Media and Mobilization: The Case of Radio and Southern Textile Worker Insurgency, 1929 to 1934

by Vincent J. Roscigno, William F. Danaher
Media and Mobilization: The Case of Radio and Southern Textile Worker Insurgency, 1929 to 1934
Vincent J. Roscigno, William F. Danaher
American Sociological Review
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The Ohio State University College of Charleston

Collective action rests, in part, on group identity and political opportunity. Just how

group identity is manifested and perceptions of political opportunity are altered,

however, remain unclear, particularly in the case of a geographically dispersed population. An often overlooked mechanism is media technology. This article ana-

lyzes an important yet underexamined instance of worker mobilization in the United

States: the southern textile strike campaigns of 1929 to 1934 during which more

than 400,000 workers walked off their jobs. Using historical data on textile manu- facturing concentration and strike activity, FCC data on radio station foundings,

and analyses of political content and song lyrics, the authors show that the geo-

graphic proximity of radio stations to the "textile belt" and the messages aired

shaped workers' sense of collective experience and political opportunity: Walk-outs

and strike spillover across mill towns resulted. The implications of the analyses for

social movement theory generally, and for the understanding of how media can

enable or constrain collective struggle, are discussed.

BETWEEN 1929 and 1934, the U.S. I sponsored violence (Griffith 1988; Hall et al. South experienced a truly remarkable 1987; McLaurin 1971). moment in labor history. Estimates suggest A pivotal moment in U.S. labor history, that approximately half a million southern the movement's eventual defeat has had con- textile mill workers walked off the job dur- sequences for labor practices, organizing ef- ing this period, culminating in the General forts, economic development, and persistent Textile Workers Strike of 1934. Interest- poverty and inequality in the U.S. South up ingly, this mobilization occurred with little to the current day (Roscigno and Kimble organization by labor unions and in the face 1995). Yet, little sociological attention has of coercive paternalistic practices and state- been devoted to this instance of southern worker unrest. Indeed, much of the research on worker insurgency overlooks the South or

Direct all correspondence to Vincent Ros- cigno, 300 Bricker Hall, 190 N. Oval Mall, The treats it as a union-resistant region (Corn- Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 43210 field and Leners 1989). How is it that nearly ( A version of this paper was presented at the meetings of the American Richard Schraeder, Director of the University of Sociological Association, Washington, D.C., Au- North Carolina's Southern Folk Life Archives gust 2000. The authors thank Jack Bloom, Collection, and numerous archivists at the Fed- Martha Crowley, Rick Della Fave, Cathy Evans, eral Communications Commission, the Univer- Randy Hodson, Craig Jenkins, Elizabeth Kamin- sity of South Carolina, and the Walter P. Reuther ski, Jeffrey Leiter, Susan Roscigno, David Snow, Library at Wayne State University for their help Verta Taylor, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, Marieke during the data collection phase. This research VanWilligen, A1 Wall, Karen Weissman, and the was supported by grants from the College of So- ASR Editors and anonymous reviewers for their cial and Behavioral Sciences at the Ohio State helpful comments on early drafts. We also thank University and the College of Charleston.




half a million workers, most of whom were geographically isolated in rural mill towns, collectively mobilized in the face of local elite repression? Were collective identity and political opportunity-prerequisites to col- lective action according to social movement theorists-achieved and, if so, through what mechanism? What networking resource was at the disposal of workers that fostered strike spillover from one mill town to the next?

We extend the literature on collective be- havior and social movements, labor insur- gency, and class consciousness by address- ing these questions. We first embed our analysis in the historical specifics, and then in collective identity (e.g., Melluci 1985; Taylor and Whittier 1992) and political op- portunity (e.g., Jenkins 1985; McAdam 1983) frameworks of collective action. We argue that insights from these literatures can be effectively integrated by focusing on a unique and key historical event-the advent of radio.



In 1921, southern cotton-producing states produced 54 percent of the nation's total yardage of woven cotton goods. This yield increased to 67 percent by 1927, partly the result of the relocation of textile manufactur- ing operations from the North to the South. This regional shift occurred because cheap labor was abundant in the South and union activity was virtually nonexistent: Southern Chambers of Commerce focused on these facts when enticing northern mill owners to move south. Indeed, wages in southern mills were approximately one-third of those in the North, even after controlling for the cost of living. In addition, southern mill workers worked longer hours (Yellen 1936).

Workers typically lived in villages under the control of mill owners. Whole families labored together for the sake of subsistence, yet housing, food, and medical care re- mained substandard in many instances (Gell- horn 1933; Hall et al. 1987). Some mill own- ers, employing paternalistic policies to sta- bilize their workforces, offered company- sponsored social programs, housing, medi- cal services, credit at the company store, and religious services to workers. These com- pany programs failed, however, to offset low wages and instead came to be seen as an im- portant mechanism of labor control and co- ercion (Leiter, Schulman, and Zingraff 1991). Exorbitant interest rates were charged at mill stores, ministers and doctors were on the company payroll, and workers who were not performing to the company standard or who got out of line risked losing their homes (Cornfield and Leners 1989; Griffith 1988; McLaurin 1971; Pope 1942). Given such conditions, worker resistance eventually emerged.

Strikes broke out in large numbers in 1929; the main grievances were working conditions, wages, and hours. On March 12, 1929, 500 women walked out of the inspec- tion department at the American Ganzstoff Corporation in Elizabethton, Tennessee. The following day, 3,000 more workers walked out demanding higher pay. Later that week, 2,000 workers walked out of the neighbor- ing Bemberg plant in Gastonia, North Caro- lina making the same demands. Strikes not immediately related to those in Gastonia and Elizabethton occurred soon afterward in South Carolina: In late March, 800 workers walked out at Ware Shoals Manufacturing Company, and 1,250 workers walked out of the New England Southern plant in Pelzer. Within three weeks, 8,000 workers had walked out of 15 plants in the Piedmont area of South Carolina. Strikes followed shortly thereafter in the North Carolina towns of Pineville, Forest City, Lexington, Bessemer City, Draper, and Charlotte (Hall et al. 1987; Yellen 1936).

Local newspapers tended to be connected to traditional economic interests, such as textiles, and thus took a vehement and ag- gressive stance against this early wave of worker protest. Indeed, mill owners and lo- cal newspapers often worked hand in hand to sway public opinion away from strikers by appealing to anti-Communist sentiments, despite the fact that few workers had such affiliations. Most, in fact, were simply pro- testing unfair conditions rather than defend- ing or fighting for a broader ideological stance (Salmond 1995). Perhaps most well- known in this regard were the editorials pub- lished in the Gastonia Daily Gazette entitled "A Deep Laid Scheme" and "Red


Russianism Lifts its Gory Hands Right Here in Gastonia," both of which were published during the infamous Loray Mill Strike of 1929. Such editorials and the red-scare rhetoric they espoused, which continued through the mid- 1930s, created public anger toward strikers, caused workers to question their own national and religious loyalties, and had long-term consequences for south- ern attitudes toward organized labor (Bill- ings 1990; Nolan and Jones 1976; Salmond 1995; Simon 1998).' Yet poor conditions persisted into the 1930s, and strikes again emerged.

