Jonesville History: Textile Mills

This Jonesville History lesson touches on the textile mills that built this town then broke it.

After the War Between the States, Northern businessmen came South with the labor management practices they were used to back home. Although not anywhere near as awful as slavery, conditions in the South Carolina’s early textile mills were dangerous, the hours were long, the pay was low and workers were prohibited from organizing to arrange a better deal.

Many aren’t aware that children went to work in the mills at very young ages. Times were so hard that everyone in the family worked. Splintered wood floors injured bare feet. Lint in the air caused a fatal disease known as brown lung.

[Conditions in the coal mines of Appalachia, and the coffee and banana plantations of Central America were equally dangerous for meager wages.]

With textile mills came mill towns where workers paid their employee for rent and housing at company prices using company minted coin.

Later, some mills tried to improve conditions—including adding company base ball teams.

Cotton for the mills was grown in the Jonesville area. The old cotton warehouse and scales still stand in Jonesville but won’t remain up on their feet for long unless people join forces to save them.

Upton Sinclair Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968), wrote The Jungle in 1906, exposing conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, causing a public uproar that contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

The book is now often interpreted and taught as only an exposure of the industry of meatpacking. The novel depicts in harsh tones poverty, absence of social programs, unpleasant living and working conditions, and hopelessness prevalent among the working class, which is contrasted with the deeply-rooted corruption on the part of those in power. Sinclair’s observations of the state of turn-of-the-century labor were placed front and center for the American public to see, suggesting that something needed to be changed to get rid of American wage slavery. The novel was first published in serial form in 1905 in the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason. It was based on undercover work done in 1904: Sinclair spent seven weeks gathering information while working incognito in the meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards at the behest of the magazine’s publishers. He then started looking for a publisher who would be willing to print it in book form. After five rejections by publishers who found it too shocking for publication, he funded the first printing himself. It was published by Doubleday, Page & Company on February 28, 1906 and has been in print ever since.

Labor and management continue to teeter-tooter as each seeks to protect their self-interests.

Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as higher social and environmental standards. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers and gold.

In 2008, products certified with FLO International’s Fairtrade certification amounted to approximately US$4.98 billion (€3.4) worldwide, a 22% year-to-year increase. While this represents a tiny fraction of world trade in physical merchandise, some fair trade products account for 20-50% of all sales in their product categories in individual countries. In June 2008, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International estimated that over 7.5 million producers and their families were benefiting from fair trade funded infrastructure, technical assistance and community development projects.

The response to fair trade has been mixed. Fair trade’s increasing popularity has drawn criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Mark Sidwell sees “fair trade” as a type of subsidy or marketing ploy that impedes growth. Segments of the left, such as French author Christian Jacquiau, criticize fair trade for not adequately challenging the current trading system.

Sources include Wikipedia.

— Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill




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