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Update + idea on Dubuque Pack

September 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Imp916

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

Postal Workers Fight for a Good Contract

August 3, 2011 Leave a comment

The article below is from the August 1st, 1975 issue of the underground newspaper Free Flowing.  Thanks to R S for transcribing these.

By the Revolutionary Student Brigade

Postal workers across the U.S. are gathering fury which may lead to a strike over the new contract announced last week by union leaders and the U.S. Postal Service.

The new contract contains no changes in the layoff clause; no changes in the cost of living allowance or health benefits; and no changes in the productivity requirement, or age of retirement.

“The contract is no good and we’re going to start a campaign to strike,” announced a representative of the National Committee for a Good Postal Contract. Read more…

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…

Floyd Dell in Davenport

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

From University of Iowa Special Collections

Dell strengthened his unconventional image by publicly embracing socialism. He had leafletted plant gates for the presidency of Eugene V. Debs in 1904 and had joined the socialist local in Davenport. He adopted a brand of socialism which combined municipal ownership of public services with the more utopian outlook of George Bernard Shaw and the Fabian Society in England. As a teenager, Dell thought that socialists “believed in another kind of world than the one we lived in, and were helping to bring it about-a world of justice and beauty and order.” [22] The rhetoric of socialism provided Dell with solace for his own family disappointments, and the meeting of the local replaced the hours spent at the library. Dell’s fictionalized self, Felix Fay, “found happiness at last. It seemed that he entered, at first only for moments, and then for long golden hours, an enchanted land in which there was neither desire or fear — only the solace of magic words. ” [23] Read more…