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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

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Notes on the Muscatine Button Workers’ Strike

June 17, 2011 1 comment

From a letter Pearl McGill wrote home from Chicago on April 25th, 1911:

“They had all the hardest Union workers on the black list. The factory where I worked had the most. They had eight men, and me. I was the only girl in the factory they wouldn’t take back. So because there were so many discriminated against the rest of them that could have gone back wouldn’t go until the [manufacturers] will take us all back and deal fair with us. They don’t want to recognize the Union at all but they will have to before they ever start those factories up again.”

The whole factory stuck by a number of blacklisted organizers who you could count on your fingers. My how times change…

And it seems like the other “girls” in the Muscatine button factories weren’t as involved in the union as McGill was. But:

“The militia got out in the streets at Muscatine the other day to break the crowd away from one of the factories and some of the girls caught a solider boy up on fourth street and took his gun and cap and coat away from him and beat it. Ha! Ha!” (from the same letter)

It definitely wasn’t because they weren’t militant enough. I wonder what (or who) stopped them from joining?

McGill Family papers, Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City

Many thanks to Jean Burns for donating her family’s letters, and assistant curator Janet Weaver for telling me how to not break the rules.

Pearl McGill

June 15, 2011 4 comments

Pearl McGill was an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World in the 1910s. She was born in Grandview, Iowa, and as a teenager she moved to Muscatine, IA to work in the pearl button factory there.  She wanted to save enough money to go to school to become a teacher.  After a lockout in response to unionization, she ended up being a leader in a strike in 1911, at the age of sixteen.  After the strike, she was swept up by the Women’s Trade Union League, who brought her to Chicago, trained her in public speaking, and introduced her to political theory.  She spoke at a lot of fundraisers, then ended up in the middle of the Lawrence textile workers’ strike in 1912.  She worked closely with the IWW there, and split with the WTUL and the AFL.  She was involved in a number of IWW campaigns, then left the union for the Socialist Party of America, and moved home.

She met Helen Keller in Cedar Falls, IA (herself an SPA and IWW member).  Keller encouraged Pearl McGill followed her original dream of becoming a teacher.  Pearl moved to Buffalo, IA, taught elementary school, and married for 6 years, then divorced.  In 1924, her mentally ill ex-husband killed her, and then himself.

Pearl McGill’s life has a lot of lessons for radicals.  I’m especially interested in her political development.  She moved from young worker, to strike leader, to public activist, to revolutionary organizer, to burnout, for reasons that are still relevant today.  Her time as a wife, teacher, and ex-wife has its own lessons.  I’m looking forward to learning more.

Rousmaniere, Kate. “The Short, Radical Life of Pearl McGill.” Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas Volume 6 Issue 3 (2009) 9-19.

Kate Rousmaniere also deserves part of the credit for getting Pearl McGill’s letters to the Iowa Women’s Archives.  The letters, and the rest of the archives, are available to anyone, non-students, non-Iowa residents, whatever.  I’ll be digging into those starting tomorrow.

Redwing Workers Organization History

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a history document of short blurbs that can be found in the University of Iowa Women’s Archives. Thanks to SM for this!

November 1972: Marxist-Leninist Educational 2 days, 13 people; high level of solidarity; decided to meet to discuss forming an ongoing group

December 1972: Follow-up meeting to the educational; decided to form an ongoing group

Summer 1973: Women’s  and Men’s caucuses form; initiated by FSG; included all FSG members and people not in FSG, met bi-weekly. Read more…

Notes on the Midwest Libertarian Conference, May 28-31, 1976, Des Moines, Iowa Part 1 of 5

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment

For short background on this, see: Des Moines Anarchist/Libertarian Socialist Conference in 1976

I just received 9 pages of reportbacks from this conference (Thanks, SM!) I’m going to separate this into 5 parts, which are the 5 different reportbacks.

The conference began with a general meeting to welcome the participants and discuss the agenda for the day. The Des Moines and Ames groups handed out a proposal titled “Principles of Unity”. We then split into workshops of six people to discuss points of the proposal. Each group contained at least one person who had worked on the proposal. In each of our groups there seemed to be much confusion, if not disagreement, over the principles, which seemed to reflect a Marxist influence. Most people in ours and other groups never got past debating the first two points. They were 1. “Members of the organization will strive for ideological unity:, and 2. “Members of the organization hold a dialectical materialist perspective”. Read more…

Meridel LeSueur (22 Feb 1900 – 14 Nov 1996)

January 29, 2011 Leave a comment

From Women Writers

For nearly a century Meridel LeSueur sang out in the traditions of radical feminists and was outspoken in her quest to take action and educate society. An author, poet, and activist, LeSueur spoke out against the oppressions and injustices that she saw inflicted on people. Read more…

Carol Hanisch

January 4, 2011 Leave a comment

From http://www.carolhanisch.org/

Carol Hanisch grew up on a farm in Iowa, graduated from Drake University with a degree in journalism and worked briefly at UPI, leaving that job in 1965 as a volunteer in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement where she learned the power of collective struggle by oppressed people. She was working as the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) NYC office manager in 1967 when she was among the founding members of New York Radical Women (NYRW). Read more…