1948 Strike.qxd - Dakota County Historical Society

1948 Strike.qxd - Dakota County Historical Society
1948 Meatpackers Strike
William Lanoue
were home
from war and wanted more
than ever to live a long full
life. Others had worked
long days and nights durSurveillance photos taken from the Exchange Building show the National Guard
ing the war to feed the
gathered at the center of Concord Street at the height of the 1948 meatpackers
troops overseas as well as
strike. DCHS Collections.
Americans on the home
front. Some had migrated
to the cities from farms and small towns looking for
Setting the Stage
work. They were raising children and trying to hold burLess than three years after the defeat of Nazi
geoning families together in the face of a housing shortGermany and Japan, America was already a far different
age, fears of inflation and the increasing drumbeat warnplace. Through all but the last few months of the war
ing of a new foreign enemy with sympathizers and
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had led the United
agents in our midst. There were those who wanted
States. In fact he was the only president many
higher wages now, others more concerned with penAmericans had ever known. Roosevelt had been elected
sions and health care benefits, and still others dedicatto an unprecedented fourth term in November 1944 with
ed to achieving social and political change, sometimes
a little known former haberdasher from Missouri on the
of radical proportions.
ticket. It is hard to argue that Harry S Truman added
They lived in Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha -- and
much to the campaign, but in April 1945 the former
South St. Paul, Minnesota where many walked to work
Senator and friend – some would say crony of Kansas
or took the blue and white jitney buses down the hill
City Democratic Party boss Tom Pendergast - found
across Concord Street to the plants. They also lived on
himself presiding over what was now arguably the most
St. Paul’s West Side and East Side; in neighborhoods
powerful nation on earth. Upon expressing his condoalong Rondo and Selby; in Hastings, Farmington and
lences to Eleanor Roosevelt, Truman asked if there was
other small towns through out Dakota County. They
anything he could do for her. Mrs. Roosevelt responded,
were white, black, and Hispanic; of Polish, Croatian,
“Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the
Serbian, Romanian, Slovakian, Irish, German, Frenchone in trouble now.”1
Canadian and countless other ethnic backgrounds. They
The widowed First Lady’s words must have crept
were male and female. And at 12:01 a.m. on March 16,
back into the new President’s mind many times in the
1948 they walked off the job along with 100,000 other
months and years to come. Truman presided over the
union workers in a national strike against the nation’s
surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, the decision to
Big Four meatpacking companies.
drop the atomic bomb on Japan and that country’s capit1948 Meatpackers Strike
Page 1
ulation in August. Almost immediately he had to deal
with a powerful, fully war mobilized country spread
across a vast continent now bent on returning to a peace
time economy as soon as possible. He had inherited a
huge military machine of some 15 million strong, and
with the end of the most destructive war in history, he
faced the daunting task of demobilizing the men and
women in uniform as part of the transition.2
Many of the world’s capitals and major cities lay in
ruins. Millions had been killed and still millions more
were now displaced and homeless. Economies in
Europe were in a shambles and there soon emerged a
wariness of the perceived threat of global Communism.
The outspoken former Missouri senator had his hands
full from the outset, but his approval rating in the first
Gallup pole of his presidency was a sky-high 87 percent.
It was something neither Roosevelt nor Eisenhower ever
achieved. He would need every bit of it.3
While certainly not perfect, labor relations during
the war – at least at the national level – had generally
been guided by the overriding priority of victory. When
the United States entered the war, leaders of both the
American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress
of Industrial Organizations (CIO) promised that there
would be no strikes or walkouts as long as the nation
was locked in war. The government established the
National War Labor Board as had been done during
World War I and empowered it to impose settlements in
all labor disputes. Economic stability was seen as vital
to the war effort, and the administration, industry and
national labor leaders entered into collaboration to
insure it. Of course there was give and take. Labor
through its no strike pledge had foresworn use of its
most vital weapon in the drive to secure higher wages,
better benefits and working conditions.4
Congress passed the Economic Stabilization Act
freezing, for all practical purposes, wages at the level
established in September 1942. Unions now needed a
reason or motivation to display to new and veteran
union members alike the vitality and importance of the
union itself. In exchange for the no strike pledge the
Board set up maintenance of membership provisions
under which union members would be bound to membership for the duration of the contract. The idea was to
create a national climate whereby labor unions and management would enter into a cooperative relationship
aimed at insuring an unceasing and booming production
level in the war effort.5
On a national level the collaboration of labor, government and companies combined with the united effort
and support for the war, virtually brought an end to
strikes for the duration of the war. It was a remarkable
success and evidenced a nation united in securing the
one goal that counted most for everyone: victory, sure
Page 2
and complete and as quickly as possible. Five months
after Pearl Harbor the chairman of the War Labor Board
stated that not a single sanctioned strike had occurred.
He called the no-strike policy an “outstanding success”
and added that even during wildcat walkouts the labor
unions had done everything possible to end it. There
were however, strikes during the war. Most notably in
1943 the United Mine Workers staged a series of successful strikes against the coal industry, but for the most
part, the unions held to the no-strike pledge throughout
the war years.6
In the final analysis organized labor became much
stronger during the war years thanks in large part to the
cooperation of the government in the membership maintenance agreements. It is estimated that by 1946 some
69 percent of production workers in manufacturing were
represented by unions. The unions, for the most part,
were quite happy with the numbers at this time and more
than willing to see the status quo of continued cooperation between organized labor, industry and government
continue. But there were other interests and pressures
being brought to bear after the rapid collapse of the
Japanese Empire in August 1945.7
Instead of a gradual demobilization envisioned by
the administration that had forecast a longer war involving a land invasion of the Japanese main islands, the war
had come to an abrupt end after the use of the atomic
bombs. Price controls which had operated with great
success during the war quickly eroded, pleasing business leaders who desired a quick return to free market
pricing. Wages however, for the most part, stayed mired
at or near the September 1942 levels established by the
War Labor Board. There were those who saw a rise in
labor strife as inevitable. A little more than a year before
the war ended the New York Times predicted “labormanagement antagonisms which forecast a post-war
period of great turmoil in labor relations . . .”8 What was
unknown at the time was whether the conflict would
take the form of union sanctioned actions or wildcat
strikes. During the war years the number of wildcat
actions had increased dramatically and proved an effective tactic in the absence of union sanctioned actions.
The country did not have to wait long for the answer.9
The ink was barely dry on the surrender instruments
signed in September 1945 when the “greatest strike
wave in United States history” kicked off.10 Rick
Halpern in his book Down on the Killing Floor summed
up the national stage immediately following the war:
As the war wound to a close, industrial
workers in the United States grew increasingly
restless. Four years of austerity, frozen wages,
and constraints upon union activity had produced a widespread sense of grievance that
1948 Meatpackers Strike
The South St. Paul Daily Reporter kept the community apprised of the developing strike.
went beyond any single issue. While the cessation of hostilities and a return to normalcy was
welcome, reconversion to peacetime production
caused considerable anxiety. The elimination of
overtime hours meant a sharp reduction in takehome pay – in meatpacking, where there had
not been a wage increase since before Pearl
Harbor, this cut was as deep as 30 percent – and
postwar inflation was expected to make this
problem more acute. Moreover, many new
hirees feared that the return of eight million veterans would flood the labor market and, coupled
with layoffs, squeeze them out of their jobs.11
Halpern goes on to recount that by the end of 1946
more than six thousand strikes had taken place involving more than seven million workers. While many of
these actions were of the wildcat variety, the most effective actions were those sanctioned and run by the international unions. Among those directed by union leadership were nationwide strikes in the oil, coal, rubber,
automobile – and meatpacking industries. By this time
the strike had probably reached its peak as organized
labor’s most effective weapon in its drive for higher
wages, increased benefits and improved working conditions. During the war the wildcat action had proved very
effective in resolving local disputes and was generally
of short duration. Immediately following the war the
mass picketing at plants nationwide came to the forefront in economic conflict. So it is important to examine
the events of the 1946 meatpackers strike in order to
appreciate the backdrop and context within which the
1948 strike was waged.12
There were other conflicts and debates taking place
which would have an impact in shaping and channeling
the events of 1948. One was the debate in Congress following the strikes of 1946 over the enactment of TaftHartley legislation. The other was a current of competition, bitter at times, between unions making up the AFL
and those of the more militant CIO, more particularly
the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen,
AFL, and the United Packinghouse Workers of America,
UPWA.13 If all politics is local, the same may be said for
labor relations. The aspects of post-war American life,
while often viewed on the broad national stage, would
find much of their impact and legacy played out on the
streets of South St. Paul much the same as in Chicago,
Kansas City and Omaha.
1948 Meatpackers Strike
On January 16, 1946 approximately 93,000 packinghouse workers14 walked off the job. The dispute centered on pay and involved both Amalgamated Meat
Cutters and UPWA as allies, albeit uneasy ones. On
January 24, 1946 President Truman, utilizing wartime
powers, seized the packinghouses on the grounds the
strikes were impeding the war effort. This action came
nearly half a year after the end of the war, but with auto
and steelworkers also out on strike, the government
decided to act. President Truman ordered the unions to
cease the strike and Amalgamated obeyed immediately,
accepting a settlement offer of fifteen cents per hour.
The UPWA took a different course choosing to defy the
order to return to work. Even in the face of threats of
criminal prosecution the union persisted in its defiance,
arguing they would hold out until the government guaranteed that the packers would be bound by the decision
of a fact-finding commission. In the end the union won
a sixteen-cent raise retroactive to the previous August.
While it was not as much as they had sought it was more
than what was agreed to by rival Amalgamated. Taking
advantage of their strength, and what was widely perceived as a victory, the union again threatened to walkout in the fall of 1946. This time the packers folded
their tents quickly and granted an additional pay
increase of seven and a half-cents per hour as well as
other concessions.15
The backlash against organized labor began almost
immediately and culminated in June 1947 with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act over President Truman’s
veto. The new law seriously curtailed the effectiveness
of organized labor. Among the legal restrictions that
came into play were the outlawing of the closed shop,
the secondary boycott and jurisdictional strikes. The law
also allowed the government to mandate a sixty-day
cooling off period and permitted employers to sue
unions for breach of contract. Unions were required to
register with the secretary of labor and required union
officers to file affidavits attesting to their nonCommunist status. Those union leaders who were
indeed Communists now faced the choice of resigning,
concealing their affiliation or exposing their union to
whatever tactics employers chose. To disobey the
requirements of Taft-Hartley was to risk the unions’
coverage and protection under the National Labor
Relations Board, NLRB.16 To put it mildly, the climate
that had existed during the successful actions of the previous year had changed – perhaps forever.
Page 3
Armour strikers were somewhat playful as the strike
began in March 1948. DCHS Collections
In October 1947 the AFL voted to comply with the
act while the CIO adopted a neutral position leaving it
up to individual unions. One of the results of the different approaches by two umbrella organizations was the
increased competition between Amalgamated and
UPWA. The former was perceived to be more than willing to play ball with the government and the employers
while UPWA was seen as militant and suspicious of
involvement with, and reliance upon, the government to
secure their rights. There were reports of raids by
Amalgamated on UPWA organized plants raising the
issue of increased risks to the workers through continued noncompliance with the requirements of TaftHartley. The contest between the unions for the hearts
and minds - not to mention the loyalty - of packinghouse
workers across the country was now in full swing.17
It was not long before the union reopened negotiations with the Big Four meatpackers, Swift, Armour,
Cudahy and Wilson companies. Once again the main
source of contention was pay. The UPWA demanded a
raise of 29 cents per hour. The companies countered
with an offer of nine cents. The stage was soon set for a
confrontation much like what had occurred two years
before, only this time the rules had been significantly
altered. Taft-Hartley was firmly in place and the CIO
had left the UPWA isolated in its defiance of the law
through the larger organization’s neutral stance on the
matter. As if this was not enough for the UPWA,
Amalgamated Meat Cutters quickly settled with the
packers for the offered nine cents and would not be joining UPWA in any action against the companies. It
should come as no surprise therefore that talks between
the union and the packers quickly broke down. A strike
Page 4
vote was taken on February 1948 with 90 per cent of the
UPWA membership voted to walkout on March 16.18
Halpern notes that UPWA President Ralph Helstein
urged a strike even if in the end the union had to accept
the companies’ original offer. Citing the minutes of
UPWA Executive Board meeting held in January 1948,
Halpern quotes Helstein as saying “The people will still
feel better because we fought about it and didn’t take it
right away.”19
As expected President Truman requested that the
strike be delayed pending the findings of a government
inquiry. It was no surprise when the union rejected the
President’s request and set the deadline for the walkout.
