A Common Thread

A Common Thread: Labor, Politics, and Capital Mobility in the Textile Industry

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    A Common Thread
    Book Description:

    With important ramifications for studies relating to industrialization and the impact of globalization, A Common Thread examines the relocation of the New England textile industry to the piedmont South between 1880 and 1959. Through the example of the Massachusetts-based Dwight Manufacturing Company, the book provides an informative historic reference point to current debates about the continuous relocation of capital to low-wage, largely unregulated labor markets worldwide. In 1896, to confront the effects of increasing state regulations, labor militancy, and competition from southern mills, the Dwight Company became one of the first New England cotton textile companies to open a subsidiary mill in the South. Dwight closed its Massachusetts operations completely in 1927, but its southern subsidiary lasted three more decades. In 1959, the branch factory Dwight had opened in Alabama became one of the first textile mills in the South to close in the face of post-World War II foreign competition. Beth English explains why and how New England cotton manufacturing companies pursued relocation to the South as a key strategy for economic survival, why and how southern states attracted northern textile capital, and how textile mill owners, labor unions, the state, manufacturers' associations, and reform groups shaped the ongoing movement of cotton-mill money, machinery, and jobs. A Common Thread is a case study that helps provide clues and predictors about the processes of attracting and moving industrial capital to developing economies throughout the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3669-5
    Subjects: History, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    “It has been said,” U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan noted in advance of a September 2000 United Nations summit meeting of world leaders, “that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity.”¹ Perhaps. Certainly, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States and the exodus of industrial capital to other parts of the world have spurred heated debates. Are capital relocations and related restructuring within the U.S. economy a long-term boon or bane? What is the best strategy to raise global labor standards? What are the most effective ways to mitigate the unemployment and hardships caused...

  6. CHAPTER ONE “Positively Alarming”: Southern Boosters, Piedmont Mills, and New England Responses
    (pp. 7-20)

    During the first decades of the nineteenth century, the manufacture of cotton textile goods drove much of the industrialization of New England. In the eastern part of Massachusetts, Boston businessmen invested their monies in spinning and weaving mills along the fall lines of the Charles River in Waltham and the Merrimack River in Lowell and Lawrence. In the central part of the state, local merchants in the Chicopee-Springfield area of the Connecticut River valley did the same. Drawing a largely female workforce from an increasing surplus of agricultural labor, these entrepreneurs facilitated the creation of the region’s first full-scale manufactories...

  7. CHAPTER TWO “Manufacturers Surely Cannot Be Expected to Continue”: Legislation, Labor, and Depression
    (pp. 21-39)

    “For some days the newspapers have been filled with accounts of the investments of large sums of money in the far South by the great cotton-mill corporations of New England. . . . And thus the States of the South . . . will soon witness the greatest activity in cotton milling ever known in the history of this country,” wrote Carter Glass, owner and editor of the Lynchburg News in 1895. “They said their object in coming South is to get away from the meddlesome and restrictive laws enacted at the instigation of ‘walking delegates’ and lazy agitators. Their...

  8. CHAPTER THREE “A Model Manufacturing Town”: Moving to Alabama City
    (pp. 40-70)

    “No nation ever became wealthy by raising the raw material and then exchanging it for the manufactured article,” wrote William Gregg of South Carolina in 1844. “The manufacturing people always have the advantage.”¹ Three years after the Dwight Manufacturing Company began producing cotton textiles in Chicopee, Massachusetts, Gregg was one of a small number of southerners calling for broad, regional industrialization of the South. Throughout the antebellum South, however, industrialization occurred only to the extent that it served the interests of the region’s slave-based agricultural economy. Railroads, iron works, and cotton, grist, and saw mills served as offshoots of the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR “Small Help”: Unionization, Capital Mobility, and Child-Labor Laws in Alabama
    (pp. 71-100)

    “There have been a number of good families applied to us for work . . . and we have made a practice not to turn away any first class family who wished to come here,” the Dwight Manufacturing Company’s Alabama City mill agent Osmon B. Tilton wrote to Dwight treasurer J. Howard Nichols in October 1896. “We have made it a point to employ such settled families,” Tilton added, “as we know from experience would make . . . good mill hands.”¹ As was the practice in the company’s Chicopee mill, Dwight management hired entire families to work in various...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE “A General Demoralization of Business”: The Textile Depression of the 1920s
    (pp. 101-128)

    In January 1916, the managers and overseers of the Dwight Manufacturing Company’s Alabama City textile mill gathered with prominent townspeople for a six-course banquet to celebrate the company’s recent record output of manufactured cotton goods. “The record made by the mill has been most remarkable during the past six months. . . . The parent mills at Chicopee, Mass., are running on full time and the Alabama City mills are fully as prosperous,” boasted Alabama City’s mayor, W. T. McCord. “[I]t is said,” noted the local press, “to have been one of the most enjoyable affairs . . . ever...

  11. CHAPTER SIX “Dissatisfaction among Labor”: The 1934 General Strike
    (pp. 129-152)

    “The conditions in many parts of New England are nothing short of tragic, not only from the textile workers’ point of view . . . but also from the point of view of entire cities and towns where textile mills exist,” UTWA president Thomas McMahon told journalist Louis Adamic in 1931 . “[M]ost of the mill towns,” McMahon concluded, “are sad, sad places.” As the textile industry depression of the 1920s gave way to a nationwide depression by 1929, textile workers throughout New England, still reeling from the mill closures and relocations to the South that occured throughout the decade,...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN “We Kept Right on Organizin’ ”: From Defeat to Victory and Back Again
    (pp. 153-176)

    “We have won many singular and important victories,” the Textile Workers Union of America’s Committee on Organization reported to delegates at the union’s fourth biennial convention in 1943. “Most significant are our victories at the Harriet Mills and the Dwight Manufacturing Company. . . . The southern worker knows us for our achievements and for our determination to provide effective union administration. We can now really initiate an extensive organization campaign in the south.”¹ In the wake of the 1934 General Textile Strike debacle, textile unionization revived under the banner of the Congress of Industrial Organizations’ Textile Workers Union of...

    (pp. 177-182)

    Since Reconstruction, the industrial economy of the South had been based on low-wage, low-skill labor. By the 1920s, southern boosters used the regional wage differential between North and South and the absence of unionized labor in the region to attract the attention and investment of not only New England textile manufacturers but also entrepreneurs undertaking a wide array of industrial pursuits. “The pushing of textile production in the South while New England mills get wage cuts and slack time is a conspicuous bit of current history,” UTWA president Thomas McMahon observed in 1928; “ . . . sawmill and planning...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 183-214)
    (pp. 215-228)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 229-236)