Interview: The Last Bastian
Unions: High and Dry
Security: Liquid Borders
Industrial: No Bully For You
History: Radical Brisbane
International: No Vacancies
Economics: Life After Capitalism
Technology: Cyber Winners
Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Locker Room
The Premiership Quarter
How To Run Society
In the beginning there was a large group of US farmers who downed tools, cattle, and water pails to take up the promise of a better life on the raft of new cotton mills opening throughout the South.
At first they were happy, in awe of the electric lights and running water that eased their physical load, and were relieved their wellbeing was no longer as fickle as the seasons.
However the realisation soon dawned they had sold out their freedom for a life only as kind as their mill masters - and that many of these masters had little regard for the workers they had almost sole control over, other than for the profit they would bring.
These new bosses owned not only the mills, but often their homes, villages, and local businesses too. They controlled leisure activities through sponsorship, decided and collected the interest rates that saw many households trapped by debt, and kept a close rein on the words of the local parishioners.
One wrong move and a family could be made homeless, powerless and foodless, and entire communities could have their sporting and leisure activities suspended. Some mills demanded workers keep standing while eating lunch while others allowed no breaks at all. Health and safety was a lottery and conditions were minimal.
What hope then for these largely non-union workers that had so far proven virtually immune to mobilisation attempts?
According to Vincent J. Roscigno and William F. Danaher's latest tome the answer lay in the voices of workers that were beginning to sing through the early model radios that sat in an increasing number of homes.
Titles like Cotton Mill Colic, Spinning Room Blues, Weaver's Life, and Hard Times in Here, hint at the flavour of music being composed by disgruntled cotton mill workers for cotton mill workers.
Some of these musicians abandoned their employment to take up music full time and toured the mills singing to other workers. Their music filled the airwaves and in between they participated in interviews about the working conditions they had incurred. Their records sold out and the message gathered momentum.
According to the authors this music sparked an apparently spontaneous pulling together of cotton mill workers that began to mobilise en mass against their employers.
Union membership ballooned with minimal efforts on the part of organisers, walk-outs reached unprecedented levels and by 1934 they cumulated in a strike of 400,000 mill hands that remains the largest in US history.
Aside from being an engrossing historical account The Voice of Southern Labour is a triumph of research, pulling together the best efforts of a range of historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and academics, and using real life interviews wherever possible with surviving 'mill' musicians.
The book's few weaknesses include a rather too neat sidestepping of racial issues and a lack of an audio soundtrack. Among its highlights are the words to the songs which one can only imagine how they must have sounded - when put to music - to the ears of those who were living their lyrics.
The Voice of Southern Labor: Radio, Music and Textile Strikes, 1929-1934 is published by University of Minnesota Press. For more information visit http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/R/roscigno-voice.html
Serves Them Fine
New people in the year 19 and 20,
It was fun in the mountains a-rolling logs,
Now in the year 19 and 25
Cotton Mill Man
The company taught us all the rules on how to work
On a Summer Eve
If we love our brothers as we all should do,
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