Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Loray Mill: Textiles, strikes and worker's rights.

Good morning! Today's blog post will take you to Gastonia, a town just West of Charlotte, NC. Once there, we'll talk about an event that was crucial to both North Carolina and United States history, specifically in regards to worker's rights—the Loray Mill Strike in 1929.

Gastonia, NC.
In order to make as much money as possible, mill owners adopted a “stretch-out” policy towards their workers. In other words, mill owners reduced workers wages while increasing their responsibilities. Mill workers were often denied restroom and water breaks, and were expected to work near nonstop to reduce costs for the mill owners. Obviously, mill workers were very angry—they were being denied basic rights. 

The Loray Mill as it appeared in the early 1900s. 
Sympathizing with the problems of the average mill worker, the National Textile Workers Union (NTWU), a communist labor party, began to reach out to oppressed workers. Fred Beal, a representative of the NTWU, recognized the large number of unhappy workers in the small North Carolina town of Gastonia, and began working heavily in the region.

In March of 1929, the NTWU held its first public meeting in Gastonia, during which the union’s leadership began urging workers to object and stand firm. The meeting was very successful, as all of the workers in attendance voted to strike immediately. This plan began on April 1, 1929, when 1,800 workers from the Loray Mill in Gastonia walked away from their workplace to protest unworkable conditions. The striking workers demanded a minimum wage, the end of the stretch-out system, as well as the recognition of unions by mill owners.

This book was published by the National Textile Worker's Union in 1929. It was intended to raise support for the NTWU's cause and describes the conditions that caused the strike and the "terror" that followed afterwards. 
Irritated at their requests, mill owners ordered workers to vacate mill-owned housing, leaving protesters angry and defensive, as well as homeless. North Carolina Governor O. Max Gardner recognized tensions and deployed 250 National Guard troops to the Mill to maintain order. In the following months, the strike escalated, resulting in many acts of violence and continued resistance. The strike lasted until September of 1929, but was not a success.

This week's image: the Loray Mill Strike.
Violently suppressed by the government, this strike paved the way for the formation of the United Textile Workers. This union took many years to form yet, once organized, fought to protect the interests of mill workers.

Much like how a small rockslide can start an avalanche, this strike had significant consequences for the South and the United States, as a whole.

Obviously, this mill played a very important role in Southern history; just what happened to it?

The Loray Mill as it stands today. 
In the 1930s, the Loray Mill was sold and repurposed, transforming into a tire factory. Instead of spinning cotton, the Mill now spun tire cord. In the 1990s, though, its future became uncertain. Firestone Tire Company, the previous owner, built a new manufacturing plant in Kings Mountain, a nearby town. Firestone donated the building to a historic preservation society, but no buyer could be found. The building continually set vacant until a plan was developed and put into action this past June.

The future Loray Mill.
Camden Development Partners, a group based in Atlanta, has received a financial commitment to begin the Loray Mill Project. This project, depicted above, will create 190 loft apartments and over 79,000 square feet of commercial space. Residents in Gastonia hope that this will become a centerpiece to Western Gastonia, reviving the previously-struggling district. 

The first phase of this project is schedule to be completed by late 2013.

The Loray Mill interior presently. Imagine the possibilities!
For more information, here are two links to respective news articles about this new project:

1.) An article from the Charlotte Observer: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/07/05/3362558/saving-gastonias-loray-mill-a.html 

2.) An article from WBTV: http://www.wbtv.com/story/18876220/gastonias-loray-mill-to-be-transformed-into-apartments-commercial-space 

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