Testing the New Deal: The General Textile Strike of 1934 in the American South
In September 1934 two-thirds of the southern textile labor force walked off their jobs, inspired by Roosevelt's New Deal to protest employer harassment and massive industry restructuring. After three weeks, the union that led the strike called it off in return for government promises that remained unfulfilled. Thousands of workers were blacklisted and conditions in the southern mills deteriorated rapidly. Humiliated and demoralized, strike participants maintained a sixty-year silence that virtually eliminated the event from historical memory.
Janet Irons steps into this historical vacuum to explore the community and workplace dynamics of southern mill towns in the years leading up to the strike, as well as the links among worker insurgency, organized labor, and governmental policy in the New Deal's crucial first years. Drawing on industry and union records, newspaper sources, oral histories, records of the New Deal bureaucracy, and thousands of letters written by southern laborers to President Roosevelt about their working conditions, Irons reveals the dual nature of the New Deal's impact on the South. While its rhetoric mobilized the poor to challenge local established authority, the New Deal's political structure worked in the opposite direction, reinforcing the power of the South's economic elite.
A powerful rendering of a pivotal event, Testing the New Deal stands as a major reassessment of southern labor in the 1930s.
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