A fertile period of labor organizing in the tobacco industry during the 1940s fed into the Civil Rights Movement. A North Carolina Highway Historical Marker will be dedicated to workers involved in the efforts to unionize tobacco warehouses on Saturday, April 20 at noon at First Calvary Baptist Church, 401 Woodland Ave. in Winston-Salem.
African American women were the primary leaf workers in the Winston-Salem tobacco industry, and formed the United Tobacco Workers Local 22 of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Works of America-Congress on Industrial Organizations (FTACIO). The workers removed stems from dried tobacco leaves. Labor organizing began with a sit-down strike on June 17, 1943, at a plant of R. J. Reynolds, Co., then the largest tobacco facility in the world. A few white workers and much of the black population were their allies.
Local 22 drew from all the ideas and resources of the streams of activism. Nonetheless, the movements in Winston-Salem and the nation foundered during the Cold War era. The last collective bargaining agreement was reached on June 7, 1947. A National Labor Relations Board ruling stripped the union of its rights to represent workers in 1950.