Silk Stockings and Socialism
January 31, 2019 7:20 PM   Subscribe

The 1920s Jazz Age is remembered for flappers and speakeasies, not for the success of a declining labor movement. A more complex story was unfolding among the young women and men in the hosiery mills of Kensington, the working-class heart of Philadelphia. Their product was silk stockings, the iconic fashion item of the flapper culture then sweeping America and the world. Although the young people who flooded into this booming industry were avid participants in Jazz Age culture, they also embraced a surprising, rights-based labor movement, headed by the socialist-led American Federation of Full-Fashioned Hosiery Workers (AFFFHW).

In this first history of this remarkable union, Sharon McConnell-Sidorick reveals how activists ingeniously fused youth culture and radical politics to build a subculture that included dances and parties as well as picket lines and sit-down strikes, while forging a vision for social change.

For women members (and later leaders) of the hosiery union, the medium was the message. Their youth, their liberation as modern women, their demand for equal treatment and equal pay, and their commitment to the labor movement was embodied in the union’s striking 1920s-era logo.

Among the accomplishments of the hosiery workers were the first workers’ housing project under the New Deal. Named after the young martyr Carl Mackley, it was built with the first loan under the Public Works Administration. Pushed by the union’s labor feminists, it opened in 1935 with a child care center for the children of working mothers, and set a precedent for later housing initiatives. [Still in use today and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.] Hosiery workers were instrumental in pushing through the Social Security Act and important labor legislation. Following the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) in 1933, hosiery workers were the first in the nation to walk out in the ensuing strike wave, resulting in the negotiation of the Reading Formula, the primary resolution mechanism for strike settlement under the NIRA. Although inadequate, it set the stage for the later improvements of the Wagner Act. And one of their most important sit-down strikes, against the city’s Apex Hosiery Company, resulted in the 1940 Supreme Court case that removed labor from the purview of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, thus helping to legalize labor strikes.
posted by sepviva (2 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Flagged as fantastic. Thanks for this, I didn’t know any of it.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:44 PM on January 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

Whoa, that logo is something else. I love it. Thanks for sharing this!
posted by librarylis at 9:21 AM on February 3, 2019

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