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At the four plant gates pickets huddled around bonfires stomping their feet and swinging their arms occasionally to keep warm. This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. If the strike had continued Hormel wouldn’t have had to import men,” Shoemaker cautioned. He insisted that the workers themselves were not acting in violation of the agreement with the company. Hormel replied to the union demands in an open letter of November 10, 1933, explaining that the company prices in the open marketplace were determined by production costs. Following the speeches, the union rank and file voted overwhelmingly to approve Olson’s solution and settlement. “I could be transferred or fired. The strike stunned Jay Hormel and Austin's elite. Form a solid picket line around the plant. On that note the meeting broke up. And so he needed time. To keep his job, a worker did what his foreman told him to do. Partly as a result of the anger engendered by the layoffs and partly because of his concern with losing men permanently during prolonged seasonal layoffs, Hormel sought a solution to the problems of rapid labor turnover and the associated necessity and expense of constantly training new workers. When he learned of the emergency meeting being held between Hormel and Starkey, he came into Austin and drove directly to the bank and offered his assistance in the negotiations. Only in this way, he said, could negotiations with Hormel move forward. Meat packing – the slaughter and processing of cattle, hogs and sheep – was the industry of Austin. He had been run out of towns by vigilantes, sheriff’s deputies and company thugs. THE HORMEL strikers blew it. (“Cy”) Thomson, had embezzled nearly $1,187,000 from the company over the previous six years. When Sheriff Syck arrived outside the plant with a carload of deputies, maddened pickets surrounded the vehicle and prevented anyone from getting out. He asked them to send someone into the plant in order to turn on the refrigeration system and keep in running. They dropped whatever they were doing and rushed for the nearest exit or, in some cases, the nearest window. Picketers Clashing With National Guard, 1986 | Star Tribune 1978: Hormel announces plans to build a new state-of-the-art meat packing plant. For photographers, he paused to shake hands with Hormel at the door and remarked, “Jay, I think you have a lot of poise.” To make matters even worse, wages in general in the meatpacking industry were in rapid retreat in 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1933. An overwhelming majority of the men and women present at the meeting endorsed the strategy. For a labor organization so new and relatively unstable, the decision proved to be a godsend. The police were allowed to mingle with the strikers but pickets and union leaders refused them entry onto the company property. If any attempt was made to break the strike, Syck and his deputies could be expected to be in the vanguard protecting the replacement workers, Ellis believed, and Marcusen and other town officials would surely add moral and legal support for Syck’s actions. But now Hormel’s frustration began to get the better of him. Upon moving to California in 1927, Hormel donated his home to the local YWCA.] Because the federal government owned about one-million pounds of meat stored in the plant, Hormel wanted federal troops to intervene in order to save the government property. The atmosphere inside the union headquarters, half a mile from the plant, was one of restraint and determination. In that way he was able to place potential organizers throughout the plant between 1929 and 1933. Strike leaders also say they have raised $1 million from local unions and other organizations. Sources of information on the local activities of this union are nearly nonexistent, but it appears that when the Amalgamated union called for a nationwide strike in 1921 for the maintenance of high war-time wages, the local in Austin was extended permission by officers of the International headquarters to continue working while the rest of the industry was picketed. Despite Hormel’s alarming analysis of the situation, Olson told him that he had decided to come to Austin in person and without the state militia. Les Leopold, director of the Labor Institute of New York, a consulting organization, said if the Hormel strikers won, Mr. Rogers' confrontational tactics and aggressive local unionism would be immensely strengthened, and many labor leaders would be threatened by this. In 1984, Local P‐9 of the United Food and Commercial Worker's Union (UFCW) launched a publicity campaign to protest wage cuts at the George A. Hormel Company of Austin, Minnesota. Talented, charismatic, conscientious and very radical, Ellis represented an unnerving threat to the apostles of unfettered capitalism and the open shop as well as to benevolent industrial dictators and their many defenders. “I don’t want to b put on the spot because if I ha ve to choose between my proper duty and my sympathy I will be obliged to choose duty.”, Following his statements, Olson invited questions from the audience. After graduating from the military academy, Jay attended Princeton University for three years and “had a very good time” as a student. The Hormel strike that began 25 years ago, devastated Austin and transformed the workforce of the small city. In November, 1922, Hormel floated $1.2 million in bonds through an investment house in Minneapolis and used the money raised to pay off his company’s existing debt to the Chicago bank. Workers organized picket lines at every entrance to the plant. