ANKENY, IOWA — The strike by UAW workers at 12 John Deere plants is stretching into a second week. It has nearly 40 years since Deere employees last went on strike, but labor unrest in Iowa is not unusal.
“It is by no means are unprecedented,” said John W. McKerley, the Oral Historian at the University of Iowa Labor Center. “It’s a tactic that employers have used almost as long as there have been strikes. Employers have been seeking injunctive relief against workers.”
McKerley works of the Iowa Labor History Oral Project, started by the Iowa Federation of Labor. It’s now on the University of Iowa campus in conjunction with University of Iowa Libraries and the State Historical Society.
“Deere’s story is fairly similar to a lot of the larger history of the Iowa Labor movement,” said McKerley. “The 1950 strike represents the efforts of the Iowa Labor Movement to consolidate the gains they’d made coming out of WWII.”
McKerley said to understand the development of labor movements you need to understand how workers first gained some economic clout during the emergency production for World War I. Once that war concluded employers began to take away gains made by workers. So when World War II came along, workers again made gains. It was after that war that labor became organized so as to not lose the gains made.
“After WWII Labor leaders didn’t want the same thing to happen that happened after WWI that all the gains made would come crashing down,” said McKerley. “The strikes were designed to make sure that didn’t happen.”
McKerley said manufacturers and meat packers wanted to repeat what happened after WWI.
“A private sector strike is legal,” said McKerley. “It’s something you could argue is founded in the right to assemble and peaceably claim redress of grievance.”
The State Historical Society of Iowa in Iowa City contributed to this report with historic labor movement photographs