On Aug. 17, 1985, union workers at Hormel Foods in Austin voted to go on strike, a decision that led to a long and bitter strike that made national news. This week marks the 30th anniversary of that vote, beginning the protest of the company’s demands for wage cuts, effectively dividing the town — and families. The strike became one of the longest in an industry racked by them in the 1980s.
It was a tough time for the industry. The recession of the early ’80s had increased competition among meat packers nationwide. Many small companies went under, and others instituted wage cuts. Hormel froze wages in 1977. So by 1985, when the company demanded a 23 percent wage cut on top of that wage freeze, workers walked off the job in protest. Organized labor around the country had been on a steady decline since the early 1980s, and the issues in Austin resonated with workers everywhere. The strike quickly received national attention.
Strikers got support from national civil-rights leaders and TV stars. It was so bitter that former Gov. Rudy Perpich called out the National Guard, which was dressed in full riot gear to let newly hired workers into the plant.
In June 1986, the national union told the local P-9 to go back to work, but members refused and the local was put in receivership, its leaders ousted. The strike ended just over a year after it began, and it failed to get Hormel to agree to strikers’ demands. Ultimately, the company succeeded in hiring new workers at significantly lower wages.
To remember the Hormel Strike we present the documentary: The American Dream – Meat Packers Strike of 1985-1986