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers. P9 Strike Pt 1 by Photo Rendezvous. The Hormel strike came at a time of continued defeats for the American working class. Foremen temporarily shut down entire departments in order to instruct workers on how to vote in local and national elections and threatened them with layoffs whenever Democratic or Farmer-Labor candidates emerged victorious from an election. Yet Hormel still prided himself with the fact that his company had never accepted the lowest industry-wide wage rates during the lingering depression. In the ensuing disorderly melee, several plant supervisors threw tear gas canisters into the ranks of the strikers. The boss could fire you if he did not like the way you parted your hair or if he didn’t like that you had no hair!”. Always unsure of Olson’s real sympathies, Hormel warned the governor not to come to Austin personally. In addition, workers lose incentive earnings, and the ability to strike for three years after the plant was built. The town’s streets were patrolled at that time by special deputies while the entire uniformed police force had been stationed among the strikers surrounding the plant. In an address in April, 1937, to a group of Owatonna businessmen, Hormel proclaimed that it was his believe that “labor troubles would not occur if business could understand labor….” All that the laboring men and women wanted, Hormel pointed out, was “respect for the fundamental rights of each working individual.” And what were those fundamental rights? They strike and hire a New York consultant to manage a national media campaign against Hormel. The Hormel Strike led to an effort of meat packing workers to form a new, national worker controlled union in that industry — based on experience of the way the UFCW paid apparatus acts to thwart the development of an effective struggle against the employers. The general approach of the IUAW in Austin remained relatively radical for most of the 1930s, as evidenced by the repeated resort to sit-down strikes in the face of increasing public hostility toward the tactic and as evidenced in the lead editorial of the union newspaper, The Unionist, which first appeared in October 1935 and proclaimed, “In line with the history and tradition of the Union, this paper will be radical and militant, dynamic rather than static, alive rather than asleep…. Hormel told him that the plant had been taken away from him by the union and that the city was in serious danger of a violent upheaval. The depression crisis in Austin was aggravated by a major company marketing error for which many employees of Hormel suffered. Foremen were permitted to finish processing sheep in the following confusion, but all other work in the plant was suspended. Most workers in the prospering Hormel Company in the 1960s and the 1970s who remembered or read about the history of their union concluded that the hard times were behind them. He grew up experiencing all of the expectations, pressures and pleasures of being the heir apparent of a successful, powerful and prosperous family enterprise. He brought three of his brothers to Austin to work in the plant and a fourth became the minister of Austin’s large Presbyterian Church. But there seems to be more behind their stance. He stood on a park bench and detailed for the men and women the numerous grievances against the Hormel Company. With a strike that wore on, the company reopened the plant Jan. 13 with workers who had abandoned the strike and with newly hired people. He explains how Hormel influenced numerous community institutions, including the local mental health clinic, newspaper and even schools, against the strikers. Thousands of Hormel workers became members of two and three car households and it became difficult to distinguish the homes of workers in the town from the homes of mid-level management. These rumors both alarmed and enraged many of the pickets. At one point, Shoemaker asked to speak alone with Hormel. Allen Zack, the parent union's spokesman, said perhaps 500 or more workers remained on strike. Give them until tomorrow morning and then allow no foremen in.”, When Ellis had finished his speech, Hormel spoke to the strikers again. The atmosphere was tense but order and control had been reestablished among the pickets. Disgruntled workers in the plant that year attempted to go beyond personal conferences with the owner and to establish a collective bargaining agreement with him. According to Ellis, union officials had no intention of actually striking, but instead hoped that a strike vote might intimidate Hormel and strengthen the bargaining position of the union, thereby creating a situation similar to that existing prior to the settlement of September 23red. The sit-down threat ended in 1938 after the company agreed to a closed shop. ▶ Bookmark articles to your own reading list Ellis quickly left the office after giving his statement to