Workers REVOLT: Our Report from the Front Lines of John Deere Strike in Iowa and Illinois
"Corporate media had us believing that we’re just lucky to have a job,” Toby Munley, a John Deere electrician in Ottumwa Iowa, tells Status Coup as we report ON-THE-GROUND in Iowa and Illinois
We started reporting on a frigid Thursday in Ottumwa Iowa, a small city of 24,000 cushioned in southeast Iowa just 66 miles from the Missouri border.
As I parked, the energy and excitement across the street was electric among the 20 plus John Deere workers—20 out of 10,000 Deere workers currently on strike—boisterously cheering on the picket line outside of Deere’s Ottumwa Works plant when the constant hoard of cars driving by honked in support.
Workers stood tall holding their UAW picket signs lined up around a tent, burn barrels to keep warm, and donated food and drinks.
It was day eight of the first John Deere strike in 35 years; workers had overwhelmingly rejected Deere’s insulting contract offer that essentially offered them a few bucks extra over several years while Deere is on its way to its most profitable year on record with a projection of $6 billion in profits.
[WATCH our ON-THE-GROUND reporting from the John Deere Strike in Ottumwa, Iowa; Davenport, Iowa; East Moline, Illinois; and Waterloo, Iowa].
“We have political systems that are characterized by legalized bribery,” Chris Laursen, a 19-year veteran John Deere worker on strike in Ottumwa Iowa, told Status Coup.
Laursen, a former local UAW president who has been one of the workers spearheading the Deere strike on-the-ground in Iowa, told us that the strike against Deere is just one piece of organized labor’s collective reawakening.
“Right now we’re seeing a resurgence in the labor movement and United Auto Workers and John Deere workers are ready to spearhead that movement,” Laursen said.
Laursen and other workers in Ottumwa told Status Coup about the physically and mentally backbreaking work they’ve done—in many cases for decades—that has enrich CEOs, executives, and shareholders while leaving them begging for decent wages and retirement security.
10-hour days operating dangerous machinery; three Saturday shifts a month; missing your kid’s ballgame or prom; broken marriages stemming from missing spouses.
“We’re the richest country in the world—we brag about that,” Toby Munley, a veteran electrician with John Deere in Ottumwa, told Status Coup about the disconnect between the mythology of America versus the harsh reality for the working class standing on the plant floor.
“Yet we’ve got the majority of our people, which is the working class, that are going out everyday and being forced for both spouses to have a job to get ahead in this life. But what you call getting ahead—if that’s a new car, a boat, or an occasional weekend at the lake or a week’s vacation or two—ultimately what’s really I feel suffering is the very fabric of what this country was built on and that’s our families.”
Well, in response to John Deere workers fighting back, Deere has chosen to literally try and freeze them out.
The company filed for an injunction with a Judge in Davenport Iowa, claiming the picketing workers were intimidating contractors and workers still entering the plant while also blocking their entry.
The Judge granted Deere’s injunction request and went as far to ban them from brining chairs or burn barrels to the picket lines—making it extremely difficult to stay out on the picket lines 24/7 without ways to keep warm as the weather in Iowa creeps toward the winter chill.
“I’m also a former veteran, I served in Vietnam, and it makes me extremely upset when I see judges fighting against the workers in this country to go out and legally strike; that’s what’s wrong,” Randy Donnelly, a retired machinist from the army installation at Rock Island arsenal, told Status Coup at a rally on Friday where community members protested against the obscene injunction trying to break the strike.
Donnelly, who worked at the arsenal for 33 years and was a former Vice President at AFGE Local 2119, dismissed the 40-year propaganda perpetuated by politicians and corporate media that workers should thank their lucky stars just to have a job.
“You would think that a union would be against capitalism, but we’re not. We think capitalism’s great but the problem with capitalism is you gotta share. It’s the workers going out there making this work; I go and I trade my labor for a wage. You’re not giving me nothing. I’m making that wage. I’m out there working for you performing a service and I need to be able to participate in that. If you look back a good company is not because you have a smart CEO; you got a good company because the employees are out there working for that company and making them good.”
Donnelly is right—the workers don’t owe John Deere or corporate America a thing. But as Will, a 14-year John Deere veteran in East Moline Illinois told Status Coup, the reality is these corporate overlords couldn’t care less if workers thrive or drown as long as profits keep humming.
“We're just a number to [John Deere]. We're as replaceable as a light bulb,” Will told Status Coup.
Toby Munley’s words about the corporate media’s 40-year neoliberal brainwashing were particularly poignant and drove home a point I’ve been making for years: actual everyday working class people are way more intelligent, articulate, and genuine than all the wealthy political pundits draining our brains on cable news and in print.
“In a lot of ways corporate media had us believing that we’re just lucky to have a job,” Munley told Status Coup, adding that corporate media brainwashed the masses to believe that “if you’re still at a place that still offers insurance and you’re not paying you’re lucky.”
“Well what’s happened is these corporations, even though they’re competitors, have formed more or less a union over themselves, to make us believe that we’re lucky.”
This ON-THE-GROUND reporting on the strike wave spreading across America is expensive (flights, hotels, rent-a-cars, and food for my cameraman and I). SIGN UP as a paid Status Substack member for $5 bucks a month to support this important reporting.