Violence and Economic Depression


The Great Depression of the 1930s.

Radical Farm Protests

Below text copied from LIVINGHISTORYFARM

After four years of economic depression, farmers across the country were looking for new, and sometimes radical solutions to their problems. Nebraska was the center for some of the most radical events, and the movement culminated in violence at Loup City.

As early as 1932, some farmers were trying to raise agricultural prices by physically keeping produce off of the market. The theory was that if farmers could reduce the supply, demand would rise and prices would rise in response.

In Iowa and Nebraska, a group known as the Farm Holiday movement built road blocks on the highways leading to the agricultural markets in Omaha, Sioux City and Des Moines. They dumped milk into ditches. They turned back cattle. But the blockades weren’t effective, and police eventually opened the roads.

In Madison County in northeast Nebraska, angry farmers organized into the Madison County Plan. They were credited with inventing the penny auction idea. As the Depression continued, some in Madison County began listening to a fiery Communist organizer, “Mother” Ella Reeve Bloor. Mother Bloor had come to the Midwest to build alliances between urban workers and radical farmers. Throughout 1933 and ’34, she spoke often in Nebraska, from Madison County to Loup City and Grand Island in the central part of the state.

In February 1933, thousands of farmers marched on the new capitol building in Lincoln demanding a moratorium on all farm foreclosures. The Legislature responded within a month and halted foreclosure sales for two years. However, they allowed district judges to decide how long a foreclosure could be postponed or to order the proceedings to go forward anyway. Radical farmers were furious when the first test case ended with the judge ordering a sale to go forward.

The Big Strike

Labor Unrest in the Great Depression

by Vincent DiGirolamo
Although union activity usually grinds to a halt during periods of mass unemployment, picket lines were as common as bread lines in 1934.   A million and a half workers took part in some two thousand strikes that year.   They were emboldened by Section 7(a) of the National Industrial Recovery Act, which guaranteed workers the right to form unions and bargain collectively over wages, hours, and conditions.   The Act was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s liberal New Deal policies, but many employers saw it as a step toward Communism and brazenly resisted it.   They waged murderous campaigns against farm workers in California, autoworkers in Toledo, truck drivers in Minneapolis, and textile workers throughout the country.

This was the backdrop of a monumental showdown between ship owners and longshoremen on the West Coast.   On May 9, 1934, 32,000 dockworkers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and other ports refused to load and unload ships under hiring and job conditions they deemed intolerable.   They objected to the dreaded “shape up,” where kickbacks and favoritism determined who got work; to “speed ups” that made accidents and injuries common occurrences; to brutal shifts that lasted twelve, twenty-four, and even thirty-six hours for no extra pay; and to the phony company union that permitted these abuses.

Shippers tried to bring in non-union workers, but the strikers fought back.   For two and a half months they battled bosses, “goons”, police, red-baiters, and the National Guard, sparking an extraordinary four-day general, or sympathy, strike of all workers in San Francisco.