Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
Between the Wheels examines three Carolina Piedmont streetcar strikes in 1919-22. These years were marked by the aspirations of workers for industrial democracy, corporate anti-labor backlash and by the first Red Scare. Inevitably, these trends swept through the Carolina Piedmont, long viewed as isolated and resistant toward progress. But scholars should now re-examine the New South in light of broader American context. Three case studies in Spartanburg and Columbia, South Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina, highlight the struggles of New South labor reformers against union-busting monopolists, exemplified by James B. Duke.;During World War I, many Carolina Piedmont entrepreneurs viewed labor unionism as a direct threat to their well-entrenched system of exploitation and paternalism. Mill owners and their investors feared that successful streetcar unions could lead to renewed efforts to organize their textile mills. While Piedmont streetcar workers represented mere hundreds of skilled employees, regional textile mills employed thousands more unskilled workers, who were usually low-paid and poorly-treated by their employers and foremen. After World War I, Carolina streetcar employees and textile workers forged an informal alliance in opposition to Southern Power and other corporate interests.;The Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees (AASERE) met with resistance when its organizers sought to unionize the Piedmont's urban streetcar workers. In Charlotte, Southern Public Utilities Inc. employed armed strikebreakers, in defiance of the city's compromise solution. On the evening of August 25, 1919, Charlotte police officers and strikebreakers fired into a crowd of angry demonstrators, killing five men and wounding over twenty others. National Guardsmen quickly restored order in North Charlotte.;Charlotte's debacle resulted in setbacks for the struggling labor movement in the Carolina Piedmont. Over the next three years, textile mills crushed similar unionization efforts, while embryonic streetcar unions withered on the vine in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and Durham, North Carolina. By 1922, this pattern of regression profoundly affected South Carolina, dislodging streetcar unions in Spartanburg and Columbia, where previous labor gains had resulted in partial or full recognition. By the 1930s, these New South streetcar lines faced oblivion due to financial receiverships and the rise of automobiles.
Leatherwood, Jeffrey M., "Between the wheels: Quest for streetcar unionism in the Carolina Piedmont, 1919--1922" (2009). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 4489.