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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lawrence Rogin, November 2, 1975. Interview E-0013. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Evolution of the textiles industry in the North and South between the two World Wars

Rogin compares the textile industry, specifically as it related to hosiery, in the North and the South from 1914 to 1941. This period, which Rogin argues was bookended by "short skirts up to the end of silk stockings," was characterized by major changes in the industry which were important to the evolution of the labor movement. In addition, he places the emergence of Emil Rieve as a leader of the movement within this context.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lawrence Rogin, November 2, 1975. Interview E-0013. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

The Hosiery Workers' were the first union to make a serious effort to organize the South. They were a very, very interesting union. When I went to work for them in '37 the average wages of knitters was probably around, oh, ?7,000. a year—unionized knitters, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is that right?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Yes, that's right. And, of course, the industry was moving South. And a knitter in the South was clearing probably about ?2,500. a year, which wasn't very good.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Oh, you mean a knitter up North was making…
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Yes, unionized, in Reading, Pennsylvania; Northampton, Massachusetts; Fall Plain or wherever it was; Milwaukee. They were a union which really cared about trying to organize the industry. When I went to work for them they were paying five percent of their earnings in dues each week, which was a lot; it was two percent was the normal dues, and three percent was an organizing fund.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that mostly went South?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
That mostly went South—but not all. It went to Reading first, because Reading was unorganized. Reading was organized in the New Deal; there was no organization in Reading. But there were in an industry that had a very short life, really; it only lasted from (oh, in any mass sense) from about 1919 until 1941.
WILLIAM FINGER:
1919 to 1941?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Short skirts up to the end of silk stockings [laughter]; you see, that's what you have to figure. Short skirts came after the war, and while there was full-fashioned hosiery before, it was cotton or something else. Nobody could see it, so it didn't have to look good. And this was a very profitable industry and a very highly skilled industry. A hosiery knitter was a skilled worker. And I guess in part the knitters were German and Polish and English, originally, rather than American. So most of them came over here with unionism in their blood, and socialism too. The man who was the president of the union at the time I came there, and was probably the most significant president they had in the national union, was fired when he was fourteen. He came out of Reading, and he was Polish.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What was his name?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
His name was Rieve, R-i-e-v-e; he was in the Textile Workers, yes. He was fired when he was fourteen helping organize the plant in Reading, and to follow him as I did… I did educational work for the union, and I'd go to all the other places in which he had come in and organized. I worked with him very closely for a long time, and I can't imagine him organizing anybody—but obviously he did.