Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tom Keegel remembers the 1934 Teamsters strike

There's no one you'd rather hear to talk about the 1934 Teamsters' strike in Minneapolis than Tom Keegel, the former general secretary-treasury of the Teamsters.

Tens of thousands of working people participated in the strike, which began May 16, 1934 and lasted throughout the summer. The Teamsters' strike was one of the main catalysts for the rise of unions in the 1930s. (So were two other strikes, the 1934 West Coast Longshore Strike and the 1934 ToledoAuto-Lite Strike.)

Keegel is a third-generation Teamster who joined the union in 1959 after graduated from high school. And he will tell you, "I love this great union for everything it's done for me and for workers across this country."

The local he joined, Local 574, was the predecessor to his local, Local 544. Keegel got to know truckers who'd been part of the strike, and he got to meet Jimmy Hoffa just after joining. That, he said, set the direction in his life. He became recording secretary and business agent in 1977, secretary-treasurer, joint council president and on March 21, 1999 he took office as general-secretary treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, along with General President Jim Hoffa.

If you've never heard Tom Keegel speak, watch the video. He was speaking last weekend, at a celebration of the 80th anniversary of the 1934 Teamsters strike. "People were hungry and hard and looking for work," he said. He described how the Dunn brothers and Farrell Dobbs organized 10,000 workers.

"We need to commemorate them and honor them  because they had the guts to stand up and take on the fight," Keegel said. Without them, workers wouldn't have health insurance, pensions, holidays or vacations.

"We should never ever take for granted the benefits we have under our Teamster contracts," he said. The anti-union businessmen who lost the strike -- called the Citizens Alliance -- are probably rolling over in their graves because Minneapolis is now one of the best union towns in the country.

As a young Teamster, his steward said to him:
Don't ever forget where you come from, don't ever forget where you're going and by God because you're a union member you got what you got and you need to do that for other people as well.
There's one other thing Tom Keegel said at the end of his speech. If you've ever heard him, you know what it is.