‘The Class War in Duluth’ by William S. Towne from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 8 No. 4. October, 1912.

‘The Class War in Duluth’ by William S. Towne from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 8 No. 4. October, 1912.

THE street car workers revolt in city ruled by the Steel Trust. The masters of Duluth, Minn., have sowed a tempest and now they reap the whirlwind.

Beginning back in 1907 the Western Federation of Miners was driven out of the iron ranges. The same winter the Building Trades were whipped to a standstill by the Real Estate dealers and the Builders’ Exchange. Since then union after union has fought its last fight and gone to pieces. The leather workers, switchmen, bakers, tile-setters, dock- workers and others all crumbled under the fierce attacks of the Duluth Business Men’s Association.

Beginning last spring and following a summer’s revolutionary agitation led by Tom J. Lewis of Portland, Ore., the street car men have grown restless and a strike vote was taken in the Twin Ports. The effort was bungled in the usual A.F. of L. fashion and a promised fight fell through on a promised raise of 10 per cent for all employes who had served over six months.

The middle of July saw a dock workers’ union organized among the freight handlers. A strike was pulled off and in spite of imported strike breakers the men secured a raise in wages and better working- conditions, but the union fell to pieces.

‘Scab. He looks it.’

On September 7th over 400 Finns, Belgians, Scandinavians and Poles walked off the Great Northern ore docks at Allouez Bay, across from Duluth. They were out three days and won their strike for better wages and working conditions.

Like a thunder clap from a clear sky the staid and stable Duluthians awoke Monday morning, September 7th, and found no street cars to haul them down to their jobs.

A few evenings before the strike was called, Ralph Wellington, claim agent, and David Wright, line foreman, invaded the private residence of Alex Peterson, where a meeting of the newly organized street car workers was in progress. These spotters turned into the company the names of nine workers who were fired on Sunday night.

The street car workers demanded their reinstatement and recognition of their union with a ten hour day, and ten walked out. By night 107 had joined them and strike breakers had arrived from Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Duluth is divided into two parts by an enormous point of rocks. The car barns are west about twenty blocks, in a business district, which is also populated by thousands of workers. The majority of these are Scandinavians, hardworking, sober and slow to wrath. However, on Monday evening, September 9th, three thousand working people in this district woke up from their seeming lethargy and proceeded to smash the transportation system. The attack came with such suddenness that it paralyzed the street car officials. Cars were derailed, scabs were shown the error of their ways and the fear of God was put in their hearts.

Tuesday night the workers were on the job stronger than ever. Police were powerless and Chief Troyer threw up the sponge. A few “rioters” were jailed and bound over to the grand jury. Wednesday night, September 11th, the workers boarded the cars and refused to pay fares. This was sabotage on the scabs, as they received $4.00 a day and all over $10.00 in fares. Plain clothes men were everywhere with their black jacks.

Not a striker has been arrested for violence. All damage to property and violence to persons has been done by a sympathetic company. On this night cars were all in the barns by seven o’clock while five thousand working people paraded the west end and not a car rolled along the rails and Duluth is considered the best street car town in the world for its size. The Socialists held the largest street meeting ever assembled on a Duluth street corner and Comrade William E. Towne made the class struggle clear.

The strikers are willing to arbitrate but Supt. Warren says, “Nothing doing.”

Business men are feeling very much hurt because their bank deposits are dwindling. Police seem to be in sympathy with the strikers. Governor Eberhart is out for re-election and cannot see why the militia is needed. Sheriff Menning is also out for re-election and deputies are scarce. Working men have been requested by their bosses to act as deputies but there is nothing doing.

The Superior street car men went out in sympathy and the Twin Cities are on the way.

Billy McWewen, secretary of the State Federation, who “settled” a street car strike in ’99 and who had until lately been favored with political appointment, is working overtime trying to “get right” on this strike.

On Thursday afternoon a meeting of business men, mayors and councilmen forced their resolution demanding that all the old men be put back to work and that the matter be arbitrated. Business men are angry at Warren for refusing to meet his men and steps are being taken to have him fired. Mayor Konkel of Superior, Wis., vows that if the company refuses to arbitrate the city itself will step in and run the car line. Mr. Warren refused to meet the committee of strikers, business men and councilmen.

The Socialist alderman, P.G. Phillips, opposed the arbitration resolution on the ground that it did not protect the men. He was howled and hooted at but held the floor and compelled a hearing.

All attempts have failed to get the men together; the Des Moines, Iowa, proposition will be tried, that is, the courts will interfere, restrain everybody from fighting or striking, take the management of affairs out of the company’s hands, and order the men back to work.

‘Then the court will “order” the parties to arbitrate; again a strike will be “settled” and again the workers will be denied a chance to speak for themselves and deal with the boss direct.

Never before has such class consciousness been manifested in Duluth and while the workers will not gain much if anything, nevertheless the education, experience and class solidarity that has developed and awakened will never be for- gotten. Another summer of agitation and the field will be rotten ripe for a revolutionary working class organization backed by class conscious political parties.

And this strike, mark you, may be won, not by strikers, but by the “direct action” of 5,000 sympathizers.

The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v13n04-oct-1912-ISR-gog-ocr.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s