Revolutionary Teamsters

Buy hardcover (Brill)
Published Nov 2016
ISBN: 9789004254206

The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934

Bryan D. Palmer, Trent University

Minneapolis in the early 1930s was anything but a union stronghold. An employers’ association known as the Citizens’ Alliance kept labour organisations in check, at the same time as it cultivated opposition to radicalism in all forms. This all changed in 1934. The year saw three strikes, violent picket-line confrontations, and tens of thousands of workers protesting in the streets.

Bryan D. Palmer tells the riveting story of how a handful of revolutionary Trotskyists, working in the largely non-union trucking sector, led the drive to organise the unorganised, to build one large industrial union. What emerges is a compelling narrative of class struggle, a reminder of what can be accomplished, even in the worst of circumstances, with a principled and far-seeing leadership.

Biographical note

Bryan D. Palmer, Ph.D. (1977), SUNY-Binghamton, is Canada Research Chair in the Department of Canadian Studies, Trent University. His prize-winning monographs, edited collections, and articles on the history of labour and the Left, historiography and theory, have been translated and published in Greek, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and other languages. Among his books are James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928 (2010).


All interested in histories of the United States, Labor, Revolutionary Left, Trotskyism, Social Movements, and the Great Depression. Undergraduate, Graduate, and Activist audiences.


“Brian Palmer’s Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934 offers a detailed and energetic narrative of one of these key [American workers’] strikes [of 1934].”
Social History, Volume 40, Issue 1, 2015, p. 123

“[…] an in-depth study […]
The strength of Palmer’s book is that he understands how much the CLA as a whole contributed to the battle in Minneapolis. Palmer describes the supporting role of local CLA members and chronicles the growth of the local branch in parallel with the union.”
E. Tanner, 4th International Communist League, 19 September 2014

[…] the most detailed account to date of the strategic thinking of Trotskyist militants who organized and led it.
Solidarity, July 2014

“It is the most in-depth and serious study of the 1934 Minneapolis strikes yet published. The book is an invaluable contribution, both to labor history and to the challenges facing the left and the working class today.”
Socialist Alternative, July 13, 2014

“We already have several books on the 1934 Teamster strikes, but Palmer’s is distinguished by its focus on the role of the Trotskyist leadership, that is, on the role of revolutionary socialists in the labor movement.”
Dan La Botz, New Politics, 13 June 2014

Unpublished endorsements:

“Palmer’s superb micro-history of the Minneapolis General Strike provides readers with an unprecedented view of a Depression-era class struggle from the inside out. Revolutionary Teamsters offers invaluable ‘dancing lessons’ — still relevant today — for labour radicals and protest organizers.”
Mike Davis, author of Ecology of Fear, Planet of Slums, and Buda’s Wagon

“A stirring study worthy of the epic struggles it describes. Palmer’s account situates the creativity, seriousness, and heroism of revolutionaries and rank-and-filers in an historical moment while trusting that they speak to our moment as well.”
David R. Roediger, Kendrick C. Babcock Professor of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-author of The Production of Difference

“We live in an era in which most scholarly work is highly specialized. In my fields, it is usually either dense and heavily theorized or it is strategically directed at a popular audience. Revolutionary Teamsters breaks out of this mold. It is a refreshingly “both-and” book in an era of “either-or” books. Bryan Palmer’s text is simultaneously theoretical and empirical. He presents the ideas advocated by the Trotskyist leaders of Minneapolis’ Teamsters’ union in the 1930s, tracing their genealogy back to Trotsky himself and James P. Cannon (about whom Palmer is writing a multi-volume biography), and evaluating the impact of their implementation in the labor struggles of the Great Depression era. To carry out this project, Palmer reveals himself to be equally masterful in the parsing of political and economic theories and in the excavation of the historical archives. The result is not only a fresh look at a critical set of historical events in the history of both the left and the labor movement, but also an invitation to engage in a creative reconsideration of the relationship between the past and the present. Like any really good historian, Palmer reveals himself to be more interested in the future than in the past, and Revolutionary Teamsters will take its readers on an energized, informed, and meaningful journey weaving back and forth between the past, the present, and the future.”
Peter Rachleff, Professor of History, Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota

Table of contents


1. Revolutionary Trotskyism and Teamsters in the United States: the Early Depression-Years
2. The Mass Strike
3. Combined and Uneven Development: Class-Relations in Minneapolis
4. Trotskyists Among the Teamsters: Propagandistic Old Moles
5. January Thaw; February Cold Snap: the Coal-Yards on Strike
6. Unemployed-Agitation and Strike-Preparation
7. The Women’s Auxiliary
8. Rebel-Outpost: 1900 Chicago Avenue
9. The Tribune Alley Plot and the Battle of Deputies Run
10. May 1934: Settlement Secured; Victory Postponed
11. Interlude
12. Toward the July Days
13. A Strike Declared; a Plot Exposed
14. Bloody Friday
15. Labour’s Martyr: Henry B. Ness
16. Martial Law and the Red-Scare
17. Governor Olson: The ‘Merits’ of a Defective Progressive Pragmatism
18. Standing Fast: Satire and Solidarity
19. Mediation’s Meanderings
20. Sudden and Unexpected Victory
21. After 1934: the Revenge of Uneven and Combined Development
22. Conclusion: The Meaning of Minneapolis

Appendix: Trotskyism in the United States, 1928–33