Even though the UPWA could take nearly 100,000
workers out on strike against the Big Four packers, they
would not enjoy the united front they presented in 1946.
Amalgamated’s acceptance of the nine cent raise meant
the UPWA could not shut down the entire industry. In
addition, Taft-Hartley requirements of notice of intent to
strike, allowed the packers precious time to prepare,
while at the same time, the increased use of court injunctions would place a drain on the union’s financial
resources through seemingly endless litigation. With the
change in the legal and political climates since the 1946
strike, the companies had decided to fight.20
On December 3, 1947, the South St. Paul Daily
Reporter informed its readers that the union had met the
Taft-Hartley requirements by providing the companies
60 days notice of intent to strike. The President, despite
the request for the union to delay the strike pending an
inquiry, could have had the strike delayed through a
court order enabling the President to create a board of
inquiry under the national emergency strike provisions
of the new labor law. President Truman declined this
more drastic course of action.
On March 3 Helstein said for public consumption,
“We are willing to continue negotiating with the companies, although it is apparent from our previous meetings
that they are unwilling to give any realistic consideration to this serious economic needs of the packinghouse
workers.” He went on to say that a survey had been conducted of the economic conditions under which the
packinghouse workers and their families lived. He
maintained the survey revealed many families sinking
into deeper debt and “almost all are being deprived of
basic necessities.”
In South St. Paul, the Daily Reporter informed readers that strike rumors were floating about the city freely,
but that no new developments could be reported locally
as “business at the plants and the stockyards continued
to move along at a normal pace.” Thomas Kaliszewski,
a then 19-year-old stockyards worker employed by
Central Livestock Association, recalled that things may
have appeared to be going along as usual but the com1948 Meatpackers Strike
pany he worked for was gearing up for what was to
come. Central Livestock was making arrangements to
move their operations from South St. Paul to the
stockyards in New Brighton in the event of a strike.
Kaliszewski said several other commission firms
located at the St. Paul Union Stockyards made similar
The big problem facing the firms and the producers
who supplied the animals was going to be the absence of
the huge markets offered by the primary packinghouses.
By the strike deadline, the 70-plus acre stockyards in
South St. Paul would be virtually emptied of animals
and workers. The city had been through strikes before,
notably in 1921-22, 1933, 1942 and 1946. There were
preparations to be made not only by strikers and the
employers, but by those whose businesses and jobs were
dependent on the unbroken operation of the huge packing plants, Swift & Company, Armour and Company in
South St. Paul and Cudahy and Company across the
river in Newport as well as the stock yards themselves.
Locally at least one of the packinghouses saw fit to
issue a statement. Swift & Company General Manager
A. Valentine, commenting on the UPWA announcement
establishing a strike date, said, “ A national strike in the
meatpacking industry is unnecessary. The demand of the
CIO Packinghouse Workers for 29 cents and hour
increase, later reduced to 19 cents, is exorbitant and
unrealistic. Two other unions, AFL and Independent,
representing 40 percent of Swift’s meat packing plant
employees, have already agreed to a 9 cent increase in
wages. This 9 cent raise more than equals the increase in
the cost of living since the wage increase last June.
Swift & Company has expressed its willingness to make
the same settlement with the CIO union. Unreasonable
demands and a strike called by that union will result in
loss of wages to employees and a disruption of our normal services to live stock producers and consumers.”
In the week prior to the deadline the papers were
filled with reports of preparations for the approaching
strike. A renewed notice was given on Wednesday
March 10 to livestock feeders, shippers and truckers
reiterating that the strike was set for next Tuesday at
12:01 a.m. and that all marketing plans should be “governed accordingly.” One of these warnings came from
the South St. Paul live stock marketing committee, a
body representing various local marketing interests, and
cautioned that there was no assurance that the packinghouses would be buying animals after Friday. The statement urged shippers to stay tuned to local radio and to
keep an eye on the newspapers for future developments.
The tone of the warnings were matter of fact and
non-threatening and were coupled with reports of continued negotiations by the union and the packers in
Chicago. There was a note of hope attached to the pos1948 Meatpackers Strike
Thomas Kaliszewski
Tom Kaliszewski was just shy of 20 years old
when preparations for a prolonged packinghouse
strike began. He was working for Central Livestock
Association at the St. Paul Union Stockyards as a
yardman feeding and caring for the livestock Central
handled. In time he would become a commission man
with Central, working for the firm nearly 50 years.
While the UPWA and the Big Four meat packers
– Swift, Armour, Wilson and Cudahy – futilely pursued a negotiated settlement and the March 16 strike
date approached, Central management made the
decision to move operations to the stockyards in
New Brighton, Minnesota. Kaliszewski recalls the
entire operation moving to the yards in the northern
St. Paul suburb and where they remained for the
entire ten weeks of the strike. He saw the move as a
wise decision, even though at the time, there were
those who predicted a short strike. It kept people
working, kept livestock moving to those plants still
operating in Green Bay, WI, southern Minnesota and
Illinois as well as enabling at least some producers to
continue raising and selling their animals.
Many of the 27 other commission firms operating in the St. Paul Union Stockyards at the time
scrambled as well during these days to find space
and facilities to continue their business operations
during the long, bitter walkout. Kaliszewski said
temporary pens were set up in such places as West
St. Paul, the small yards in Hampton about 20 miles
to the south, across the river in Wisconsin, west of
the Twin Cities and near the sales barn outside of St.
Cloud within sight of the penitentiary there.
Even though he managed to keep working during the strike while many others not directly
involved in the strike were not as lucky he was
happy and relieved when the strike ended. Many
plant workers, he said, estimated that it took five or
six years to make up the financial loses absorbed due
to the strike. When it was finally over, he said,
Central was back in full swing within a week.
But the worry did not end there. On Memorial
Day 1948 Tom remembers standing on the steps
leading from Camber Avenue watching the yards
burn. The fire, huge and frightening to everyone who
saw it, was particularly scary to those who relied on
the yards for their livelihood. He remembers that it
was mainly confined however, to the sheep division
in the southwest corner of the facility, apparently the
result of a discarded cigarette.
Page 5
ings between the parties and federal
labor conciliators but a union spokesman
said the meetings “are getting nowhere.”
Glen Chinander was named to represent
the Minnesota union locals at the
Chicago UPWA meeting. Milton Siegel,
identified as a UPWA district representative, and later as a field representative,
announced that a meeting of all local
union members would be held on the
approaching Sunday, March 14, at 3 p.m.
in the St. Paul Auditorium. The subject
of the meeting was to discuss plans for
the conduct of the strike.
The weekend arrived with out any
progress being reported in the Chicago
negotiations. The marketing committee
in South St. Paul ordered that live stock
shipments to the market here should
cease “until further notice.” The packinghouses filled their immediate live
stock requirements of stock for slaughter
then withdrew from the market. The
companies also held out hope that the
dispute would be referred to the
President under emergency provisions of
Taft-Hartley. The President, a spokesman
said, could then order the attorney general to seek an injunction delaying the
strike while a fact-finding board investigated the issues. There was no promise
however that the packers would go along
with any recommendations that would
come out of any such inquiry.
Swift & Company participated in a print war in the local newspaper.
It was estimated that the strike would
South St. Paul Daily Reporter, May 13, 1948.
halt about a third of the nation’s meat
industry. It was not to be the clean sweep
sibility that President Truman would declare an emerthat the unions had realized in the walkout just two years
gency and intervene to forestall the walkout. The UPWA
before but they hoped it would be enough. A United
statement issued the same day bluntly warned farmers
Press story carried in the South St. Paul Daily Reporter
not to send animals to market until the strike was settled.
on March 13, 1948 set the stage for the approaching
The union pointed out that once the strike begins, it
strike and how the unions – the AFL’s Amalgamated
would be impossible to dispose of animals in the yards
Meat Cutters and the CIO’s United Packinghouse
for the duration. Though talks were continuing, A. T.
Workers – stacked up against each other. It is a descripStephens, UPWA area director for Iowa, Nebraska and
tion of a weakened position for the UPWA, ripe with
Colorado, flatly stated that there was no possibility of
portent for a long bitter fight.
averting a strike.
If the strike were called, housewives would find less
The next day, Wednesday of the week prior to the
meat at the butcher counters, but enough to get by on.
strike deadline, the livestock committee once again
Some experts said there would be more meat available
warned producers and shippers about sending animals to
than there was during the wartime shortages.
the yards beyond Friday. Meanwhile in Chicago, UPWA
Many of the big plants and most of the smaller ones
President Helstein summoned the union’s national strike
will not be affected because their employees belong to
committee for a meeting the following day to finalize
the rival AFL Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher
plans for the strike. Negotiations continued with meetWorkmen’s union. The AFL, which settled for a ninePage 6
1948 Meatpackers Strike
cent hourly wage increase last month, has contracts at
76 Chicago plants, which will continue operations. The
union represents employees at 14 Armour & Co. plants
throughout the country, 11 Swift plants, two Wilson
plants and three Cudahy plants. In addition, it represents
90 percent of the employees in branch houses of the
“Big Four” packers.
The CIO union, however, would walk out at 28
Swift plants, 29 Armour plants, 11 Cudahy plants and
seven Wilson establishments.
In downtown St. Paul, Frank Ellis, international vice
president of the UPWA, addressed an estimated one
thousand union members in Stern Hall of the St. Paul
Auditorium on Sunday March 14. He outlined the issues
surrounding the wage dispute and discussed plans for
the walkout. The stockyards were reported as nearly
empty, and in Chicago, company negotiators turned
down an arbitration plan saying wages and major contract provisions should not be subject to arbitration.
Union chief Helstein denounced the packers’ decision
saying it represented “evidence of unwillingness to meet
the issues of the wage dispute.” Despite their original
demand for 29-cents, the UPWA had agreed to arbitration if the packinghouses would immediately grant a
nine-cent hourly wage increase retroactive to January
12. The only hope remaining for averting a strike
appeared to be direct intervention by President Truman
under Taft-Hartley.
Besides the final preparations being made by union
and company officials, city and police officials were
making plans to handle “any situation that may arise.”
Whatever plans they made, it would not be enough.
The Strike
The picket lines went up before dawn on March 16,
1948 at the gates to Swift & Company, Armour &
Company, Rifkin and Sons packinghouses in South St.
Paul and the Cudahy Company plant across the river in
Newport. The immediate focal points of attention were
the Swift gates at Concord and Grand and the intersection of Concord and Armour Avenue leading to the
Armour gates. Once the sun came up, people began
gathering near the picket lines particularly those at the
bottom of the hill near the Concord-Grand Avenue intersection. Soon hundreds of people were milling about
including strikers, non-striking employees of the packinghouses and spectators.
Behind the picket lines the approximately 80 acres
of stockyards lay empty and quiet. No new shipments of
live stock arrived and little if any movement was seen in
the deserted allies and pens of the huge complex. About
halfway up the Grand Avenue hill from Concord, the
Hollywood Theater marquee advertised a St. Patrick’s
Day Amateur Show set for the next night, The winner
would be eligible to compete for a place on Cedric
Adams’ Stairway to Stardom on WCCO radio. The fea-
Strikers congregate on the Grand Avenue hill. The woman next to the car is Jean Tilsen Brust, who would
become well known as a Socialist activist. DCHS collections.
