Speech of Farrell Dobbs at the funeral of Grant Dunne, one of the legendary Dunne brothers of U.S. Communism and a leader of the 1934 Minneapolis truckers’ strike. A veteran of the First World War and sufferer of what we would now call PTSD, comrade Dunne took his own life on October 5, 1941.
‘Grant Dunne: A Worker-Warrior’ by Farrell Dobbs from The Militant. Vol. 5 No. 42. October 18, 1941.
Speech of Farrell Dobbs, National Labor Secretary, S.W.P., at the funeral of Grant Dunne, Minneapolis, October 7, 1941.
Grant John Dunne was born June 21, 1893, on a farm east of Little Falls, Minnesota. He went through eighth grade in a one-room schoolhouse in the country. Soon after the turn of the century the Dunne family moved to Minneapolis. Grant went to South High school for one year, and then, like so many sons of the working class, had to forego schooling and go to work. He got his first job as a bill clerk for the Railway Express company. During the next few years he held various jobs in Minneapolis.
On February 6, 1918, he was married to Clara Houck. They had four sons, Claire, John, Richard and Russell. Five months after his marriage Grant was inducted into the 3rd Pioneer Infantry, and one month later he found himself in the frontline trenches in France.
His first great lesson in life he learned from the imperialist war, which broke up his life, took him from his wife who was with their first son, and propelled him, untrained, into the maelstrom of war. Grant served in the front line at the Argonne sector from September 26, 1918, to the Armistice.
On the very eve of the Armistice he was transporting munitions to the front lines when he was caught with other soldiers in a terrific explosion at an ammunition dump. Grant sustained a severe case of shellshock. He was hospitalized in France and brought back to the United States on a stretcher.
On October 21, 1919, Grant was released from Fort Snelling with an honorable discharge. His recovery from his war wounds was slow, and he suffered many relapses, especially in the last year of his life when the existence of another World War brought back to him the sufferings he saw and experienced in the first World War.
In 1920 he obtained employment as an office worker in Minneapolis. He was very conscious of the fact that his lack of formal schooling was a handicap, and he took up the task of self-education. Discovering a talent for figures, he immersed himself in the study of mathematics. Later he entered the construction industry, working his way up to the post of executive secretary of a large construction firm, then serving the firm as branch manager in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. Still later, he was employed as an expert estimator with a plumbing supply company in St. Louis, where his expert knowledge of the industry was frequently consulted by others.
A Victim of Capitalism, in Peace and War
Then came the economic crash of 1929. Grant, like millions of other persons, was thrown into the ranks of the unemployed. In 1918 he had been a victim of the first imperialist World War. In 1929 he became an economic victim of that same system that brought about the First and Second World Wars. He searched everywhere for work, but no work was to be found.
In 1931 he brought his family back to Minneapolis. Their savings were gone. The family went on relief.
How did it come about that he and millions of others wanted to work but could find no work to perform? Grant asked himself this question. He again applied himself to study. He found the system of capitalism to be responsible for the great ills of mankind. He found the answer in the working-class movement. He came to understand the need for trade unions and for trade union struggle. He came to see the necessity for working-class political action. Fearlessly he threw himself into the task of building the union movement, of strengthening the workers’ political movement. He devoted the remainder of his years to these tasks. He helped other workers find the solution to their problems.
In 1933 Grant finally landed a job as coal driver. He applied his knowledge. He was one of the pioneers who helped launch the campaign to organize the Minneapolis drivers, who helped build that organization which later came to be known as Local 544.
A Fearless Fighter for Labor
There is scarcely a worker in the city of Minneapolis today who can compare his present wages and conditions with those existing in 1933, without realizing that he has bettered himself to some extent, in some way, thanks to the far-reaching results of the work of Local 574 and later Local 544. The great drivers’ strikes of 1934 drove the Citizens Alliance back into the shadows and lifted the workers to their feet. Grant played a big part in the successful organization of the drivers. Seldom in the forefront, so far as the public was concerned, Grant made heavy contributions to his union. He served it as a skillful organizer. He was especially versatile in committee work. He played a brilliant role in presenting testimony on the workers’ movement and the needs of the workers and the unemployed, to various governmental bodies in Washington. For years he served the Federal Workers Section as its assistant from the General Drivers Union.
Grant would always rise to his fullest stature at the time when his organization was facing its greatest crises.
In the summer of 1934, when Governor Olson’s national guards were on the streets of Minneapolis, were turning loose the trucks with military permits, were breaking our strike, raiding our strike headquarters, arresting our leaders and our pickets, Grant more than any other person helped turn the tide of battle. He appeared before the governor and before the colonels, forcing the release of the arrested union leaders, forcing the guardsmen to evacuate the union headquarters.
All during these years Grant suffered periodically from his war wounds. Often it was hard and sometimes impossible for him to function.
Grant did the greatest individual service for me that anyone ever performed. He picked me out from behind a coal pile in 1933, where I was shoveling coal for 35¢ an hour, bewildered and confused by life. Grant set my feet on the high road of the workers’ political movement.
Grant Dunne’s Greatest Contribution
Grant has started hundreds of other workers on this same path, the only path that leads to the ultimate solution of all our major problems. Grant has opened the eyes of hundreds to the realities of our economic and political system. Through these men Grant Dunne will continue to serve the workers’ movement until the final victory is won. This is his greatest contribution to humanity.
In recent years, Grant has seen the world again enveloped in another bloody war caused by the forces of imperialism. He has seen the heavy hands of Roosevelt press on the working class, smashing at every element of militancy in the movement, driving the masses into war.
Grant had seen the deep injustices committed against his union by Governor Stassen. He had observed the jackal role played by Tobin, betraying the workers as he always has.
Grant saw all the young men of the present generation being shoved into the maw of the war machine. He saw the Roosevelt administration lashing out against the union that Grant belonged to and against the party, the Socialist Workers Party, that Grant belonged to. He saw himself one of the victims of the vicious witch hunts that always precede and accompany imperialist war. The government and the union bureaucrats were persecuting, in Grant, a man who was himself a victim of the First World War.
As Grant saw the approach of America’s entrance into the bloody struggle for markets and colonies and profits, he looked upon his three sons of military age. He thought of the suffering this war might bring to them, as the earlier war had brought to him. He saw his first-born, Claire, a war baby, now grown and about ready to march off to another war.
These sad burdens aggravated the wounds inflicted upon him in mind and body at the Argonne. All of this was more than he could bear.
We are gathered here to say our last farewell to Grant Dunne. We shall cherish his memory. We shall love him for the good he has done. Grant gave all that he had to give to the cause that meant more to him than life itself. He risked his life many times without giving it a second thought. He was a good fighter.
We shall write his name on the banner of his union and his party. And here at his funeral let us strike up once again the forward march to carry that banner onward – in spite of everything – to the final victory of the workers and the free world of emancipated labor.
The Militant was a weekly newspaper begun by supporters of the International Left Opposition recently expelled from the Communist Party in 1928 and published in New York City. Led by James P Cannon, Max Schacthman, Martin Abern, and others, the new organization called itself the Communist League of America (Opposition) and saw itself as an outside faction of both the Communist Party and the Comintern. After 1933, the group dropped ‘Opposition’ and advocated a new party and International. When the CLA fused with AJ Muste’s American Workers Party in late 1934, the paper became the New Militant as the organ of the newly formed Workers Party of the United States.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/themilitant/1941/v5n42-oct-18-1941.pdf