known living 1934 Teamsters strikers. But most of those 6000 strikers left behind some progeny. Most might not know of their family connection with this historic struggle, but patient work located dozens who did, and more than 50 were present at the picnic. Each one was introduced, and some made remarks. They were all given a framed design for a memorial marker to be placed at the site of Bloody Friday. No one in the audience could avoid being deeply moved with the honoring of these descendants who were proud of their connection.

Socialist Action photo: Teamster Local 120’s truck joins the July 19 march through the Warehouse District.