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Farmer-Labor Movement : Overview

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A Farmer-Labor political poster atop an automobile, 1925.

The Farmer-Labor movement in Minnesota is an unlikely coalition of two seemingly disparate groups, rural and urban, that found common cause and united in pursuit of their goals. The years 1910 to 1945 were a turbulent period in Minnesota, a time of economic distress for farmers and city workers alike. Drought and the Great Depression brought havoc to wheat farmers of the region. Prices for their product plummeted, and farm foreclosures meant ruin. In the city, jobs were scarce and wages low. Laborers, those fortunate enough to have work, fought for fair wages and against unfair laws that prohibited unionization. Out of that ferment, a coalition of reformers and radicals formed the "Farmer-Labor Party," a designation used on the ballot for its candidates who were neither Republican nor Democratic. In 1924, the name changed to the Farmer-Labor Federation, and later to the Farmer-Labor Association.

Third parties in American politics are not noted for their longevity, but the Farmer-Labor movement proved an exception to the rule. Taking root in soil planted earlier by the Nonpartisan League, it gained power, even prevailing in state and congressional elections over candidates of the two major parties. In 1943, the Farmer-Labor Party merged with the Democratic Party to form the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party of Minnesota. Prominent figures in its formation were former Governor Elmer Benson, Hubert H. Humphrey, and Eugenie Moore Anderson.

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