Tag Archives: labor relations

Just Trembling All Over—the Textile Strike of 1934 in Huntsville, AL

Yes, a new grievance structure was established that removed control from the hands of the mill owners. Yes, workers had the legal right to organize. But the stretch-out and wage system were referred to a committee to be studied, and little practical change in the daily lives of the workers was apparent. Many were turned away from their jobs as retaliation for their union efforts. New complaints piled up unredressed. Families were turned out of their homes. And the bitter taste left from the pyrrhic sacrifices of the strike lingered in the hearts of many.

The mill industry in Huntsville rebounded during World War II, but shortly after the war, another slow descent began as manufacturing moved offshore. Once employing hundreds of thousands of workers, the industry vanished. Today, many of those mill buildings and villages still exist in Huntsville, having been repurposed into a community theater (the former Merrimack Hall), artists’ studios and shops (Lowe Mill) and commercial space (Lincoln Mills). They are the last reminders of this once-critical industry in the region, and the movement it generated.

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Esau Scrip and the Shoe Room

Esau was issued only to women, and it was a form of scrip that would enable a women to purchase food for her children during the time that her husband couldn’t work. But it was only good for 30 days, and if her husband went back to work within those 30 days, then the company in their kindness would forgive the debt. And if he did not go back to work at the end of 30 days, then the scrip became a loan that was due and payable in full on day 30. And of the course the women didn’t have jobs or scrip or money, and so they had to pay it back—and it was a collateralized loan—and the women themselves were the collateral. Their physical selves would be used to pay the debt.

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