Labor Tension Erupts in Fargo; Milk Drivers Strike

November 21, 1934

North Dakotans have rarely witnessed labor unrest such as that which developed in Fargo over these past months. Milk-wagon drivers who were earning $15 for a 70-to-90 hour week became bitterly disillusioned when local dairies refused to consider a pay increase or shorter hours. The drivers knew that Minneapolis drivers, who were unionized, received $34 for a 48-hour week.

In late 1933 the milk drivers organized Local 173 of the Teamsters Union with 100 members. Diary industry employers flatly refused to negotiate with the union. At this point, Minneapolis-based union officials traveled to Fargo to assist Local 173 in its efforts. Within a month membership zoomed to 700. Again the union demanded negotiation; again the dairies refused the demand. “There is grave danger of a strike here,” commented a Minneapolis organizer. “The bosses have refused to deal with the union although the men are 100 percent organized.” And, the strike came. On November 4 the dairy workers refused to work and began to picket the dairies. Not a truck moved within Fargo and Moorhead. When “scabs” tried to move two milk trucks, five picketers attempted to roll the trucks over. They, along with a Minneapolis labor leader, were arrested for encouraging a riot. Night after night hundreds of workers rallied at the union hall, wildly cheering fiery anti-dairy speeches. Union membership grew to 900.

North Dakota’s governor, Ole Olson, agreed to mediate the strike. When he arrived in Fargo three days ago on November 17 he told a reporter for the North Star Dakotan: “My sentiment, as everybody knows, is for the underdog - for the man who probably hasn’t had much to say about his own destiny.” He did assure the public that he would be fair to both sides.

Governor Ole Olson. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

Within three days Olson settled the strike. The dairies have agreed to pay milk drivers $20 a week plus a 4 percent sales commission, to limit the work week to 48 hours, and to reinstate all strikers.

Olson deserves praise for his role in the settlement. An official of the Farmers Union has summed it up well: “His simple and kindly manner dispelled the mists of hostility and drew the factions together.”

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level

3-5, 7-12

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change

Related Links

“There is Power in a Union: Organizing Fargo’s Milk-Wagon Strike in 1934,” Centennial Anthology of North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, (Spring 1987) by Erling N. Sannes, pp. 208-214.