Author Archive

“Like a Thick Wall”: Blocking Farm Auctions in Iowa

June 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted at History Matters

Some may think of farmers as conservative, but that view ignores a long tradition of rural radicalism in the United States. In the early years of the Great Depression, that radicalism found powerful expression in the subverting of farm foreclosures and tax sales. The technique was simple—when a farm was foreclosed for overdue taxes or failure to meet mortgage payments, neighbors would show up at the auction and intimidate any potential buyers. Then the farm and equipment would be purchased at a token price and returned to the original owner. Nation magazine reporter Ferner Nuhn witnessed such an auction sale in Iowa and described this practice in March 1933. These efforts saved the livelihood of many South Dakota and Iowa farmers who were devastated by the depression, but they were not enough. Between 1930 and 1935, about 750,000 farms were lost through foreclosure and bankruptcy sales. Read more…

Categories: Farmers

“The Depression has Changed People’s Outlook”: The Beuschers Remember the Great Depression in Dubuque, Iowa by David Shannon

June 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Before the Great Depression of the 1930’s the Beuschers—he was a sixty-two-year-old railroad worker; she was the mother of their eleven children—had been fairly prosperous: they owned their home and had several life-insurance policies serving as savings. But by the time the Works Progress Administration (WPA) interviewed them in 1937, their lives had dramatically changed: the father had lost his railroad job and the mother was taking in sewing. This interview summary, published by the WPA, showed how they struggled to make ends meet during The Great Depression. Read more…

Categories: Miscellaneous

Des Moines based Red Wing Workers Organization document from late 70s

November 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Here’s a PDF of a document written as an update to the activities of Des Moines-based Red Wing Workers Organization. They were a libertarian socialist group that was strongly influenced by feminism.

Here’s what’s happening in Des Moines

Update + idea on Dubuque Pack

September 10, 2013 Leave a comment


It’s been quite a long time since this blog has been updated. I started this blog when I was still living in Iowa, and while the interest is still there, the time isn’t. For those who are interested, I moved from Iowa in Spring of 2011 to Madison, WI to briefly work for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in assisting their efforts in trying to get a general strike going in response to the right-wing Governor’s efforts to crush unions. Another IWW organizer and I wrote a report of our activity called The general strike that didn’t happen: a report on the activity of the IWW in Wisconsin.

After that, Minneapolis was my destination, which is where I currently reside. Most recently, I’ve been the co-editor of The Organizer, the official blog of the Twin Cities IWW General Membership Branch, assisted with union campaigns, and helped run Recomposition, a website that centers on stories about and by workers themselves.

For a long while, writer’s block consumed me, and all writing, and nearly all editing, came to a halt. Finally snapping out of that, all sorts of ideas have come back to me. One of them is rooted in one of the places that could be considered home, Dubuque, Iowa.

Moving to the Dubuque area in the early 90s, The Pack always held a special place in the way I thought of the town. As I became older, and familiar with books and stories that centered around oral histories from working people like Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-class Organizers or The American Worker, I became more indepthly interested about the people who used to work there.

Although never having taken on a project this large, I’m interested in trying to sketch a project like this out. What kind of people worked there? Where did they originally come from? What were their lives like? What was there experience working there? What were the conditions? What did they do to make these conditions better?

If you’re from Dubuque and are seeing this, what are your thoughts on this?

-Juan Conatz

Iowa Labor History Workshop

August 7, 2011 Leave a comment

From History Workshop, No. 17 (Spring, 1984), pp. 196-197

The first Iowa Labor History Workshop was held on 16 April 1983, at the Iowa City Public Library, co-sponsored by the Iowa City Local of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the Iowa City Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. About 50 trade unionists, students, and historians attended.

The first panel concerned the Iowa Labor Oral History Project. For the last several years, the Iowa State Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, has sponsored and financed an oral history project with the goal of re-claiming the history of the Iowa labor movement during the last fifty years. Greg Zieren, a former interviewer for the project, discussed his experiences as an interviewer, and talked in some detail about perceptions of social class in Iowa and the experience of packinghouse workers at the Wilson Plantin Cedar Rapids. Ellis Hawley, a historian at the University of Iowa, commented on the usefulness of the project from the point of view of a professional historian. Read more…

Categories: Labor


April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Hey folks. I didn’t run out of material to add to the blog, I just haven’t had much time lately, as I’ve been in Wisconsin and involved in the situation there. Here are some pieces, the first two written by me, on what’s going on in Madison. The third link are a number of articles hosted by on the subject. I will return to this blog to add material when I eventually have time to dig around.

Impressions of Madison

Wisconsin: Why a general strike hasn’t happened yet…

Libcom: Wisconsin Protests

Categories: Miscellaneous

Notes on the Midwest Libertarian Conference, May 28-31, 1976, Des Moines, Iowa Part 5 of 5

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Part 1, 2, 3, 4

Evaluation of Midwest Organizing and Communications Conference

We were charged, at the Columbia Conference a year ago, to structure a conference on organization and communication. On evaluation we agreed that our structure for meetings and tasks facilitated this goal. We decided however, that it was a real mistake not to have spent more time Saturday morning, at the first general meeting, going through the agenda for that day. If we had been more thorough we could have explained our ideas on decision-making for the large group meetings. People would have had a better understanding of the tasks to accomplish and could have proposed differences if they had them. We were critical of the people who thought the conference was too bureaucratically structured and did not make any effort to give feedback by mail, beforehand. We also agreed that we should have announced the use of the office equipment to everyone at the first general meeting.

We talked about the way the first workshops on Saturday tended to have Des Moines people for facilitators. Given the level of our preparation and the time we spent working together as a group, it was understandable for this to happen. However, we think that we should have been stronger about refusing to be facilitators and pushed for others to play this role. Read more…