By June of 1933, newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a bill in- tended to alleviate the plight of overworked millhands-the National Industrial Recov- ery Act (NIRA). This bill seemingly gave mill workers the right to push for decent hours and working conditions through col- lective bargaining. Section 7a of the Textile Code called for a minimum wage, a 40-hour work week, and prohibited child labor. This effort was part of the newly formed National Recovery Administration (NRA). Both

Other print communications, such as pam- phlets, labor-oriented newspapers, and under- ground newspapers did little to foster these strikes. In a few cases, National Textile Workers Union (NTWU) pamphlets were distributed, but only after the strike had already begun; and they reduced strike support among workers because of their emphasis on promoting racial and gender equality in wages. Similarly, certain strikes, such as those in Gastonia in 1929, received coverage in the Communist Daily Worker, despite little if any striker affiliation with the Communist Party. This coverage, rather than fostering greater movement cohesion or participation, was used by local papers to criticize strikers and had the ef- fect of reducing support (Salmond 1995). One exception to this generally negative impact of print media was the Augusta Labor Review, a small pro-labor paper in the somewhat isolated Horse Creek Valley of South Carolina. This newspaper seems to have had a positive impact on strikes in that area, perhaps because its founder and editor, Paul W. Fuller, a Methodist Episcopal minister, integrated Christian and pa- triotic discourse and symbolism into the presen- tation of worker grievances. Thus, the news-paper's message and related worker actions were less easily interpreted or attacked as being Com- munist-oriented by the local power structure (Simon 1998).


Roosevelt and the head of the NRA, Hugh

S. Johnson, were opposed to strikes as a means of solving disputes between workers and mill owners. Instead, they favored con- trolling work hours and child labor in an ef- fort to limit production, drive up profits for mill owners, and improve economic condi- tions for workers through the "trickle-down" of profits (Hall et al. 1987; Hodges 1986).

Prices, sales, and employment increased to the highest level in five years by late sum- mer, 1933, but by fall this prosperity soured. The Depression reached its worst period in the winter of 1933-1934, and mill owners, while seemingly supportive of the coopera- tive message in Section 7a, began to practice old strategies of oppression or in some cases instituted new ones. The "stretch-out," for instance, was used to circumvent laws limit- ing working hours. This was the workers' term for the cumulative changes that "set them tending machines 'by the acre,' filled every pore in the working day, and robbed them of control over the pace and method of production" (Hall et al. 1987: 21 1). Sp' ~nners, mostly women, were often stretched from 24 to 48 looms, and then from 48 to 96, "with- out a commensurate increase in pay, often with no increase whatsoever, or even an ac- tual decrease" (Yellen 1936:299).2 Thus, workers found themselves working as much in the new eight-hour shift as they had in shifts lasting two to four hours longer. Fur- ther, by enabling industry to curtail produc- tion when mills were producing sufficient product through "short time," the NIRA Tex- tile Code inadvertently led to a surplus of goods and higher rates of unemployment (Tullos 1989). In short, mill owners saw the laws enacted under the NIRA as bothersome but easy to manipulate (Wood 1986).

Unions in the coal mining industry jumped at the chance to take advantage of the NIRA. Yet, in the textile industry, the United Tex- tile Workers (UTW) did not institute a unionization drive (Tippett 1931). Indeed, it

A 1929 South Carolina House of Representa- tives committee found that in one South Carolina mill, a force of five men, each paid $23 per week, was reduced to three men at $20.23 per week; at another mill, a weaver who had operated 24 looms at $18.91 per week was stretched to 100 looms for $24 a week (Yellen 1936).


had fewer than 10 paid organizers in the South at that time and represented only a small fraction of the entire mill work force (Hodges 1986). According to historical accounts, this was mostly due to a lack of or- ganizational resources and a vast, hard-to- cover rural area. Nonetheless, southern mill workers walked off their jobs, formed local unions, and organized against unfair labor practices. According to Hall et. a1 (1987):

[The UTW] launched no Piedmont organiz- ing campaign. Agents did not throng to the southern field. Yet within less than a month after passage of the act, union locals had re- portedly sprung to life in 75 percent of South Carolina's mills. From an estimated 40,000 in September 1933, UTW Member- ship leaped to 279,000 by August 1934. To the shock of labor leaders, government offi- cials, and businessmen alike, southern work- ers began "organizing just as fast as we can." (P. 304)

Strike activity intensified throughout the South in 1934. On February 12, 1934, a strike broke out at K. S. Tanners Stonecutter Mills in Spindale, North Carolina. Five months later, on July 14, a strike occurred in Guntersville, Alabama, and wildcat strikes soon rolled across that state involving 20,000 workers. On Labor Day, many work- ers in North Carolina and South Carolina, states that did not observe the holiday, re- fused to come to work. Newspapers reported 400,000 workers on strike by September 14-the largest strike in American history. What prompted workers across dispersed mill villages to strike despite the lack of clear-cut union support or organization?



Collective identity and political opportunity perspectives offer a starting point for ex- plaining how collective behavior was mani- fested in the case of southern textiles. While both perspectives deal with the development of collective action and the preconditions for insurgency, their foci differ.

Collective identity theorists emphasize ideological, normative, and cultural pro- cesses that induce individual participation in collective action and ensure social solidarity, even in the face of harsh countermobil- ization. These researchers also argue that al- ternative belief structures provide movement participants with a structure of nonmaterial rewards, not necessarily tied to movement success (Epstein 1990; J. Gamson 1995; W. Gamson 1992a; Melucci 1985; Taylor and Whittier 1992). An alternative belief struc- ture and collective identity have been impor- tant in a variety of struggles, including those promoting racial justice (Morris 1984; Nagel 1994; Stotik, Shriver, and Cable 1994), women's rights (Mathews 1982; Meyer and Whittier 1994; Taylor and Whittier 1992), and class-based politics (Fantasia 1988; Hodson, Ziegler, and Bump 1987). Fantasia (1988) makes this focus explicit in relation to working- class politics and highlights the importance of "cultures of solidarity," defin- ing them as "cultural formations that arise in conflict, creating and sustaining solidarity in opposition to the dominant structure" (p. 19).

