The Farmer-Labor Movement: A Minnesota Story
Eight years in the making, a video documentary by UMRA member Randy Croce on the most successful third party in U.S. political history will have its broadcast premier on Pioneer Public Television in Granite Falls, Minnesota, on January 14. Financial support from UMRA’s Professional Development Grants for Retirees (PDGR) program enabled Croce to travel around the state to shoot historical locations and find documents and images for the production in regional archives. The following interview with Croce, conducted by UMRA member Will Craig, has been edited for length.
Croce: The project fit well with my University job at the Labor Education Service (LES) in the Carlson School, where I taught classes and created videos with union members from 1990 until my 2018 retirement.
Throughout my career, I made documentaries to convey people’s first-person experiences, particularly people whose lives are rarely portrayed by mainstream media. The highly influential yet largely forgotten story of the Farmer-Laborites fully matched my interests and background.
Tom O’Connell, Metro State University history professor emeritus, and Anna Kurhajec, St. Thomas University history instructor, planned the project and wrote the script together with me. Scores of people—including historians, actors, musicians, and video professionals, particularly retiree Howard Kling, former LES chair and video producer—worked on the project.
The grassroots, progressive Farmer-Labor movement began in 1917 in response to the economic hardships and political repression of small farmers and workers. Farmer-Laborites advanced systemic change in Minnesota and brought three governors, four U.S. senators, and nine U.S representatives to office, along with a host of state and local elected leaders. The party merged with the Democrats in 1944 to form the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.
The documentary portrays this history through the voices of Farmer-Labor leaders and their descendants, as well as contemporary historians and activists. Animated segments bring the personal stories of Farmer-Labor men and women to life, while songs from the period convey the spirit of the movement.
There are striking parallels between the show’s historic conflicts and contemporary issues: farmers struggling to keep their land, economic inequality, environmental threats, and political polarization. The Farmer-Labor movement’s progressive legacy and the challenges it faced still resonate today.
The documentary is available at farmerlaboreducation.com along with additional information about Farmer-Labor history.
NOTE: The 2023 PDGR awards will be announced in the March 2023 UMRA News. If you have questions about the grant program, please contact PDGR Committee Chair John Bantle at [email protected].
For 2023 grant year, the UMRA PDGR Committee reviewed 10 applications for Professional Development Grants for Retirees. The applications covered a diverse set of topics and goals. The PDGR Committee recommended that nine be funded in April 2023. The recipients represented the Morris and Twin Cities Campus. The awardees and grant abstracts are listed on the 2023 PDGR Abstracts page.
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