United States SpreadWhy did the textile workers union in the southern United States spread so rapidly?
The textile industry was, at one time, one of the largest industries in the south. Starting in the late 1800s with small local looms, and spreading to become corporations who controled the south and whose influence stretched internationally. One of the first textile industries came to Gaston County North Carolina, and its huge success led to the opening of mills across the Carolinas and Virginia. As these industries grew they began to control more and more of its employees lives. These huge corporations were permitted to take advantage of individuals because of their inability to fight back. The employyees of these mills lived in conditions resembling that of slaves before the civil war. They were worked greuling hours in inhospitable prisons called textile plants, yet were paid on average less than any other industrial worker in America. In the early twentieth century a sentiment of contempt began to grow between the laboring class and the all-powerful corporation. The masses began to push for union representation.
The importance of this industry is represented by the industries numbers. Textiles was the foundation of southern economy. In 1900 there were one hundred seventy-seven mills in North Carolina, but by the early nineteen twenties, that number had grown to over five hundred, with fifty in Gaston County alone. Textiles was a booming industry in the south. South Carolina employed only 2,053 people in the industry at the turn of the century, but by 1920 nearly 50,000 people worked in mills, one sixth of South Carolinas population. Virginias textile industry grew just as quickly with the incorporation of the Riverside Cotton Mills which had only 2,240 spindles and a mere one hundred looms. By the turn of the century the mill expanded and operated 67,650 spindles and 200,000 looms. Growth seemed to continue almost exponentially until the depression set in in 1929.
It could easily be said that the depression was the cause of the ill will that the workers felt toward their employers. Although the mills seemed to be doing great, grossing sales in the billions of dollars, the working class in the mills were seeing very little of the industries success. Textile workers earned less than any other laborer, and in North Carolina average wages were the least. With the success as abundant as it was in the textile industry, it is no wonder that the laborers sought uninization since they were seeing so little of the profit at their end of the industry. In 1902 only one textile workers union had been created in Virginia was reported by the state Labor Commisioner. It had forty members, of whom none were employed (Smith 52). So, massive strikes were impossible to organize and because of this the workers had little leverage. There were still small local strikes that were mostly unsuccessful. One of which was reported in Mill on the Dan. When Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor visited Danville, Virginia where in response to their attempts to organize hoped to catalyze the endeavors. A single mill went on strike in a city that was supported by five others. The company did not compromize, and slowly the workers trickled back to their jobs. In 1929 the first notable strike broke out in Gaston County. This massive strike was preceded by a breif strike in nearby Mecklinburg County, and other smaller labor disputes in counties surrounding Gaston, but this strike, called the Loray Mill Strike, began the massive spread of unionization sentiment in the south. The year of 1929 marked the boom of the spread of unionization in the south, agitated by the success of the Loray Mill strike.
South Carolinas, as well as Virginias industry executives were fearing the spread of this push for unization would spread across North Carolinas borders and into their states. Their fears were not unwarranted. The last major labor battle in textile south was in Ronoak Rapids, North Carolina between pro-union laborers and the J. P. Stevens Company where workers joined the TWUA (Textile Workers Union of America) and soon merged with the Amalganted Clothing Workers