Minnesota Congressman John T. Bernard fought throughout his life for working people against strong opposition. His outspoken and uncompromising views led him, on his second day in office, to cast the single “no” vote in Congress against the Spanish arms embargo. Bernard’s vote proved farsighted as the Spanish Civil War became, in many ways, a “dress rehearsal” for World War II.
Since 1952, the Citizens League has had a major impact on public policies in Minnesota. A group of civic leaders had the idea of inviting leaders from different parts of the community to the table to solve big policy issues. This meant bringing together lawmakers, union leaders, heads of Minnesota companies, and experts from universities and industries. As a group, these experts and leaders would study an issue and then write a research paper they could all agree on. Then they would do the political work required to make their conclusions a reality.
The U.S. Congress paved the way for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) when it passed the Emergency Conservation Work (ECW) Act in March 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. This New Deal program offered meaningful work to young men with few employment prospects. It resulted in a lasting legacy of forestry, soil, and water conservation, as well as enhancements to Minnesota's state and national parks.
The Farmers' Holiday Association was formed in 1932. The Midwestern organization successfully fought against farm foreclosures with novel strategies like penny auctions, but unsuccessfully lobbied Congress for a federal system that would pay farmers for their crops based on the cost of production.
During the early twentieth century, the population of the Iron Range was among the most ethnically diverse in Minnesota. Tens of thousands of immigrants arrived from Finland, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Canada, England, and over thirty other places of origin. These immigrants mined the ore that made the Iron Range famous and built its communities.
In December of 1916, mill workers at the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company went on strike, and lumberjacks soon followed. The company police and local government tried to crush the strike by running the lumberjacks out of town, but when the strike was called off in February, the company had granted most of the workers’ demands.
Nellie Stone Johnson was an African American union and civil rights leader whose career spanned the class-conscious politics of the 1930s and the liberal reforms of the Minnesota DFL Party. She believed unions and education were paths to economic security for African Americans, including women. Her self-reliant personality and pragmatic politics sustained her long and active life.
Journeymen barbers were skilled craftsmen whose labor organizations helped shape the barbers’ trade in Minnesota. Politically active from their first arrival, they allied themselves with third-party movements after World War I. Shopping mall barbershops, consumer choices, and lost union membership led to organizational decline in the 1970s.
The Knights of Labor shaped business and political policy in Minnesota communities in the late nineteenth century by working with the Farmers' Alliance and advocating for shorter work days, equal pay for women, child labor laws, and cooperation between workers.
A small, committed group of Jewish immigrants raised the funds needed to build the Labor Lyceum at 1426 Sixth Avenue North in Minneapolis in 1915. The two-story brick and stucco building was a hub for radical Jewish cultural, political, and social activities for the next thirty-five years.
Located near Hibbing, Mesaba Co-op Park is one of the few remaining continuously operated cooperative parks in the country. A gathering place of the Finnish cooperative movement, the park served the ethnic political radicals who energized the Iron Range labor movement and Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor party.
Tired of ethnic discrimination as well as dangerous working conditions, low wages, and long work days, immigrant iron miners on the Mesabi Range in northeastern Minnesota went on strike on July 20, 1907. It was the first organized strike on the state's Iron Range.
During the summer of 1916, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) coordinated a strike of iron ore miners on the Mesabi Iron Range. The strikers fought for higher wages, an eight-hour workday, and workplace reform. Although the strike failed, it was one of the largest labor conflicts in Minnesota history.
“No trucks shall be moved! By nobody!” was the rallying cry of Minneapolis Teamsters Local 574 as they struck in the summer of 1934. Their demands were clear: a fair wage, union recognition, and the trucking firms’ recognition of inside workers as part of the union. Despite the violent reaction of the authorities, the 574 won on all these points.
Minnesota farmers were active in building the National Farmers Organization (NFO), a populist farm group dedicated to strengthening family farmers’ economic well-being. Unlike other farm groups on both the right (the Farm Bureau) and the left (the Farmers’ Union), the NFO during the 1960s focused on direct economic action.
Writer and activist Irene Levine Paull was born in Duluth to Jewish parents. Faced with discrimination because of her ethnicity, gender, and political views, Paull fought for the rights of people who were oppressed.
Florence Rood was one of the first Minnesota women activists in the Farmer Labor movement. She worked to improve the treatment of teachers and was active in their local and national organizations. Many of the successful struggles in which she participated informed the public of the importance of education and laid the groundwork for improved working conditions for educators.
Virginia's Socialist Opera House was one of many halls built in communities across the nation where concentrations of Finnish immigrants had settled. Used for dances, gymnastic performances, and stage plays, the halls also provided meeting places for like-minded Finns, many of them laborers who embraced socialist ideals.
Spurred by a national labor movement and eight years of economic depression, Minnesota timber workers led several strikes in 1937. Their peaceful strikes were successful, winning union recognition, higher wages, and better living conditions.
Wage cuts to employees of the Minneapolis and St. Paul streetcar companies in 1889 prompted a fifteen-day strike that disrupted business and escalated into violence before its resolution. In spite of public support for the strikers, the streetcar companies succeeded in breaking the strike with few concessions.
When the Twin City Rapid Transit Company (TCRTC) refused to recognize the newly formed streetcar men's union, employees took to the streets of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the fall of 1917 to fight for their civil liberties. The labor dispute challenged state jurisdiction and reached the White House before finding settlement the following year.
In 1888, a St. Paul Globe exposé of women's working conditions penned by "Eva Gay" launched the career of Eva McDonald Valesh, a young writer. During the time that she lived in the state, Valesh left a big impression on Minnesota journalism, politics, and labor organizing.
For nearly two years, eight female employees of Willmar's Citizens National Bank, dubbed the Willmar 8, picketed in front of their downtown workplace seeking pay equity. They never got pay increases, they never got strike-related compensation, and after the strike, only one woman returned to work at the bank for more than a few months. But for the women's movement, the 1977-1979 strike was a resounding success. It was a chink in the armor of the institutional sexism women faced in the workplace.