Fight for 52¢ might not make much sense in today’s economy. There’s not much you can buy for 52 cents. Back in 1934 however, it was a different story. This one-man show, produced and performed by Howard Petrick of San Francisco, tells the story of V. R. Dunne, labor organizer. With the backdrop of today’s political divisions, Dunne’s story is quite timely.
The set is simple – a chair with a side table. As Mr. Dunne is announced, the audience learns they are members of the Teamsters Union, gathered together in the mid-1960s to hear a respected union rep speak. Mr. Dunne enters and seats himself, explaining he hasn’t spoken in front of a crowd for quite some time. The truth is, Mr. Dunne is an excellent storyteller. This show tells the story of one the most important strikes in American Labor History. In 1934, worker’s unions were struggling to be effective. Thanks to the Depression, jobs were scarce and scabs easy to hire. Three successful strikes that year began the rise of industrial unionism and labor reforms.
Since Mr. Dunne is a great storyteller, he starts at the beginning. He was born in Kansas City in 1889. His father worked for the railroad until his legs broke in an accident. The family relocated to Minnesota, near his mother’s family. Many hardships led to young mister Dunne leaving home to work in the lumber industry at the tender age of 14. He worked as a lumberjack and farmhand from 4am until dark until he moved to Montana in 1905. At the Montana lumber camp, he meets a representative from Industrial Workers of the World. Dunne describes with wonder how much better his working conditions were. The bunkhouses were clean and furnished with linen, work days didn’t last from dawn until dark, and he had Sunday off every week. Dunne realizes that solidarity can overcome greed and it is possible for workers to improve their lives.
The show describes the working conditions of nearly a hundred years ago. Fight for 52¢ includes details about the successful Teamsters strike in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1934. He talks about the violence striking workers faced at the hands of police. He describes how the use of a Women’s Auxiliary enabled the striking workers to succeed. He discusses the importance of music and fellowship to successful organizing. He explains why he is a communist. To hear the rest of the story, better go buy a ticket right now.