1948 Meatpackers Strike
Page 7
James Capeti
Jim Capeti was literally on the inside looking out when the strike began. He, along with other supervisory
personnel, found themselves locked in the Armour & Company plant when the picket lines went up in the early
morning hours of March 16, 1948. And they stayed locked in the plant for the first ten days of the strike. Only
an agreement between the UPWA and the company that supervisory and office workers would be allowed to cross
the lines brought them their freedom from the 24-hour a day existence in the massive red brick packinghouse.
Capeti’s story, however, does not begin there, and to say his perspective of the strike was unique, is understatement at best. He came to this country from Romania following World War I and grew up near Rice Street in
St. Paul. He went to work for Armour in 1937 and soon learned a lesson that changed the course of his life in a
dramatic way. He explains that he had been at work in the plant “chiseling heads” and became ill. When he could
no longer do his job he was summarily fired. Although rehired almost immediately after intervention by a friend,
his vulnerability to the whim of the boss was not lost on him. Following New Deal legislation – the Wagner Act
– Capeti and others set out to organize the workers at the South Saint Paul Armour plant. And in 1939 the UPWA
issued the first charter for Local No. 4 of the CIO union. Capeti is a signatory on the charter, listed there as vicepresident of the new local.
But things changed since 1939 and Capeti had risen to a foreman’s position in the beef cut and was now a
“company man.” While in previous strikes,
most notably in 1942, he had been a picket
captain running the lines that shut down
plant operations he now found himself
unable to leave the plant and working side
by side with non-striking workers to generate as much production as possible for the
Capeti said the decision to accept the
promotion in the first place was an agonizing
one simply from the standpoint that he knew
he may find himself across the line from the
men he had helped organize in the early
union days. And it was as uncomfortable as
he feared, but once he accepted the promotion he never wavered in his commitment.
But he never lost his sympathy and sense of
solidarity with working men either. He confirms that as the strike wore on, more workers crossed the lines and the plant continued
to operate, albeit on a limited basis, through
out the duration of the strike.
When it was over he remembers that the
bitterness between those who stayed out and
those who crossed over lasted for a long
time. More than a half century later he still
believes that sometimes the only way the
workers are able to get their point across is
by striking. But he also understands the
company’s obligations to continue operating
in a healthy economic fashion. He believes
that it is only through honest talk and mutual respect that destructive strikes – like that
of 1948 - are avoided.
Page 8
1948 Meatpackers Strike
ture movie being offered St. Patrick’s Day evening
along with the amateur competition was “Desire Me”
starring Greer Garson and Robert Mitchum. And in the
back of this morning’s Daily Reporter a classified ad
offered a butcher’s job at Lee’s Grocery on the corner of
12th Avenue and Marie. It was quickly filled.
Administrative personnel, plant maintenance
employees and stockyards workers were allowed
through the lines but only after they obtained passes at
union strike headquarters. The union estimated that there
were some 12,500 members in the area, which included
walkouts at Big Four plants in South St. Paul, St. Paul,
Newport, Albert Lea, Winona, Faribault, Eau Claire, WI
and West Fargo, ND. Four thousand of their members
however, those at the George A. Hormel & Co. plant in
Austin, were not on the picket lines, the contract at that
plant not being open to renegotiations at this time. The
vast majority of the remaining area membership were on
strike at the plants in South St. Paul and Newport, and
like nearly everyone else directly or indirectly affected
by the walkout whether here, Chicago, Omaha, Kansas
City, Milwaukee or Sioux City, the main thing on their
minds was just how long the strike would last. The news
coming out of Chicago was not encouraging.
Ralph Helstein, union president, sent a telegram to
President Truman rejecting the President’s eleventhhour appeal for a delay to the strike. Helstein maintained
that any delay “at this time would obviously serve no
fruitful purpose in promoting a solution of this wage
issue. At the same time [a delay] would seriously prejudice the rights and interest of the packinghouse workers
to the sole profit of the packing companies.” The only
hope on the immediate horizon, it seemed, lay with the
fact-finding board appointed by President Truman
which was due to report back by April 1.
The strike began peacefully at nearly all of the locations across the country including South St. Paul. Both
strikers and non-strikers as well as those not directly
involved settled into a new routine. The South St. Paul
Police Department, normally used to operating on three
eight-hour shifts, doubled up their personnel and began
working 12-hour shifts. It was noted the day after the
start of the strike that the number of pickets at the
Grand-Concord and Armour Avenue-Concord locations
was about the same, and the union claimed that the
Swift, Armour and Cudahy plants had been completely
shutdown. Nationally, spokesmen for the Big Four
packers claimed that several plants were partially operating using “previous employees” and not through the
use of strikebreakers. A company spokesman for
Armour refused to disclose which plants in the chain
had resumed limited production, fearing stepped up
union efforts to shut them down.
Despite the walkout at an estimated 133 plants
1948 Meatpackers Strike
nationwide United Press reported that “housewives”
were refusing to be panicked into a meat buying spree
and President Truman’s board of inquiry was already
meeting in an attempt to expedite their findings in
order, some hoped, for the President to seek a court
injunction under Taft-Hartley. The union pledged its
complete cooperation.
It did not take long for things to deteriorate. A. I. G.
Valentine, general manager of the South St. Paul Swift
plant and Cyril Sheehy, his counterpart at the Armour
plant, protested the union practice of refusing to permit
non-striking employees to enter the plant and requiring
passes for others seeking to enter the plants. Valentine
took his complaints to the airwaves, broadcasting over
the radio that even he had been “deprived of my right to
go to my office.” He added, “People of this state must
deplore such lawless tactics. Such tactics should have no
part in the efforts of all parties to settle this dispute as
quickly as possible.”
Sheehy said that the Armour plant remained closed
and further complained that he had seen “no concrete
evidence of any effort to enforce the law.” In a thinly
veiled threat, Sheehy pointed out that because insufficient employees had been able to reach the plant it
would be impossible to compile payrolls and pay
employees for work performed prior to the strike.
Union representative Milton Siegel replied that the
union was willing to allow office workers into the
plants providing they obtained union passes. “We have
no way of knowing whether they are office workers or
plant workers when they wish to seek entrance into the
plant, and the only way we can identify them is through
the pass system.”
Meanwhile, South St. Paul Mayor Henry
Gackstetter sought a meeting with company and union
officials to discuss the picketing situation in his town.
And the picket line would be focal point of much of
what was to come. By March 30 Judge W. A. Schultz in
Dakota County District Court in Hastings issued the
first temporary restraining order of the strike. The court
order, a ruling issued preliminary to a hearing on the
merits of the dispute, centered on the picketing at the
Armour plant. Armour officials charged that the union
was guilty of unfair labor practices by taking over roads
leading to the plant and unlawfully preventing rail cars
from entering the plant to pick up meat product that was
in danger of spoiling. Tempers had already started to
wear thin on the picket line. The company charged that
strikers were stopping employees from entering the
Armour plant as well as threatening those who tried.
What is unclear is how far the local police and
Dakota County Sheriff’s office were willing to go to
enforce this or any court orders. Dakota County Sheriff
Norman Dieter was reported to have been issued the
Page 9
court order to serve on the union but there is no indication his department did so right away. South St. Paul
Police Chief Louis Fuller said on March 20 that the picketing on the Armour line was unchanged from the previous days and that there had been no efforts by non-striking workers to obtain police escorts through the line.
In Chicago the wire services reported hundreds of
police being mustered near the plants and stockyards to
deal with thousands of strikers. It was no secret that the
city administration and the police department there
sided with the companies. Trouble was reported on the
picket lines and adjacent rail spurs near the plants there.
In West Fargo, the sheriff issued an appeal over local
radio for all available manpower to report to his office
for duty as special deputies. At least one arrest had
already been made and charges of assault and battery
issued in John Doe warrants.
Despite the seriousness of Judge Schultz’ court
order, the situation in South St. Paul did not appear to be
heating up with the same intensity as Chicago and West
Fargo. Chief Fuller, the same day as the Fargo sheriff’s
appeal, was ordered by the city police commission to
instruct his men to arrest any strikers bent on violence.
The commission, consisting of Thomas Alcorn, Leonard
Anderson and Thomas Peck, met with union representatives, Dakota County Attorney David Grannis, South St.
Paul City Attorney Paul Thuet and Mayor Gackstetter.
Swift and Armour were invited to send representatives
but declined to do so.
The second week of the strike began with an expansion of Judge Schultz’ restraining order to cover union
activities at the Swift gate near Concord and Grand.
Reports indicated that as was the case at the Armour
plant, the court order did not seem to have any effect on
picketing. The union had, in fact, doubled the pickets in
anticipation of violence. One new wrinkle was introduced when the union offered to withdraw pickets to
allow truckers hauling live stock into the yards and also
to allow the yards to operate but with the proviso that
picketing of both plants would be maintained on stockyards property. Anton Olson, president of the St. Paul
Union Stockyards Co. turned down the offer on the
grounds that they could not become a party to the strike
by allowing such activities on private property.
All of this took on the cloak of routine, rather matter-of-fact and measured in both tone and substance. It is
as if both sides and those caught in the middle or on the
sidelines were well aware that rhetoric and hasty actions
could ignite something no one wanted. But matters
began to heat up as the strike entered its second week.
There was talk of Sheriff Dieter requesting the help of
Governor Luther Youngdahl’s office in efforts to open
up the picket lines. It was reported that the sheriff had
tried unsuccessfully to enforce the court orders.
Page 10
As tension mounted throughout the day Sheriff
Dieter met with Chief Fuller and County Attorney
Grannis. At the same time Judge Schultz issued yet
another restraining order against the union at the request
of the Chicago Great Western Railway similar to the
previous two he had issued on behalf of the packing
companies. Sheriff Dieter then announced that his office
and that of the city police would enforce court injunctions. They tried but were turned back by the strikers.
The order called for the union to allow office workers and administrative personnel to enter the plant to do
their jobs. Earlier in the day carloads of such workers
had been turned back by the strikers. The sheriff
approached the estimated 200 strikers at the foot of
Grand Avenue along with three of his deputies and 10
police officers. As they passed through a thin outer line
of picketers the chants and shouting began. “Hold that
line! Hold that line!” and “Don’t let them through!” and
“Tighten up!” Milton Siegel, union field representative,
was waiting for the sheriff. Dieter asked him if he knew
the picketing was illegal and Siegel replied that he did.
“You know you’re in contempt then,” Dieter said.
“Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” Siegel replied.
Dieter and Siegel stared at one another then the
Sheriff turned on his heel and all of a sudden cheers
from the pickets rose into the air.
“Going through there would be like trying to crack
Europe with a platoon,” Dieter told one of the officers
with him. “They’ve got us outnumbered ten to one.” It
was an assessment, which would remain accurate and
definitive right up until the last week of the strike.
Meanwhile the UPWA and officials at Superior
Packing Company in St. Paul reached an agreement
enabling 250 striking workers to return to their jobs,
prompting Gov. Youngdahl to try his hand at settling the
larger dispute in South St. Paul. The union and Superior
Packing agreed to continue trying to solve the wage dispute based on a management offer of 12-cents per hour.
While not a final figure it was enough to persuade union
negotiators to allow the strikers back to work while talks
Gov. Youngdahl called representatives from the
union, Swift and Armour together for a meeting in his
office at the state capitol but said after the morning session that it “apparently is outside the realm of possibility” for him to negotiate a settlement in the lengthening
strike. His hopes of modeling a settlement based on the
events occurring at Superior were apparently quickly
dashed during the morning long conferences.
At the same time the South St. Paul Welfare Board
granted aid to 25 families affected by the strike.