Discussions of collective identity resonate with classical and contemporary theoretical ideas pertaining to "class consciousness" and when it may emerge. Indeed, "the most important blank spots in the theory of class concern the processes whereby 'economic classes' become 'social classes"' (Giddens 1982:157). Mann (1973) conceives of class consciousness as a complex process, occur- ring in stages, that is often curbed by domi- nant ideologies, class ambiguities, conces- sions by elites, or outright defeat. Mann's stages include (1) class identity, whereby one defines oneself as working class; (2) class opposition, whereby one perceives capitalists and their agents as opponents; (3) class totality, whereby class identity and op- position define the total of one's social situ- ation and society as a whole; and (4) con- ceiving of an alternative. During this final stage, Mann continues, an "explosive poten- tial" may emerge and create either a "con- flict consciousness," which aims to alleviate the immediate problem, or a more "revolu- tionary consciousness," wherein the needed change involves overall systemic reorgani- zation (also see Giddens 1982).3 Given the

Many factors can influence the progression of class consciousness through the stages de- scribed by Mann (1973), including mobility clo- sure, the division of labor within economic en-


correct progression, the delegitimization of existing ideology, and the existence of an al- ternative interpretational frame, class con- sciousness will emerge (Della Fave 1980, 1986; Oliver and Johnston 1999).

In contrast to identity theorists and those dealing explicitly with class consciousness, political opportunity theorists focus on the political context in which groups are embed- ded and the shifting levels of opportunity that emerge across time and place. The like- lihood of mobilization and the degree of le- verage exerted by insurgents, it is argued, will be heightened in situations in which elites are divided in their defense of the ex- isting order (Gamson and Meyer 1992; Jen- kins 1985; Jenkins and Perrow 1977; McAdam 1982; Pichardo 1995; Tilly 1976). When elites are coordinated, in contrast, the reproduction of dominant relations is more likely, as is countermobilization against those engaging in insurgent action (Lach- mann 1990; Tomaskovic-Devey and Ros- cigno 1996). McAdam (1983) emphasizes such countermobilization in his analysis of elite response to tactics implemented by civil rights activists during the 1960s. Bar- kan (1984) and James (1988) highlight the role of other actors in the civil rights strug- gle-namely the southern racial state, which constrained movement participants, and the federal government, which eventually inter- vened on behalf of participants.

Griffin, Wallace, and Rubin (1986) and Montgomery (1987) stress themes of elite response to labor organization in their analy- ses of capitalist countermobilization during the 1930s and 1940s. Coercion and control through paternalism proved effective as a preventive strategy (Leiter et al. 1991; Mc- Laurin 1971). More obvious were efforts of capital to divide workers racially, to curtail working-class mobilization with subversive activities and violence, and to control labor organization and labor practices through ma- nipulation of the state and state policy (see

C. Brown and Boswell 1995; Brueggeman and Boswell 1998; Kimeldorf 1999; Roscigno and Kimble 1995; Wood 1986).

terprises, authority relationships, patterns of re- source distribution, geographic dispersion, and patterns of institutional power (see Blau 1977; Dahrendorf 1959; Giddens 1982; Parkin 1979).

For collective identity theorists then, the central task is to explain how interpretation is altered, collective identity manifested, and solidarity maintained. For political op- portunity theorists, the focus is on the de- gree of elite unity, elite countermobil- ization, and the extent to which these di- mensions of political opportunity enable or constrain the collective expression of griev- ances in a given historical context. Each perspective, however, has problems when applied to Southern textile worker mobili- zation. How would collective identity theory explain the manifestation of solidar- ity across this geographically dispersed tex- tile mill population? What was the mecha- nism through which structural political op- portunity, if it existed, translated into and shaped political perceptions and the degree of efficacy among mill workers? We believe that media technology offers a bridge be- tween these two perspectives.

How were mill worker identity and sense of political opportunity manifested in the 1920s and 1930s despite the geographically dis- persed nature of mill towns? This question is integral to those interested in the diffusion of collective action (Oliver 1989; Olzak 1992; Rogers 1995; Soule 1997; Soule and Zylan 1997). Such spatial "spillover" requires some form of network structure through which information is communicated and shared (Fantasia 1988; Morris 1984; Oberschall 1989). Assuming nonparticipants have the same structural relation to the net- work as social movement participants, non- participants become potential adopters (Myers 1998; Strang and Meyer 1993).

While information networks may include family, friendship, or transportation ties, the media may be particularly important for in- formation flow across geographically dis- persed populations (W. Gamson 1995; Kahan 1999; Oberschall 1989; Spilerman 1970). Myers (1998, 2000), in his analyses of racial rioting, 1964-197 1, characterizes this potential influence as a concentric area around the network origin defined by the range of the medium's distribution, rather than as lines connecting individuals. This is an important theoretical extension of previ-


ous perspectives because it offers a potential mechanism through which group conscious- ness and perceptions of opportunity may be altered across geographic space.

To assert the media's influence requires specifying the structural and instrumental ways in which it can shape collective action across a dispersed population. On the struc- tural end, the introduction of new media may provide opportunities not directly associated with collective action, but which alter the le- verage and/or autonomy of subgroups. This appears to be true in the case of radio station foundings in the South, which had the unin- tended consequence of creating a relatively autonomous community of musicians, many of whom were ex-mill workers, who traveled from mill town to mill town and radio sta- tion to radio station. This group alone, we suggest, represented an important conduit for information flow among mill towns.4 In-


deed, indirect network ties may be as impor- tant to social movement diffusion as direct links (Soule 1997).

Media, including the radio, can be more directly influential when it shapes prospec- tive movement participants' perceptions of political opportunity. It is here-in drawing a distinction between political opportunity at a structural level and perceived political op- portunity among potential insurgents, and specifying the mechanism(s) through which perceived opportunity may be altered-that political opportunity theory has been limited (Kurzman 1996; McAdam 1982; Tarrow 1988). By disseminating information geo- graphically, media can mold the political perceptions of a dispersed population (Kahan 1999). This was the case with radio and its establishment in the U.S. South. For the first time in U.S. history, a president spoke over this medium to southern workers in the format of "fireside chats," during which a national political commitment to the plight of workers and workers' right to col- lectively organize was communicated de- spite local elite repression (R. Brown 1998; Hall et al. 1987).

This resonates with Gurlach's (1999) discus- sion of "traveling evangelists." By carrying mes- sages, spreading ideology, and building personal relationships across the network, they play a role in social movement links and spatial diffusion.

Media can also be instrumental by alter- ing workers' sense of collective experience and solidarity. Historically, one of the most obvious means through which group identity has been manifested and shared is through language generally, and music specifically (Eyerman and Jamison 1998). Language and vocabularies of motive, of which music lyr- ics are no exception, are important facts in social action not reducible to individual so- cial psychology. Rather, verbalization, through speech or song, is always conversa- tional and dynamic, often political, and po- tentially consciousness-altering (Flacks 1999; W. Gamson 1992b; Goffman 1981; Lichterman 1999; Mills 1939, 1940). As such, "the language of situations as given must be considered a valuable portion of the data to be interpreted and reiated to their conditions" (Mills 1940:913).

