In 1938, what was then called the Iowa Civil Liberties Union helped defend the right to strike for Maytag workers.

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union (now the ACLU of Iowa) was founded in 1935. And just a few years later, it assisted laborers as part of an important workers rights case.

In 1938, organizer William Sentner was assisting Maytag workers who with the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers Union were striking against 10 percent wage cuts. The National Guard was called out to Newton to control the striking workers, including putting armed sharpshooters rooftops. Also, dozens of people were arrested for “criminal syndicalism,” a 19th-century crime that was a thinly veiled attempt to silence those advocating for social and economic change.

newton, maytag

Pictured: The National Guard in Newton, 1938.

William Sentner

Pictured: CIO organizer William Sentner.

As one of the leaders in the strike, Sentner was singled out and actively prosecuted. He was fined what was then a whopping $2,500 or 750 days in jail. With the legal assistance of the ACLU, Senter’s conviction was appealed. In 1941, it was reversed by the Iowa Supreme Court, marking an important case for the right of workers to strike.