Labor Advocate Online

They Made Minneapolis A Union Town—Swear That You Will Keep It That Way
Remarks to
One Day In July
by Dave Riehle

[These remarks were presented at  One Day In July— Remembering 1934 When Minneapolis became a Union Town an event that attracted several hundred participants on July 24. Riehle is Local Chairman of United Transportation Union Local 650 and a labor historian.]

Seventy years ago a group of killers left that building behind you—-the one with the tower and the clock. That was then and is now City Hall and police headquarters. They drove directly down Third Street to this intersection.

At 2:00PM the walls of this brick canyon echoed with the sound of gunshots. When it was over, 67 men lay on this pavement with big, ugly holes in their bodies, with limbs and internal organs torn apart,

Forty-year-old Henry Ness, with a wife and two children, died the next day. John Belor died on August 1st.

Let us pause now for a moment of silence and reflection.

We have come together today to honor our working class soldiers of 1934, to honor their sacrifice, to say to our union brothers and sisters and to this community at large that we stand here on hallowed ground. This is our working class Gettysburg.

We meet here to celebrate the triumph of life over death, of freedom over oppression, and comradeship and solidarity over isolation and fear.

The employers thought they would break Local 574 with terror and bloodshed. They were wrong.

The citizens of this city rose up in their tens of thousands and repudiated this evil assault on innocent working men, fighting with their bare hands to win a better life for themselves ad their families.

Seventy years ago on this very day, July 24, 100,000 residents of Minneapolis turned out for Henry Ness’ funeral and followed his body to Crystal Lake Cemetery on the north side of this city.

Henry Ness did not die in vain. One month later the strike was won. Seven years later the truckers had tripled their wages. Millions of dollars that would have gone into the bank accounts of the employers went instead to working class families.

For three generations we have stood on the shoulders of these men and women of 1934, our grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, neighbors and friends, and we have lived better lives because of their sacrifices.

Now today, the employers want to take it all back. Make no mistake about it; they intend to push us back to the poverty of our grandparents and great-grandparents.

But it is within our power—-within your power to say “No!,” to say as they said in 1934 that by uniting, organizing and fighting for justice that we can build a better world, a world of abundance, free of oppression, violence and scarcity.

The people who fought this great strike were young, like most of you. Like most of you they had never been in a union before. They are speaking to you today, not as old people, but as they were then, full of energy and the conquering sprit of youth.

Look around you at this pavement and think about it as it was on Bloody Friday. Sixty-seven fallen human forms, in agony, with life’s blood draining out of them.

Now think about these silent forms today rising from the pavement and reaching their hands out to you. Their struggle was not for a day, a year or a decade. It was for all time, as all great struggles of working people are and must be.

Reach our your hands to them and let the torch be passed.

Take an oath tonight that you will unite as they did, not in fear, but in confidence and exhilaration in the joy of struggle, and go forward to build a better world for our class, for working people.

We will not forget our martyrs of 1934 and we do not forgive their attackers, or those who stood behind them and gave the orders.

They made Minneapolis a union town. Swear that you will keep it that way.