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
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Publication information: Book title: The CIO Challenge to the AFL:A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941. Contributors: Walter Galenson - Author. Publisher: Harvard University Press. Place of publication: Cambridge, MA. Publication year: 1960. Page number: 325.
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