The UPWA in South St. Paul met Thursday afternoon in a mass meeting at the local high school. Milt
Siegel announced that the members had voted to allow
1948 Meatpackers Strike
Joe Stoi
Joe Stoi worked for Armour & Company for 27 years from 1952 until the plant closed for good. But in 1948
he was fifteen years old living on north Concord Street not far from the violence at Grand and Concord, the focal
point of the strike. He remembers the fighting, cars being tipped over and when the National Guard finally came
to town to quell the disturbances.
“There was a war down there. They had fights and were tipping cars over and everything. It was a violent
strike,” he said. “There were guys that went to jail. We had a person that lived kind of kitty-cornered to us. The
union people would come and march around his house. He was a scab. He came out of the house --- I can still
see him. He came out of the house just raising hell. The cops came and made him go in, leave. It was a wicked
strike.” A photograph of the picketing of the private residence located at 402 North Concord and referred to by
Joe Stoi survives as part of the archives at the Dakota County Historical Society and is included herein.
Stoi also remembered the guard soldiers patrolling Concord and how he and other young boys would crawl
along the roof tops of the buildings along the main drag occasionally dropping rocks on the soldiers below. “It
was wrong, I know,” he said. “But we really didn’t mean anything by it. Just kids, you know.”
The bitterness lasted a long time inside the plants. He recalls in later years when he was employed at Armour
that collections were routinely taken up for those workers retiring from their jobs. But if a worker had crossed
the line during the strike no collection was taken. “They said he made his money in ’48,” Stoi said.
office workers at the affected plants to pass through the
picket lines. Foremen, who had been locked inside the
plants since the strike began, would also be allowed to
go home. The action at the high school took place after
Gov. Youngdahl, in his attempts to settle the strike, also
requested a report from union representatives on their
apparent failure to honor Judge Schultz’ court order to
allow the office workers through the lines.
In Chicago, UPWA President Helstein took notice
of the court injunctions issued in South St. Paul and at
other strike sites where arrests were being made almost
daily. He denounced them as “part and parcel of a company campaign to smash our union . . . Our picket lines
are solid and will remain that way until the packers give
up adequate wage increases.”
It was an early Easter in 1948, falling on March 28,
the 13th day of the walkout. Easter services were held
inside the plants for supervisory personnel who had
elected to stay there and services were also broadcast to
those strikers manning the picket lines outside. Rev.
A.R. Grossman of Augustana Lutheran Church conducted the services inside the Swift plant while Rev. Delbert
Harrell of Clark Memorial Congregational Church held
services in the Armour facility.
Siegel announced on the Monday following Easter
that some of the union members who were manning the
picket lines would be heard on a radio program during
the evenings for the coming week called “On the Picket
Line.” The idea was to offer a first hand account of the
union’s side of things from those who were directly
involved in the action. The union seems to have recognized the need to put a face on their issues as evidenced
by the promotion of the radio broadcast.
Day after day the front pages of the nation’s news1948 Meatpackers Strike
papers evidenced proof that the meatpacking strike was
not being waged in a vacuum. The competing interests
were allied, opposed or neutral in regard to organized
labor, but real nonetheless. In Chicago officials of the
AFL International Teamsters union said its members
would be unable to honor packinghouse workers picket
lines, viewing such action as a secondary boycott now
illegal under the terms of Taft-Hartley.
John L. Lewis, leader of the United Mine Workers,
who also had his people out on strike, heeding a court
order and threat of yet another contempt citation, went
before a presidential board investigating the coal min
ers’ 16-day walkout. And the nation’s railroads accepted
a fact-finding board’s recommendation for a 15.5 percent wage increase.
The National Live Stock Exchange sent messages to
President Truman and Nathan Feinsinger, chairman of
the Federation and Mediation service in Chicago, urging
government intervention to end the strike. He cited the
deleterious effect the walkout was having on collateral
industries and business as well as the success of
Marshall Plan objectives in rebuilding Europe.
Members of the live stock trade were also reported to
be upset with Gov. Youngdahl for being unwilling or
unable to reopen the stock yard for at least limited business under conditions which would not be partial to
either side in the strike. Trade members also publicly
criticized the Truman administration for placing priority on settling the coal strike over efforts to end the
packinghouse dispute.
On the morning of March 31 Dakota County
District Court Judge W. A. Schultz walked into a packed
courtroom of the old Dakota County Courthouse and
opened a hearing into the requests by Swift, Armour and
Page 11
uninterrupted use of public streets and highways.
The statement read in part as follows:
It is a matter of public knowledge that that
section of the Minnesota Labor Relations Act is
being violated at South St. Paul, Minnesota . . .
Nevertheless, the picket line of the CIO union
wrongfully obstructs ingress to and egress from
the place of employment of the office employees of the meat packing companies . . . Reports
from reliable sources state the sheriff of Dakota
County has been unable to obtain compliance
with the order of the district court . . . and still
the order of the court is not enforced.”
Strikers often picketed outside the home of a person
who crossed the picket lines to work. DCHS
Chicago Great Western for temporary injunctions
against the UPWA. The judge took his seat on the bench
and began by setting what he hoped would be not only
the tone of these and all subsequent proceedings, but
that on the streets outside of the packinghouses as well.
“We all stood when we entered the courtroom to
show our respect for the court and the laws of the
land. It was not merely out of respect for me because
I stood too. In some foreign countries there are no
courts to stand up in. If we feel that we want to take
the law into our own hands, I’d suggest that we go to
a country that has no laws. I hope you all feel you
want the courts to function.”
The crowd jammed the courtroom and the halls outside as Judge Schultz began hearing testimony from witnesses who had tried and failed to cross the picket lines.
The night before testimony began, South St. Paul police
were called to investigate what was described as the
beating of two men about a block south of Grand
Avenue. The men apparently were attempting enter the
Swift plant. They told police they were bringing a pair
of glasses to one of the men’s father inside the facility.
As the strike moved into April and deeper into
spring, the pressure began to mount on Gov. Youngdahl
to take action. The St. Paul Committee on Industrial
Relations, a pro-employer organization to put it mildly,
organized in 1920 by William H. MacMahon,21 sent a
letter to the governor urging intervention in the packinghouse strike, citing the right of citizens to free and
Page 12
MacMahon, who had long lobbied on behalf of
employer interests before the Minnesota legislature and
former Gov. Harold Stassen,22 upped the rhetorical ante
by stating, “Therefore, since the sheriff of Dakota
County is unable or unwilling to enforce the laws, then,
in our opinion, it becomes the duty of the governor, the
state’s chief executive, to obtain compliance with the
statutes enacted by the chosen representatives of the citizens of the great state of Minnesota.”
The following day, April 2, matters heated up still
further. Pickets again rebuffed Sheriff Dieter in an effort
to open the lines at Grand and Concord. At the same
time the Live Stock Exchange renewed a call for the
embattled sheriff and local police to open the picket
lines to permit commission firms to handle live stock at
the South St. Paul yards in a limited way as was being
done at other markets. The Exchange maintained that
both the commission firms and producer farmers were
losing large sums of money as a result of the strike and
that some of the losses could be mitigated if law
enforcement would open the lines enough to allow marketing to resume in the yards.
When Sheriff Dieter appeared at the picket lines in
the morning of April 2, it followed on the heels of the
arrest of Milt Siegel on a charge of contempt of court.
Siegel, who was allowed to testify that day in front of
Judge Schultz, was released after posting $1,000 bail.
The sheriff and his men used the same tactics as before
when they first tried to penetrate the picket line – and
with the same results. The law enforcement officers
walk straight down the Grand Avenue hill to where the
strikers were massed along the tracks of the Chicago
Great Western line in front of the Swift gate.
Dieter asked the pickets to open up. In response
additional strikers joined the line and the sheriff had no
choice but to withdraw. But the next day the strikers
began to allow office workers into their jobs and matters
eased. The same day the Dakota County Board of
Commissioners was scheduled to meet to discuss a
1948 Meatpackers Strike
request by Sheriff Dieter for funding for 300 special
deputies needed to open the lines surrounding the meatpacking plants. Action on the request was deferred after
it was learned that the office workers had been allowed
through earlier that day.
Over at the Armour plant foremen were allowed
through, including some of those who had spent the first
10 days or so of the strike living inside of the plant. One
of the foremen was James Capeti, a signatory on the
charter establishing the UPWA as the union at the
Armour plant. Capeti had played a major role in organizing the union, and since the success of 1939, had risen
to foreman of the beef cut, becoming part of management. Over a half-century later he recalled mixed feelings both while he was locked in during the early days
of the strike, and in the days that followed when he
crossed the line to perform his job.23
One office worker was also allowed through the
lines at Armour on this day – the paymaster. The next
day Swift & Co. paymasters began issuing paychecks to
workers, striking and otherwise, for the work ending
March 14 before the strike began. The average weekly
paycheck was for $58.70.
There were by now four union officials involved in
the contempt proceedings. Beside Siegel, action was
also pending against William Nolan, president of UPWA
Swift local, Harry Urban, picket line captain and Glenn
Chinander, union field representative. Agreement was
reached between the lawyers and the court to delay
action against the four men until after a decision on the
injunction requests before Judge Schultz. Judge Schultz
also agreed to reduce bail on Siegel and Nolan from
$1,000 to $250 each after the union argued that it needed the money now tied up in posting bonds to carry on
strike activities.
On Tuesday April 6, UPWA President Helstein took
the stand in Judge Schultz’ courtroom. He was testifying
over company objections that his testimony would be
irrelevant. Helstein began by stating that the strike was
called against the Big Four meatpackers due the companies’ refusal to bargain in good faith. What followed
were often three way legal arguments between counsel
for the opposing sides as well as Helstein – also a lawyer
- as to which law should apply in settling the matter of
the injunction requests.
While in court Helstein and Bert Holland, Armour
industrial relations representative, discussed an offer by
Judge Schultz to arbitrate the wage dispute between the
union and the packinghouses. Helstein told Schultz the
union was already on the record as favoring arbitration,
but Holland said his company was opposed to any such
settlement. He explained that Armour & Company did
not want to turn over the writing of a new contract with
the union to a third party.
1948 Meatpackers Strike
At one point the exchange between the judge and
Holland grew even more interesting and imaginative.
Judge Schultz suggested that Holland go to work inside
the plant with the same wages and under the same conditions as the average worker to see “if you can make
ends meet.” The judge added that both the company and
the union should “do unto others as you would want
them to do unto you . . . There should be plenty for
everyone. A broad method has to be devised on a national basis for everyone to lay his cards on the table and
settle these problems.”
Holland replied that it was “an incorrect concept to
assume that Armour’s wages are lower than they should
be. They are liberal as compared to the rest of industry.”
“What if all industry is too low?” Judge Schultz
“No one company should be singled out to lead the
parade for the entire world,” Holland replied.
The only concession hinted at by the company in
Armour and Company offered a reward for information
on the persons responsible for assaulting persons who
continued to work, in effect announcing the names of
“scabs”. South St. Paul Daily Reporter May 8, 1948.
Page 13
court was a statement by Holland to the effect that the
packers’ nine-cent offer might be revised if “new facts
are developed or the company takes some other view.”
The Chicago Armour office was quick to refute
Holland’s statement repeating that the nine-cent offer
was, in effect, a final one and not subject to change.
At one point in the proceeding counsel for both
sides agreed to enter a series of statistics into the record.
Douglas Hall, UPWA attorney, stated that Armour’s
profits in 1947 were nearly $31 million. He argued that
in light of these figures the company could afford to pay
more than the nine-cents an hour offered.
Holland replied that the nine-cent raise alone would
cost the company an additional $9 million a year.
Holland argued that profit and wage were not necessarily linked. “If you tie wages to profits, then wages must
go up or down as prices rise or decline,” he said.