Although consistent with classical the- ory's interest in culture and more recent ef- forts to develop social movement theory's emphasis on cultural processes (Melucci 1985; Taylor and Whittier 1992), it is no- table that so few analyses systematically consider music as a component of the col- lective action repertoire or as a form of dis- course through which collective identity is fostered and movement solidarity is achieved. In a study of American left-wing music, Denisoff (1972) distinguishes be- tween songs that are rhetorical, highlighting discontent, and songs that aimed at recruit- ment and solidarity maintenance during ac- tive, collective protest (also see Flacks 1999; McLaurin and Peterson 1992). Eyerman and Jamison (1998) concur and suggest that the articulation of identity through music is cen- tral to movement formation. Indeed, music not only adds an authentic air to the plea for social action because of its emotional appeal (Pratt 1990), but it also builds and reinforces identity and group commitment through ritual and the act of singing collectively (Flacks 1999).5 In the southern case, the folk

Drawing from symbolic interactionism, Flacks (1999) suggests that singing is a form of role playing, requiring one to take the identity ar- ticulated in the song, at least momentarily. This process may be further reinforced by collective singing, a symbolic gesture whereby participants demonstrate membership in, and commitment to, the group.


tradition of storytelling through music has a long and important history (Malone 1979).6 Thus, we expect to find that music, and its dissemination via radio and ex-mill worker musicians, was an influential part of the so- cial movement repertoire for southern textile workers.

We draw our data from a number of sources. Data on radio station foundings in the South prior to 1935 were gathered from the archives of the Federal Communication Com- mission (FCC). These records provide the day, month, and year of each radio station founding, along with the radio station name, ownership, and the city in which it operated. Coupling FCC data with data on textile mill concentration, derived from Clark's Direc- tory of Southern Textile Mills (1929) and Davidson's Textile Blue Book (1935), and data on strike activity drawn from various ~ources,~

allows us to address the most im- portant empirical question-was radio spa- tially proximate enough to textile mills to have played a part in the insurgency that oc- curred? This data is supplemented with his- torical evidence on radio ownership among mill workers.

Of course, music has been important for other labor insurgencies in the United States, back to the classical industrial ballads by Joe Hill. Un- fortunately, and despite the existence of collec- tions of songs of insurgency across a variety of industries (see Greenway 1956; Hille 1948; Lieberman 1989; Lomax 1960; Lomax, Guthrie, and Seeger 1967), the link betwecn music, social processes, and mobilization has, with few excep- tions (e.g., McLaurin and Peterson 1992), re- ceived little systematic attention among sociolo- gists.

Complete strike data for the U.S. South dur- ing the early 1930s is difficult to find, as no sys- tematic records for the region were kept. We did, however, compile a relatively extensive list of strike activity drawing from Hall et al. (1987), Nolan and Jones (1976), Salmond (1995), Simon (1998), and Yellen (1936). While our list and the resulting map of strike activity that follow undoubtedly capture the general concentration of strike events and the largest, most pronounced strikes in the region between 1929 and 1934, we suspect that some small, less visible strikes may be missing from our data.

Along with establishing the spatial link between mill concentration, radio station foundings, and strike activity is the need to specify and analyze how radio was iizfluential. Here, we rely on historical data pertain- ing to the impact of politically oriented broadcasts, archival and interview data on ex-mill worker musicians during the period in question, and on content analyses of mu- sic lyrics. Political data are drawn from his- torical accounts and the archives of the New Deal Network Library and Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. We gathered information on musicians and songs dealing with south- ern textile mills, textile mill town life, and textile worker insurgency from 1929 to 1934 from the Archie Green Papers of the South- ern Folk Life Collection at the University of North Carolina Archives and a variety of other source^.^ The resulting collection of 35 songs represents the most comprehensive compilation of Southern textile songs of which we are aware.9

We first examine radio station foundings in the South and the proximity of these stations

These sourccs include, but are not limited to, American Folksongs of Protest (Greenway 1953), The People's Song Book (Hille 1948), Folk Songs of North America (Lomax 1960), Hard Hitting Songsfor Hard-Hit People (Lomax et al. 1967), American Industrial Ballads (Seeger 1992), Babies in the iVIill (Dixon 1998), and in- terviews undertaken by the authors.

We limited our sample of songs to those ema- nating from the South that were recorded, sung, played, or transcribed prior to 1935. Ideally, we would also have radio "play lists" for the time period in question. Unfortunately, given the new- ness of radio at the time, such records were not kept. What we do know, given thc historical lit- erature and interviews we undertook with surviv- ing mill musicians and mill workers, is that many of the musicians who wrote and sang mill-related songs traveled from radio station to radio station to play, sang some of these songs during live ra- dio shows, and spent significant time with those residing in the mill towns (Malone 1968; Wig- gins 1987). This suggests that the impact of ra- dio on collective identity may have been direct through the playing of mill songs, or indirect through the creation of this autonomous group of


to textile mills and mill towns where the most pronounced strikes of 1929-1934 occurred. Spatial patterns are analyzed by geo- graphical mapping. These visual representa- tions show whether radio was a viable mech- anism through which perceptions of politi- cal opportunity could have been altered and collective identity manifested. Supplemen- tary quantitative analyses of the population of Southern mill towns (N = 542), whether a strike occurred, and whether there was a ra- dio station within the city limits or near to the city, help us further establish the link be- tween radio stations and actual strike events.

The analysis then focuses on transmission content, directly or indirectly via radio, and its implications for perceptions of political opportunity and collective identity. For anal- yses of political content, we outline a major shift in political structure and opportunity during the time period in question-that is, Roosevelt's New Deal. We then draw from archival sources to describe the role radio played in communicating this new context to southern mill workers, magnifying their per- ceptions of opportunity and offering legiti- macy to their experiences and claims of in- justice at the hands of mill owners.

Consistent with Hodson's (1999) recom- mendation for systematically analyzing qual- itative content data and converting it into quantitative and descriptive summary statis- tics, we created a coding scheme for analyz- ing music lyrics. Both authors coded each of the 35 songs along various dimensions, re- ported in Tables 2, 3, and 4. Inter-coder reli- ability was approximately 91 percent. In cases of disagreement, we went back to the original source to rectify the difference. Our analysis of music lyrics employs a dichotomy similar to Denisoff's (1972), distinguishing between songs focusing on discontent and collective experience (N = 21) and songs dealing with protest (N = 14).1° For songs of

musicians who drew some of their songs from workers and shared these songs across communi- ties.

lo Music probably serves a different function in each context. Prior to mobilization, music shapes collective experience, group-building, and interpretive understanding. Thereafter, the goal is solidarity maintenance and description of poten- tial countermobilization in the face of active pro- test (Flacks 1999).

discontent, we report frequency breakdowns of the problems workers faced and the inter- pretation of causes. For songs of protest, we also use frequency breakdowns but focus on the primary intent of the song and the type of elite countermobilization described, if any. We supplement these summary statistics throughout with discussion of the musicians and illustrative lyrics.


