The Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC) was formed as part of the attempt by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to use the provisions of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act to organize all the mass production industries in America. In the aftermath of the disastrous General Textile Strike of 1934, the United Textile Workers of America (UTWA) essentially collapsed, and in 1937 it reorganized as a subordinate branch of the CIO with Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America as chairman. By patiently building local union membership before holding a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election, the TWOC hoped to establish strong locals before any potential conflict with employers began and to avoid a repeat of the 1934 strike.
The TWOC organizing campaign officially began on March 19, 1937, but the recession of 1937–1938 and employer opposition limited the union’s success. Among the few mills successfully organized was Pacific Mills in Columbia. After a period of infighting between the TWOC and some remnants of the UTWA, the TWOC reorganized as the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) in May 1939. World War II, and the protection offered workers and their unions by the National War Labor Board in order to keep production uninterrupted, allowed the TWOC to make substantial advances in organizing southern textile mills and increasing wages.
Immediately after the war, the CIO began an intense organizing drive throughout the South, called “Operation Dixie,” so that the South’s lower wages and pool of nonunion workers would not continue to weaken the labor movement at the national level. The first phase of Operation Dixie tried to organize the largest mills and chains of mills in the largest centers of textile production, including the Greenville and Spartanburg area. This phase began in July 1946 and was largely abandoned by November 1946. By the time a new round of organizing attempts began in 1947, the Tart-Hartley Act, which reduced government protection of organized labor, and anti-communist red-baiting had hindered the effectiveness of the NLRB in supporting fledgling unions. CIO organizers often saw improvement in labor relations as inextricable from social change in other areas, especially race relations and civil rights. Employers often used this commitment to civil rights against the TWOC, especially in campaigns in Fair Forest and Rock Hill. In some instances, the Ku Klux Klan also worked for textile manufacturers against union efforts. A strike at Gaffney Manufacturing Company from 1945 to 1947 demonstrated that determined employers could outlast the union, especially since an increasing number of mills were part of chains with considerable resources. The local at Gaffney simply ceased to exist after the strike, as did one in Rock Hill after a similar experience.
The last gasp of Operation Dixie was the 1951 general strike. Driven more by national concerns with increasing wages than by agitation from the South, the 1951 strike was nonetheless the second-largest strike the South had ever seen. The strike began on April 1, 1951, but it came to a quick end as employers argued that wages had already risen significantly since the war, and union solidarity fell apart at crucial locations. The TWOC never fully recovered from the failure of the 1951 strike, which greatly reduced its organizing activities.
Kennedy, John W. “A History of the Textile Workers Union of America, C.I.O.” Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, 1950.
Minchin, Timothy J. What Do We Need a Union For? The TWUA in the South, 1945–1955. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Waldrep, George Calvin. Southern Workers and the Search for Community: Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.