Today in Labor History: 1934 textile workers strike begins

The textile workers’ general strike of 1934 was the largest strike in U.S. labor history at the time, involving as many as half a million textile workers from New England, the Mid-Atlantic states and the U.S. Southern states, lasting twenty-two days.

The United Textile Workers (UTW), which had 15,000 members in February 1933, grew to 250,000 members by June of 1934, about half cotton mill workers. Issues involved deplorable working conditions, low wages, and lack of union recognition.

Governors of the states involved used the National Guard against strikers. Mill owners and local officials used everyone from local police and sheriff’s deputies to hired private guards. Picketers were shot and killed, some shot in the back fleeing for their lives.

Because communist organizers were active in organizing textile workers for better pay and working conditions, and particularly for racial equality, authorities also attempted to foment anti-communism.

The series of strikes were broken, and the defeat was particularly hard in the southern states.

In 1995 a one-hour documentary on the textile strike was released. The Uprising of ’34, a film by famed documentarian George Stoney and independent filmmakers Judith Helfand and Susanne Rostock, examined this hidden legacy of the labor movement in the South and its impact today. Stoney and Helfand spent nearly six years tracking down and interviewing surviving strikers and their relatives in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina.

The Southern Labor Archives at Georgia State University Library produced a detailed lesson plan on the uprising of 1934 with downloadable PDFs: click here for more information.

Photo: 1934 textile strikers, Southern Labor Archives at Georgia State University Library.



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