Radio quickly found its way into the U.S. South in 1922, when on February 3, the first license was granted to WGH in Montgom- ery, Alabama. Within one month, stations were founded in Charlotte, Memphis, At- lanta, Charleston, Richmond, and Mor- ganton. Interest in this new medium was in- tense, to say the least, as 43 operating li- censes were granted to various stations across the South by the end of that year.

Early ownership patterns in the South mir- rored those in the country as a whole, with heavy reliance on department stores, insur- ance companies, universities, amateurs, and major electronics manufacturers (e.g., Gen- eral Electric, Westinghouse, etc.) who had links to the newly emerging recording indus- try (e.g., RCAIVictor) (Garafalo 1997). Our examination of FCC archival records indi- cates that traditional industries in the South (e.g., agriculture and textiles) played little or no role, while colleges, music companies, battery companies, and relatively new indus- tries, such as automobile and insurance deal- ers, did. Take, for example, station WBT in Charlotte and station WRBU in Gastonia, North Carolina. Although located near tex- tile mills, mill owners apparently had no in- volvement or control in either station. Rather, WBT was owned by C. C. Coddington, an entrepreneur and Buick dealer, while WRBU was owned by A. J. Kirby Music Company.

Two important political issues emerged during the early years of radio. The first had to do with the nature of broadcasts, and de- bates over public versus commercial inter- ests. Despite considerable discussion, little federal intervention occurred until the mid to late 1930s, when the Communications Act of 1934 created the FCC. Even then, how- ever, regulation and oversight lagged behind

Map 1. Textile Manufacturing Communities and Radio Station Foundings in the U.S. South Prior to 1935


Number of Spindles in County

Between 50,000 and 200,000

More than 200,000

Map 2. Textile Mill Strike Activity across the U.S. South, 1929 to 1934
Sources: Hall et al. (1987), Nolan and Jones (1976), Sallmond (1995), Simon (1998), and Yellen (1936).
C Denotes city where strike occurred.


Table 1. Association between Strike Occurrence and the Geographic Location of Radio Stations Relative to Southern Mill Towns, 1929 to 1934

Strike Occurred Proximity of Radio

Station to Town No Yes

In the Town



Near the Towna

No 263 24

Yes 215 40

Note: Number of mill towns = 542. =Station not located in the town, but in the county or in an adjoining county.


p<.O1 ***p < ,001 (one-tailed tests)

but in the county or in an adjoining county. This association, albeit weaker, is also sig- nificant." It is clear, given these patterns, that many southern mill workers lived and worked within the concentric rings of radio transmission and that this may have shaped the insurgency that unfolded.

But did workers have access to radios? Radio ownership among mill workers was surprisingly high given their low economic status. Hampton's (1935) analysis of leisure- time activities among 122 mill workers across three mill villages during this period suggests that up to 70 percent had radios in their homes. Furthermore, when asked to rank 46 leisure-time activities, listening to music on the radio was ranked highest. "The radio is kept going all the time there ain't no static" (woman, quoted in Hampton 1935: 61). While music programs were most popu-

"We also ran logistic regression models pre- dicting the likelihood of a strike that included both radio indicators along with controls for the state and textile mill density in the city. These findings (available from the authors upon request) are consistent with the analyses reported. They suggest that a strike was greater than three times more likely to occur if the mill town had a radio station, and between one and one-half and two times more likely if there was a radio station in the county or in an adjoining county.

lar, others opted for "preaching and talks on the government" (elderly man, quoted in Hampton 1935:61).

Media may influence collective action by al- tering actors' perceptions of political oppor- tunity. Pratt (1990) notes that the rapid dif- fusion of information to more people through media was intensified with the ad- vent of radio. The South was no exception, particularly when it came to political infor- mation. For the first time, southern workers felt as if they had a direct line to the presi- dent, as Franklin Roosevelt took to the air- waves and entered their homes. Roosevelt used the new medium of radio to move be- yond traditional means of political discourse and to "reach over and around the networks of state and local party structures and politi- cal personalities" (Kahan 1999: 185). Roose- velt, in fact, created "a new political context" through radio, utilizing its directness and its potential to circumvent local power bases.

With respect to the rights and grievances of workers, Roosevelt used weekly "fireside radio chats" to signify his support. The third of these broadcasts, which was titled "On the Purposes and Foundations of the Recovery Program" and aired on July 24, 1933, dealt explicitly with the need for industrial reform and better working conditions. This left workers, including those in the South who traditionallv felt isolated from national bases of power, with the impression that they could count on "the intervention of the fed- eral government as a lever against local elites and guarantor of workers' rights" (Hall et al. 1987:292). Roosevelt also urged work- ers to write him-and they did, in unprec- edented numbers (Sussman 1963).

Many southerners took part in the write-in campaign to the president (McElvaine 1983; Sussman 1963). Those who felt excluded from the political process, most notably women, now felt empowered to share their grievances, discussed the need and desire to organize collectively and, through their de- tailed letters, encouraged the powerful to consider the mill workers' plight. Many of these letters also made clear that southern workers believed there would be federal in-


tervention (Hall et al. 1987). The following letter, sent to the president during the 1934 strike, describes the consequences of the walkout and includes a "personal" appeal to

F.D.R. to get involved.

Dear President Roosevelt,

I hope you can spare the time for a few words from a cotton mill family, out of work and almost out of heart and in just a short while out of a house in which to live. You know of course that the realators are putting the people out when they cannot pay the rent promptly. and how are we to pay the rent so long as the mills refuse us work, merely be- cause we had the nerve to ask or "demand," better working conditions.

I realize and appreciate the aid and food which the government is giving to the poor people out of work Thanks to you.

but is it even partly right for us to be thrown out of our homes, when we have no chance whatever of paying, so long as the big corporations refuse of work. I for one am very disheartened and disappointed guess my notice to move will come next.

what are we to do. Wont you try to help us wont you appeal, "for us all," to the real estate people and the factories

hoping you'll excuse this, but I've al- ways thought of F.D.R. as my personal friend.

C.L.F. (Columbus, Ga.)

(Henry Morgenthau Jr. Collection 1934, emphasis and punctuation as in original)

The impact of Roosevelt's radio transmis- sions on the consciousness of southern tex- tile workers was witnessed firsthand in 1933 by Martha Gellhorn, a reporter hired by Fed- eral Emergency Relief Administration direc- tor Harry Hopkins to investigate social and economic conditions in the South. In her re- port to Hopkins on the conditions in Gaston County, North Carolina, Gellhorn describes poor health conditions along with unfair mill owner practices, while also noting:

All during this trip I have been thinking to myself about that curious phrase "red men- ace," and wondering where said menace hid itself. Every house I visited-mill worker or unemployed-had a picture of the President. These ranged from newspaper clippings (in destitute homes) to large colored prints, framed in gilt cardboard. The portrait holds the place of honour over the mantel; I can only compare this to the Italian peasant's Madonna. And the feeling of these people for the president is one of the most remark- able emotional phenomena I have ever met. He is at once God and their intimate friend; he knows them all by name. knows their little town and mill, their little lives and problems. And, though everything else fails, he is there, and will not let them down. (Gellhorn 1933)

Workers also spoke directly with Gellhorn about Roosevelt, sharing their confidence that the president was on their side.

