Realism: The practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.

Friday, July 29, 2011

1959 Albert Lea Wilson Strike


Tom G. said...

Thanks for posting this. I am endlessly fascinated by the societal changes that places like Albert Lea (and my old home town in WNY) have undergone in just a few generations. Amazing. These stories are as distant to kids today, as the stories of the Indian Wars were to the kids of the 50's. I wonder if our collective amnesia is an American, or a human phenomena.

Anonymous said...

I am always moved by the oral accounts of people who lived through that time. Both of these testimonies reveal how complicated it was. Bob Pleiss is still ambivalent about being cast by his management role in opposition to his own friends and neighbors, and he finds some fault with Wilson's for not treating the workers as fairly as they should have. The management people I interviewed--or even talked informally with--when I was working on Packinghouse Daughter felt that same ambivalence. No one expressed any love for Wilson & Co. On the other hand, there's Bob Anderson's regret--a little nostalgia, even-- about the loss of a workplace that was a pretty unpleasant place to report to every workday for 30 or 40 years.
I have two quibbles with the documentary that I probably should report to the Tribune: When Pleiss talks about the "riot" at the plant gate, the visual presented is, twice, the solidarity march that came later, when UPWA members from Austin, South St. Paul, Cedar Rapids, and elsewhere marched up Broadway. That was an entirely peaceful event. The violence at the plant gate involved a smaller crowd of local residents. Second, his mention of spectators on "the railroad bridge" is accompanied by a quick shot of a train trestle beside the lake. What he no doubt means is the viaduct over the railroad on East Main Street, which is where people gathered to watch what was going on below.
Yes, it's hard to convey the meaning of this upheaval--or the reality of social class and the value of unions--to younger people with smartphones in their hands. But it's not impossible. I do a bit of public speaking about the Wilson strike to college history and American Studies classes, and I find my most receptive audience is students who are the first generation in their families to go to college. They come and talk to me afterwards about their families' struggles, often with tears in their eyes.

Gunnar Berg said...

May I recommend my friend, Cheri Register's book, Packinghouse Daughter.