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Jawnts: Recalling the struggle of South's labor unrest

philly.com
Philly.com
 
 Sunday, October 11, 2015 - By Jake Blumgart

 

"Uprising of ´34," a documentary about a little-known strike of hundreds of thousands of textile workers in 1934, is part of a film series at the Community College of Philadelphia.
"Uprising of '34," a documentary about a little-known strike of hundreds of thousands of textile workers in 1934, is part of a film series at the Community College of Philadelphia.
 
 

The New Deal and the rise of the labor movement as a central pillar of 20th-century American life are remembered as Northern phenomena. The sit-down strikes in Flint, Mich., and the organizing drives of the steel and automobile workers usually take center stage.

But early in Franklin D. Roosevelt's term, there was a massive strike wave that rolled across the Southern textile mills. In 1934, 300,000 to 500,000 factory workers in the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and (later) the North walked out in protest. The 1995 documentary The Uprising of '34 resurrects this forgotten moment in American history.

Despite FDR's relatively pro-labor policies, his fellow Democrats who were Southern governors activated the National Guard and machine guns were stationed by factory gates to deter pickets. Thousands were "deputized" to help put down the strike, and at least a dozen union supporters were murdered. FDR needed the votes of Southern Democrats in Congress to pass New Deal legislation and did little to support the strike, which was crushed by state violence. The textile union movement in the South never recovered.

This instance of mass labor unrest in the South was so resolutely forgotten that, when Uprising of '34 was released by PBS in 1995, stations in North and South Carolina refused to air it. In the movie, the daughter of a pro-union worker, Kathy Lamb, recalls that her father wouldn't discuss the strike: "He could talk about the war and about people being blown to bits, but he couldn't talk about his neighbors being killed." 

The screening of The Uprising of '34 at the Community College of Philadelphia is part of the Americans in Struggle Film Series, which began in 2010. Both documentaries and feature films about civil rights and labor struggles have been included.

"It's really to give our people a sense of the need for struggle," says John Dodds, one of the series organizers and director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. "You can't just sit back and expect the world to be wonderful."

The series is free - as are the popcorn and pizza, though a donation is asked for the latter. Refreshments are served at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and the film begins at 6. Screenings are in Room 2S-3 of the Winnet Student Life Building at 1700 Spring Garden St.

Have an event for Jawnts? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. @jblumgart

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