There will be fireworks in downtown Minneapolis next Saturday night to mark the end of another Minneapolis Aquatennial. Fittingly, the fireworks will coincide with the commemoration of an explosive event that helped lead to the creation of the Aquatennial, which was invented in the hope of healing the reputation of a city that had been torn for years by economic strife: The 75th anniversary of the 1934 "Teamster Rebellion" that gave American labor one of its most important victories.

Called the One Day in July Street Festival, the remembrance of the tumult of 1934 will take place from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday in the Warehouse District (at the corner of 3rd St. and 7th Av. N), near the site of much of the mayhem when workers stood together against heavy-handed policing and gangs of strikebreakers to make Minneapolis one of the most pro-union cities in the country.

There will also be a picnic next Sunday at the Wabun Picnic Area in Minnehaha Park, with speeches and free food to celebrate the anniversary. One of the speakers at the picnic will be Tom Dooher, president of the largest union in the state, the 70,000-member Education Minnesota. Dooher's grandfather, Patrick Corcoran, was an officer of the militant Minneapolis truck drivers' union who was murdered in a 1937 assassination that remains unsolved.

"Working hard for the common good is in my DNA," says Dooher. "The work of my grandfather helped lay the foundation for a labor movement that helps connect people and gave Minnesota a great tradition that we're trying to hold onto. Today, union workers are asking Minnesotans to realize that anytime you fight for something and win, you can lose it if you take it for granted."

Seventy-five years after Bloody Friday, when dozens of striking drivers were gunned down by shotgun-wielding police (two died, and most of the unarmed strikers were shot in the back), there is a growing fear that the rights won by the workers of the 1930s are in jeopardy. Rather than a celebration of the strikes of 1934, this year's commemoration is shaping up as a sobering reminder of how fragile the gains won then have proved.

"Solidarity," which built the middle class, is still OK if it is practiced by Polish workers or Iranian students, but it is in tatters in the U.S. Just go to St. Paul and watch cars with "Obama" bumper stickers drive past union pickets protesting the refusal of the new Lexington Parkway Trader Joe's to allow workers to consider unionizing. Our thirst for "Three-Buck Chuck" has trumped self-preservation.

Workers are under relentless pressure to concede wages, benefits and pensions. Now, in a deep recession that is beginning to mirror the Depression, nonunion workers -- who benefited from gains won by unions -- are watching their security erode, too. On every front, protections won with the battles that began in 1934 in cities like Minneapolis and paved the way for ideas such as a living wage, fairness in the workplace and the National Labor Relations Act, are being chiseled away.

"Today is starting to look more and more like the era the truck drivers were living in back in the 1930s," says Dave Riehle, a locomotive engineer for the Union Pacific who has become a leading union authority on the Depression era turmoil in Minneapolis. "The union movement learned then that you have to organize and get out on the streets if you want to change the relationships of the forces in society. Obama is not going to save the workers, just like FDR did not save them. Labor has never had a savior. If we are going to save ourselves, we have to do it ourselves."

To look at photos of the 1934 strikes is to be amazed by the masses of men on the street, and appalled by the violence that erupted, much of it committed by business interests that for years suppressed union efforts with teams of club-swinging strikebreakers. No one wants to see a repeat of those days. But no one should expect working people to sit by as basic, hard-earned rights are taken away.

"We haven't reached a tipping point, but working Americans won't be patient forever," says Riehle, who is one of the organizers for the "One Day In July Street Festival" (for more information, see

"This is more about today and tomorrow than it is about yesterday," agrees Linda Leighton, a Hopkins school worker and one of the event organizers whose grandfather, Vincent R. Dunne, was one of the leaders of the 1934 labor uprising. "With the economy the way it is, it's important to tell people how things were done in 1934, and how brave people gathered together, and stood up for each other."

Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He can be reached at