BY STEPHANIE FOX
While most states have their Democrats, only in Minnesota do we have the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, the DFL, the result of the coming together of the far left Farmer-Labor Party and the more moderate Democrats, 75 years ago this month. On April 15, 1944, the two parties joined forces in a political marriage that still exists today.
Led by the then-college professor Hubert Humphrey, members of both parties voted to change their name to the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, or the DFL.
The two parties had been splitting the popular vote for years, which allowed the Republicans to control Minnesota’s state government. The Democrats hadn’t elected a governor in 30 years or a senator in 80 years. The Farmer-Labor Party had lost both U.S. Senate seats and four out of five seats in the U.S. Congress to Republicans.
The Farmer-Labor Party had advocated for workers, farmers and the unemployed during the early years of the 20th Century and the Great Depression. The Democrats played second fiddle during that time, but post-war, pragmatism was needed to advance Minnesota’s liberal politics.
Separate, they were losers. Together, they became a formidable political party.
To celebrate, party members and members of various labor unions came together on Tuesday evening, April 16, for one of many gatherings planned for 2019. The event was led by Jim Beers, chair of the Minneapolis Regional Retiree Committee (MRRC), History Committee and the Retiree Council Executive Committee, at the Communications Workers of America Union Hall on Lake Street in South Minneapolis.
The evening included entertainment by the Twin Cities Labor Chorus and a few teaser scenes from an in-progress upcoming documentary, “The Farmer-Labor Movement—a Minnesota Story,” presented by filmmaker Randy Croce, who along with Tom O’Connell wrote and produced the film. The film included interviews at the Minnesota State Fair of people answering questions about the origins of the Farmer-Labor part of the DFL. (Most didn’t know.)
The two filmmakers currently are funded by three grants and are hoping to receive another from the Minnesota Historical Society. “We have to pay for some of the historic photos and film we use and we’re renting equipment. It can be more expensive than many people would think,” says Croce. The documentary is expected to be released next year.
The evening also included a panel discussion where local political figures and organizers answered questions from the audience. Panel member Keith Ellison spoke against large monopolies, something he says is again becoming a problem, especially in the information and tech industries.
Beers says that Minnesota’s liberal political history is still important, even today. “For me, the Farmer-Labor Party is inspirational. Its legacy still inspires today’s organizers, young union leaders and other progressives,” he says.
More events commemorating the Farmer-Labor Party and the DFL will be held throughout 2019, dates to be announced during the summer and fall.
Those who wish to donate to “The Farmer-Labor Movement —a Minnesota Story” can send contributions to Tom Beer, treasurer, FLEC%, 2421 29th Ave. S., Mpls., MN 55406.