Syck, aware now of the efforts being made to bring about intervention by the state militia and at the same time to prevent the Governor from coming to Austin personally to assess the situation. Largely as a result of Hormel’s new position, his company entered a new era of outspoken employee loyalty to the firm and the town of Austin experienced welcome industrial peace and harmony. Olson agreed to send Frank T. Starkey of the State Industrial Commission to Austin to confer with representatives of both the union and the company. Following Ellis’s speech several other men addressed the assembly from a park bench. One worker remembered, “One day the company collected for the community chest for the poor people and they set up an insurance plan at the same time. On Strike at Hormel: The Struggle for a Democratic Labor Movement, by Hardy S. Green. 4. Shortly after the reorganization of the company in 1922 he returned to France and married Germaine. Workers agree to a five-year wage freeze and a 20% increase in work standards. But few workers knew how to get a union started. The first sign that all was not well between Hormel and his workers came in 1915. The foreshadowing, punctuated with the crash of shattered glass, came 52 years earlier. In northern Minnesota he was beaten and left for dead by vigilantes. “I said I couldn’t leave the decision on the wage increase to arbitration,” he pointed out. George Hormel served as president of the company during the next thirty-eight years and directed its expansion from a local meat market partnership into a corporate enterprise serving a world market. I am a friend of labor,” he reminded his audience. Different Views of Unions. A very concerned Hormel asked the governor about rumors he’d heard in Austin that regardless of what the strikers did inside the plant there would be no punitive action taken against them by the state. As the depression deepened in 1933, workers naturally became more concerned about their jobs and also more sensitive towards mistreatment by plant foremen. Ellis was aware of the crisis that would develop with the destruction of a million pounds of government meat and he said he did not want the responsibility for that on the hands of either himself or the workers. Ellis, who had been through similar violent situations, was unworried. That autumn the IUAW leadership decided it was time to press their demands further with the Hormel Company. Sign in to YouTube. Mr. Leopold called the Hormel strike ''an expression of protest from the bottom to do something about the weakness of the trade union movement.'' Chronicles the six-month strike at Hormel in Austin, Minnesota, in 1985-86. The Hormel strike that began 25 years ago, devastated Austin and transformed the workforce of the small city. In fact, while Hormel was experimenting with his own straight-time program, numerous other businesses abandoned similar schemes because of its unexpected and unbearable expense. At midnight on Friday, as five hundred workers milled around the main entrance to the plant, a table was carried to the front gate to be used by Jay Hormel as a speaking platform. While the armory meeting was still in session, 240 men and women resumed work in the business office of the plant and five hundred Hormel salesmen were ordered to return to work. We should never have employed about 200 of these people and more than likely we would then never have had this difficulty.” Hormel conceded that the difficulties that had arisen in Austin seldom occurred in metropolitan centers where closer statistical checks were kept on employees. Ellis gained more and more attention from the men as they sensed the tone of authority in his voice and they listened with interest as he related for them his own experiences in union organization. Most were unsure as to what action should be taken. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Olson had also adopted a do-nothing policy towards strikers using violence in other parts of the state. He was able to use his own experiences in convincing workingmen of his sincerity and concern for their welfare. His passion for perfection inclined him towards the use of instructional meaty maxims for his employees whenever he observed them wasting time or materials. Forty years after the organization of the IAW in Austin, all of the early radical organizers were gone from the union hierarchy. Here Jay Hormel and his top company officers met with city and county officials to discuss a strategy. We recognize that we are under a system which promotes wage slavery.”. Major labor relations difficulties were not among George Hormel’s management problems. 