New film explores 1916-17 Northern MN labor uprisings

The Chestnut Street funeral procession for John Alar, shot by mining company guards outside his home in Virginia, Minnesota, during the IWW Mesabi Iron Range strike of 1916.

Filmmaker Gary Kaunonen of KCC-TV in International Falls just released a new documentary about a pivotal time in Northern Minnesota’s labor history. It’s called “Northern Minnesota’s Labor Wars.”

The years 1916 and 1917 brought major labor uprisings in the mines of the Mesabi Iron Range and the lumber camps of the state’s far northern pine forests. These events not only shaped local history, but became vital turning points in the national and international labor movement.

Kaunonen interviewed dozens of scholars and writers (myself included) to create this film.

And (drumroll) you can watch it here, courtesy of YouTube and KCC-TV:


  1. Herbert Davis says

    Proud to have been an active union member.

  2. Herbert Davis says

    My first post was before I watched the video and before I watched the protests re: Yanez verdict.

    I posted on Facebook in the hope that folks will learn from history. I am amazed that more people don’t see the need to organize and understand that the protests” are not going to be very productive. Without organized solidarity we are just letting off steam when we rant about injustice.

  3. The documentary was very well done with amazing film clips, photos, newspaper reports from the early 1900’s era. I’m very impressed with KCCTV, a local community public tv and the pros who created the doc. I learned a lot I didn’t already know such as the Lumberjack strike and much more.

    As the doc stated, people lost their lives and miners and their families suffered to get better pay and working conditions and the struggles of the men, women and children for labor rights led directly to the middle class existence. What jumped out at me when I also watched the trailer was that the early brave efforts to gain workers’ rights is “little known but an incredibly important part of our history”. It’s outrageous that this is “little known”. It should be taught in our public school history classes. Three years ago Jason Metsa proposed labor union history be included in public school curriculums but his bill was soon tabled because it was too “political”. We northern iron rangers love to read the stories of our immigrant ancestors who settled here and how they prevailed the unending hard work of homesteading and making livings. I have a photo of my dad when he was just a little kid with his siblings and parents with their small log house in background and the parents looked at least 20 years older than they actually were. It wasn’t hard to imagine how tough just surviving was then. It’s not possible to tell the stories of the early northern range immigrants and just ignore completely the labor wars. After all, the workers in the mining and lumber companies were all immigrants.

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