For Love of Labor

An odd-jobber chronicles an ugly chapter in Minneapolis union-busting

"When you read his book it becomes clear how powerful business is and how class-conscious business is," says Fones-Wolf. "It's such an irony that business thought it was un-American for workers to be organized, yet it was perfectly patriotic for businesses to be organized."

Such praise notwithstanding, Millikan still has to make a living. On this fall day he is midway through his normal Wednesday route, primarily dropping off bundles of City Pages at liquor stores and restaurants in Robbinsdale and other western suburbs. The floor of his gray van is flooded with periodicals of all persuasions, from employment circulars to a magazine aimed at the adult-entertainment industry. "You get to know your way around the obscure areas," Millikan observes. "It's like being a taxi driver."

Millikan is searching for his next big project. He believes that there is a need for a book similar to A Union Against Unions, but focusing on the national picture and on such powerful business organizations as the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. "Their little footprints are all over history," he notes, from individual pieces of legislation to the creation of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Delivery driver and scholar William Millikan
Michael Dvorak
Delivery driver and scholar William Millikan

Millikan wouldn't mind taking on the task himself, but says there's a dearth of funding available for such scholarly research. "You'd think it'd be a natural for unions," he laments, grabbing a bundle of papers for a Tom Thumb convenience store, "but they've never really gotten into it--educating people about the problems of capitalism." The sole assistance Millikan received for his labor research was two small grants from the Historical Society.

"For an independent scholar like Bill Millikan, who doesn't have enormous institutional support or tenure, it's more than a labor of love," says Greg Britton, director of the Minnesota Historical Society Press. "It's a passion. He's really driven to tell this story."

Millikan is also flirting with the idea of examining how corporations managed to clear-cut old-growth forest from Minnesota in the name of capitalism, noting that much of the land was obtained through fraudulent homesteads. Whatever his next investigation, it will have to be something that engages his interest enough to spend hours upon hours with nothing but boxes of decaying documents.

"I need something that pisses me off," he says.

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