Today in Labor History: 12,000 on strike in Texas

On this day in 1938,12,00 pecan shellers in San Antonio, Texas, went on strike in 400 locations.

Conditions in the factories were notoriously bad. Dust from the pecans turned the air a brownish color. These conditions partially caused a high tuberculosis rate in the area, at 148 deaths per 100,000 people. The national average was then 54 per 100,000.

The strike, mostly of Latino women over wage cuts, went on for three months. The leader of the strike, Emma Tenayuca, was a leader of the Communist Party USA. Her work even inspired a children’s book.

The bosses’ reaction was fierce: in a single week alone, nearly 300 demonstrators were imprisoned in a county jail that was designed for a maximum of 60 inmates. However, then-Gov. James Allred pressed the Texas Industrial Commission to investigate civil rights violations. The commission found police actions unjustified.

Both sides eventually agreed to arbitration, and the workers won a wage increase of 7-8 cents.

This labor action was part of Texas’s long, but relatively unknown, progressive history.

Photo: Mural dedicated to Tenayuca’s struggles.



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