The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941

By Walter Galenson | Go to book overview

9
The Renascence of Textile Unionism

As was the case in the iron and steel industry, textile unionism had a long history behind it when the New Deal appeared on the American scene. Organization began as early as 1950, and continued in various forms without interruption. The American Federation of Labor chartered a national union of textile workers in 1896, and in 1901 this organization was merged with others into the United Textile Workers of America. 1

The UTW maintained a precarious existence throughout the first decade of the present century, challenged first by the IWW and later by the communist National Textile Workers Union, as well as by numerous craft organizations of nonradical orientation. Its greatest effort came in 1934, when under its auspices, 420,000 textile workers went on strike in protest against the failure of the NRA codes to guarantee them the right to bargain collectively. The strike ended inconclusively, with the United Textile Workers unable to translate this great demonstration of textile labor solidarity into permanent organization. In 1935, the UTW paid per capita tax to the American Federation of Labor on 80,000 members, far less than the 350,000 members claimed on the eve of the general strike of 1934. The union characterized this period as follows:

Many obstacles lay across the path of organization. Community opposition to unions, especially in the South, was even stronger in those days than it is today. The business elements in the mill towns would combine their resources to keep unions out of the community. In those days when there was no Wagner Act to protect the rights of workers, not only was there no legal protection for the right to organize, but the law, in effect, hindered organization. . . . There were also administrative difficulties that hindered the task to be done. Organizational drives cost money and the UTW had none. Trained personnel was also needed but the UTW had only a few organizers on its staff because of its limited financial resources. The UTW had never been a wealthy union. Except for a brief spurt in membership at the time of the 1934 strike, it was one of the smaller unions in the A.F. of L. . . . It was financially weak, not only because of its small membership but also because provincial, craft-conscious elements in the

-325-

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The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Wertheim Publications in Industrial Relations i
  • Wertheim Publications in Industrial Relation ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Contents xiii
  • Tables xiv
  • Illustrations (following Page 620) xv
  • Author's Preface xvii
  • 1 - Background of the Struggle 3
  • 2 - The Organization of Steel 75
  • 3 - The Automobile Industry 123
  • 4 - Coal Mining 193
  • 5 - The Electrical and Radio Manufacturing Industries 239
  • 6 - The Rubber Industry 266
  • 7 - The Men's Clothing Industry 283
  • 8 - The Women's Clothing Industry 300
  • 9 - The Renascence of Textile Unionism 325
  • 10 - The Meat Industry 349
  • 11 - The Lumber Industry 379
  • 12 - The Petroleum Industry 409
  • 13 - The Maritime Industry 427
  • 14 - The Teamsters 459
  • 15 - The Machinists 495
  • 16 - The Building Trades 514
  • 17 - Printing and Publishing 530
  • 18 - Railroad Unionism 566
  • 19 - Some General Aspects of the Labor Movement 583
  • Notes 645
  • Index 715
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