Ottumwa – rich with Labor History

In early May, Southern Iowa Labor Council and South Central Iowa Area Labor Federation, hosted a solidarity event , Working Families Celebration, that drew hundreds of people to march from downtown to a city park where they help an open festivity recognizing the impressive labor history of Ottumwa.

Many of the speakers at this event told stories about the labor movement in Ottumwa, and encouraged people to find out more by reading some books that expand on this history.

 According to the University of Iowa Labor Press there is a great book about Ottumwa’s Labor History:

“Struggling with ‘Iowa’s Pride’ represents local history at its best. It’s rare to find a historian who so thoroughly exhausts and so effectively uses such a broad range of the available primary resources and at the same time understands and conveys so well how the results of that research fit into and complement the most recent and most relevant secondary literature.”—Marvin Bergman, editor, Annals of Iowa

“ … this is a good book deserving of a wide readership. Ottumwa’s packinghouse workers, unfortunately, serve as an example of the once vibrant blue-collar culture that America had and lost. By telling such and important—and global—story through the lens of one small city, Warren makes it accessible.”—Labor History

Recognized between 1880 and 1910 by its trademark label “Iowa’s Pride,” John Morrell and Company is best known for contributing one of the most important local unions to the progressive United Packinghouse Workers of America. During the 1930s and 1940s, its members pursued a militant brand of unionism. By the early 1950s, the local’s militancy became a source of contention among the membership. By explaining the effect of Morrell-Ottumwa’s union leaders on local and state Democratic politics, especially in the development of the Congress of Industrial Organizations’ Iowa State Industrial Union Council and the AFL-CIO’s Iowa Federation of Labor, Wilson Warren makes an important contribution to the literature on labor’s involvement in the Democratic party’s ascendancy across much of the industrial North following World War II.

This history of Ottumwa’s meatpacking workers provides insights into the development of several forms of labor relations, including the evangelical Christian paternalism, welfare capitalism, and unionism that were distinctive to one blue-collar community but that also reflected workers’ experiences in many other rural midwestern industrial communities. By carefully analyzing all relevant labor and industrial sources and by revealing the deeply held aspirations and concerns expressed by both workers and managers, Warren constructs a window through which Iowa’s industrial and labor history over the past 120 years can be viewed

This book is available at the University of Iowa Press  iupress@iuiowa.edu

Check out the Iowa Labor History Oral Project at https://www.uipress.uiowa.edu/books/pre-2002/warstrwit.htm.

Listen to audio interviews at https://soundcloud.com/ilhop

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