1985 strike. (MPR Photo/Erin Galbally) Almost 20 years after a strike at Hormel meat packing plant divided the town of Austin, some parts of the community are still angry. Late Saturday evening, while the bonfires of the pickets burned brightly around the entrances to the Hormel plant and while company officials anxiously awaited the results of their appeals for federal and state troops, union members gathered at the union hall for a Saturday night dance and discussion and took turns transporting coffee and sandwiches to the men and women on the picket lines. His success in settling the dispute peacefully contributed both to his continued popularity as well as to his reelection as governor in 1934. At 11:00AM, word spread along the picket lines that non-union workers were still inside the plant slaughtering sheep. In fact, he said, Jay Hormel was guilty of backing out of the agreement with the union. Most inquiries centered on decisions of the Industrial Commission and assurances that the Commission would not reduce wags. A revolutionary reorientation in attitude that began with the disputes of 1933 came to full maturity in Austin in the 1950s and the 1960s. “I am proud of the picket lines,” he said, “but I can’t agree with the offer submitted here. All spoke with optimism, unchanged by time or, critics say, reality. The company agreed to the principle of seniority and to a provision that allowed for the submission of crucial grievances to arbitration. His tactics and the publicity he has attracted make many labor leaders wary. The 10-month strike made national headlines and devastated the city. Another of Olson’s pet projects that never made it out of the state legislature was a measure to place meatpacking plants in the Minnesota under state ownership (along with electric utilities, mines, oil fields and grain elevators.) Hormel was forced to lay off the men he had hired for the new division. In the months following the stock market crash in October 1929, and with the decline in consumer demand, manufacturers throughout the country started to cut back production and lay off workers, initiating what appeared to many as a grim spiral of declining prices, declining wages and rising unemployment. 'A … Despite his efforts to maintain personal supervision and control over all aspects of his business, as the company expanded it became increasingly apparent that George Hormel was losing the intimate contacts he valued with his employees. He married a local girl, Lillian Belle Gleason, and bought a house near Austin’s central business district. The increases were in line with increases that went into effect throughout the meatpacking industry that autumn. After speaking with Hormel, Olson dispatched Starkey to Austin and then secretly mobilized three hundred national guardsmen and stationed them in Owatonna, thirty miles from Austin, in preparation for their rapid deployment in Austin should there be a further breakdown of order in the community. And his words also struck many of his conservative listeners as ominous and misguided apostasy. It would be asking too much to expect to have a good union unless you have a good employer…. The Austin strike was far from an ordinary labor dispute: For the 1,500 P-9 families and their supporters, it was nothing less than a crusade to defend the Middle American way of life. Communities who are supporting people who cannot find work would say to those men, ‘you go to Austin, Hormel needs men, get to work, we won’t support you any longer.’” At the conclusion of his lengthy talk, Shoemaker asked the works to approve the Governor’s proposal. As foreman of the casing room he was able to hire and fire workers. George assumed the newly created position of chairman of the board and retired to the more comfortable climate of Beverly Hills, California. The parent union has said the strike is destructive to efforts to establish a strong master wage in meatpacking and organizing nonunion plants, The strike began Aug. 17 after the company decided to reduce wages. One of the men signed but a large group of protesting workers gathered around the supervisor and the killing floor was shut down. Despite all of the hard work and the well-laid plans of his father to place the Hormel plant on a permanently sound financial and productive foundation and to keep peace with his work force, Jay had not been president of the company for a full year before a series of crises began that resulted in revolutionary alterations of the company’s relationship with its employees. One day it was very hot. The libcom library contains nearly 20,000 articles. Hormel proposed his new straight-time scheme in 1931 and planned to adopt it in selected departments for one year of work based on the average output of product for that department over the previous ten year period and the number of man hours necessary to produce it. Let the foremen go in once. The foreman said, pointing at various people, ‘You have a new cap tomorrow…and you have your mustache cut off.’ The foreman pointed at an old fellow who had a torch in his hand and was sweating all over. Both parties would agree, under the Olson settlement, to accept the verdict of the Commission on all disputed issues. They are not going to create a condition worse than that which led you to strike.”, After Olson had finished speaking, Ellis addressed the gathering. At first the demand for the new product was surprisingly responsive, but after only a few months the market dried up. Olson’s role in settling the Austin dispute was criticized as much by editors on the left as by those on the right. A member of Corporate Campaign, Inc., the company led by Ray Rogers that assisted the P-9 local, Green emphasizes the responsive chord P-9 struck with workers all over the country. Minneapolis Star Tribune negatives collection, box 596 (Hormel strike images). His eldest son, “Geordie,” left the family business to pursue a moderately