Minneapolis Teamsters Strike

How to Win Strikes (By Harry DeBoer) 2006 Introduction

To order DeBoer's full booklet, please visit Wellred, USA.

Harry DeBoer was born in 1903 in Crookston, MN.  In the early 1930s he began working in the coal yards in Minneapolis and became part of the initial organizing committee that led the famous Teamsters' truckers strike in 1934.  DeBoer is credited with developing the "cruising pickets", a tactic that successfully stopped scab trucks.  Other leaders, with whom DeBoer worked closely, included Carl Skoglund, Vincent R. Dunne, and Farrell Dobbs.  All were members of the Communist League of America (the precursor to the Socialist Workers Party).
DeBoer remained true to his principles throughout his life, and in his later years counseled many young trade unionists on labor issues and strike strategy.  The following essay captures with crystal clarity the lessons that DeBoer and his revolutionary comrades learned from years of experience.  It serves as a beacon of light for the working class today in its struggle to abolish exploitation and establish a genuinely free society.
It is crucial to note that DeBoer's strategical orientation stands directly opposed to the operating assumptions of today's labor bureaucrats who simply accept capitalism as an unalterable given and strive to proceed within its restricted framework. As long as one believes that capitalism is the best of all possible economic systems, one is left with the dubious conclusion that what is good for the capitalists must thereby be good for the workers.  This so-called partnership between labor and the employers has spawned its own perverse logic:  If the capitalists must cut labor costs in order to remain competitive and stay in business, the workers must be prepared to accept concessions.  After all, a low paying job, the bureaucrats insist, is better than no job at all.  Therefore, the position of the union officialdom boils down to this:  the interests of the workers must simply be subordinated to the interests of the employers who in turn are compelled to make what they deem are reasonable profits.
This basic operating assumption on the part of the labor bureaucrats is accompanied by the conviction that the capitalists are much more powerful than the workers.  After all, they control the vast amount of wealth in the country, not to mention both major political parties.  With this defeatist outlook, the union bureaucrats are convinced that virtually any attempt by workers to improve wages and working conditions will inevitably be doomed to failure.  Instead of leading struggles, they are content to funnel millions of union dollars to one of the two major political parties of the employers, namely the Democratic Party, a party that is entirely dedicated to the proposition that what is good for corporate America is good for the rest of us.
This entire strategical framework leads to a self-fulfilling prophesy:  workers will surely lose every struggle as long as they are led by union officials who are convinced that winning is impossible and who advocate class collaboration with the employers.
But the consequences of this strategical orientation have been nothing short of disastrous for the working class.  With corporations searching for the cheapest labor on the planet, millions of jobs in the manufacturing sector have migrated overseas, leaving stranded workers with little choice but to take minimum wage jobs in the other sectors.  And those workers who have succeeded in clinging on to their jobs have nevertheless watched their standard of living veer into a nose dive.  In 1970, for example, the average CEO made 40 times as much as the average worker.  By 2000, they made over 400 times as much.
But, as Karl Marx argued, these grim results were entirely predictable, given the nature of capitalism.  Every business, simply in order to survive, must maximize its profits.  If one capitalist succeeds in discovering a more efficient production process so that costs are reduced accordingly, then this saving can be used to reduce the price of the finished product.  Consumers will naturally prefer this product over the more expensive variety sold by the competitors so that the latter will soon find themselves without customers and out of business.  There is a simple moral to this story:  capitalists must place the highest priority on reducing production costs, which include the cost of labor.  Otherwise they cannot survive as capitalists because higher wages necessarily translate into lower profits.  Therefore, the alliance forged by the labor officialdom with the capitalists has only translated into their unrelenting demand on the working class to accept concessionary contracts in order to keep the capitalist in business.
Capitalists have clearly developed their own class struggle strategy:  they are resolved to keep labor costs to a minimum.  DeBoer's essay was written with the idea in mind that workers need a class struggle strategy of their own, one that is based on the fact that the interests of the workers and the employers are diametrically opposed and that one must be prepared to fight for an increase in wages at the expense of profits. 
This orientation proceeds from the conviction that an economic system that sacrifices the well-being of the vast majority of the population so that a small minority can reap enormous profits is unfit and unworthy of our allegiance.  It also embraces the simple point that capitalists cannot survive without workers, but workers can quite easily survive without capitalists and that the working class can thereby wield tremendous power when it acts in solidarity and with a united purpose. 
This means that the working class must reject the dead-end approach of the current labor officialdom and forge a new leadership, one that is steeled in the conviction that a partnership between workers and their employers is impossible, that conflict is inevitable, and that the interests of the majority must take precedence.  Such a leadership would encourage mobilizing all the various components of the working class into a political movement that unites the whole working class and its allies in everyone's common interests. 
In the final analysis, this would necessarily take the form of a mass labor party.  If workers are to be victorious, a political struggle is required, first to win over the majority of working people to a class struggle perspective and then for workers to lead all those who are oppressed by the capitalist economic system in a common struggle for a socialist future where society will be governed by the majority in the interests of the majority.

If this sounds like a worthwhile struggle, then join the Workers International League (WIL) so we can build a socialist future together.

To order DeBoer's full booklet, please visit Wellred, USA.
Minneapolis Teamsters Strike


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