The same day they were quarreling over the numbers in a Hastings courtroom C. H. Johnson, executive
secretary of the Dakota County Welfare Board, was
reporting that since the beginning of the strike applications for assistance were up sharply. To date, he said,
126 packinghouse worker applications for help had been
received in his office. Of these 79 had been accepted,
and aid in the amount of nearly $3000 had been tendered; twelve applications had been denied and the balance were pending investigation. During normal times,
Johnson added, his office received approximately 30
cases per month.
The next few days revealed the multi-layered depth
of strike-related activity and its potential for spillover
into other areas of life in post-war America. At the highest level the fact-finding board reported back to the
President and called the packers’ nine-cent offer “substantial” but refrained from making recommendations.
President Truman urged both sides to read the report and
analyze its contents with an open mind and work toward
renewed negotiations and settlement of the walkout.
President Truman cautioned however, that the government was utilizing all of the provisions available under
Taft-Hartley in the coal dispute and was prepared to do
the same in the meat strike.
At about the same time President Truman was
receiving the report and deciding to hold up on any further legal action under Taft-Hartley to end the strike,
workers at the St. Paul Union Stockyards in South St.
Paul authorized their union to strike if negotiations
toward a higher wage agreement failed to progress. The
stock yards had offered the nearly 300 workers there a
two and a half cent increase which brought about the
strike vote just as limited trade was resuming in the
yards. The union, which had been out of work anyway
since the strike began, was seeking a 29-cent increase. A
state conciliator was brought in and the union modified
Page 14
its demand to 19-cents. The company replied that it had
made other concession in the form of sick leave, paid
holidays and vacation. Clearly everyone was urgently
attempting to stave off another strike – and with good
reason. Marketing had resumed at the yards, albeit on a
very limited basis.
While some 40 truck loads entered the yards after
consignors had obtained permits from their selling agencies, farmers were warned yet again not to ship live stock
there without getting permission in advance. The South
St. Paul hog market reopened for the first time since the
strike began and reported about 150 head on sale.
Meanwhile UPWA President Helstein reported that
the picket lines were holding all across the country at the
struck plants despite an announcement by Armour that
they had resumed operations at 21 of its plants.
In South St. Paul a striking member of the UPWA
was arrested on a warrant and held in the Dakota County
jail on $1,000 bail for allegedly assaulting a Swift &
Company non-striking employee who attempted to cross
the picket line the afternoon before. The complaining
worker said he was stopped at the line near Grand and
Concord while trying to report for work as an oiler for
the coolers. He said he was bodily carried into a nearby
alley and confronted. He said the striker asked him if he
loved his wife. The man replied that he did and was then
told to go back home.
In Chicago one of the more bizarre episodes of the
entire strike was taking place. The Chicago Tribune in a
front-page editorial demanded the impeachment of
Minnesota Gov. Luther Youndahl.
“When he was asked to do his sworn duty and stop
a wholly illegal CIO blockade of a packing house, which
the union had extended without rhyme or reason to nearby municipal and federal facilities, Governor Youngdahl
of Minnesota retorted that he didn’t mind ‘pushing a few
scabs around.’” The editorial stated. It then turned its
guns on other local officials. “Mayor Henry Gackstetter
of South St. Paul, scene of the lawlessness, boasted ‘this
is a union town.’ Norman Dieter, sheriff in that county,
cravenly failed to enforce an injunction against the lawbreakers.”
Gov. Youndahl issued a reply to Col. Robert
McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune.
Youndahl said that if there was going to be any impeaching done in Minnesota if would be done by the people in
Minnesota, not by Col. McCormick.
Hope appeared for the first time since the strike
began that talks could be resumed between the parties.
In Judge Schultz’ courtroom Swift General
Superintendent John E. Wilson expressed a willingness
to resume talks over the wage dispute with Helstein.
Judge Schultz continued the hearings on the injunction
requests as a result of the offer to reopen talks. Reports
1948 Meatpackers Strike
out of Chicago also indicated that
Armour ad Swift had both agreed to
resume negotiations with the UPWA.
President Truman ordered a federal
mediator to arrange the new talks in
light of the fact that the fact-finding
board had found merit to the positions
of both sides in the dispute.
Presidential candidates Harold E.
Stassen of Minnesota and New York
Gov. Thomas Dewey squared off in a
primary being described as a “free-forall.” The day of the vote Stassen
returned to his home on Stewart Lane
in South St. Paul to celebrate his 41st
birthday and receive the primary
results. Stassen won.
The same day sheriff’s deputies
and local police successfully escorted
two delivery trucks out of the Swift
plant through the picket lines at Grand
and Concord despite resistance.
On April 16 Cudahy officials in
Newport announced they were resuming limited operations at the plant there
using supervisory personnel in place of
striking union members. The UPWA
charged that the company’s decision
constituted a violation of their agreement to allow office and supervisory
The packing plants at South St. Paul employed people from many different
personnel back into the building. The
racial and ethnic backgrounds. Photo by St. Paul Dispatch, Pioneer Press,
company, the union said, in return had
Minnesota Historical Society.
agreed not to try and resume operations. The company countered by sayplants are already producing on a normal basis and fair
ing the agreement could simply be terminated through
progress toward that goal is being made in all others
where the legal right of men to work if they want to has
One day later South St. Paul Armour & Company
been upheld. Naturally we are giving and will continSuperintendent Sheehy announced that his company had
ue to give preference to the striking employees who
reviewed the fact-finding report, conferred with UPWA
want to return.”
representatives and the regional director of the federal
The Armour statement was nothing less than a clarmediation service, and concluded that any further talks
ion call to union strikers and non-union workers looking
would be futile. Therefore, he said, negotiations were
for a job to defy the UPWA and cross the picket lines. As
over and Armour “shall now restore operations in our
if heralding the beginning of a more explosive and
plants as rapidly as we can obtain personnel.” Where
potentially violent phase of the strike, four strikers were
there had been just the barest glimmer of hope for reacharrested in Chicago shortly after the Armour announceing a settlement there was now only a renewed call to
ment and charged with assaulting a worker trying to
economic warfare.
cross the line.
Even though the other three members of the “Big
On Monday April 19 Judge Schultz told a packed
Four” packinghouses – Swift, Wilson and Cudahy –
courtroom that he was willing to withdraw from the case
continued to negotiate, the tenor of the Armour
should counsel for either side request he do so. The
announcement was ominous and unyielding. Sheehy
jurist explained that he had personally visited the picket
said, “We have evidence that our wage rates are attraclines in South St. Paul and came away convinced that
tive in getting new employees. Four of our struck
the number of pickets should be limited to two. His
1948 Meatpackers Strike
Page 15
The National Guardsmen who were called in to break up the strike were considerably younger
than the strikers themselves. Photo by St. Paul Dispatch, Pioneer Press, Minnesota Historical Society.
remarks came as he reconvened the hearing into the
Swift and Armour requests for injunctions against the
UPWA and continued the growing list of contempt
actions against union officials until completion of the
injunction cases. Judge Schultz opened the proceeding by
reading the state and federal statutes on contempt of court
and remarked, “I’m beginning to wonder if some people
believe we should have courts or do away with them.”
His remarks this day could not have been a source
of hope for the defendants. At one point Judge Schultz
said, “After what I saw I would be very glad to have an
affidavit of prejudice filed against me in the contempt
action and let another judge take my place.”
He asked UPWA counsel Douglas Hall if he thought
it was “ time for the courts to abdicate and let the unions
take over the law.”
“Certainly not,” Hall replied. In a studied understatement he added, “But I think there are times in labor
disputes when corporations try to make use of the
courts. I still don’t see where calling a scab a scab is a
Milton Siegel had been arrested the day before on
his second set of contempt charges for allegedly threatening a worker who tried to cross the picket line. Siegel
maintained that he had merely called the man a “scab.”
The mood in court had grown testy as evidenced by
the following exchange. Judge Schultz asked Hall
Page 16
whether we desired Siegel’s bail on the new charge to be
reduced from $1,000 to $250 like the last one.
Hall said, “No, because we’re going to win these
contempt actions and then we’re going to sue the stuffing out of Swift for damages.”
Things were more than testy on the national scene.
In Chicago the union tightened its lines around the
Armour plant in the face of the company’s announced
plans to resume operations and the Chicago police
department responded by positioning 1,000 officers
nearby. In Moultrie, GA a bomb blast shattered the
home of a union worker who had crossed the line to
return to work at the Swift plant there.
The action then shifted to the South St. Paul City
Council where Aldermen Andrew Lehmann and Mike
Jerhoff protested the use of the council chambers by the
CIO Welfare Committee as a location for screening
members who had applied for union relief funds. The
aldermen claimed that a request for use of the chambers
had not been made to the council and certainly no
authorization had been forthcoming allowing the union
to install a private phone line for its use. Mayor
Gackstetter replied that he had given permission for use
of the space but was not aware of the telephone installation. He added that the union would be paying for the
phone in any event.
Alderman Lehmann said using a public building for
1948 Meatpackers Strike
a private business was no more justified than would be
his own use of the city recorder’s office to carry on real
estate business. Alderman Mike Verderosa countered
Lehmann’s contention saying that the use of the chambers by the union was simply a matter of public interest.
Alderman Jerhoff pointed out that the union had not
filed a written request to use the space as required. So
Verderosa, in his capacity as a union official, hastily
drew one up on the spot and offered it as a remedy to the
technicality. City Attorney Paul Thuet then advised
Alderman Verderosa that his actions had disqualified
him from voting on whether the request should be
accepted. The vote was a 3-3 tie with Aldermen Joe
Moser, Donald Swanson and Frank Pessek voting to
accept, and Aldermen Lehmann, Jerhoff and Wilber Fisk
voting not to accept the request. Mayor Gackstetter
declined to break the tie and declared that the motion
had lost.
Meanwhile the Dakota County Welfare Board
reported that claims for relief by striking workers’ families continued to rise.
The next day Judge Schultz took another stab at
mediating a settlement to the strike in South St. Paul. He
met for an hour and half with Helstein and Swift official
John Wilson, only to emerge from the meeting to
announce that his efforts had been futile but that the two
men had agreed to meet the following week in Chicago.
Meanwhile the judge’s offer to be replaced in the contempt proceedings against the union men was not
accepted by either party.
The second day of the Armour back to work effort
brought the first death. A striking picketer was killed in
Chicago outside the Armour plant when he fell under the
wheels of a truck being driven through the picket lines.
The union charged that the Chicago police were complicit in the man’s death.
In St. Paul four men said to be striking packinghouse workers beat a Cudahy division superintendent
from the Newport plant while the man was visiting bars
along South Robert Street trying to talk striking workers
into coming back to work.
Reports of violence in cities and town across the
nation where packinghouses were being struck began
finding their way into the newspapers. A man’s house
was fire bombed in Omaha, a trucker trying to deliver
cattle to a Morrell plant in Ottumwa, IA was beaten, and
a man’s wife in Ottumwa fired shots into the air to scare
off several men who were threatening her husband, a
Morrell foreman.
And it all seemed to reach an inevitable head April
23 when more than 100 club swinging policemen
charged and overran the union picket line outside of the
Cudahy plant in Kansas City, KS. Police then chased the
picketers across the street into the union headquarters
1948 Meatpackers Strike
where, within 10 minutes, the facility was reduced to a
“bloody shambles.” The union charged police with brutality and the police said they were enforcing a lawful
order and that the union had been amassing a stockpile
of weapons inside of the union hall. The fighting resulted in six people being hospitalized, one with a fractured
skull. Helstein termed the police actions in Kansas City,
“police terrorism.”
As April drew to a close and the strike dragged on
into forty-plus days, each side sought to up the ante and
increase the pressure on the other side while the Truman
administration continued pressing for a solution.
