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Common Thread

Labor, Politics, and Capital Mobility in the Textile Industry

Beth English

Publication Year: 2006

With important ramifications for studies relating to industrialization and the impact of globalization, A Common Thread examines the relocation of the New England textile industry to the piedmont South between 1880 and 1959. Through the example of the Massachusetts-based Dwight Manufacturing Company, the book provides an informative historic reference point to current debates about the continuous relocation of capital to low-wage, largely unregulated labor markets worldwide.

In 1896, to confront the effects of increasing state regulations, labor militancy, and competition from southern mills, the Dwight Company became one of the first New England cotton textile companies to open a subsidiary mill in the South. Dwight closed its Massachusetts operations completely in 1927, but its southern subsidiary lasted three more decades. In 1959, the branch factory Dwight had opened in Alabama became one of the first textile mills in the South to close in the face of post-World War II foreign competition.

Beth English explains why and how New England cotton manufacturing companies pursued relocation to the South as a key strategy for economic survival, why and how southern states attracted northern textile capital, and how textile mill owners, labor unions, the state, manufacturers' associations, and reform groups shaped the ongoing movement of cotton-mill money, machinery, and jobs. A Common Thread is a case study that helps provide clues and predictors about the processes of attracting and moving industrial capital to developing economies throughout the world.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I think the hardest part of researching and writing a book like this is adequately expressing thanks to all of the people without whom it would not have been possible. Cindy Hahamovitch helped me take a vague idea and turn it into a cogent piece of work. She pushed me to think more critically, to clarify and refine my ideas, and she offered a perfect mix of praise and criticism from which...

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pp. 1-6

“It has been said,” U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan noted in advance of a September 2000 United Nations summit meeting of world leaders, “that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity.”1 Perhaps. Certainly, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States and the...

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ONE. “Positively Alarming”: Southern Boosters, Piedmont Mills, and New England Responses

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pp. 7-20

During the first decades of the nineteenth century, the manufacture of cotton textile goods drove much of the industrialization of New England. In the eastern part ofMassachusetts, Boston businessmen invested their monies in spinning and weaving mills along the fall lines of the Charles River inWaltham and...

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TWO. “Manufacturers Surely Cannot Be Expected to Continue”: Legislation, Labor, and Depression

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pp. 21-39

“For some days the newspapers have been filled with accounts of the investments of large sums of money in the far South by the great cotton-mill corporations of New England. . . . And thus the States of the South . . . will soon witness the greatest activity in cotton milling ever known in the history of...

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THREE. “A Model Manufacturing Town”: Moving to Alabama City

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pp. 40-70

“No nation ever became wealthy by raising the raw material and then exchanging it for the manufactured article,” wrote William Gregg of South Carolina in 1844. “The manufacturing people always have the advantage.”1 Three years after the Dwight Manufacturing Company began producing cotton...

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FOUR. “Small Help”: Unionization, Capital Mobility, and Child-Labor Laws in Alabama

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pp. 71-100

There have been a number of good families applied to us for work . . . and we have made a practice not to turn away any first class family who wished to come here,” the DwightManufacturing Company’s Alabama City mill agent Osmon B. Tiltonwrote toDwight treasurer J. Howard Nichols in October 1896. “We have made it a point to employ such settled families,” Tilton added,...

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FIVE. “A General Demoralization of Business”: The Textile Depression of the 1920s

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pp. 101-128

In January 1916, the managers and overseers of the Dwight Manufacturing Company’s Alabama City textile mill gathered with prominent townspeople for a six-course banquet to celebrate the company’s recent record output of manufactured cotton goods. “The record made by the mill has been...

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SIX. “Dissatisfaction among Labor”: The 1934 General Strike

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pp. 129-152

“The conditions in many parts of New England are nothing short of tragic, not only from the textile workers’ point of view . . . but also from the point of view of entire cities and towns where textile mills exist,” UTWA president Thomas McMahon told journalist Louis Adamic in 1931. “[M]ost of the mill towns...

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SEVEN. “We Kept Right on Organizin’ ”: From Defeat to Victory and Back Again

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pp. 153-176

We have won many singular and important victories,” the Textile Workers Union of America’s Committee on Organization reported to delegates at the union’s fourth biennial convention in 1943.“Most significant are our victories at the HarrietMills and the DwightManufacturing Company. . . . The southern worker...

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pp. 177-182

Since Reconstruction, the industrial economy of the South had been based on low-wage, low-skill labor. By the 1920s, southern boosters used the regional wage differential between North and South and the absence...


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pp. 183-214


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pp. 215-228


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pp. 229-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336695
E-ISBN-10: 0820336696
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820326283
Print-ISBN-10: 0820326283

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 22 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South
Series Editor Byline: Bryant Simon and Jane Dailey, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 593297189
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Common Thread

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cotton textile industry -- Massachusetts -- History.
  • Cotton textile industry -- Location -- Alabama -- History.
  • Dwight Manufacturing Company -- History.
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