In 1933, the Democratic majority Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and established the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to revitalize the economy. Section 7a which gave industrial workers the rights of collective bargaining. Hailed by some as an emancipation proclamation of workers, the enacting of this law sparked a surge of optimism throughout the textile industry. For a brief period afterward, production increased by 120% of the average during the 1920s and union membership increased dramatically. However, this optimism was short-lived. It soon became clear that the NRA was not properly enforcing the NIRA as many workers were still being paid below the minimum wage, and mill owners were still laying off workers associated with the UTWA. During UTWA’s convention on August 13, 1934, they declared a general strike beginning on September 1.
Throughout Georgia and the rest of the South, the call for a general strike was strong. Workers were growing impatient with Roosevelt and the NRA’s unreliability and had even participated in minor strikes earlier in the year. Despite the UTWA’s hopes, clashes between strikers and law enforcement occurred across the state, most notably in Macon where police violently dispersed picketers who were disrupting the trains, and in Trion where a standoff between strikers and deputies escalated when one of the deputies fired into the crowd of strikers and fled into the mill.
Although then Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge held anti-union beliefs, he initially did not respond to the strikes. He knew that a large number of his voters supported the New Deal, and his election for that year relied on him appealing to the Georgia worker. After many reports of violence across the state however, Talmadge declared martial law and sent in the national guard to suppress the strikers. The strikes died down shortly after. After the failure of the general textile strike of 1934, the TWUA merged with other
unions to form the Committee of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935, and the Supreme Court declared the NIRA unconstitutional that same year. However, during the war, the labor unions came to a consensus with the federal government in which they would force businesses to recognize unions, and the unions would take a “no-strike” pledge to ensure the unhindered production of wartime munitions. As a result, Union membership drastically increased to nearly 15 million, and Georgia textile mills began production of military uniforms and parachutes.
As the war in the Pacific concluded so did the demand for military equipment, and textile workers lost a substantial amount of income. As a result of the Athens Manufacturing Company’s refusal to negotiate with the TWUA, the textile workers began their strike. All across the state workers in other large manufacturing towns, such as Macon and Rome, had also begun to strike. George Baldanzi, the executive vice president of the TWUA, claimed that around 45,000 workers were involved in the strike by September of 1945. By 1946, the CIO commenced Operation Dixie in an attempt to end the anti-union conservativism that had dominated Southern politics for decades. This strike received plenty of support from veterans of World War II returning from duty, who would not cross the picket line to work and joined the movement.
However, even after almost two years of striking, the Athens Manufacturing Company was still adamant in their stance. Despite an ultimatum in favor of the strikers and the order to rehire all strikers, the Athens Manufacturing Company refused to bargain with the strikers and only rehired 50 of the around 400 of them. On March 11, 1947, the TWUA called off the strike. All across the South, Operation Dixie slowly failed due to racial tensions between the black and white workers in the Jim Crow South and the loss of public support due to the Red Scare. Then in June that same year, Congress overrode President Truman’s veto on the Taft Hartley Act which, among other things, made closed-shop policies (businesses are required to only hire union members) illegal, allowed states to pass “right-to-work” laws, and forced union officials to declare their disassociation with communism, which set back labor advancements significantly and led to the decline of organized labor in the nation.