Violence in the striking communities escalated and no
where was there even a glimmer of hope that a breakthrough in the deadlock was near. On April 28 CIO
President Phillip Murray asked the six million CIO
members to boycott the products of the meatpacking
companies being struck. Wilson & Company threatened
to replace striking employees with newly hired workers
if they chose not to promptly return to their jobs, and the
UPWA matched with a threat to extend the strike to
independent packinghouses.
The companies were apparently experiencing some
success in their drive to renew operations at the struck
plants. On April 29 the companies announced that fully
one third of the striking workers nationwide had
returned to their jobs. While there was some evidence of
progress in renewing production in the steadily increasing purchases of live stock from week to week, it was
generally conceded that company claims were exaggerated. In the face of company actions Local 167 UPWA
at Swift in South St. Paul met in the CIO hall on West
Seventh Street in St. Paul and voted overwhelmingly to
stay out on strike until the wage dispute was settled. And
while the administration had forced the companies back
to the bargaining table mediators held out little hope for
The month of May brought a ruling from Judge
Schultz on the Swift and Armour requests for injunctions against the UPWA. He denied the company
requests, citing a union pledge not to engage in illegal
picketing at either plant in South St. Paul and replying
on the Minnesota Labor Relations Act, which the judge
said, required proof of illegal acts being committed and
that they will be continued unless restrained.
“This court cannot conscientiously find that unlawful acts will be continued unless restrained,” he said.
The ruling came a day after Swift and Armour notified striking workers that if they did not return to their
jobs by May 10 those jobs would be open for replacement by other workers and that the strikers would then
forfeit all rights. The packers maintained that they had
bargained with the union as recently as April 28 without
success thereby necessitating the ultimatum. The move
Page 17
brought a quick reaction from Glen Chinander, UPWA
field representative. He issued the following statement:
“The letters sent by the packers to their employees are
for the purpose of trying to intimidate and coerce union
members to return to work and break the strike. This is
a legal strike. Our contracts are open on wages only, and
no purpose can be served by these threats . . . The packers can end this strike by bargaining in good faith with
the union. Until then the strike will continue.”
The following day at a Chicago news conference
UPWA President Helstein said the union would consider settling the nationwide walkout if the companies
would agree to a cut in meat prices across the board. He
said the union might be willing to accept the nine-cents
offer under such an agreement but that the meat price cut
would have to be for the long term. His statement drew
attention because it was the first indication that the
UPWA might be willing to come off its demand for a 29cent raise.
Helstein also announced that the union had authorized strikes against independent packers in light of, what
he claimed, were independent packinghouses’ attempts
to aid the Big Four companies by slaughtering and processing animals on their behalf. Locally UPWA’s Glen
Chinander announced that the 4,000 union members in
Local 9 at the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota were
preparing to go on strike. “This action is in line with our
policy to extend the strike in the meat industry,” he said.
Similar notices were sent on behalf of union members to
the management at the Bartusch Packing Company and
Superior Packing Company, both located in St. Paul.
Both plants’ workers had returned to work earlier on the
grounds that negotiations for a wage increase continued
and a 12-cent increase was granted in the interim. The
union claimed the talks had broken down.
The events locally mirrored what the UPWA was
attempting on a national level. The union sought to
widen the strike to independent packinghouses across
the country as well as against the Big Four plants in their
other operations, which employed members of other
unions. In addition there was the threat of a strike by
stockhandlers and yard employees in the gigantic
Chicago stockyards which would cripple marketing
operations there.
In South St. Paul, Swift and Armour lawyers struck
back by filing for a new round of hearings on requests
for injunctions against the union restraining them from
“illegal picketing.” The cases were back before Judge
Schultz who had assured the companies when he denied
their requests for injunctions a week before that they
would received reconsideration should the union fail to
limit its picketing accordingly.
Meanwhile William Brust, 118-2nd Avenue South,
South St. Paul, appeared in Municipal Court in that city
Page 18
and pleaded not guilty to a charge of third degree
assault. He was charged with assaulting a Swift employee as the man tried to cross the picket line. Brust maintained he was bumped by the other man’s car when it
was crossing the line and that an altercation followed.
Douglas Hall, UPWA counsel announced Thursday
May 6 that he was going to ask Judge Schultz to issue a
temporary injunction against Swift and Armour restraining the companies from engaging in conduct aimed at
“intimidation of workers.” The injunction proceedings
followed on the heels of the restraining order obtained
by Hall preventing the two packing companies from
mailing any further notices to striking workers threatening them with the loss of their jobs if they refused to
report for work by May 10. Hall argued that the letters
to the workers was an unfair labor practice under state
law. He also accused the companies of failing to forward
union dues paid under a check off system and for failing
to pay sick benefits due some union workers. The unions
were also back under a pending restraining order centering on the mass picketing which had been renewed.
The next day the UPWA announced that a union
legal counter-offensive was being launched at the
national level as well with suits being filed in U. S.
District Court against Swift, Armour and Wilson, alleging essentially what Hall had described in his action
against the companies filed in Hastings.
Parties to the local actions gathered Friday May 7 in
the Hastings courtroom before Judge Schultz. At this
time a non-striking Swift employee, who had apparently witnessed the alleged assault by William Brust on a
man trying to cross the picket line, testified that the
judge who heard the Brust matter was prejudiced against
the companies. The day before South St. Paul Municipal
Judge Lewis C. Shepley dismissed charges of third
degree assault against Brust. Emil Peters, a Swift safety
department employee testified that he saw Brust leap
onto the running board of a car of an employee who was
trying to cross the line and enter the plant for work.
Peters said he saw Brust reach through the window
attempting to strike the worker. He admitted however,
that he did not actually see Brust strike the other man.
“Are you saying that you believe the judge was prejudiced in dismissing charges against Brust?” Judge
Schultz asked.
“Yes,” Peters replied.
A Hungarian immigrant, life-long socialist, one time
Trotskyist and member of the Young Communist
League and Socialist Workers Party, Brust would in later
years teach modern languages at Carlton College in
Northfield, Minnesota and would run for governor of
Minnesota on the Workers League ticket.24
Meanwhile the contemplated action by the 4,000
union members at the Hormel plant in Austin did not
1948 Meatpackers Strike
materialize as the UPWA had threatened earlier. Local 9
President Frank W. Schultz announced that rather than
strike, union members there had voted to curtail production and contribute $12,500 per week to the UPWA
strike fund. The production slow down was the result of
negotiations with Hormel management.
“Numerous legal obstacles remain to be explored
because of the Hormel contract and also because of exiting statutes,” a union statement said.
Another blow to the UPWA was delivered May 10
when stock handlers at the Sioux City yards, members
of the UPWA local 176 voted not to strike at this time.
On May 11 the stock handlers in the Chicago yards settled at the last minute before a scheduled 12:01 a.m.
walkout. Strikes by the stock handlers, while arguably
not technically sympathy strikes prohibited by TaftHartley, would have added much needed leverage to the
UPWA efforts against the meatpackers. While the South
St. Paul stock handlers were still threatening to strike,
their situation grew murkier after the larger union in
Chicago settled.
In Hastings Judge Schultz took under advisement
the Swift request for reinstating the restraining order
against the union prohibiting mass picketing. He said he
would hold the record open for a week and make an
additional study of the situation at Grand and Concord.
He told attorneys that he had gone to the plant for a look
and now felt that matters were under control.
UPWA counsel Hall argued that the picketers were
making no efforts to physically stop people from entering and leaving the plant, but he did not deny company
charges of name-calling.
“After all, you can’t stop people from wanting to see
who is taking their jobs,” Hall said.
Tensions along the picket lines at Grand and
Concord and Armour Avenue and Concord were clearly
on the rise. The companies claimed that their back to
work efforts were having a sizable impact with more
and more striking workers crossing the line. The union,
on the other hand, said the companies’ tactics were a
“flop.” One clue as to the truth as well as to the rising
tensions emerged when Tony Rechtzigel, owner of the
South St. Paul Transit Company bus line – known locally as the jitney – stated that he had been asked to resume
service to the plants themselves. Since the strike the bus
line had been making a stop at Grand and Concord
instead of heading through the gates to the Swift plant.
Tensions were on the rise across the board. In Albert
Lea at the Wilson plant there it was described by local
officials as “very tense” as non-striking employees were
turned back by strikers. In Winona, 25 police were dispatched to quell outbreaks at the Swift & Co. gates and
the assistant plant manager was beaten near his home
and required hospitalization. And in South St. Paul the
1948 Meatpackers Strike
May 10 deadline for returning to their jobs or face loss
of those jobs and seniority passed for the striking workers of the Armour plant.
At the same time a committee headed by
Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey and St. Paul
Mayor John J. McDonough was formed to seek funds to
buy food and emergency clothing for striking UPWA
workers. The committee issued a statement affirming
that no strike “should be settled by starvation.” The
statement went on to conclude that the committee did
not wish to judge the merits of the dispute, “But we do
not want the packinghouse workers forced to submit to
agreements because their families are sick and hungry.”
At the Capitol, State Welfare Director Jarle Leirfallom
defended relief grants by the state to striking workers
saying the grants were based on need and could not be
withheld to break a strike.
On Wednesday, May 12 the UPWA played what had
always been its trump card. Without announcement the
union resumed mass picketing on the streets leading to
the Swift and Armour plants in South St. Paul. They
gathered before dawn at Grand and Concord as well as
further south on Concord at Armour Avenue and it was
not long before tensions reached the boiling point. The
live stock market and any ongoing packinghouse operations were immediately shut down. Non-striking workers trying to report for their shifts on this morning were
not only turned back, they were punished for trying to
cross the picket lines.
Hundreds of strikers blocked the entrances to the
plant, a solid phalanx a block deep in front of the Swift
Mayor Henry Gackstetter closed the bars in South
St. Paul for the duration of the strike. South St. Paul
Daily Reporter May 13, 1948.
Page 19
gates, shouting, jeering and cursing those trying to pass
through the lines. They tipped over cars, punches were
thrown, and when a small number of city police and
sheriff’s deputies tried to stop the fighting, they were
defied by the strikers and brushed aside. At one point a
car driven by Oscar Malm of South St. Paul was tipped
over and as police attempted to get between the strikers
and the occupants of the car, one of the officers fired a
pistol in the air to disperse the mob. The car was then
righted and allowed to drive away from the scene.
Judge Schultz went to Grand and Concord to see for
himself and immediately issued a temporary injunction
against the UPWA. His order limited the number of
pickets at the Swift plant to 10. Almost simultaneously
Sheriff Dieter and a delegation of city officials rushed to
the Capital seeking help from Gov. Youngdahl to quell
the disturbance
Mayor Gackstetter ordered all of the bars in town
closed for the duration of the strike.
On the streets, matters calmed somewhat by midmorning and pickets, other strikers, non-strikers and
spectators milled about uneasily. The police stayed on
the scene in case of another outburst.
“Rumblings keep running through the crowd from
time to time,” one officer said. “But they have quieted
down at least for the time being.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly sent
agents to the scene of the fighting and State Labor
Conciliator Leonard Johnson also was there for a first
hand view of the unfolding events.
Milt Siegel, UPWA field representative, said, “The
fighting this morning was a spontaneous movement on
the part of pickets. It was caused by the packers’
attempts to smash the strike by sending out threatening
letters and trying to hire scabs all over the state by setting up employment agencies.”
Some reports indicated that the mass picketing was
resorted to when it was learned that the packinghouses
were buying up increasing numbers of live stock, indicating plans to step up operations. Swift issued, in part,
the following statement:
“A large mob of CIO strikers and imported goons
are again employing lawless tactics, including mass
picketing in South St. Paul. Swift employees were
denied their rights under Minnesota law to enter our
plant and offices this morning.”
The statement also detailed the temporary injunction which ordered the UPWA to restrict their picketing
activity at Grand and Concord to 10 pickets from curb to
curb with four allowed on each adjacent sidewalk.
