Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Christine and Dave Galliher, August 8, 1979. Interview H-0314. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Grassroots walk-out strike at textile mills in Elizabethton, Tennessee

Christine Galliher discusses the origins of the 1929 walk-out strike at the Glanzstoff and Bemberg textile mills in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Christine had first gone to work as a winder at the Bemberg mill in 1927 for a short time before suffering a leg injury. Shortly thereafter, she went to work at Glanzstoff (later renamed North American) where she worked as an inspector. When the inspectors, all women, were refused a requested raise in wages, Christine explains how they decided to walk off the job. Although labor unions had yet to reach the area, Christine describes how other textile workers in the area immediately followed suit. Her comments are suggestive of the grassroots nature of organized labor in the South during these years.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Christine and Dave Galliher, August 8, 1979. Interview H-0314. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
So you went down and just were out in front of the building, and the foremen came out.
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
The gates. You can take a look at the building. It has a big chain link fence all around the property, and there's big gates. Well, they opened those gates at shift time, but otherwise I suppose those gates were closed all the time, because they would be closed when people went down there for a job, and they came out to the gate and hired you. And we made $8.96 a week for fifty-six hours.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That's not much. What did you think of that when you first started working? Did you think that that was enough to get paid?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
I don't suppose we knew any better. I don't recall. [Laughter] It was sort of, I guess, just living from one day to the next. I imagine that'd be the best way to put it: one day to the next. But at that time there had not been much industry here. Of course, we had two chair factories and a line plant, and that line plant had been here ever since I could remember it. I think there was a furniture factory, too, but outside of that there wasn't much industry around here until the rayon plant's been here.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How long had you been working there before the strike happened?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
The first time I had a job there, I worked in winding. And then I had a bad leg and I was off from work with that, but when I went back down they hired me for North American, what they called Glanzstoff. The first time I went to work, though, I was fifteen.
JACQUELYN HALL:
1927?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
As well as I can remember, I went to work on my birthday.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Which would be what day?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
The second day of May. I don't remember when I went to North American to work. (They later changed it, during the War, to North American.) The wages were poor, but I guess maybe for this part of the country, and having been used to working, that we just did it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you were at the Glanzstoff plant.
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
I worked at both plants. At first I went to work at Bemberg, and I worked there maybe a year. But then I had a leg problem, and I was off a long time. But when I went back, see, I was sent down to North American to work. That's where I worked when we asked for the raise from $10.08 to $11.20, and we just quit work. And we'd never heard tell of a union! You see, we didn't know how big it was going to grow. It grew and grew and grew, and other departments came out. I was in inspection. And then Bemberg came out; both plants came out. There was five thousand people out. And we had asked for an $11.20 raise! [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know Margaret Bowen?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
Yes, she was the secretary of the union at that time. I don't remember where she worked.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Wasn't she in inspection?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
I believe she was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me what led up to all the women in the inspection department walking out. Who said, "Let's go ask for a raise"?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
I don't remember, but we all decided in that department if they didn't give us a raise, we wasn't going to work.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were these all girls?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
Yes, except a few I guess you'd call them indirect boys. They made the yarn back and forth. They'd bring it to you, and then they'd take it up, and then they'd weigh it and all that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you all get together to decide that you were going to walk out if they didn't give you a raise? Did you meet after work?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
No, just talked about it among us. And we didn't even know what a union was. We'd never heard tell of a union. But we just decided that we wasn't going to work for this wage. But as it happened, there was a carpenter and a union man, John Penix. He called someone that he knew in the labor movement, and they came here and organized, and it was just one big mess, and they just panicked.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did everybody else quit just because you all had quit?
CHRISTINE GALLIHER:
They were getting the same wages, and I imagine that they decided that if we were going to quit, they'd quit, too. [Laughter]