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The Voice of Southern Labor: Radio, Music, and Textile Strikes, 1929-1934

Vincent J. Roscigno
William F. Danaher
Volume: 19
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Voice of Southern Labor
    Book Description:

    The Voice of Southern Labor chronicles the experiences of southern textile workers and provides a unique perspective on the social, cultural, and historical forces that came into play when the group struck in 1934. The workers’s grievances and solidarity were reflected in the music they listened to and sang, and this book offers a context for this intersection of labor, politics, and culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9406-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxviii)

    The U.S. South experienced a truly remarkable period in labor history between 1929 and 1934. Mill owners were caught off guard first in 1929, when 3,500 workers walked out of the inspection department at the American Ganzstoff Corporation in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Approximately 2,000 workers in neighboring Gastonia, North Carolina, followed suit and walked out making demands pertaining to pay and work conditions. Strikes, not immediately related to those in Gastonia and Elizabethton, occurred soon after in South Carolina. In late March 1929, 800 workers walked out at Ware Shoals Manufacturing company and 1,250 workers walked out of the New England...

  5. 1 The World of the Southern Cotton Mill
    (pp. 1-18)

    Southern textile manufacturing was rapidly expanding into the 1900s, and offered southern workers their first tastes of industrialization. Indeed, by 1921, southern cotton-producing states accounted for 54 percent of the nation’s total yardage of woven cotton goods. This yield increased to 67 percent by 1927, partially the result of the relocation of textile manufacturing operations from the North to the South. The reasons for the regional shift were plenty. Cheap labor was abundant and union activity was virtually nonexistent, the main foci of southern chambers of commerce when attempting to entice northern mill owners. Indeed, wages in southern mills were...

  6. 2 Radio in the Textile South
    (pp. 19-31)

    The radio, first patented by Marconi in 1897, brought information, music, and a connection to a broader world to those residing in more remote areas of the United States. Southern mill workers were no exception, and their lives would be altered forever. Of course, the development of radio was a decades-long process, but by the early 1920s it had become available to and extremely popular among the public.¹ It would not be overstating the matter to say that this was the beginning of the radio “craze.”

    Between 1912 and 1935, stations sprang up virtually everywhere, to the point where the...

  7. 3 The People’s President
    (pp. 32-45)

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president to use the radio extensively. His rise in politics and his popularity were tied to his understanding that the new medium simultaneously allowed one to circumvent more local power bases and directly reach working-class groups and individuals, many of whom felt great distance and detachment from national leaders. The case of Roosevelt, radio, and southern mill workers is important and informative in several regards. It provides insights on theoretical questions pertaining to political opportunity, and forces us to distinguish between structural opportunity on the one hand, and perceptions of opportunity on the other....

  8. 4 The Musicians
    (pp. 46-64)

    The emergence of radio in the U.S. South and the use of the airwaves by Franklin D. Roosevelt affected the lives, leisure-time activities, and political consciousness of textile mill workers during the 1920s and 1930s. Mill workers’ experiences were now linked via a common medium. With this came a recognition that workplace change, family concerns, and poverty where not isolated or unique to their particular village. These issues were now on the national political agenda, and affecting the lives of most across the region.

    An unintended consequence of radio lay in the opportunity it afforded to mill musicians to leave...

  9. 5 Music and the Mill Experience
    (pp. 65-76)

    The emergence of songs and the richness of music in mill towns during the 1920s and 1930s—songs and music that spoke directly to the lives and experiences of Piedmont mill workers—should come as no surprise given the importance of such tradition in southern Appalachian mountain culture and the subsequent concentration of mountain folk in the new and growing mill towns of the southeast. Many of the musicians discussed in the prior chapter, who rose in celebrity with the advent of radio, indeed honed their already existent musical talents while engaged in mill work.

    The importance of music as...

  10. 6 Mill-Worker Consciousness, Music, and the Birth of Revolt
    (pp. 77-98)

    The year 1929 was a cornerstone in southern labor history, and a foreshadowing. Thousands of southern mill workers, often portrayed as lethargic or docile, walked off of their jobs in somewhat sporadic fashion, with little organizational resources, and in the face of powerful opposition from both mill owners and southern governors. The strikes themselves ended sometimes through very small concessions from owners, but, more often than not, through elite- and state-sponsored violence. Importantly, and despite the worker defeats that occurred, the 1929 strikes, particularly those in Gastonia and Marion, North Carolina, laid the groundwork, provided lessons, and aroused mill-worker consciousness...

  11. 7 The General Textile Strike of 1934
    (pp. 99-121)

    The solidarity and strikes of 1929, and the violence that occurred, were not ignored by mill workers across the region, nor were they forgotten. Despite the use of National Guardsmen and the violence that erupted, as well as the persistent blacklisting of those that struck, southern mill-worker oppositional consciousness and solidarity only escalated into the 1930s. The emergence of a broader-based solidarity and its impact on the massive 1934 strike, as we argue in this chapter, had more to do with the burgeoning of radio in the interim years, and the expression of both oppositional consciousness and political opportunity over...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 122-138)

    Textile-worker mobilization in the U.S. South between 1929 and 1934 remains, to date, one of the biggest collective actions by working people. What is particularly astounding is that this mobilization seems to have occurred against all odds. Paternalistic control and the possibility of severe sanctions were the reality in most mill workers’ lives, workers had little resources or political power on which to draw, and the formal organizational presence of a union, to the extent it was ever existent, was typically so only after worker radicalism was formulated. Workers drew from their own cultural tools, music in particular, in establishing...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 139-154)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 155-172)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 173-178)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 179-180)