St. Paul unions urged public boycott of ‘Nazi-made’ goods 75 years ago

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A cartoon from the Dec. 8, 1938 Advocate, entitled “Ajax defies the lightning,” reveals growing concerns about German aggression.

Three years before the attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the U.S. into World War II, American union members declared economic war on Nazi Germany.

Unions in St. Paul scrambled in December 1938 to coordinate a local boycott of German goods after American Federation of Labor President William Green, speaking to a nationwide audience on CBS Radio, called upon union members to “intensify their militant action against the Nazi dictatorship until its victimization of the Jews is terminated.”

In fact, German goods had been on the AFL’s boycott list since 1933. The Union Advocate, in its Dec. 8, 1938 issue, noted one of Hitler’s first acts after the Nazis seized power was to arrest and imprison labor leaders.

But Green’s speech on CBS ramped up efforts to build support for the boycott among the general public, and labor leaders in St. Paul heeded the call.

The St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly named a committee to formulate plans and methods to make the boycott effective locally, The Advocate reported on Dec. 15.

“The action of the Assembly grew out of a resolution offered by Max Flushman calling attention to the vicious persecutions of Jews, Catholics, Masons and trade unions in Germany and seeking the co-operation of Labor in protesting the German atrocities.”

[The Union Advocate’s “This Month in the Archives” feature offers a look back at what the newspaper was reporting from 5 to 100 years ago. Our digital archives are online, searchable and free to anyone. Click here for access.]

100 Years Ago: Streetcar company draws rebuke

Want to operate your streetcars on public streets? Then you’re going to have to respect your workers’ rights.

That’s the standard labor unions in St. Paul asked elected officials to uphold in dealings with Twin City Rapid Transit after hearing reports the company was denying its workers living wages, reasonable hours and the right to organize.

The Dec. 19, 1913 edition of The Union Advocate reported the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly passed a resolution putting the streetcar company in labor’s crosshairs.

“The cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis have from time to time granted said corporation the use of their streets free of charge,” the resolution said. “Said company has, through its policy of preventing the organization of its employees, been able to pay the very cheapest wages, work its men long hours and grant them the poorest conditions.”

Unions called on lawmakers to refuse the company “any more favors or the use of any more streets” until the streetcar company ended its campaign to prevent workers from organizing for “such conditions as will enable them to better their condition and give their families greater opportunities for advancement and the enjoyment of a few of the good things of this world.”

50 Years Ago: Skill survey controversy

Chamber of Commerce groups on both sides of the Mississippi drew ridicule from organized labor in December 1963 for their refusal to endorse participation in a Twin Cities-wide employment-skills survey being conducted by the Minnesota Department of Employment Security.

The chambers argued participating in the survey might put businesses at risk of revealing sensitive information – an argument The Advocate called “unfounded” and “bordering on the preposterous” in a scathing Dec. 26 editorial.

“There are many special occupations in which the supply of workers is far short of meeting the demand,” The Advocate editorial argued. “And it is to find the answers to the questions of what skills are needed that the Twin Cities skill survey is being made.

“One Chamber of Commerce objection was that it opposed the study because it concentrated in the area of skilled and technical jobs, rather than unskilled jobs.

Has anyone heard of a great and growing demand for UNskilled workers? Does this objection by the Chamber make sense to you?”

10 Years Ago: ‘Do you hear what I hear?’

Walker Methodist Health Care Center was the Grinch, but members of Local 34 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees weren’t about to let management steal Christmas. They caroled outside the care center in December 2003 at the start of a five-year struggle waged by about 400 workers who voted for AFSCME recognition earlier that year. Workers finally won a contract in April 2008.

Pictured below are Local 34 members Cliff Robinson and Audrey Lennox, who, The Advocate reported, “were among those singing ‘Rudolph the Union Reindeer,’ ‘We Wish You a Union Christmas’ and other cleverly modified seasonal tunes.”

Cliff Robinson and Audrey Lennox sang "cleverly modified seasonal tunes” outside Walker Methodist in 2003.

Cliff Robinson and Audrey Lennox sang “cleverly modified seasonal tunes” outside Walker Methodist in 2003.

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