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Sour Milk


In 1933, the United States was four years in to the Great Depression. Tensions were high, and one group in particular was making noise in the Fargo area – milk wagon drivers. The drivers of the milk trucks were angry about working 70 to 90 hours a week for a mere $15. Meanwhile, down in Minneapolis, milk truck drivers made $34 for a 48 hour week.

The local drivers knew the Minneapolis drivers were in a union, so they organized, becoming Teamsters Local 173, with 100 members. However, dairy industry employers refused to negotiate any change in contract. After catching wind of this, Minneapolis-based organizers travelled to Fargo to further the efforts of the new chapter. Union membership soared to 700, increasing the union’s leverage. However, the dairy companies still refused to negotiate.

Forced into a corner, the drivers had no choice but to use their ultimate means of bringin the employers to the table. On November 4th, 1934, Local 173 went on strike and began picketing the dairies. There were two attempts by strike breakers to move milk trucks, but that resulted in picketers attempting to roll the trucks over. Other picketers began dumping milk cans and were arrested for inciting to riot.

In response to the riotous behavior, the union and employers agreed upon a ten-day truce, with an arbitration committee working to negotiate a deal. Governor Ole Olson agreed to serve as mediator. The result? A settlement that provided for a raise to $20 for a 48 hour week plus a 4% sales commission. It was also agreed that all strikers would keep their jobs. Within a few days the milk trucks were back up and running, with all four wheels safely on the ground. As for the governor, he earned praise from the farmers union, with an official saying, “His simple and kindly manner dispelled the mists of hostility and drew the factions together.”

A Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas.


"Mouse River Journal November 16, 1934 Page 7." Mouse River Journal November 16, 1934 Page 7. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2016.

"NDStudies.org." ND Studies. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2016

"Reno Gazette-Journal from Reno, Nevada · Page 3." Newspapers.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2016.