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James T. Farrell

The Frame-Up Against Kelly Postal

(August 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 31, 2 August 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Today Kelly Postal, secretary-treasurer of Minneapolis Teamsters Local 544-CIO, is in the State Penitentiary at Stillwater, Minn., serving a five-year prison term. He is the victim of one of the most vicious frame-ups and campaigns of persecution in American labor history.

For ten years Kelly Postal has been a leader of the Minneapolis Teamsters. He helped organize them during three severe strikes in 1934. He fought with them on dozens of picket lines. Postal was first chosen secretary-treasurer of Local 544 in 1938 and has been democratically re-elected each year since.

In June 1941 a long-standing conflict over questions of trade union democracy between Local 544 and AFL Teamsters International President Daniel J. Tobin came to a head. Local 544’s membership decided by a virtually unanimous vote to disaffiliate from the AFL and join the CIO. As one of the most militant leaders in the struggle to maintain the democratic rights of his union, Postal incurred the enmity of Tobin.

Tobin’s Moves Against Postal

Tobin made his first move against Kelly Postal personally when Postal was indicted together with twenty-eight Socialist Workers Party leaders and 544-CIO members in the famous Minneapolis labor case of 1941. This prosecution was initiated by the Department of Justice after Tobin’s explicit appeal to President Roosevelt. Postal, however, was one of the five defendants completely cleared by the jury at the close of this trial.

Having failed to obtain a federal conviction, Tobin then pressed the Hennepin County attorney to. bring charges of “embezzlement” against Postal. Postal was never accused of misusing these funds personally. As secretary-treasurer of the local union he merely obeyed the unanimous vote of the union membership at a regular meeting to take 544’s funds with them out of the AFL and into the CIO. These funds belonged to the local union, since all per capita taxes had been paid to the international.

Postal was indicted, together with Miles Dunne, president of Local 544-CIO, and Moe Hork, organizer. The bulk of the indictments, however, were heaped upon him.

Postal Cleared in First Trial

In Postal’s first trial for embezzlement in January 1942, Presiding Judge Hall directed the jury to discharge the case, thus clearing Postal on the first count in the indictment against him. Judge Hall declared, after presentation of the testimony, that no criminal intent had been established by the state prosecutors.

Tobin then put pressure upon the County Attorney to try Postal for a second time on another indictment based on the same facts, differing only in the amount of money Postal allegedly embezzled. Although evidence and witnesses were substantially the same, this time Postal was found “guilty.”

On June 18, 1943, Postal’s conviction was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court and he entered the State Prison.

The Issues in Postal’s Case

The frame-up for which this union leader is now serving five years in prison is as foul and flimsy as the frame-ups against Tom Mooney and Sacco-Vanzetii. Postal is no more guilty of “embezzlement” than any other officers of the CIO who took their union funds along with them when they left the AFL. There is no basis in law or in fact for his conviction. He has been prosecuted and jailed solely because of his devotion to democratic unionism.

Bound up with the act of injustice against Kelly Postal himself are issues of vital importance to the entire trade union movement. In confirming his conviction, the Minnesota Supreme Court has set an extremely dangerous legal precedent which can be used to deprive other unions of democratic control over their own funds.

This union-freezing decision can be used to prohibit a union from quitting one international and joining another. It could enable a few individuals or employers’ agents to prevent the majority of a union’s membership from changing their affiliation as a united body. If a fountain-pen or typewriter was taken into the the new union affiliation, each individual member could be found “guilty” of embezzling union property, even though they themselves had originally paid for these things.

The importance of the issues involved in Postal’s case has been widely recognized by the trade union movement. Scores of unions already have contributed to his defense or passed resolutions condemning his conviction.

Postal’s conviction is part of the present reactionary campaign to deprive the unions of their democratic rights and to punish any leader who stands up and fights for them. That is why Postal deserves moral, and material support from every labor organization and friend of civil liberties.

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