This is a secondary source from Our State Magazine. It has been modified for length. The article covers the reasons for the strike, the reactions to the union moving in, and the violence that took place during the strike protests.
The movement begins with the stretch-out, the term workers use for the combination of layoffs and working at a faster pace for less pay. While the rest of the economy roars into the 1920s, Southern textiles take a beating. The end of World War I means less need for uniforms. New fashions mean women want shorter skirts. Demand for fabric plummets. Mill owners tighten control over their workers. Supervisors time each task and install “hank clocks” on looms and weaving machines, forcing a quicker pace for each worker.
At Loray, supervisor G.A. Johnstone cuts staff from 3,500 to 2,200 and slashes pay by as much as 50 percent…
Standing up to the boss isn’t easy in a Southern textile town. Workers have held organized strikes before, but the mill owners’ power is all encompassing: They own the houses the workers sleep in, pay the policemen who patrol the village, and appoint the preachers at mill-town churches…
…The company-owned village is home to 5,000, making it harder for the bosses to keep track of the workers’ activities.
So when the National Textile Workers Union (NTWU) comes south, they come to Gastonia first. Fred Beal…who has spent the last 20 years working in New England mills, leads the charge. He arrives in late March and immediately starts signing people up for the union. When the mill fires union members on April 1, the workers walk the NTWU’s makeshift headquarters on Franklin Avenue. By shift-change time, a crowd of 1,000 has gathered. Beal calls for a strike vote. It passes — unanimously. Their demands: a 40-hour workweek, a minimum $20-a-week wage, equal pay for men and women, recognition of the union and [to be rid of the hank clock].
Strike opponents feel as if they’re under siege. They see the strikers as troublemakers…The fact that the union has Communist ties only heightens the tension…
June 7 is payday at Loray. The strike has languished since May, when mill owners started evicting strikers from the mill village. The union sets up a tent colony nearby, but supplies are running low, and many workers return to the mill. With a paycheck to hold them over, many workers are prepared for another dramatic walkout. At evening shift change, the women of the tent colony march to the mill and convince the night-shift workers to abandon their looms. The deputies stop the 150 women and children cold, and they scatter back to their tents.
Later that night, Police Chief Orville Aderholt and four other officers come to the tent city to investigate reports of a disturbance. Four armed strikers stop them and demand that the officers show a search warrant or leave. Shots ring out. Within minutes, Aderhold, three of the four deputies, and one of the strikers are shot. Aderholt dies the next morning.
Gastonia becomes a police state overnight. Deputies ransack the tent colony. People are suspicious of outsiders…More than 60 people are arrested that night. Historical accounts vary on how many people are charged with murder — some sources say 14, others 15; another nine are charged with assault with a deadly weapon…
The caravan — 105 cars deep and led by a motorcycle policeman — speeds through Gastonia traffic lights on September 9. The passengers…making straight for the NTWU headquarters. The law has just declared a mistrial in Aderholt’s murder trial. And though a second trial is scheduled for later in the month, members of the Committee of One Hundred — the name given to the antistrike group — think it’s time to take matters into their own hands.
They ransack union headquarters and head to a union boardinghouse. Singing hymns, they drag three organizers down the stairs, wrap them in American flags, and stuff them into a car. In the woods outside of Concord, the group starts beating a striker…
…One antistrike worker at Loray later testifies that a mill security officer handed him a gun and 20 bullets that morning, telling him to “do everything necessary to break up the union meeting…”
…Some jailed, some free
…the union abandons Loray, telling the remaining tent colony residents to move on…
The jury takes less than an hour to return guilty verdicts for seven of the original sixteen strikers charged with Chief Aderholt’s murder…In closing arguments, prosecutors call the defendants a “traitorous crowd, coming from hell.” Beal’s sentence is 17-20 years. Meanwhile, in Concord, it takes 45 minutes for the jury to acquit the men accused of beating the strikers.
By November, Horace Wheelus emerges as the main suspect in (Ella May) Wiggins’s death. Loray Mill pays his $5,000 bond. He and four others face trial in February. Several witnesses…place Wheelus at the scene…In the end, the jury takes less than 30 minutes to acquit Wheelus and the others. No one else is ever charged.
Citation: McShane, Chuck. “The Loray Mill Strike: Demands for higher pay and a 40-hour workweek ignite furor in Gastonia in 1929.” Our State, January 29, 2014. https://www.ourstate.com/loray-mill-strike/. Accessed 28 August 2023.
- What was the main cause for the workers to go on strike?
- How were the mill owners able to keep control over the workers outside of working hours?
- Was this strike successful for the people of Loray Mill? Why or why not?
Harried: feeling strained as a result of having demands always made on them; agitated
Unrelenting: never easing up
Encompassing:includes everything (all power)
Makeshift: temporary or substitute
Languished: grown weak or less powerful
Looms: machines for weaving fabric
Ransack: go hurriedly through a place causing damage
Caravan: group of people traveling together
Acquit: find not guilty