"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to: navigation, search
DUBUQUE TRADES AND LABOR CONGRESS. In one of its last efforts, the KNIGHTS OF LABOR led the efforts in forming the Dubuque Trades and Labor Congress, a citywide labor organization in July 1888. (1) Thew organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor in 1900. (2)

In 1895 the organization was still in the pursuit of industries which supported labor. In December a committee was formed to look for a company which manufactured collars and cuffs. Once that was accomplished, all union workers would be advised where to shop. Another committee was formed to find a manufacturer of shoes. (3)

Committees served many purposes in the Trades and Labor Congress. In May 1899 one committee reported that it had worked to settle differences between the Coopers' Union No. 22 and its employers. The employees would be returning to work. Another committee reported efforts to organize the striking coffin trimmers. During the month of April it was reported that two unions had been formed--Woodworkers Local #64 and Broom-Makers Union #36. A communication was read that the John J. Bagley Company of Detroit had "come under the union banner." Members of the Congress were reminded that every article they used should carry a union label. (4)

Over decades the Dubuque Trades and Labor Congress advocated for a wide variety of issues. In 1899 the Congress proposed municipal ownership of the water works (5) and went on record in opposition to contracting out prison labor at the cost of fifty cents per day to make cooperage items in competition with regular labor. (6) The same year it commended the action of the Federation of Woman's Club in recommending compulsory education for children up to the age of fourteen. (7)

In 1908 the organization asked the local board of education to provide free textbooks to students. The law stated that if the board refused to comply the issue would be put to a referendum of the voters in the district. (8) After hearing a presentation on the Somers tax system which was gaining in popularity around the nation, the members announced that they would probably support it if it were introduced here. (9) In 1922 the Congress suggested to the board of supervisors that bloodhounds be purchased to run down escapees county and city criminals. (10) In 1929 the Congress requested that the city council send letters to state and federal officials requesting that they work for appropriations to establish the 9-foot CHANNEL in the MISSISSIPPI RIVER at Dubuque, building of grain elevators at terminal points, and inclusion in an appropriations bill for funds to add an addition to the POST OFFICE in Dubuque. This was approved by the council. (11) The Trades and Labor Congress in 1937 introduced a resolution asking for a five billion federal housing program that would help ten or more Dubuque industries. (12) The Trades and Labor Congress announced to the city council in 1938 that it was opposed to Daylight Savings Time. (13) Concerned that many workers were unable to get registered to vote, the Congress petitioned the city council in 1944 to allow voter registration at places of work. The only location then offering registration was the DUBUQUE CITY HALL. (14) The proposal of the Dubuque policemen and firemen for a 40% increase in pay was endorsed by the Congress and the Democratic Party Central Committee in 1947. (15)

1920 notice. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Reaction to the organization was often linked to it being un-American or socialist. An editorial in the Dubuque Herald in 1904 concerned the control of the Dubuque Trades and Labor Congress by socialists. This, according to the editorial, had led many of the older trade unions to withdraw from the organization. Socialists, it was stated, were more interested in strikes "if it takes all summer" than participating where "give and take must be the policy."
              Until his counsel had been rejected and settlement 
              of the dispute (streetcar strike) made possible by 
              any other terms than the complete surrender by the 
              company on every point raised. (16)

The charge was not entirely false. Some locals had several hundred members, but most averaged thirty to forty. Gains for organized labor partly reflected the organizing skills of a small group of socialists holding leadership posts in the Dubuque Trades and Labor Congress. They also published a weekly paper, the Iowa Socialist. Dubuque socialists agitating for workers' rights and union principles led to the surge in organizing between 1902 and 1903. At the end of this period, estimates of unionization in Dubuque ran as high as 66% of the workforce; union workers dominating transportation and construction sectors of the economy. (17)

In 1911 the "take no prisoners" attitude of both the Trades and Labor Congress and the CITIZENS' ALLIANCE over hiring workers to construct a new school led to backlash. In an editorial written by writers of the Telegraph-Herald in November, a plea was made to leave differences between the two organizations out of public education. The newspaper went so far as to suggest that "the character of the board could not suffer by putting some thinking laboring men on it, though we would deprecate making unionism as issue in a school election." The editorial went on, however, to appeal to the patriotism of the laboring class not to hold up the construction of a new school. (18)

1928 political poster. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

In 1920 labor strife at the CORN BELT PACKING COMPANY led the Trades and Labor Congress to pass a resolution asking Commissioner Urick, of the state labor department to visit Dubuque and the president of the Iowa Federation of Labor to come to Dubuque to investigate the issues. (19)

In 1929 the Trades and Labor Congress in cooperation with business interests in Dubuque actively promoted Dubuque industries with an industrial exposition beginning on Labor Day. Booths for most of the manufacturers, jobbers and leading merchants to display their goods were booked. In addition there was an automobile show, poultry show, rabbit show, and an agricultural exhibit all under canvass structures in the open space outside the Dubuque Athletic Field. (20)

The Dubuque Trades and Labor Congress was always political. An example would be the Trades and Labor Congress and the Good Government organizations in 1932 endorsing Martin B. ANDERFINGER, Mark R. KANE, and Ardenal Thompson to the city council. (21) In 1938 four of the candidates for positions on the Dubuque City Council were elected with an endorsement of the Trades and Labor Congress. These individuals included Frank W. THOMPSON, and Frank VAN DUELMAN, George R. MURPHY, and Carl CLARK. Albert WHARTON was elected in opposition to Congress candidates.

