The Northland will get a deep dive into Minnesota political and social history next month thanks to a new documentary.
“The Farmer-Labor Movement: A Minnesota Story” will be broadcast across the state on public television channels, including WDSE in the Northland. It will run 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 18, and 1 a.m., 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 25.
Historians Tom O’Connell and Anna Kurhajec with video producer Randy Croce planned a co-wrote the script for the documentary.
While the documentary focuses on the movement across the state, several sections of the show are about Duluth and northeastern Minnesota, said video producer Randy Croce. The first Farmer-Labor congressman, William Carss, journalist Irene Paull and Rep. John Bernard are featured, as well as coverage of miners, timber workers and co-ops in the region.
The party was a progressive coalition that thrived in the early part of the 20th century. Organizers activated industrial workers in the mines and on the railroads and in factories, as well as individual farmers and farmers organizations to develop political policies as well as grassroots educational and mutual support efforts.
As they did so, they also found success working with other groups on common interests, such as socialist economic policies, women’s rights and trade unionism. It had great success in local and regional elections, as well as sending two governors to St. Paul and four senators and six congressmen to Washington. “It was really trying to overcome the divide between rural and urban workers,” Croce said.
As it did so, it also served as an engine driving more mainstream policy. The Farmer-Labor party never achieved a majority in the state senate, and yet some of its hallmarks — the state park system, environmental regulations, mortgage protections and other policies — are still around today. “With that record, it seems like we could span divides today as well,” Croce said.
The coalition lost momentum as mainstream Democrats began adopting some of the movement’s tenets, and then in Minnesota, the Democratic Party and the Farmer-Labor Party merged in 1944. The Red Scare further smothered the movement. “People were afraid of being labeled and didn’t tell others about their earlier involvement in the Farmer-Labor Party,” Croce said.
Focusing on the wide-ranging movement can have lessons for people today, Croce said. “We created this show hoping to have conversations, to talk about history and how it applies today.”
The documentary is also available for locals to screen or hold discussions about. For a link to view the film online, visit farmerlaboreducation.com. For a trailer: tinyurl.com/farmer-labor-film. It clocks in at 56 minutes.