Posted by: kokoro | 12th Mar, 2009

Korstad, Chapters 1-9

Korstad begins in chapter one by describing the 1943 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company strike in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. UCAPAWA began organizing tobacco workers with the Tobacco Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC) in 1942. The strike at Reynolds starts in response to the threatened firing of a woman and the death of a man due to overwork. The demands included decreased workload, increased wages, respect from foreman, and union recognition. 10,000 Reynolds workers refused to work, 56% of them women and 60% of them black, which led to a general strike in Winston-Salem, despite wartime no-strike pledges.

Korstad spends chapters two through six setting the context of the strike and what the workers were fighting against. He describes the rise of the Reynolds Company and the political and economic control it used to institute a social order in the town based on white supremacy, which extended beyond just race into class and gender hierarchies as well. He describes the growth of Winston-Salem, and how black community life, including how tensions between classes and how religion, music, and sports played a part in union organization as much a workplace politics. He then goes on to examine workplace conditions and the racial divisions that occurred in the Reynolds factory and beyond. Finally, he looks at how the Communist Party, New Deal policies, and wartime opportunity supported civil rights activism and unionism in the 1940s.

Chapter seven and eight examine the negotiations between Reynolds and the workers. The National War Labor Board resolved the conflict, and the National Labor Rights Board certified the union and collective bargaining for the workers at Reynolds. A negotiation committee was created, made up of whites, blacks, men, women, skilled, and unskilled workers. The workers fought for better wages, union security, vacations, and seniority rights, all of which had economic, political, and cultural significance.

Chapter nine focuses on the attempts of the union to consolidate its victories and keep worker solidarity. Local 22 made efforts to develop leaders, programs, and policies to create an effective voice for the workers and to enact democratic social change. The union helped workers develop administration skills and expanded their political educations, and it worked to break down the barriers to solidarity that white supremacy created by encouraging black and white cross cultural exchange.

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