October 2012: Remember when farmers and union members worked together?

With families across the Midwest struggling to keep their farms out of bank foreclosure, union members rallied with farmers Oct. 10, 1987, at the Heartland Jobs with Justice rally on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

About 40 Minnesotans were among the estimated 1,500 to 1,700 union members at the rally, Union Advocate Editor Barb Kucera reported from Des Moines, Iowa. And with 1988 caucuses just around the corner, presidential candidates Bruce Babbitt, Richard Gephardt and Paul Simon made the rounds.

Helen Waller, president of the National Save the Family Farm Coalition, thanked union members for working “shoulder to shoulder” in Washington to advance farm credit reform to help family farmers avoid foreclosure – a partnership sugar-beet farmers in Minnesota and North Dakota appear to have since forgotten.

“We appreciate so much having labor help us in our way toward just farm credit reform,” Waller said. “This underscores my belief that farmers and laborers are critically dependent on each other… Neither of us can prosper unless we prosper together.”

[The Union Advocate’s “This Month in the Archives” feature offers a look back at what our newspaper was reporting from 5 to 100 years ago. Our digital archives are online, searchable and free to anyone. Click here for access.]

• 50 Years Ago: Support for Hastings strikers. In October 1962 Twin Cities-area members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union rallied around their sisters and brothers – but mostly sisters – of OCAW Local 6-717, on strike at Smead Manufacturing in Hastings since Aug. 27.

Supporters packed hundreds of cases of canned food and shipped them to striking workers and their families – so much food that it overflowed the double garage of Local 6-717 Secretary Helen Herrmann.

Between 450 and 500 workers at the office-products manufacturer went on strike after Smead refused to bargain in good faith on a first contract with their newly elected union representatives, according to the Oct. 11 Union Advocate.

More than a month after the strike began, Smead employees were still “standing fast, adhering to their principles, despite the threats of discharge for continuing a lawful strike, despite the economic pressures, despite the company’s efforts to resume operations with scabs who sulk through the picket lines,” The Advocate reported.

“Most of the strikers are women, but they don’t act like members of any so-called ‘weaker sex’ when it comes to standing up for their rights pertaining to job security and other issues which the company had declined to negotiate.”

The strike dragged on into December 1962, when union members narrowly voted to accept a two-year contract ending the strike. The contract called for a 13-cent wage increase retroactive to March 28.

• 75 Years Ago: St. Paul Airport expansion. The St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly rolled out a special committee in October 1937 to direct a “vigorous campaign of education” against a proposed bond issue to improve and expand the city’s airport. Notably, the opposition included the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council.

A front-page editorial in the Nov. 4 Advocate opposed the airport development as “a private utility at public expense for the benefit of wealthy, gouging air transportation lines.”

Labor opponents pointed out that St. Paul – already “rated as one of the most over-bonded cities” in the nation – had more pressing priorities than airport expansion, a project many considered a real estate boondoggle.

“Labor is suspicious of this whole proposition,” The Advocate reported. “The property adjacent to the present airport is largely delinquent and this bond issue is being used to bolster the owners’ hope of selling lands to the city which otherwise will be taken over by the state.”

The bond issue passed in a special election Nov. 16. The Assembly later censured two labor-endorsed elected officials for championing the airport proposal, and appointed a committee to monitor the airport project and publish its findings in The Advocate.

• 100 Years Ago: ALEC didn’t invent ‘model legislation.’ A committee of state senators, appointed to “carefully examine the subject of compensation for workers injured in the line of their employment,” held its first meeting in October 1912. Interested parties in attendance included representatives of the Minnesota Employers’ Association and liability insurance companies – but not organized labor.

The idea that union leaders would be left out of drafting Minnesota’s first workers’ compensation law didn’t sit well with The Advocate, which ran an indignant, front-page report in its Oct. 25 edition.

“So far as we have been able to learn, no notification was sent to any of the labor unions of the state or any of their representatives but E. G. Hall, president, and W. E. McEwen, secretary, of the State Federation of Labor,” The Advocate reported. “These gentlemen will, in all probability, attend the next meeting of the committee.”

With labor absent, George M. Gillette of the Employers’ Association “occupied the greater part of the time of the meeting,” The Advocate noted. The Employers’ Association presented committee members with a model bill they might use as a template in crafting the state’s workers’ compensation law. (Sound familiar?)

The Advocate picked through Gillette’s model bill, pointed out several concerns and offered this warning to union leaders:

“It is of the greatest importance that the labor unions of the state have persons present at [the next committee] meeting to present their views. Otherwise, they are likely to have to put up with a law not at all agreeable or helpful to them in any large measure. And they ought to get to work at once in the matter, in order that their views may be fully and clearly presented to the committee and pressed on its attention in the most forcible and emphatic way.”

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