An angry Gov. Youngdahl refused to intervene but
challenged Sheriff Dieter to do something to control the
situation or step aside and let some one else try.
“I think it is very unfortunate that this happened in
Page 20
South St. Paul today. We cannot countenance violations
of the law or further disturbances of this kind. I suggested also that the sheriff and the county attorney should
call the county board into session to deputize more men
if they are needed,” the governor said, adding that he
told Dieter that “if because of local circumstances and
atmosphere he is handicapped in enforcing the law, he
should step down and let me appoint another sheriff who
is not so circumscribed.”
Sheriff Dieter had no comment.
The next day the mass picketing continued and the
UPWA announced that they would try to comply with
the injunction issued by Judge Schultz the day before.
The union also attempted a last ditch effort to convince
Gov. Youngdahl to intervene as an arbitrator.
“The people want the strike settled and the union
wants it settled,” UPWA field representative Glen
Chinander said. “It’s up to the packers. If they would
accept the proposal to arbitrate, the strike would end.”
The packers did not accept nor did the governor saying that he could not intervene as an arbiter at the state
level in an attempt to settle a national strike. Before the
day was over however, events would overhaul the governor and he would face a decision to intervene in the
strike – but not at the bargaining table.
On Thursday May 13 Sheriff Dieter, accompanied
by 16 city police officers and four of his deputies, tried
to break the mass picketing at the foot of Grand Avenue,
now described as being made up of thousands of men
and women. The surging crowd, swinging clubs and
fists, quickly overwhelmed the law enforcement officers. At one point all of the officers were knocked to the
ground and at least one injured policeman was carried
from the scene.
The day began with Sheriff Dieter issuing an ultimatum to the pickets from a loudspeaker mounted on
a sound truck. The crowd he was addressing was in
fact a wall of men and women packed together curb to
curb from Concord and Grand back to the Chicago
Great Western tracks in front of the Swift gates and
the stockyards.
“I will give you 15 minutes. If you have not dispersed by 10:25 a.m. we will come over and see that you
do it,” he said.
The policemen and deputies stood with grim faces
waiting for a signal from the sheriff. At 10:25 a.m.
exactly Dieter started across the street with his men.
They approached the first line of strikers where there
was a short discussion. Finally Dieter said, “Well, let’s
go in there, boys.”
The officers reached for the nearest picketers to
arrest them but were immediately set upon by the other
strikers. The strikers used their fists and what were
described as small clubs, and after knocking all of the
1948 Meatpackers Strike
way into the Cudahy plant in Newport and
abducted 30 non-strikers working there and
wrecked plant machinery. The UPWA disavowed any connection with this latest incident
and the men breaking into the plant were gone
by the time police arrived. Most of the workers
allegedly taken from the plant were released
shortly afterward.
Maybe the violence at the Cudahy plant was
the last straw or maybe it was what happened the
day before in South St. Paul. Maybe it was the
caravan of non-striking workers to the Capital
demanding they be protected going to and coming from their jobs in the packing plants or the
fact that the Sheriffs of both Dakota and
Washington County signed petitions attesting to
being unable to protect life and property, but on
May 14 Gov. Youngdahl ordered the Minnesota
National Guard mobilized.
When word of the mobilization reached the
strikers on the picket line the first thought was to
question how the guard would be used. One
picket was heard to say, “They’d just better not
War veterans confronted National Guardsmen on the corner of try to use the guard as a strike breaker.”
Grand and Concord. Photo by St. Paul Dispatch, Pioneer Press,
A police officer said, “If they’re going to
Minnesota Historical Society.
close up the plant and order everyone off the
street, then everything will be calm. But if they
officers to the ground, drove them to the other side of
use the guard to open up the picket lines, there may be
the street where Dieter attempted to regroup. South St.
Paul patrolman Art Giguere was injured in the melee
Soon veterans began showing up on the picket lines
and carried from the scene by two other officers. His
wearing their service uniforms. One veteran with a long
injuries turned out to be not serious. As the officers
row of service ribbons on his chest carried a sign readwalked away in torn and soiled uniforms the crowd
ing, “Do vets have to fight for higher wages too?”
cheered and clapped. An empty shoe remained in the
The next day, Saturday May 15, the Minnesota
middle of the street.
National Guard cleared the streets of downtown South
It was Siegel’s turn to use a loudspeaker. The
St. Paul. It was the second time in the city’s history that
UPWA field representative told the strikers to “hold
they had done so. They began arriving about midnight in
tight.” Amazingly he charged that the police had beaten
convoys from armories across the state and set up operone of the picketers.
ations inside the Swift plant in South St. Paul and across
A few blocks away on Concord Street three nonthe river in Newport at the Cudahy plant. They were
striking Swift employees were beaten at a gas station.
young and many would, under normal conditions, have
One of the men was hospitalized.
been taking high school graduation exams. Some were
Later the same day Siegel issued a statement arguwar veterans as well. They came from Bemidji, Fergus
ing that the strikers were “fighting for their jobs and for
Falls, Moorhead, St. Cloud, Sauk Centre, Princeton,
their families with the only means available.”
Minneapolis, Milaca, St. Paul, Park Rapids, Litchfield25
He went on to say, “The profit swollen packers
and Benson. And by 7 a.m. they were on duty outside of
have abandoned all pretense of bargaining and have
the plants facing angry strikers.
resorted to threats, intimidation, bribes and misrepreSkirmishing between guardsmen and strikers was
sentation. They now use the police and the sheriff to
reported in the early morning hours outside of the Swift
cover up their provocations. Any disturbance is the
plant and three men were arrested. The crowd continued
direct result of this brazen campaign to smash the CIO
to build near the Swift gates overflowing in and all
union in the packing industry.”
around the Grand and Concord intersection. Strikers and
The violence spread across the river when early the
strike sympathizers jeered the guardsmen as the soldiers
next day an estimated 200 men reportedly smashed their
took up their positions. By mid-morning an estimated
1948 Meatpackers Strike
Page 21
After the strike, abandoned picket signs leaned against a lamppost.
Photo by St. Paul Dispatch, Pioneer Press, Minnesota Historical Society.
1,000 people jammed the intersection and Grand Avenue
approach to the plant and the yards as the guard commander Col. Lester Hancock stepped to the loudspeaker.
He told the crowd that Sheriff Dieter had issued a
proclamation forbidding groups of more than four people from gathering within the designated emergency
A few minutes later about 400 guardsmen with rifles
and fixed bayonets emerged from the Swift staging area.
They were shoulder to shoulder in a V-formation at the
front and stretched across the street and along the curb
lines. At a signal they slowly began moving up Grand
and into the Concord Avenue intersection. The crowd
jeered and many strikers and sympathizers shouted at
the guardsmen asking them not to go against fellow veterans. Howard Seiple, an 18-year-old guardsman and
high school senior from Fergus Falls, was placed in the
point of the wedge – the spear tip. He recalled many
across the line from him yelled that they were war veterans and that the guardsmen should not be doing this to
them. Over half a century later Seiple believes the fact
that so many of the strikers were war veterans may have
kept the violence to a minimum. “They had respect for
the flag,” he explained.
Page 22
Slowly the crowd gave way and the guard channeled
them out of the intersection and down Concord to the
north and south clearing completely the approach to
Swift and the stockyards. In their wake they left the
legal number of pickets in place outside of the Swift
gate. A short time later armed soldiers began escorting
non-striking workers through the gates and into the
plant. There was a brief flare up, but an armed half-track
quickly broke any resistance to the entrance of the nonstrikers.
At the Armour gate the legal number of pickets were
present when the soldiers arrived. No violence was
reported and eventually non-strikers crossed the picket
lines with the assistance of the guard.
For all intents and purposes the strike had been broken. Almost immediately word reached South St. Paul
that new talks were being scheduled between the parties
and federal conciliators. Gov. Youngdahl announced
that he would fly to Chicago to participate in the talks.
In Hastings UPWA counsel Douglas Hall removed
Judge Schultz from hearing the contempt cases against
the union and some of its members by filing an affidavit
of prejudice. Judge Charles Hall was named to take his
place. Across the river the County Attorney’s office was
1948 Meatpackers Strike
making plans to issue warrants charging inciting to riot
against more than 30 men charged with invading the
Cudahy plant.
On Monday, May 17 the South St. Paul City Council
in its regular meeting managed to pass a resolution urging President Truman to bring about an end to the strike.
The resolution made no mention of the fact that troops
were now patrolling the streets of the downtown section
of the city. It asked the President to “call upon the proper authorities to energetically pursue a wise course of
arbitration or mediation or any other steps he deems
advisable to be urged upon the contending factions.”
In Hastings a jury was being selected to hear the
contempt case against Milt Siegel and subpoenas were
served by the U.S. Marshall’s office on Siegel and
Sheriff Dieter to appear before a section of the House
Committee on Expenditures examining the application
of Taft-Hartley law in the packinghouse dispute particularly its provisions on violence, destruction of property
and the denial of the right to work.
On May 18 the union rejected a company proposal
but indicated a willingness to accept the nine-cent wage
increase. The dispute now centered on how striking
workers were to be returned to work. The formula presented by the Big Four packers was as follows:
l Acceptance of the nine-cent wage increase
retroactive to May 3.
l The union to order strikers back to work as directed by plant superintendents.
l Employees discharged for illegal acts during the
strike to have a right to present their grievances in
accordance with existing contract provisions.
Union President Ralph Helstein termed the third
point in the proposal “vindictive and callous,” an
attempt to engage in indiscriminate firing of strikers and
union officials.
While they talked in Chicago the strike continued to
take a toll. In South St. Paul Municipal Court three
women entered pleas of not guilty to charges of assault
arising out of the days of violence in front of the Swift
plant. The Dakota County Welfare Board announced
that cases for April and half of May totaled 179. Total
monies given to families were more than $10,000 as
compared to a non-strike average of about $3,000. Hugo
Johnson, executive director of the board, said fewer
applications were being received compared to the beginning of the strike.
On May 20 the union locals in South St. Paul and
across the nation began taking a vote on ending the
strike. And in Waterloo, Iowa a striking picket was
killed when he was shot in the head by a frightened nonstriker attempting to cross the picket line. The killing
came as national guardsmen in that town attempted to
regain control of the streets near the Rath plant there.
1948 Meatpackers Strike
Mary Gebhart Kaliszewski
Looking back over more than half century since
the strike Mary Kaliszewski – then Mary Gebhart –
recalls varied images of the labor conflict. She was
student at St. Catherine’s College in St. Paul at the
time working summers as a secretary in the administration building at Swift & Company.
She remembers a certain proprietary interest in
the plant because it was her grandfather Wallace
Gebhart who supervised the construction of the
sprawling facility in 1897, which added to the pain of
the long and bitter strike. Her father, who worked in
the electrical department of the plant, was one of
those supervisory personnel who found themselves
in permanent residency there after the pickets went
up. She explained that he was needed inside the plant
to insure that the basic electrical needs of such a large
facility were met. It was three weeks, she said, before
she saw him again.
It was frightening, she recalls, especially after
the fighting broke out in earnest along the picket line
at Grand and Concord. Once the National Guard
came, she said, there was a standing order forbidding
the gathering of more than four people in this part of
the city. Mary remembers standing near the intersection watching the patrolling soldiers accompanied by
a heavily armed half-track they brought to quell the
disturbance. She and friends half joked that were
more than four of them to meet near the intersection
they might constitute a mob.
Following the strike and after the school year
ended Mary resumed her work for Swift. She spent
much of her time during those days typing statements
and testimony that company lawyers used in the
ongoing litigation against the UPWA. She recalled
seeing surveillance photographs in the office, also
part of the legal action, and heard talk of the union
allegedly importing “goons from Chicago.” Many of
the photos were taken, she said, from the roof of the
Swift administration building with a telescopic lens.
