ORAL HISTORY PROJECT

Clinton Corn Strike

In the fall of 2015, the Clinton Public Library initiated an oral history project documenting a labor strike at the Clinton Corn Processing Company in 1979-1980. The strike was notable for a number of reasons. Up to that time, it was one of the longest strikes in Iowa history, lasting 11 months through June of 1980. Allegations of coercion and backroom dealing were seemingly confirmed by union members crossing the picket line and the frequent clashes at the strike site with police who had been called in to help keep order. The acrimony spread throughout the community with threats, assaults, and destruction of property becoming a regular feature of local news coverage. Families were literally divided as the company steadily replaced union workers with non-union labor often brought in from out of town. National labor and corporate interests began to take notice and the strike concluded with the decertification of one of the longest-standing unions (American Federation of Grain Millers, Local 6) in the area and hundreds of its members unemployed.

But perhaps most important was the long-term psychological impact the strike had on the community, resulting from an economic and demographic arc that reaches to present day. In the decades since the strike, Clinton has lost nearly 20% of its population. It has among the lowest per capita wages measured against cities of similar sizes in Iowa and a solid generation of citizens have grown up surrounded with narratives of decline. The strike was also a bellwether for a larger national effort that sought to reverse decades of union gains in favor of globalized capital interests. Undoubtedly these events resonate to this date and the oral histories gathered bring new understanding with the advantage of historical perspective.

 

This webpage features links to the interviews conducted in conjunction with Augustana College's Sustainable Working Landscapes Initiatives. Students from courses taught by Dr. Lendol Calder and Dr. Brian Leech researched the strike and gathered the interviews from a variety of former Clinton Corn employees and members of the Clinton community. In addition to the interviews, the page features links to other web-based resources, documents, and information that complement the interviews and offer a fuller picture (and more perspectives) on the events before, during, and after the strike.

The Interviews

#001 Carl Nord (10/7/2015) | Part 1|2

#002 Dan Birdlsey (10/13/2015) | Part 1|2

#003 Les Shields (10/13/2015) | Part 1|2|3

#004 Jurgen Duhr (12/2/2015) | Part 1 |2|3

#005 Robert Krajnovich (12/8/2015) | Part 1|2|3|4

#006 Bob Bigwood (12/8/2015) | Part 1|2|3

#007 Larry and Karen Wood (12/15/2015) | Part 1|2|3

#008 Carol Kolk (12/15/2015) | Part 1|2|3

#009 Robert Betsinger (12/15/2015) | Part 1|2| 3

#010 Gary Herrity (1/20/2016) | Part 1|2|3

#011 Mike Kearney (1/20/2016) | Audio Only

#012 Mike Rastrelli (1/20/2016) | Part 1|2

#013 Mary Nord (1/26/2016) | Audio Only

#014 Charles Pelton (1/26/2016) | Part 1|2|3

#015 Ron Andresen (1/29/2016) | Part 1|2|3

#016 William Nelson (1/30/2016) | Part 1|2|3|4

#AC-01 Before and After

#AC-02 From Kernel to Syrup

#AC-03 Family and Community Tensions

Further Readings

Archer Daniels Midland Company. The Nature of What’s to Come: A Century of Innovation. Decatur, Illinois: Archer Daniels Midland, 2002.

Birecree, Adrienne M. “Strike and Decertification at Clinton Corn Products.” In Grand Designs: The Impact of Corporate Strategies on Workers, Unions, and Communities, edited by Charles Craypo and Bruce Nissen, 45-64. Ithaca, New York: ILR Press, 1993.

Clinton Corn Processing Company. The Manufacture of Products From Corn, 8th Edition. Clinton, Iowa: Clinton Corn Processing Company, 1967.

Clinton Corn Processing Company, Inc. At Clinton: A History of the Clinton Corn Processing Company, Inc. Clinton, Iowa: Clinton Corn Processing Company, Inc., 1981.

Clinton Corn Processing Company, Inc. Processing Corn at Clinton: The Processes and Products of Clinton Corn Processing Company. Clinton, Iowa: Clinton Corn Processing Company, Inc., 1981.

Clinton County Historical Society. From the Clinton Sugar Refining Company to ADM: A pictorial history of a local company in Clinton, IA. Clinton, Iowa: Clinton County Historical Society, 2011.

Fantasia, Rick. Cultures of Solidarity: Consciousness, Actions, and Contemporary American Workers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

State Historical Society of Iowa. Iowa Labor History Oral Project Index. Compiled by Janet Weaver, Spencer Howard, and Mary Bennett. Iowa City, Iowa: State Historical Society of Iowa, 2003.

Stromquist, Shelton. Solidarity and Survival: An Oral History of Iowa Labor in the Twentieth Century. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1993.

Related Collections

American Federation of Grain Millers. Local 6. Records, 1949-1980. State Historical Society of Iowa. Iowa City, Iowa.

Clinco News newsletter collection, Clinton Public Library Lyons Branch. Clinton, Iowa.

Clinton Corn Processing Company exhibit, Clinton County Historical Society Museum. Clinton, Iowa.

Clinton Herald microfilm collection, Clinton Public Library Lyons Branch. Clinton, Iowa.​

Iowa Labor History Oral Project. University of Iowa Labor Center. Iowa City, Iowa.

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