While summer doesn’t formally end this year until the autumnal equinox on September 23, Labor Day marks the unofficial close of summer for many. Celebrated on the first Monday of September, the resulting three-day weekend for Labor Day offers a last hurrah of summer.
A federal holiday since 1894, Labor Day commemorates the efforts and accomplishments of American laborers and honors the American labor movement. Dubuque, Iowa’s first city, played a role in that movement as one of Iowa’s leading industrial and manufacturing cities. Dubuque has historically been home to a large working-class population, and through their efforts to organize laborers have achieved better compensation, improved working conditions, and worker-friendly legislation, like health and safety codes.
This month’s feature from the historic collection is an ode to Dubuque’s labor history - a garrison cap from the Dubuque Truck Drivers Local 421 union post. The cap features the logo of the Teamsters and nine attached buttons from the General Drivers & Helpers Union dating from 1940 to 1955. This cap was donated to the Dubuque County Historical Society in memory of the donor’s father, Melvin A. Digman.
While we honor the labor movement now, the early days of organizing and building unions were filled with challenges and met opposition from both employers and political leaders. Early 20th century Dubuque saw a decline in manufacturing, and with it a weakened labor movement, a particularly difficult time for the Teamsters in Dubuque. Following the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, the Dubuque teamsters reorganized. The post-war period witnessed a surge in local labor unions, and a golden era for Dubuque workers.