Minnesota and Wisconsin have both played key roles in advancing workers’ rights over our histories. One of Wisconsin’s earliest crusader was “Fightin’ Bob” Lafollette. His firebrand campaigns against “Stalwart Republicans” and “vast corporate combinations” and his calls for minimum wages and workers’ compensation systems inspired progressives to elect him to a 40-year career in Congress, the Governor’s office, and the US Senate. In his 1924 campaign for President, Fightin’ Bob was supported by Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor Party, the same party that would give rise to one of our biggest labor heroes, Floyd B. Olson.
The same year that Fightin’ Bob was running for President, Floyd B. Olson was a labor attorney battling a conservative business association over so-called “right-to-work” laws. This business association – the Minnesota Citizens Alliance – had even gone so far as to hire a hit-man to dynamite the home of a local union leader. Olson’s crusade against this corporate abuse fueled his campaign for governor, which he won in a landslide in 1930. Acting quickly, Olson was able to overcome Republican opposition, passing pro-labor reforms like collective bargaining rights for the private sector, a progressive income tax and minimum wage laws.
Later in the twentieth century, both Wisconsin and Minnesota showed their pro-labor convictions once again. In 1959, Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson made his state the first in the nation to recognize collective bargaining rights for public employees – the same rights that Scott Walker is now working so hard to undermine. Twelve years later, in 1971, Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson followed suit. Both were passed despite staunch Republican, conservative, and corporate opposition.
Today, the names and faces may have changed, but the basic players remain the same: a shadowy network of powerful business interests (read: the Koch brothers) backing like-minded elected officials are still hard at work to undermine workers’ rights – just as they have been for the last century and more. And just like we have for the past century, the labor and progressive movements in Minnesota and Wisconsin will keep fighting.
We’ve fought for – and won – fundamental workers’ rights in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the whole nation. We will never stop fighting – and we will never stop winning! Minnesota and Wisconsin: united in our shared values like never before, we are unstoppable!