Saturday, May 20, 2006



TEAMSTER REBELLION, Farrell Dobbs, Monad Press, New York, 1972 and TEAMSTER POWER, Farrell Dobbs, Monad Press, New York, 1973.

ORGANIZE WALMART! ORGANIZE THE SOUTH! These are the slogans which outline the tasks that the American labor movement, particularly the organized trade union movement under the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Coalition, need to address. With those tasks in mind it was refreshing for this old militant to re-read Farrell Dobbs’ analysis of the fight to organize the truckers in the 1930’s. These volumes are little handbooks for model labor organizing. Dobbs himself was instrumental in organizing the truckers of Minneapolis in the great strikes in that city in 1934 and as documented here the later, successful organizing of the over the road drivers in the Midwest which created the modern, powerful Teamsters International Union. He was, more importantly, a supporter of what later in the decade became the Socialist Workers Party- American section of the Trotsky-led Fourth International.

Whatever else may be true about Dobbs this man could organize workers. Why? The last sentence in the previous paragraph gives the answer. In the modern labor movement it is not enough to be a militant on the picket line but one must also have a political approach to labor actions. With the merging of corporate and governmental interests on the labor question in the modern state militants better think politically. As the December, 2005 unsuccessful struggle of the transport workers in New York City demonstrates militants better know the enemy and his tactics well. Moreover, these days, unlike in the 1930’s when it went without question by advanced workers, it is as important to know there is an enemy. On the other hand think what it would be like to have a political militant like Dobbs organizing the drivers of those 7000 trucks that Wal-Mart owns to distribute its merchandise. You get my drift. Read what he has to say carefully.

To even introduce this militant labor leader of the 1930’s is to state the fundamental problem of today’s labor leaders. They do not exist in the modern labor movement. Yes, there are militants out there in the rank and file but militant leaders are no longer produced and that is the rub. Unlike the strategy of independent political action which underlined Dobbs’ work the strategy of today’s labor leaders can be summed up in two words- class collaboration. That is a strategy of dependence by the labor movement on the good will of the ‘friends of labor’, essentially the Democratic Party- not to fight for victory in the streets but by what, at times, amounts to parliamentary cretinism. Just start to organize Wal-Mart seriously or organize the South and militants will quickly see who their ‘friends’ are.

The natural audience for this book are today’s labor activists so the reviewer would draw attention to the following issues that Dobbs and his associates had to confront and which militants today will confront in any serious organizing efforts. (1)The role of the labor bureaucracy in limiting the scope of struggle. (2) The role of governmental mediators, courts, legislation and the above-mentioned ‘friends of labor’ in curtailing the struggle. (3) The role of scabs and others, including government troops, who will try to break the up the struggle.

On the positive side- the following should be noted; have your own publicity organ to get out your message; organize other labor and pro-labor sources to assist in strike action; anticipate that governmental and corporate sources will try to ‘freeze’ workers out so have your own transport, commissary and medical operations. Finally, in the words of the old Wobblie (IWW) song by Joe Hill- 'Don’t Mourn, Organize'!!