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Robert Rodgers Korstad, Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-Twentieth-Century South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. 576 pp. $55.00 cloth, $24.95 paper.

  • Jeffrey Helgeson (a1)

Robert Rodgers Korstad's dramatic story of tobacco workers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, during the 1940s and 1950s, reveals the intricate connections between a local struggle for better wages and working conditions and the broader fight for racial democracy and civil rights. On June 17, 1943, a group of black women at the Reynolds Tobacco plant stopped work, rejecting the authority of a dictatorial white foreman and expressing long-simmering anger over speed-ups, dangerous working conditions, and unjust wages. With the help of organizers from the left-leaning United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), hundreds of black (and a few white) workers at Reynolds built Local 22 of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers of America (FTA-CIO). Korstad eloquently tells us how the FTA succeeded. He points to the temporary convergence of factors, an active federal government in labor relations, the labor movement's aggressive Southern Front, and the move in the urban South toward white supremacy with “a lighter touch” (376) that created a moment of extraordinary opportunity for “working-class blacks [who], through their participation in the labor movement, were in the vanguard of civil rights efforts of the 1940s.”(422)

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International Labor and Working-Class History
  • ISSN: 0147-5479
  • EISSN: 1471-6445
  • URL: /core/journals/international-labor-and-working-class-history
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