This Day in Labor History: April 4, 1936. The Strutwear strike in Minneapolis was won by the workers, a significant victory not just for the workers of Minnesota, but specifically for the women who made up most of this workforce. Let's talk about gender and labor in the 1930s! Image
In 1934, the Teamsters local in Minneapolis, led by a group of Trotskyites that put it at odds with the international union, went on one of the most epic strikes of the Great Depression, part of that amazing, transformational year of militant organizing.
This victory gave unions a lot of momentum in Minnesota and a culture of solidarity in Minneapolis developed that would have major implications of expanding that movement over the next decade.
Strutwear Knitting Company was a textile firm in Minneapolis that specialized in silk stockings. It was owned by right-wing anti-unionists. Minneapolis’ Citizens Alliance had taken the lead in violently resisting unions and Strutwear’s owners were among its leaders.
Its influence was declining after the Teamsters’ victory, but it was still strong in 1935. Strutwear had resisted unionization attempts before, locking out workers who formed a union in 1927.
When Minnesota attempted to pass an unemployment insurance bill in 1930, Strutwear head James Struthers took the lead in opposing it.
In 1933, the National Industrial Recovery Act passed and Struthers decided to form a company union as a way of getting around Section 7(a), which seemed to grant workers the right to a union. But he struggled to control this company union.
In 1935, members of the company union visited a similar factory in Milwaukee. This factory had a union and the workers made higher wages and had better working conditions
The factory’s knitters were the most organized and when they heard about what a union could be like, over 150 out of the 200 knitters joined the American Federation of Full-Fashioned Hosiery Workers (AFFFHW).
Struthers immediately fired eight leaders. The workers decided to strike.
This was a risky move for the Hosiery Workers. It had not organized much of the plant. Only the knitters, skilled men, were in the union, as was so often the case in old-school craft unionism.
Moreover, this was a traditional male-dominated union that previously had not even allowed women or young boys, who made up the Strutwear workforce, into the union. But it saw the writing on the wall.
Up to that point, it had not started organizing the 580 women who worked as seamers, loopers, menders, or maters. It hadn’t organized the 100 mostly young boys who worked there either. But when it called the strike, nearly all the workers refused to cross the picket line.
This soon became an epic battle between the workers and the factory, which was determined not to give in. Days became weeks which became months. But while the company was able to hire scabs, the workers mostly held strong.
On the fifth day of the strike, the workers held a funeral procession for the company union where they marched around the plant. Moreover, as it was a mostly female work force, it was the women who showed the most militancy and became strike leaders.
But the AFFFHW did not have much of a strike fund. The workers began to really suffer. As there was poor relief during the Great Depression, many of the workers began to apply for it to make ends meet.
In early 1936, under pressure from Struthers and other employers, the city welfare board refused to extend benefits to strikers. Workers turned their ire on the welfare board.
They picketed the board’s office demanding “that no relief client, man, woman, single, married or homeless be required to accept work unless at union wages.” Moreover, it was women in the community at large that led the support for the women on strike.
The Hennepin County Farmer-Labor Women’s Club stated that the welfare board.....
“ha[d] made an organized effort to force single girls who are on relief to accept jobs as domestics in homes at starvation wages, resulting in forcing these girls to accept employment at substandard wages and possibly forcing them into prostitution.”
Organized labor and the community also led relief efforts and solidarity action.
That included a boycott of Strutwear led by the Women’s League against the High Cost of Living and Teamsters Local 574, the same union that had led the 1934 strike, which in December 1935 refused to allow Strutwear to move any product.
Scabs eventually got it out, but it showed the community solidarity with the strikers. Men coming out in solidarity with women workers was also a big step in a society where the ideal of work and unionism was highly masculine.
The HWU was hardly the only union to exclude women and many male unionists, including union leaders, thought of women workers as trivial gossipers who were not raising families like men.
Women did not have the exact same concerns and demands as male workers. Unions stepped up and organized dances to raise money for the workers and farmers’ groups sent them food.
Violence began to increase between the company and the male unionists out in solidarity with the workers. Police started arresting and beating the strikers, including the women.
Fearing greater violence, Minnesota’s governor, Floyd Olson, a generally pro-labor politician, called out the National Guard to close the plant entirely until the strike was settled. Struthers and the rest of the employer community was furious.
For them, the role of the National Guard was to play the enforcer for the company. The idea of a neutral National Guard was anathema to them and they hated Olson for it. This moved the strike decisively in favor of the workers.
Strutwear held out in the end for eight long months, but on April 4, 1936, it acceded to nearly every union demand. The AFFFHW became the bargaining agent for the workers and began to sign up women in large numbers, and not just in Minneapolis.
In 1938, a women’s auxiliary within the union opened that not only included women workers, but also the wives and daughters of the male workers.
Women were trained in labor history and economics and held social events. The leadership of the union was still dominated by men, but the strike and its aftermath helped open space for women in the Minneapolis labor movement.
The material for this thread was borrowed from Elizabeth Faue’s Communities of Suffering and Struggle: Women, Men, and the Labor Movement in Minneapolis, 1915-1945.
Back tomorrow to discuss NLRB v. Mackay Radio and Telegraph Company, the 1938 case that demonstrated how even as unions were gaining power in America, SCOTUS would prove to be workers' enemy.

