This thesis examines the rise of industrial unions in Minnesota in the late 1930s and early 1940s by placing this within the broader context of state and local politics. In the 1930s, the influence of left-wing politics was at its nationwide peak in Minnesota. The state had elected two governors from the radical Farmer-Labor Party, while the 1934 Teamsters Strike had broken the power of employer’s organisations and paved the way for industrial unionisation nationwide. Minnesota also had one of the nation’s most influential Communist parties, while the Congress of Industrial Organisations successfully organised the resource-extraction areas surrounding Duluth. Though historians have tended to treat these groups separately, and have emphasised conflict rather than cooperation between them, this thesis argues that these groups worked together enough that they essentially formed a left movement. This movement enabled Minnesota’s version of the nationwide process in which the working class emerged as a political and economic actor, formed unions, and demanded better wages, fairer conditions, and access to the mainstream of American political and economic life.
By incorporating Minnesota into the broader story of the emergence of America’s working class as a political and industrial actor, this thesis asserts that this process was shaped by regional and local political and economic contexts as much as it was by national forces. Moreover, this thesis also argues that ending casual and seasonal work was central to the process of securing a better standard of living for workers. While previous historians have tended to assume that seasonal work ended naturally in the 1920s, I find that it was a common feature of working-class life cycles throughout the 1930s. Unions and political actors explicitly made seasonal and casual work an issue and developed various strategies to end or mitigate job loss.