You heard him talk over the radio, ain't you? He's the only president who ever said anything about the forgotten man. We know he's going to stand by us.

He's a man of his word and he promised us; we aren't worrying as long as we got him.

The president won't let these awful condi- tions go on.

The president wanted the Code [NIRA, Sec- tion 7a, of the Textile Code]. The president knows why we struck.

(Gellhorn 1933)

The initial local political autonomy of ra- dio also enabled local organizers to gain ac- cess to the southern airwaves. At the out- break of the massive strike of 1934, for in- stance, UTW vice-president Frances Gorman

. . . took his cue from the rising generation of Millhands. He went on the radio, gaining hours of air time at no expense. He encour- aged "flying squadrons" of cars and trucks to speed through the countryside-and they did, closing mills so rapidly that "tabulators almost lost check." (Hall et al. 1987:329)

Consequently, the airways became an arena in which political battles over the right of workers to collectively organize were fought when George Sloan, head of the Cotton Tex- tile Institute, went on the airwaves to express the position of mill owners (Hall et al. 1987).

Use of the airwaves by local organizers and a progressive president intent on addressing work-related issues was important for mill worker perceptions of political opportunity.


[Weave Room Blues] every once in a while. He came to Lancaster with the Aristocratic Pigs . . . of course, we all had to go up and see them at the high school there in Lan- caster. We all enjoyed it. Back then, ya know, there weren't no TV. . . ya didn't know what they looked like and in order to see them and get a glimpse of what they looked like, you go out when they played those personal appearances. They did that two or three times a week all around the state. (Dewey 1999)

Homer "Pappy" Sherrill, himself a legend- ary bluegrass fiddle player who began play- ing on Gastonia, North Carolina, radio sta- tion WSOC in 1929 as a 13-year-old, simi- larly recalls hearing the Dixon Brothers play "Weave Room Blues" and other mill-related songs over the airwaves:

I've heard'em play it. They were on WBT [Charlotte] when we were up there. They were connected to Fisher Hendley. It was in the early thirties. [Starts singing Weave Room Blues during interview]. "Eleven cents of cotton, 40 cents of meat, how in the world can a poor man eat, I got them lone- some weave room blues. (Sherrill 1999)

Thus, radio transmission was directly in- fluential for the cultural life of mill towns. More indirectly, radio created a network of ex-mill workers (i.e., musicians) who trav- eled between towns, drawing from and con- tributing to the cultural life and experiences of those still working in the mills. The mu- sic and the emergence of radio "put mill- hands across the region in touch with each other, allowing those who missed the travel- ing musicians' performances to hear and en- joy the same music," thus fostering a strong sense of group identity (Hall et al. 1987: 261). Mill owners, on the other hand, peri- odically saw the emerging music and its con- sciousness-altering potential as a threat. For example, in Danville, Virginia in 1930, local authorities and mill owners attempted to for- bid workers from singing Dave McCarn's recently released "Cotton Mill Colic" (Rorrer 1982).

Songs pertaining to mill life often em- ployed a collective sense of experience, us- ing the words "we," "us," and "our," and communicated anxieties specific to the ex- periences of most mill workers. Table 2 (on p. 35) shows these songs (N = 21), catego- rized by the concerns they address, specifi- cally family well-being and/or the worker her or himself. This table illustrates the rich- ness of these songs, the multiplicity of con- cerns they touch on, and the fact that the is- sues addressed could vary by verse. Recog- nizing the overlap in themes highlights the complexity of these songs and their lyrics.

Ten of the 21 songs dealing with mill work generally relate concerns for family, while fifteen, or seventy-one percent, de- note problems faced by workers. Among concerns for family well-being, children are often mentioned, something that undoubt- edly evoked a broader concern and univer- sal appeal among listeners.12 Five of these deal with family subsistence-the ability to provide for one's family's basic needs. This concern is most obvious in some of the lyr- ics to a song aptly titled Mill Mother's Lament:

And when we draw our money,
Our grocery bills to pay,
Not a cent to spend for clothing,
Not a cent to lay away.

And on that very evening

Our little son will say:

"I need some shoes, mother,

And so does sister May."

How it grieves the heart of a mother,
You every one must know;
But we can't buy for our children,
Our wages are too low.

Another song, Cotton Mill Man, reflects the grieving heart of a mill worker and his fear that his son may also end up working in the mill:

l2 The following quoted lyrics for Mill Moth- ers Lament, Let Them Wear Their Watches Fine, Weave Room Blues, Big Fat Boss Man and the Worker, and The Marion Strike were obtained from Greenway (1953). Lyrics for Cotton Mill Man, Winsboro Cotton Mill Blues, Union Spe- cial, Here We Rest, and On a Summer Eve were gathered from Green (1963b).


I watched my woman cry when
our baby daughter died.
I couldn't make her understand
why the doctor never came,
The lack of money was to blame.
I cussed the day that I became a
cottonmill man.
Lord, don't let my son grow up
to be a sweaty cottonmill man.

While these lyrics reflect the collective experiences of mill life and their conse- quences for family sustenance and the well- being of children, over half of these songs

(15) describe the toll mill work takes on the worker her or himself. Seven of these songs deal with the low economic return for the amount of work put in. In four verses of Let Them Wear Their Watches Fine, this griev- ance is coupled with a discussion of the so- cial status consequences of mill work.

We work from week end to week end,
And never miss a day,
And when that awful pay day comes
We draw our little pay.

On pay day night we go back home

And set down in a chair.

The merchant knocks upon our door

He's come to get his share.

Those fancy folks that dress so fine

And spend their money free,

They don't have time for a factory hand

That dresses like you and me.

As we go walking down the street
All dressed in lint and strings,
They call us fools and factory trash
And other low down things.

Many of the 21 songs dealing with the general experiences of southern mill work- ers in the 1920s and 1930s also specify the cause(s) of the problems they face. Table 3 shows the coding according to the cause(s) specified-the work process and/or the neg- ative impact of human agents (i.e., bosses, managers, and/or scabs). Given our focus on the manifestation of collective identity, class consciousness, and insurgency through mu- sic, the distinction between cause and effect is important. If lyrics do not address a cause, then consciousness relating to where griev- ances should be aimed will remain unclear. This interpretational link between cause and effect is indeed crucial if social movement discourse and framing processes are to be effective (W. Gamson 1995; Snow and Ben- ford 1992; Taylor and Whittier 1995). It is noteworthy that a cause is specified in more than three-quarters of these songs. Sixteen of the 21 associate discontent with the work process, while the same number specify a human culprit.

