Labor Tension Erupts in Fargo; Milk Drivers Strike
November 21, 1934
North Dakotans have rarely witnessed labor unrest such as that which developed in Fargo over these past months. Milk-wagon drivers who were earning $15 for a 70-to-90 hour week became bitterly disillusioned when local dairies refused to consider a pay increase or shorter hours. The drivers knew that Minneapolis drivers, who were unionized, received $34 for a 48-hour week.
In late 1933 the milk drivers organized Local 173 of the Teamsters Union with 100 members. Diary industry employers flatly refused to negotiate with the union. At this point, Minneapolis-based union officials traveled to Fargo to assist Local 173 in its efforts. Within a month membership zoomed to 700. Again the union demanded negotiation; again the dairies refused the demand. “There is grave danger of a strike here,” commented a Minneapolis organizer. “The bosses have refused to deal with the union although the men are 100 percent organized.” And, the strike came. On November 4 the dairy workers refused to work and began to picket the dairies. Not a truck moved within Fargo and Moorhead. When “scabs” tried to move two milk trucks, five picketers attempted to roll the trucks over. They, along with a Minneapolis labor leader, were arrested for encouraging a riot. Night after night hundreds of workers rallied at the union hall, wildly cheering fiery anti-dairy speeches. Union membership grew to 900.
North Dakota’s governor, Ole Olson, agreed to mediate the strike. When he arrived in Fargo three days ago on November 17 he told a reporter for the North Star Dakotan: “My sentiment, as everybody knows, is for the underdog - for the man who probably hasn’t had much to say about his own destiny.” He did assure the public that he would be fair to both sides.
Within three days Olson settled the strike. The dairies have agreed to pay milk drivers $20 a week plus a 4 percent sales commission, to limit the work week to 48 hours, and to reinstate all strikers.
Olson deserves praise for his role in the settlement. An official of the Farmers Union has summed it up well: “His simple and kindly manner dispelled the mists of hostility and drew the factions together.”
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.