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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Labor Unions

by Brent D. Glass and Wiley J. Williams, 2006

The first labor organizations in North Carolina were formed by skilled workers in the larger towns. One of the earliest was the Raleigh Typographical Union, organized in 1854. By the mid-1880s printers in Wilmington and Charlotte also were working under trade union agreements with their employers. A second and broader labor movement came to the state in 1884, when the first North Carolina assembly of the Knights of Labor (originally organized by Philadelphia garment workers in 1869) met in Raleigh. Three years later the Knights claimed assemblies in most counties and a membership that included whites, blacks, men, and women from diverse skilled occupations (no employees of furniture, textile, or tobacco factories participated). Although by 1887 the Knights of Labor began to decline in importance, it had acquainted blue-collar workers with the advantages that might be gained through organization.

Keep reading >> Labor Unions- Part 2: Early Labor Movements and Conflicts in the Textile Industry Keep reading


Daniel J. Clark, Like Night and Day: Unionization in a Southern Mill Town (1997).

Leon Fink, The Maya of Morganton: Work and Community in the Nuevo New South (2003).

David Firestone, "Victory for Union at Plant in South Is Labor Milestone," New York Times, 25 June 1999.

Brent D. Glass, The Textile Industry in North Carolina: A History (1992).

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall and others, Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (1987).

Harley E. Jolley, "The Labor Movement in North Carolina, 1880-1922," NCHR 30 (July 1953).

Robert R. Korstad, Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-Twentieth-Century South (2003).

Robert H. Zieger, ed., Organized Labor in the Twentieth-Century South (1991).