Lyrics pointing to the work process fall into three principal categories: general work conditions, the length of the work day, and the introduction of scientific management. Twelve of the 21 songs place the blame for mill worker problems on general work con- ditions, including the speed, cleanliness, and noise associated with mill work. One verse of Weave Room Blues provides a vivid im- age of these conditions:

Slam out, break out, makeouts

by the score,

Cloth all rolled back and

piled up on the floor.

The bats are running into strings,

they're hanging to your shoes,

I'm simply dying with them

weave room blues.

Notably, much of the worker complaint is directed specifically at employers and man- agers rather than being seen as a conse- quence of mill work. Vallas's (1987) analy- sis of the labor process and the social and organizational aspects of work suggests that a focus on managers and owners, rather than the labor process generally, has stronger ramifications for class consciousness (Bill- ings 1990; Della Fave 1980). W. Gamson (1995) concurs and suggests that an injus- tice frame will be more effective at recruit- ing and mobilizing if the target is a concrete


The company owned the houses and the
company owned the grammar school,
You'll never see an educated
cottonmill man.

They figure you don't need to learn
anything but how to earn
The money that you paid upon demand
To the general store they owned or else
they'd take away your home
And give it to some other homeless
cottonmill man.

Managers also are blamed for problems experienced by workers. In this verse from Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, the cause of worker duress is clearly managerial oversight and greed:

Old man Sargent sitting at the desk,
The damned old fool won't give us no rest.
He'd take the nickels off a dead man's eyes,
To buy a Coca Cola and a Eskimo pie.

Clearly, songs of mill worker experience and discontent have a general appeal-an appeal that transcends the specifics of a par- ticular mill town and that reverberates with the day-to-day realities of mill life in the South. Not only do these songs appeal to collective understanding and concerns relat- ing to family subsistence, the well-being and future of children, and specific problems af- fecting workers, but they also provide a framework through which such concerns are interpreted in a causal fashion. This is cru- cial if the framing aspect of social movement culture is to invoke focused collective action

(W. Gamson 1995; Snow and Benford 1992; Snow et al. 1986; Taylor and Whittier 1995). Put simply, songs afforded workers a frame- work through which the similarity of their plight became increasingly obvious; they also shifted accountability away from the workers and toward the labor process and its beneficiaries.


Music is influential not only in its impact on collective experience and group identity but also because it serves as a unifying force during mobilization. As Morris (1984) notes in his analysis of the southern civil rights movement, this is particularly important when countermobilization is fierce (Denisoff 1972; Flacks 1999). Symbolism, ritual, and discourse through music are crucial for maintaining solidarity among participants and for shaping the consciousness of nonpar- ticipants so that they become sympathetic to, or are actually recruited into, the movement.

In the case of southern textiles, songs that emerged out of earlier strikes became songs of unification across mill towns during later strikes (Denisoff 1971; Huber 1998; Malone 1979). The Gastonia Strike of 1929 stands out as one of the first labor conflicts in the South to create a repertoire of protest songs outlining the plight of workers as well as touching on strike issues and elite counter- mobilization strategies. The importance of song during an active protest is evident in Photograph 2. It shows the Four Tobacco Tags (foreground), a popular recording and radio group during the era, playing and sing- ing at a 1934 strike near Austell, Georgia, while striking workers danced in order to block the doorways to the Clark Threadmill.

Table 4 classifies these 14 textile protest songs by their primary intent. Unlike the songs of general mill worker experience de- scribed previously, these songs are more di- rect in their goal and thus were easier to code. Most (9) have as their main aim soli- darity maintenance and recruitment during a strike period. Like the general songs of mill life summarized previously, language is largely inclusive, referring to "we," "our," and "fellow workers." Some lyrics, such as these from Here We Rest, attempt to main- tain solidarity in the face of strike-breaking by scabs:

We are standing on guard
Both night and day,
We are doing our best
To keep scabs away.

We are 1200 strong

And the strike still is on,

And the scabs still are standing

But they won't scab for long.


sion. A new collective identity and move- ment solidarity was formed through music played on the radio and spread by local mu- sicians traveling from mill town to mill town. Unfortunately for mill workers, little federal intervention occurred, and the strike campaigns were largely defeated through state-sponsored violence and legal-political control. Southern businessmen also helped lobby for, and eventually pushed through, the Taft-Hartley Act, which banned the closed shop, allowed states to instigate "right to work" laws, and resulted in a dras- tic reduction in worker petitions for union elections (Minchin 1997; Roscigno and Kimble 1995; Wood 1996).

Our explication of radio's role in this in- stance of mobilization extends on collective identity and political opportunity frame- works. Collective identity theory, as we have noted, is useful for establishing the importance of interpretational, identity, and solidarity processes for subordinate-group challenge, in a manner consistent with tra- ditional emphases on class consciousness. What is often lacking, though, is elabora- tion on how media can play a fundamental part in these processes and, indeed, shape the collective experience and feelings of "groupness" across a geographically dispersed population. Furthermore, little sys- tematic attention among collective identity theorists has been devoted to examining the role of music as an important element of the social movement repertoire-a role that not only provides a basis through which collec- tive identity may be realized but also one in which an interpretational frame of cause and effect is offered to the listener. In the case of mill-related music, this conscious- ness-altering potential was evident during the 1920s and 1930s and persisted even into the mid- 1960s when, for example, a record- ing of "Cotton Mill Man" was considered "too provocative" to be played on many ra- dio stations in southern mill towns (Peterson 1992). Following previous work on culture and framing processes (W. Gamson 1995; Snow and Benford 1992; Snow et al. 1986; Taylor and Whittier 1995), we believe that music and the inter- pretational frame it can provide is funda- mental if collective identity is to be trans- formed into coordinated collective action.

We do not believe that the importance of music is limited to textile workers or to one particular era of worker unrest. In fact, we found during our data collection a signifi- cant amount of material highlighting the im- portance of music for a number of historical struggles pertaining to class, race, and gen- der, and across a number of industries and geographic locations. Many movements have had a well-developed repertoire of songs, used before and during collective pro- test. Women's workplace issues, for in- stance, have received attention in songs per- taining to the coal mining industry, among others, throughout this century. Music is clearly an important part of the African American experience, from slave gospels, to blues lyrics, to jazz, to contemporary soci- etal critiques embedded in rap music. Song also has been central to other working class movements-including striking longshore- man, lumberers, steel workers, and automo- bile workers-and for as long as we can tell (e.g., see Greenway 1953; Lomax, Guthrie and Seeger 1967; Pratt 1990). What is lack- ing, despite archival collections and some historical accounts, are systematic analyses and substantive sociological interpretations of these lyrics-ifand when they are impor- tant and how they are tied to stratification processes and efforts to remedy inequality.13