The 1940 city council election pitted the Citizens' Party against the Trades and Labor Congress. In meetings with the Congress, representatives of the Citizens Party asked that it be able to name two of the five individuals to be elected to the city council. A majority of delegates to the Congress at one point during a special meeting voted against the idea of demanding to name four instead of three names. Even Arthur M. Bennett, a former president of the Congress, resigned from its committee believing the Congress position was unfair. When an agreement with the Congress could not be reached, the Citizens Party put forth a slate of five candidates. Albert Wharton, Frank W. Thompson, and Frank Van Duelman, three of the five, were endorsed by the Congress and the Citizens' Party. (22) William V. TOEPEL and Bernard Schueller were not and were challenged by Clark and Wharton. (23) In the election in which a light turnout was a surprise, Schueller endorsed by the Citizens' Party and Murphy endorsed by the Congress were successful. (24) In 1948 the Congress ran John Sherman and Lester Streinz on its non-partisan platform for city council. Both were defeated. (25)

Politics was not the only avenue of interest for the Congress. As a patriotic gesture, the trustees in 1945 endorsed the purchase of seven $100 War Bonds as part of the seventh war loan campaign. (26) In November 1945 it endorsed the DUBUQUE LIVING WAR MEMORIAL COMMITTEE in its efforts to have a municipal stadium constructed. (27) In addition to its involvement in the annual Labor Day Parade, the Congress sponsored social events. In 1949 it sponsored Dodson's Imperial Shows which was claimed to be the largest outdoor amusement group on tour. Its equipment arrived in thirty-five railroad cars. Amusements included a wild animal show, scooters, tilt-a-wheel, and twin Ferris wheels. (28)

The Dubuque Trades and Labor Congress passed out of existence after the merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1953. It was replaced by the Dubuque Federation of Labor. The last president of the Dubuque Trades and Labor Congress was John GROGAN.




1. "A Strike of Type Stickers," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 10, 1891, p. 8. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910510&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. Scharnau, Ralph. "Workers, Unions, and Workplaces in Dubuque, 1830-1990. The Annals of Iowa 52 (1993), 50-78. Available at: http://ir.uiowa.edu/annals-of-iowa/vol52/iss1/3

3. "Want None But Labor Goods," Dubuque Herald, December 10, 1895, p. 8

4. "Strikers Will Organize," Dubuque Herald, May 16, 1899, p. 4

5. "City Council," Dubuque Herald, September 28 1899, p. 2

6. "Organized Labor Protests," Dubuque Herald, August 15, 1899, p. 4

7. "Compulsory Education," Dubuque Herald, June 13, 1899, p. 6

8. "Free Textbooks in Public Schools," Telegraph Herald, December 7, 1908, p. 8

9. "Explains Somers System," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, October 7, 1913, p. 2

10. "Courthouse News," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, March 16, 1922, p. 5

11. "City Council Proceedings," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, December 2, 1929, p. 13

12. "Local Unions Seek Housing," Telegraph Herald, December 7, 1937, p. 3

13. "City Council Proceedings," Telegraph Herald, May 2, 1938, p. 2

14. "City Council Plans Action on Labor Plea," September 6, 1944, p. 1

15. "Pay Boost Wins Labor Support," Telegraph Herald, July 20, 1947, p. 27

16. "Repudiating the Socialists," Dubuque Herald, July 18, 1904, p. 4

17. Scharnau

18. "Labor's Ill-Advised Course," Telegraph-Herald, October 25, 1911, p. 4

19. "Corn Belt Company and Union at Odds," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, August 3, 1920, p. 3

20. "Exposition Will Have Auto Show," Telegraph-Herald and Times Journal, August 25, 1929, p. 27

21. "Candidates Endorsed for City Council," Telegraph Herald and Times-Journal, March 27, 1932, p. 2

22. "Election Information," Telegraph Herald, March 22, 1940, p. 2

23. "Heavy Vote Expected at Monday Election," Telegraph Herald, March 24, 1940, p. 1

24. "Election Won by Schueller, Mayor Murphy," Telegraph Herald, March 26, 1940, p. 1

25. "Sherman and Streinz Trail Two Winners," Telegraph Herald, March 30, 1948, p. 1

26. "Labor Congress Buys 7 $100 War Bonds" Telegraph Herald, June 6, 1924 p. 28

27. "City Labor Group Supports Stadium," Telegraph Herald, November 20, 1945, p. 17

28. "Unions Bring Carnivals Here," Telegraph Herald, June 12, 1949, p. 6