In their own words:Dustin Heckmanby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Dustin Heckman, Executive Director of the Mower County Historical Society looks back at the impact of the Hormel strike.
It's really after the strike when we start seeing the foreign nationals coming here in larger numbers compared to what we had seen in the previous three decades.
I think it really probably just was the opportunity for work. And one of the things I noticed reading through at that time, there was a shift in culture in the migratory worker. More people were saying, 'I don't want to be a migrant worker anymore. I want to stay in one place, raise a family'.
So, that's where we start seeing more people staying in one spot, which the census can collect more, and they became more involved in the community and became more part of the stable population area. I think that's another trend you see. You don't have as many migrant workers coming to this area. They're coming to permanently stay here.
They may have come here, and like it a little, liked the change in seasons, and decided, 'You know, this isn't a bad place to live. There's more job opportunities here, especially, after the strike, there was opportunities to get into Hormel or QPP or other businesses, so they thought, well the opportunity is here, why do I want to keep on picking up and taking my family wherever, I'll stay here and try to make a living here because there is an opportunity for me to do so here, and raise a family and be successful.'
According to the '90 census, Mower County lost about 3,000 people, mostly due to the strike. It was a very bad time, so I think people just wanted to get away from that feeling and get away from that time period. So they left, leaving all these job opportunities that needed to be filled.
So, if Hormel was looking to hire back more people and some of that previous workforce was gone because they just didn't want to come back or weren't hired back, there's obviously a role that somebody needs to fill in. So that's where you have the immigrant population.
If they saw that opportunity, they would come. They can fill those roles. They'll do it at a cheaper rate than what skilled workers would do. So I think that's a lot of where it comes from, and that doesn't just reflect the Austin, Mower County area. I think that's across the nation. You see that when something like that happens, that usually the group that'll come in and take the next step and fill that void that's left.
I would think that most people at that time first were unsure. You get the people that, hey you're an outsider, I don't want you here, especially with the post-strike feeling still out there. There were probably people out there that said, 'oh these people are just here to take my job, swipe that from me.' So I would say initially, there was probably not a lot of positive reaction to people coming in, but I'm sure there were some positive things being done.
Most people probably split their anger between the Hormel executives and split their anger between this new population that's coming in to fill their void. Or even the current people that are living here, any white, Caucasian people that went into to fill their void.
It didn't matter, you could have been pink, purple, black, white, whatever, they would have had some anger toward you because you filled in their spot, their niche in the company, and then there's the anger at the company executives for what they did and how they felt they were unfairly treated and the result of the strike.
There's still both the positive and the negatives. A lot of it still depends on experience. Some people are looking at it as, these people are coming in across the borders, taking jobs, and you see this at a federal level where people are upset of these new communities coming in and taking their jobs, stealing their jobs, especially in the economy that we're in right now.
But you see some people and they look at it and see a family much like their ancestors, coming, struggling, trying to get the American Dream, trying to get going, and doing everything right. Paying their taxes, going to get their green card, getting a work visa, whatever they need to be here legally, people are very receptive, I think for the most part, to that. It's those that are undocumented workers that people aren't so receptive to.
And that's, I think as a whole, those communities that get the negative backlash. Because nobody wants to part the waters, so to speak, and say these are the people that are doing it the right way, these are the people doing in the wrong way. I think everyone's just throwing everyone into one big grey area. So I think it depends on the experience that people have with this, whether they feel they're taking their jobs. Somebody's just trying to get the American dream and doing what our ancestors did when they came to this country.