Carl Skoglund, known to his friends and fellow workers as "Skogie", is best remembered as one the central leaders of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster strikes. However, before entering the trucking industry, Skoglund was a Twin Cities railroad worker. In the following excerpts from two unpublished interviews conducted in the 1950s, Carl Skoglund talks about his participation as a local union leader in the 1922 railroad shopcraft strike.
Skoglund was born in Sweden in 1884 and emigrated to the United States in 1911, where he joined the Scandinavian Federation of the Socialist party. Skoglund's account here of the 1922 strike and the events leading up to it is from the perspective of a militant rank and file activist, sometimes at odds with the official union leadership.
After recovering from injuries he incurred while working as lumberjack in northern Minnesota, Skoglund was hired by the Pullman Company in 1916. He worked as a carman/mechanic maintaining Pullman's famous railroad passenger coaches at the Chicago and Great Western Railway's Boom Island yard in Minneapolis.
During World War I, when the federal government took over the operation of the nation's railroads, Skoglund helped to organize Local 299 of the Railway Carmen's Union and was elected its first president. In 1922 he also served as chair of a strike committee that included most of the major railroads operating in Twin Cities.
As a result of Skoglund's leadership in the 1922 strike he was blacklisted from railroad employment and never worked in the industry again. In the late 1920s he found work hauling coal for home deliveries and joined the Teamsters Union, where he proposed the strategy that guided the 1934 Teamsters strikes and served later as local president. . In the 1950s the federal government tried and failed to deport Skoglund to Sweden. Skoglund died in 1960.
"In 1916 I started to work on the railroad and I became a mechanic for the Pullman Company. It happened that I became a mechanic just a little bit before the United States declared war on Germany in the First World War and the government took over the railroads, including the Pullman Company, and they raised the wages. I received then $86 a month and I worked any hours the company wanted me to work. You had to sign the "yellow dog contract." That means you had to promise that as long as you were employed by the Pullman Company you were not going to engage in organizing unions. You had to sign that in order to receive employment.
"The Great Western section of the yard was organized into AFL craft unions. But the Pullman Company was not and had not been (organized) since 1894, when the union had suffered a defeat and had operated under a "yellow dog" contract ever since. (Skoglund's reference here is to the 1894 strike lead by Eugene V. Debs and the American Railway Union.)
"When the United States government took over the railroads, they recognized the unions and promoted the organizing of all workers on the railroads because it was necessary to avoid any trouble during the war. The government negotiated a contract with the international officers of the railroad brotherhoods covering the entire railroad industry, including Pullman -- the Pullman System Federation. Each craft was under the jurisdiction of a railroad craft. I was under the carmen.
"I was one of those instrumental in getting the meeting called to get the men in Pullman into the union. We set up grievance machinery. I was president of the local which included the Pullman workers in Minneapolis and St. Paul, about 400 members.
"We had an 'illegal' strike in 1919, when, after the war ended and the roads were turned back to the companies, the railroads proceeded immediately to cut wages. In this so-called illegal strike, all of the six shopcraft organizations went on strike, that is, they went on strike against the wishes of the officialdom of the national unions. About half a million workers were on strike on a national basis.
"The July 1919 illegal strike was promoted by the Chicago shopmen to prevent a wage cut. We went back to work under a guarantee by (President Woodrow) Wilson that there would be no reprisals and no wage cut. He sent a representative to a meeting at the St. Paul Auditorium, filled to capacity with 5,000 workers. (The representative) was an official of the railroad machinists. He was there to urge the workers to go back to work. He was sitting on the platform and as soon as he made a move to speak everyone rose and shouted him down. He couldn't speak. The meeting was adjourned without his saying a word. This was before the settlement. It was this spirit that forced a settlement.
"President Wilson ordered, or recommended, that we all go back to work and there be no cut in wages and that everybody be returned without discrimination. I was then slated to be given the skids, but due to this instruction they couldn't, so I returned to work.
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"In 1920 the Pullman Company started a national campaign to install a company union in their industry, and they had a constitution written up by their general office in Chicago. The central office in Chicago and six vice-presidents of the company were the national leaders, and they had it divided into zones of, I think, six or seven states. And on these zone committees the company had four against three -- three employees and four employers on that committee.
"Then we had an election on the local committee, and that was composed of three company men and three workers. The election was held and I ran for office on that committee by instruction of my union -- that I should run for the purpose of busting it up. We (the union candidates) received all the votes except one, of the workers, so I was now part of the committee. When the superintendent of the company called the first meeting of the committee we issued a resolution and we resigned stating the reason for it -- that we resigned because we were opposed to the company union and pointed out the make-up of it and what it meant, and that we didn't want to serve in that capacity.
