Hard Times in the Mill: Working Lives Past and Present

The history of NC's textile industry includes jobs migration, labor unions, and globalization, all of which parallel manufacturing industries throughout the world today. This program focuses on NC's rich textile heritage as told through the stories, songs, and images of the people who worked in the mills. While some mill owners practiced so-called welfare capitalism and took care of their employees, others were more motivated by profits. Mill villages existed either as family-oriented communities or as high-rent company houses. Inside the mill, work was often low-paid, difficult, and dangerous. Child labor was common in the early years, and racial discrimination and sexism were rampant. Managers often implemented "stretch outs," efficiency systems that forced employees to work more for less money. In some desperate situations, workers organized unions and went on strike, often dividing family members and co-workers in bitter, violent disputes. Near the end of the twentieth century, the NC textile industry rapidly declined, beginning a new cycle of job migration with workers around the globe facing many of the same challenges as their American counterparts from an earlier century.

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