James Myers was a representative for the Federation of Churches. After hearing of the high number of strikes in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, James Myers decided to visit and investigate the conditions while also meeting with and interviewing ministers, mill owners, and others. His goal was to find a solution for the strikes through the churches.
He found that many ministers in the mill towns believed that the workers were of an inferior social class due to where they came from (mostly the mountains) and their level of education and therefore were there to “serve their masters.” They took little interest in the strike itself but instead focused only on the matters that occurred within their church. In addition, James Myers found the Baptist congregations of the South to be very influential on all matters of the public.
Field Notes: Textile Strikes in South (Modified)
The workers in the cotton mills have resented (1) “minute men” with stop watch, claiming [standards] set not fair nor accurate…(2) fact that some skilled men thrown out of a job, some old weavers being put to cleaning at low pay, (3) lowering of wages last few years, (4) workers not consulted in efficiency changes; they feel over-burdened with larger number of looms and in some cases (5) even less pay for the harder work…
The nearest explanation I could get of reason for so many simultaneous strikes was that “efficiency” men began work in many mills approximately the same time and conditions became unbearable about the same time.
Arrived Gastonia, North Carolina, 9:30 A.M., April 11th. Was met by…Rev. W. A. Newell, M. E., Superintendent of this district. Mr. Newell says that Gastonia and Pineville were only places directly instigated by National Textile Union (Communist). Other strikes were spontaneous…
All the mills in this district are now organized to run night and day. The best owners want to cut out night work but a difficult transition. Mr. Newell feels that “the less outside pressure is brought on the situation the better it will solve itself because business men here are determined to solve it.”
Ninety-five percent of combed yarn made within fifty miles of Gastonia, but [celanese] and rayon, are ruining their market. These mills were built during war time boom and at high costs. There are 156 mill villages in Newell’s district covering three counties. [Value] of mill stocks had declined about one-half in last seven years.
I asked Mr. Newell if Southern mill owners would be cordial to a conference on problems of industry if one were called by President Hoover. He felt they would. “They have got to do something – the thing is wrong and has to end somehow…” He feels North Carolina would gladly pass a law against night work [if] South carolina, Alabama and Georgia would fall in line, or if it were made a national law. Feels that the attitude of all reputable southern manufacturers has changed on a national law and would not now object to Federal child labor movement amendment. Change due to drastic difficulties of industry with its cut-throat competition.
We drove by the Loray Mills where the strike is on. Mr. Newell said that the Manville-Jencks company of Providence, R.I., bought these mills from a local man…After efficiency experts set standard cost at which goods must be delivered the superintendent, Gordon A. Johnstone, gave his bond, to produce at so much per yard. He then cleaned up on both owners and operatives, reduced wages and grafted on owners. At High Shoals where branch of Manville-Jenks and Johnstone’s on was superintendent, M.E. Church had membership of 153. When efficiency systems were put in, the M.E. workers who were highest type of workers and making best pay were fired “out hand” and cheaper men were put in. Then the management multiplied the number of looms each weaver had to operate. Even the Supervisors who were M.E. were fired also and a “hand” moved up to position of Foreman…
The Loray Village has about 7,000 people…the people are mountain whites and brought in from Georgia and other places. A mill under poor conditions gets to be a cripples’ hospital – hires people who can’t get jobs elsewhere.
Interviewed a young man striker near Loray mills. Said he had worked there since Christmas- came from South Carolina. He and five others boarded with a young couple in a four room house – (eight people in all) – all out on strike. He worked twelve hours a night- 5 days a week. Said 2,000 had struck out of 2,700 employed in Loray mill, where he worked. Did not know how many still out- thought about 1,900. Said nearby mills are coming out also. Said only one or two incidents of slight violence consisting of tumbling over a watchman with a cable which has been stretched in front of the mill and a woman who slapped the face of a guard. Militia called. He thought the National Textile Union was not A.F.L. but just a local union, though Beale “came from up north somewhere.” Said all speakers caution against violence and prohibit all liquor…
Citation: Myers, James. Field Notes : Textile Strike in South. New York, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, 1929. Gaston County Public Library Digital History Collection. https://library.biblioboard.com/viewer/fa4d7ce7-e713-41fc-8df9-0fcfbbe2854a/2. Accessed 28 August 2023.
- According to James Myers, what were the multiple causes for the strikes in the textile mills of the South?
- Do you believe the motivation of the mill owners to hire the efficiency men was in the best interest of the workers? Explain your answer using evidence from the text.
- How does James Myers describe Loray Mills?
Minute men: efficiency experts who used a stopwatch to time the workers’ every move from the work they produced to how long they took breaks, ate lunch, used the restroom, etc.
Simultaneous: happening at the same time
Efficiency men: experts who guided the mills to reduce wasted time and increase profit, often at the expense of the worker
Instigated: bring about or initiate
Combed yarn: yarn that has been combed so that all fibers are straight and parallel
Celanese and rayon: types of fabrics
Cordial: warm and friendly
Reputable: honorable; respectable
Amendment: change made by correction, addition, or deletion, in this case to laws
Grafted: made money by shady or dishonest means
Hand: lower position in a textile mill
A.F.L. (American Federation of Labor): national group of labor unions