Packinghouse Daughter

At first blush, Cheri Register's memoir about coming of age during the 1959 strike at Albert Lea's Wilson & Co. meatpacking plant might seem limited in appeal: The events are remote; most of the protagonists have passed on; and the conflict, which left this Minnesota hamlet bitterly divided for decades, is buried in the town's collective memory. Yet Register's far-ranging and richly detailed account of the 109-day strike goes deeper than history. In a blend of vivid reportage, personal reflection, and socioeconomic analysis, Register traces the contours of small-town America, the rise and fall of organized labor in the heartland, and her own family's working-class mythology. Distant though its subject may be for today's urban office worker, Packinghouse Daughter (Minnesota Historical Society Press) makes a deeply felt case for honoring those who, like Albert Lea's meatpackers did a generation ago, build their communities through sweat and muscle. And Register's theme--what is lost in capitalism's cold calculus--hasn't changed much since Minnesota Gov. Orville Freeman, on the night he called in the National Guard to end the strike, jotted this line in his notebook: "What of community? Who can speak for community and people who live there?"


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