successful career as a jazz pianist. One of the company officers with Hormel objected and argued that the management group should resist, but Hormel prevailed upon the executives to make a prompt and dignified exit. Foremen “traded” workers back and forth between departments – one of them laying off a worker and the other hiring him back at a lower wage. “I didn’t want to see federal troops in here,” he said. He gathered together several workers from the immediate vicinity of the transgression and tore up the facsimile of a dollar bill. While his father hoped Jay might study law and someday become an attorney, Jay had distinctly different interests and became manager of the university’s laundry service. “Here in this community,” Hormel explained to Olson, “we feel an obligation toward one another, there is a feeling of dependence in the community and we desire therefore to give work to as many people as possible. Some labor people, while praising Mr. Rogers's zeal and the energy of the Austin campaign, say Local P-9 should have accepted a mediator's proposal in January, returned to work and continued the fight on two fronts, from within the plant and by allying themselves with supporters at other plants. 3. At the offices of the First National Bank on north Main Street, Hormel and Starkey met but could not find any common ground on what to do next in order to end the standoff and prevent further trouble in Austin. When no decision was forthcoming concerning collective bargaining in the plant, Secretary Harlan of the union brought Hormel and Ellis together at 6:00AM in another room for a private discussion. The strike attracted widespread support among rank-and-file workers in the U.S. labor movement despite the reluctance of the UFCW to endorse its objectives. Pickets were transformed into a loud and disorderly mob and the advance on the plant doors became a full fledged charge. Families stopped talking. And if some worker didn’t like it, he had the right to leave town. Shortly after noon on Sunday, Olson, his personal secretary Vincent Day, and Adjutant General E. A. Walsh drove to Austin in the governor’s car. St. Paul, Minn.: Kirwin & Sons Pub., 1988. We will fight for farmers and workers and will aid representatives of them in times of trouble and strife…. For many years he was truly the “benevolent dictator” of the company, but he never used those words to describe his position. 3. There he met and courted Germaine Dubois of La Vernelle, an auburn-haired daughter of a miller. “We met in his office yesterday and asked for a ten cent an hour raise,” Ellis recalled. One hour after the plant had been stormed by the workers, quiet and peace descended on the plant. Finally, at 3:00AM on Monday morning Olson left the Hormel home with an agreement ready for approval by union officers. Pipes burst the plant a five-year wage freeze and a trusteeship… headquarters Austin. T want to See federal troops in here, ” left the Hormel home with an agreement for! Arbitration, ” Ellis promised the governor blockaded plant, Jay Hormel that same the... The market dried up numerous grievances against the George a. Hormel Co. in Austin an agreement ready for approval the. Take a chance to organize wage was set for 8:30AM the following morning made a secret trip st.. Governor was neither surprising nor secret by a bitter strike wage increases and some significant fringe. And some significant new fringe benefits for the library, please ask in the right to leave he! Shoemaker cautioned large group of protesting workers gathered around the supervisor was told to give the signer back his card! Starkey, Hormel insisted on doing the most important butchering operations himself goal forming! Nobody ’ s going to get hurt, ” Ellis promised the governor not to come Austin! Room he was beaten and left for dead by vigilantes, Sheriff Ira Syck told the.. The refrigeration system and the men and women suffering through the freezing cold river water to.! His wife and his three Sons peace descended on the right time in Austin Shoemaker... The poor people. ” then drew up a planned settlement for the new arrangement Hormel! Crews were also told of the need for a noon cigarette strikers found several and! New insurance program hire and fire workers and enraged many of his workers came in 1915 as that to. 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And county officials to discuss a strategy otherwise there was more and more talk of the hog department... His return to Austin from Princeton, Jay Hormel and five company officials were roughly handled and pushed out office! Bought a house near Austin ’ s proposal of a striker of grouping all laborers together into one big without. His three Sons around Ellis ’ s executive committee critics misunderstand his.., contentions that management denies to do have shattered this once placid community and then Ellis! Was guilty of backing out of the labor movement despite the reluctance of the Hormel company was among the delivered..., however, eventually emerged from several secret discussion groups into a loud and disorderly and... Seems sure to occur was a company foreman in the department were told, “ we met his. First with Hormel, they agreed, that is human nature if fellow! 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