Political opportunity theory has specified the importance of leverage and its histori- cally contingent nature. However, an expli- cation of the mechanism(s) through which potential movement participants' perceptions of opportunity may be altered is often lacking. Media, whether in an earlier histori- cal era or the contemporary day, are impor- tant in this process (Brown 1998; Calhoun 1998; Kahan 1999). It is also the case that

l3 In general, music allows oppositional culture to exist, persist, and possibly spread, not only during pivotal moments when the political struc- ture is ideal but also during relatively calm peri- ods with little active or visible protest. Such op- positional culture can foster discontent and the seeds of protest, and may become more explicit and goal-directed at key historical moments (Denisoff 1972). It is also important to note that music can have a conservative influence by re- signing the listener to his or her plight instead of encouraging action aimed at changing one's situ- ation (Peterson 1992).


structural political opportunity must be dis- entangled from perceptions of opportunity, particularly when the analytic focus is on movement success and the forces that per- suade or dissuade social movement partici- pation (Kurzman 1996; McAdam 1982; Tar- row 1988). Where there is a disjuncture be- tween the two, insurgency may result, but will probably be curtailed by countermobil- ization. Southern mill workers' perceptions of political opportunity were altered via ra- dio, creating a belief that F.D.R. was on their side, that they had (federal) justification for their actions, and that the federal govern- ment would intervene when the pivotal mo- ment came. Little intervention, however, ac- tually occurred.

Our focus on media technology helps bridge the divide between collective identity and political opportunity perspectives by ad- dressing the question of how processes rel- evant to social movement formation are manifested across space. However, the study of media and social movement dynamics must be supplemented further by theory that explicitly incorporates aspects of both iden- tity and opportunity into a single framework (Meyer and Staggenborg 1996; Oliver and Johnston 1999). One of the most promising contemporary lines of work that undertakes this task is that dealing with social move- ment culture.

Social movement culture, rather than an ambiguous construct, is an influential and clearly defined component of the social movement dynamic comprising normative guidelines and practices that create and re- inforce (1) a sense of group identity, (2) an alternative interpretational frame of cause and effect, and (3) a sense of political effi- cacy (W. Gamson 1995; Taylor and Whittier 1995). Such a conceptual frame is well- suited for analyzing the influential nature of music in the social movement re~ertoire, and we suspect that extending the ficus to other forms of creative, linguistic, and/or perfor- mance expression conducive to conscious- ness-raising, group-building, and solidarity maintenance, would be worthwhile.14 In our

l4 Like Pattillo-McCoy (1998), who analyzes church culture and action in the black commu- nity, we find Swidler's (1986) discussion of "cul- ture as a tool kit" from which actors can draw to

view, the melding of these two foci-social movement culture and the media-offers researchers the most useful set of theoretical tools for understanding the complex and dy- namic character of historical, contemporary, and future movement formation across space

(J. Gamson 1998; W. Gamson 1995; Gamson and Wolfsfeld 1993; Taylor 1996).

Our analyses also contribute to the grow- ing body of research on media, communica- tion technology, and community (Calhoun 1998; Cerulo and Ruane 1998; Purcell 1997). While much of this work focuses on the contemporary era, specifically on televi- sion and the Internet, many similar themes emerge. Do media and new communication technologies enhance social integration? Do they produce collective identity? Does such collective identity facilitate group action? What tends to be overlooked in this litera- ture, however, is the historical context in which new information media unfold and the consequences for social groups. "We need to set our discussions of electronic media in a bit deeper historical context-not just of technology but of the spatial organization of power and movements challenging that power" (Calhoun 1998:375).

While our analyses highlight the power of radio to transform consciousness and to in- stigate challenges to existing structures of inequality, we also acknowledge radio's limitations. Our analyses reveal lessons that may be applicable to understanding the po- tential influence of television or the Internet on collective action. These newer technolo- gies enhance collective experience through the maintenance of dispersed networks, the encouragement of "socio-spatial" enclaves, and the facilitation of group activities (Cal- houn 1998; Cerulo and Ruane 1998). Like radio, however, the influence of newer me- dia and communication technologies on these social processes may vary, depending on the level of political autonomy and the degree to which the information transmitted appeals to the unique experiences of indi- viduals and specific social groups (W. Gam- son et al. 1992).

In the case of radio, the autonomy of local stations was curbed by the FCC in the mid-

be a useful way of conceiving of the cultural rep- ertoire available to social movement participants.


to late 1930s when small owners and univer- sities, advocating radio in the "public inter- est" and greater flexibility in what was aired, lost out to "commercial interests." More stringent guidelines for broadcasts that could be interpreted as "political" or "propaganda" were put in place, and radio operators who violated the new policies risked losing their operating licenses (Federal Radio Commis- sion 1929; McChesney 1993). The success of the recording industry and its links to the big corporate broadcast networks also na- tionalized music played over the airwaves, leaving little room or market for music deal- ing with worker grievances and the concerns of local populations (Cantril and Allport [I9351 1971; Malone 1979). Thus, while the decline in local radio station autonomy and transmission specificity was in part a func- tion of institutional bureaucratic tendencies, it was also a political process-one whose trajectory leaned toward, although was not completely determined by, corporate-politi- cal hegemony.

These issues of limited autonomy and an overly-generalized appeal apply most straightforwardly to television, suggesting a limited impact on collective experience and collective action.I5 However, the internet is a medium of multidirectional information flow-and it exists in a multinational con- text. Thus, it affords its users freedom from political controls and specificity of group in- terest, at least at the present time, and it will therefore probably have strong consequences for group-specific identities and the coordination of collective action. Like tex- tile workers and radio in the 1920s and 1930s, however, such relations are tenuous at best, as they require "connection mainte- nance" (Cerulo and Ruane 1998)-some- thing that is difficult to nurture and preserve over time and on a wide geographic and socio-political scale. Furthermore, like ra- dio, the potential impact of the Internet may very well be curbed by regulations and po- litical oversight, particularly if its use runs counter to dominant ideological positions and stratification structures.

l5 The impact of media is often conservative and supportive of the status quo. For elaboration of the conservative versus critical potential of media, see W. Gamson (1992b, 1995).

Vincent J. Roscigno is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Ohio State University. In addi- tion to his research in collective behavior and la- bor insurgency, he has written on contemporary labor organization and its historical context, race and class stratification in the U.S. South, labor market opportunity and adolescent tvell- being, and educational inequality and its repro- duction. Some of this work has been published recently in the American Sociological Review, Social Problems, Social Forces, and Sociology of Education. With William Danaher, he is extend- ing his research on southern mill rvorkers by de- lineating the impact of speeches by Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the consciousness of mill workers, and is also undertaking case studies of several mill torvns to further specify the pro- cesses outlined in this article.

William F. Danaher is Assistant Professor of So- ciology at the College of Charleston. He has pub- lished recently on group identity, stratification, and music. Aside from these interests, he has also published work on poverty and migration. He is currently rvorking tvith Vincent Roscigno on a book manuscript that focuses on group identity, music, and networks in the forging of mobiliza- tion efforts among southern textile workers. He is also investigating race and gender inequality discourse in relation to blues and rap music.


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