There was talk of brass knuckles being used, and outside agitation by the union, and ongoing courtroom
Mary also recalls the fear and bitterness that followed in the wake of the strike long after it was settled. Hard feelings became part of the social fabric of
the town for some time, and while they ultimately
slipped further and further beneath the surface, they
never completely evaporated. Everyone knew who
was on what side, she said.
Page 23
The union balloting was to determine whether the
rank and file would accept the latest offer from the packers. The offer included the original nine-cent wage
increase. The rehiring issue was presumably settled by
each side agreeing to arbitration according to normal
grievance procedure – as contained in the companies’
original proposal. The UPWA officials recommended to
the members that they accept the offer for three of the Big
Four. Wilson & Company had refused to agree to arbitration to settle disputes on rehiring striking workers. The
67-day walkout appeared to be on the verge of ending.
It took about 24 hours to tabulate the results of
union voting at nearly 100 plants in 44 cities nationwide.
On May 22 instructions were received in South St. Paul
that picketing was to end at noon. Upon receipt of the
news Gov. Youngdahl ordered the guard withdrawn. The
strike was over.
After 67-days of bitter and sometimes bloody economic warfare there were loose ends to tie up, most of
them legal. In Hastings contempt actions were still in
progress. Siegel’s defense lawyer Douglas Hall
launched the UPWA field representative’s defense by
charging that Sheriff Dieter asked union officials to
mass picket to prove to others that law enforcement did
not have the numbers to breach the union lines. Mike
Verderosa, a member of the Swift local, testified that
Dieter approached him and asked for more pickets to be
placed on the line. Dieter, called as a rebuttal witness,
denied he had made any such request.
On Monday May 24 the packing plants in South St.
Paul like those all across the nation resumed full operations. It was estimated that it would take about 10 days
for production to return to normal levels. Livestock
began flowing into the stockyards and prices were
expected to fluctuate before finding a true level. And
Milt Siegel took the stand in his own defense. He said
he ordered the mass picketing at the request of Sheriff
Dieter, accusing the sheriff of just putting on “a big
show.” Following his testimony, arguments by counsel
and the judge’s charge to the jury, they received the case
and began deliberations. He was convicted that night of
contempt and ultimately sentenced to six months in jail
and fined $100. His lawyer said the conviction would
be appealed.
The remaining trials proceeded in rapid-fire fashion.
William Nolan of Local 167 was the second of ten cases
to go before a jury and followed a pattern similar to
Siegel’s. In Stillwater the 39 men charged with raiding
the Cudahy plant entered pleas of not guilty and each
man demanded separate jury trials.
On May 29 the Nolan jury told the judge they were
deadlocked and his trial ended in a mistrial. No date was
Page 24
set for a new trial.
In South St. Paul the price of cattle went up and the
city made plans for Memorial Day observances. All time
records were set in the stockyards for cow and bull sales.
Everything appeared to be settling back into a normal
routine but on the morning of May 31 – Memorial Day
– the St. Paul Union Stockyards began to burn. The holiday was largely forgotten as residents gathered to watch
the blaze from the bluffs and along Camber Avenue.
Before long the blaze had consumed a large portion of
the southwest portion of the yards as well as 40 cattle
and 88 railroad cars. Damage was estimated at close to
$2 million.26
The last truck of the three companies of firefighters
from South St. Paul and seven from St. Paul left the
scene the next morning after battling the inferno with
flame and smoke reaching hundreds of feet into the air.
A lack of wind was credited with being a major factor in
there not being even more damage.
Fire officials said the cause of the fire was undetermined but later it was believed to have been the result of
a carelessly discarded cigarette butt.27
On June 5 in Indianapolis, Daniel J. Tobin, president
of the International Teamsters Union then with the CIO
rival AFL, denounced nationwide strikes saying they
served to paralyze industry and adversely affect other
unions. Three days later two district directors of the
UPWA resigned. Helstein said Meyer Stern of New York
and Herbert March resigned when the union decided to
end the strike. Another factor was believed to be the
UPWA decision to sign non-communist affidavits as
required by Taft-Hartley. The same day Stern and March
resigned, Ray Wenz, a national delegate from Local 114
of the AFL Amalgamated Meat Cutters, spoke to a meeting of his local on the subject of organizing in the South
St. Paul packinghouses. He asked each member to help
in this task by providing names of men they knew currently working at the plants. Wenz had attended his
union’s national convention in Chicago during the last
days of the strike and presumably carried back with him
guidance as to the direction for his local in the rapidly
escalating rivalry.28
Harry Urban, a UPWA picket captain at the Swift
plant during the strike, was the second union official
convicted of contempt and received a sentence identical
to that of Siegel. And on June 11 the union itself was
convicted of contempt. But on June 16 attorneys for
Swift and the UPWA agreed to a settlement on all outstanding litigation. The union entered guilty pleas on the
outstanding individual cases. As a result all civil actions
against the union and its individual members was dismissed.
In another hearing local 167 of UPWA began deciding whether to impose sanctions against 183 union
1948 Packinghouse Workers Strike
members for crossing the picket line in South St. Paul
during the strike. Sanctions included fines and possible
expulsion from the union. On the other side hearings
were being scheduled for July in front of a one man arbitration board to decide whether 30 Swift employees and
10 Armour workers would be terminated from their
jobs. The workers were accused of actions in violation
of the contract during the strike.
And as if to come full circle since the days before
the strike, on June 18 it was reported in Chicago that the
AFL Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen
indeed assigned a staff of organizers to plants under
contract to the CIO UPWA. But on June 30 in Chicago,
Ralph Helstein was reelected as president of the UPWA
in a vote seen as a validation by the rank and file of his
leadership during the long strike.
Under any analysis the UPWA suffered a serious
defeat in the strike. Frankly it is difficult to reach any
other conclusion than it was devastating. The union settled what had been termed right from the beginning as a
wage dispute pure and simple for the nine-cents an hour
raise offered by the packers in the first place. On top of
this they found themselves financially busted, targeted
by Amalgamated Meat Cutters who openly challenged
them at every turn, and the subject of much internecine
bitterness and conflict. Yet the union not only survived,
it reorganized and reconstituted itself fast enough to
negotiate further raises for its members by the end of
1948 and again in 1949.
The Big Four obviously felt they had won the strike,
but they paid a steep price losing millions in revenues
and business. Cudahy and Wilson are no longer in business while Armour and Swift currently bear no resemblance to the national industrial powers they were in the
late 1940s. Halpern in his book Down on the Killing
Floor, quotes a Kansas City union leader as saying, “It
taught the company a lesson. They lost millions of dollars out of that deal, and they knew we could do it
again.”29 While it is certainly possible to argue with this
statement, it is important to note that it never happened
again on a nationwide scale and with the wide spread
intensity as in 1948.
Perhaps the larger toll was in the lingering bitterness
and hard feelings between loyal union strikers and those
workers who crossed the picket lines. It seems to have
been a legacy that survived the strike by years, and in
some instances, never died until some of the principals
to the dispute did. It was a divisive chapter of local history to be sure, and even though the plants are long gone
and the UPWA no longer exits, the subject of the strike
generates feelings across the spectrum of human emotion when discussed by those who took part. Inside the
1948 Meatpackers Strike
plants in the days following the strike the union conducted a “blue button” campaign. Those workers who
had remained loyal to the union were given a blue button to wear. Those who crossed the picket lines were not
and were instead given the silent treatment.
Still when the strike was over people went back to
work. For the workers their pay increased, benefits
became stronger and working conditions by-and-large
improved through the 1950s and 60s. But a little over
twenty years later Swift closed and Armour began scaling back operations eventually closing for good in 1979.
The plants and their jobs were gone for keeps, but in the
years since the strike people worked hard at the plants
and in the yards for decent wages, raised families and
sent their children to school.
There were other meatpacking strikes to be sure in
the ensuing years and the strike against Swift and
Wilson in 1959 left its mark. But for the most part, the
packers and the union seem to have operated from that
of mutual co-existence not unlike the antagonists in the
film Rocky. When one of the men during a clench in the
final round of the grueling bloody fight says there will
be no rematch the other replies, “I don’t want one.”
Page 25
Sources for 1948 Meatpacking Strike
In compiling the blow-by-blow account of the 1948
meatpacking strike great reliance was placed on the stories
which appeared at the time nearly every day in a hometown
newspaper. The South St. Paul Daily Reporter, then housed
on Concord Street, very close to the location of the most
dramatic events of the strike, is the primary source vehicle
for much of the information appearing here.
In this account, unless otherwise footnoted or noted in
the text itself, information was taken from the Daily
Reporter between the dates of March 3, 1948 and June 30,
1948. The narrative is written in chronological order and
should provide easy direction for those wishing to further
examine the source material.
With these necessary requirements out of the way let me
make a couple of observations about this primary source
which may not be quite as obvious as the bare bones fact of
its existence in the Dakota County Historical Society
archives. The mere fact that it exists at all is testimony to its
importance then and now. There were many things in 1948
which were part of life in South St. Paul, Minnesota as well
as the rest of the country which no longer exist or which
play a much diminished role in modern daily life. One is the
daily hometown newspaper as opposed to the chain-owned
large dailies we have become so familiar with. The primary
source of information for this most dramatic historical event
is itself now an historical item. But even as such it still performs what it was originally designed to do -- inform, educate and entertain.
At the time of the strike the Daily Reporter obviously
sought to bring the story to its readers on each level -national, regional, local -- upon which it was simultaneously
taking place. Wire services such as United Press and
Associated Press among others covered matters at the
national and state levels which the Daily Reporter included
in its coverage along with their own reports on the day’s
happenings such as in Hastings courtrooms, city council
chambers, and on the picket lines right down the street from
their offices.
It is interesting to note that none of the local strike coverage accounts carry by-lines identifying the reporter. Quite
likely the information from all of the various corners of the
city and county were funneled through a person responsible
for writing the actual story which appeared in print -- a
“rewrite” person. As such, the effort then was a team
endeavor, which continues to pay dividends to us today. It is
with these people in mind -- the person calling in from the
courtroom, walking in off of Concord with a noteook full of
quotes and observations, the rewrite person, the typesetters,
printers and even the kids delivering the paper in the afternoon -- that I offer what is written here. We are richer for
their efforts so long ago.
Page 26
1 Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time (New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1994) p. 604
2 Joseph Goulden, The Best Years 1945-1950 (New York: Atheneum, 1976)
p. 8
3 Ibid p. 10
4 Jeremy Brecher, Strike! (Boston: South End Press,1972) p. 221-222
5 Ibid p.222
6 Ibid p. 223
7 Ibid
8 Ibid p. 227
9 Ibid p. 223-226
10 Rick Halpern, Down On The Killing Floor (Urbana and Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1997) p. 218
11 Ibid
12 Ibid p. 218-219
13 Halpern, ibid p. 220-221
14 Brecher ibid p. 228
15 Halpern, p. 221
16 Ibid p. 224-225
17 Ibid p. 226-227
18 Ibid p. 227-228
19 Ibid p. 228, note 65.
20 Ibid p. 228
21 William Millikan, A Union Against Unions (St. Paul: Minnesota
Historical Society Press, 2001) p. 348
22 Ibid p. 349
23 James Capeti interview with author April 2002.
24 Brust bio information, www.mnhs.org/library/findaids/p2143
25 Lois Glewwe, ed., South Saint Paul Centennial 1887-1987 (South St.
Paul: South Saint Paul Area Chapter of the Dakota County Historical
Society) p. 50. Contains a description of the Litchfield unit’s activities during thestrike. They were deployed both in South St. Paul and in Albert Lea
at the Wilson & Co. plant.
26 Ibid p. 205
27 Thomas Kaliszewski interview with author March 2002.
28 Minutes from regular meeting in St. Paul of Local 114 Amalgamated
Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, AFL, June 8, 1948.
29 Halpern, p. 233
1948 Meatpackers Strike
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