Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History

First Advisor

Thomas J. Sugrue

Abstract

North Carolina, long regarded as among the most politically progressive states in the American South, has also maintained the lowest union membership rate in the nation. This dissertation attempts to explain this paradox by examining civil rights, labor, and the politics of economic development in Charlotte--a city that would eventually become the nation's second largest banking center after New York. In recent years, civil rights scholarship has focused increased attention on the movement's emphasis on economic justice. At the same time, labor and business historians have become interested in the role of business interest groups in undermining organized labor and the New Deal order. This dissertation bridges these two often-divergent bodies of scholarship by looking at public employee unionism, the politics of racial moderation, and the development of pro-business governance in the urban South. Public employees became the face of the American labor movement in the second half of the twentieth century, yet surprisingly little has been written on them--an oversight especially pronounced in literature on the Sunbelt. However, the fates of public and private sector workers were deeply intertwined and telling the story of one without the other leaves an incomplete narrative of post-World War II labor history. One only has to examine the primary opponents of public sector unions--businessmen and their organizations--to appreciate that even if public workers were not waging war against capitalism, capitalists were nonetheless waging war against the public sector. Drawing on labor union records, government documents, court cases, personal papers, newspapers and oral histories, this dissertation argues that the same politics of moderation that stymied civil rights activism in North Carolina became an indispensable tool for undermining and neutralizing organized labor and worker protest in Charlotte. Through the lens of public employee unions and the campaigns waged against them, this study traces the evolution of racially moderate, anti-union politics that have fundamentally reshaped the American political landscape.

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