"The superintendent got mad, infuriated, fumed, called the foremen in the various yards to come in and told me to stay there in his office. This meeting was held during working hours. He told the other two committeemen to go to work. They had resigned along with me, but I was told to stay. When he got all the foremen in I had to sit in his office on the radiator - -he didn't even furnish a chair to sit on. He read the riot act to me, told these foremen how I looked when I came, begged for a job, how meek I was, and how I promised to be a good company man, and "Here he is -- look at what he's doing!" I had no choice in the matter. I had to take it at the time, but he didn't dare fire me, so when he was through I asked him merely, 'Is that all you have to say? Can I go back to work now?'
"He said 'Yes! You can go back to work, but you keep your mouth shut!' He said, 'I could fire you,' but he knew better that he couldn't, because he would have had trouble on the whole system of the Pullman Company.
"Another election was held, at which we, the union people, decided to boycott the election and cast blank ballots. There were only five or six voted ballots cast out of over 150. The rest were blank. The bon fide union functioned in a regular fashion after that until 1922.
"The colored and women workers were barred from being members in the (Brotherhood of Railway) Carmen (according to their national constitution) except for a phony auxiliary, which never functioned. As a result, they were discouraged and hostile to the Carmen's union and were the only ones elected to the company union. But a meeting of that company union was never called.
"In 1922 (the railroads) issued an ultimatum: they were going to cut wages, so a legal strike was called on July 1, 1922. In 1919 when the illegal strike took place the conditions were very favorable for the workers not only to prevent a cut in wages but to win improvement, or a raise in wages. But in 1922 the conditions had worsened and became such that it was almost certain of a defeat. If the six shop crafts were on strike, and the rest of the railroad unions (including the trainmen and engineers) were working, it would defeat the shopmen, but the strike took place anyway. I was on strike then for, well, seven, eight, nine months and it was lost and then I was never able to return to work.
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"I was chairman and Oscar Coover, Sr. (later a long-time Executive Board member of IBEW Local 292) was secretary of the strike committee representing all shop workers on the Pullman Company, the Chicago Burlington and Quincy, Chicago and Great Western and Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha railroad companies in Minneapolis. The strike dragged on for over six months. In the early part of the strike, the railroad companies on a national basis through Attorney General Daugherty came into District Court in Chicago and secured a sweeping injunction practically preventing any picketing. This injunction provided for (a limited number of) pickets at each entrance into the various yards.
"The railroad companies put extra cars on the trains, hauling in scabs from various parts of the country. They lodged them in Pullman sleepers in the yards and had dining cars on the tracks to feed them, so it was not necessary at any time for them to leave the yards. At that time there existed on a national basis organizations whose purpose it was to furnish strikebreakers wherever they were needed. They furnished skilled machinists, electricians, who were paid exorbitant wages during the strike, and after the strike was over these same strikebreakers were back on the payroll of these professional strikebreaking organizations.
"Officially, I was personally on strike for one year. But the strike was actually lost after three months. The strike was lost when Burt Jewell, the president of the Railroad Employees Department of the American Federation of Labor, who had leadership of the strike, went in secret and negotiated a contract with the Baltimore and Ohio railroad company; thereby, instead of negotiating a contract covering all railroads on a national basis, it became necessary to negotiate a contract with each individual company. As a result of this betrayal, most of the big railroads organized company unions.
"There was an announcement (by the unions) that whatever company wanted to could sign this contract and the strike would be called off against them. The Pullman company did not sign. After this announcement the workers became completely demoralized and the strike was lost at the Pullman Company.
"The (Chicago) Great Western entered into an agreement recognizing the union again and calling on everyone to return to work at their jobs according to vacancies that occurred. But the company proceeded not to comply with that condition, so most of the men were going back to work. There was an electrician -- Oscar Coover -- and a boilermaker that they didn't want to take back because they had been too strong union -- been talking union too much -- but they were the oldest and the ones with the first right to return. So I, with a committee from the union, went to the company and tied the company up again, pulled everybody off the job until such time as those two men went back to work. That lasted for two days, and they went back to work, but in the process I was out. I was done. I never got back."
Dave Riehle, who compiled the text of this interview, is an independent scholar and full-time railroad conductor. He is also local chairman of United Transportation Union Local 650 in St. Paul.
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