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Erik Loomis

Erik Loomis Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @ErikLoomis

7 Apr
This Day in Labor History: April 7, 1947. Telephone operators for the major phone companies walked off the job. This action was the precursor to the formation of the Communication Workers of America, one of the most important unions in the nation today!!! Let's talk about it! Image
Telephone operators struggled with low pay. A large chunk of the workforce, since telephones required the direct connections of lines, it was also dominated by women
As per always, certain types of work are defined as “women’s work” precisely so employers can pay them less and have greater control over their workers’ lives. Teachers are a great example of this. In the early 19th century, most teachers, even for small children were men.
Read 26 tweets
6 Apr
This Day in Labor History: April 6, 1712. Slaves revolt in New York City. Let's talk about one of the earliest slave revolts in what would become the USA! Image
The Dutch had brought African slaves to New Amsterdam, but day-to-day, those slaves had a relatively high amount of freedom, at least compared to other slaves in the Americas.
In fact, under the Dutch, slaves had some legal rights, including the right to marry and the right to own property. When the English took the small colony over in 1664 and renamed it New York, those rights started to disappear.
Read 23 tweets
5 Apr
This Day in Labor History: April 5, 1938. Oral arguments began before the Supreme Court in the case of NLRB v. Mackay Radio and Telegraph Company. It allowed for companies to hire permanent strikebreakers to replace strikers. Let's talk about the Court's anti-labor stance! Image
The silver capitalist John Mackay started what became Mackay Radio & Telegraph in 1884 to provide transatlantic telegraph service. The company expanded into radio and other telecommunications over the years.
In 1934, the American Radio Telegraphists Association, which would later change its name to the American Communications Association when it joined the CIO, organized Mackay, starting with the radio operators.
Read 26 tweets
28 Mar
This Day in Labor History: March 28, 1977. AFSCME Local 1644 goes on strike in Atlanta to force Mayor Maynard Jackson to raise their pay. He does not and seeks to crush the union. Let's talk about the Black political class turned its back on workers by the late 70s.
Jackson’s anti-union positions would deeply disappoint organized labor who believed that labor rights were civil rights.
It would also demonstrated the willingness of many civil rights leaders to turn their backs on the needs of the poorest workers when they reached positions of authority.
Read 35 tweets
25 Mar
This Day in Labor History: March 25, 1911. The Triangle sweatshop in New York catches on fire and 146 garment workers die while the people who bought the clothes they made watched. Let's talk about the most famous workplace tragedy in American history!
The Triangle Factory, located in the Asch Building at 23-29 Washington Place in New York (today on the campus of NYU), was owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, Jewish immigrants who had made their fortune as “The Shirtwaist Kings.”
The shirtwaist, a necessity of women’s clothing during the late Victorian Era, was immensely profitable, but by 1911, the fashion was becoming outdated as American women moved toward modern fashion.
Read 53 tweets
24 Mar
This Day in Labor History: March 24, 1934. FDR signed the Tydings-McDuffie Act granting gradual Filipino independence. Might sound like an anti-colonial victory but it happened because California whites freaked out that Filipino workers were having sex with white women!!!
A look at the history of law demonstrates that it actually came out of the deep anti-Asian racism of the West Coast who saw Asian populations both as competition for white labor and competition for white women.
From the beginning of Anglo-American occupation in California, white workers defined the state as a white man’s republic. This was basically repeated in Oregon and Washington.
Read 31 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!