The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972 Page: 159
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The Evolution of an Early Texas Union
measure, an exceptional organization; no other union in the state
could claim such a long and successful life."
The screwmen pioneered in the labor movement beyond the limits
of Galveston and Texas; throughout the South these tradesmen de-
veloped strong unions long before most other workers organized.'
This success in unionization had its roots in the nature of their work
rather than any advanced ideology or organizational talent among
the screwmen. Prior to the widespread use of the power cotton com-
press in the early twentieth century, screwmen played a key role in
the shipping of cotton by sea. These specialized longshoremen, who
with the aid of screwjacks stowed and packed the bulky bales in the
holds of ships, were able to increase the bale capacity of a ship by to
or 15 percent. This bonus capacity may well have provided the dif-
ference between a profit and a loss for the shipper. The fact that
their skill was so critical to profitable operations offered the screwmen
a substantial bargaining position when they presented a united front."
The ability of screwmen to act as a group was enhanced by the
practices of their employment. All screwmen were equal in theory and
to a large degree in practice. The foremen of the five-men gangs,
while responsible for directing the work of their gangs and thus re-
ceiving slightly higher pay, performed the same tasks as the regular
gang members. In addition, each stevedore or loading master chose for
his gang foremen those with whom he could work best. Thus the fore-
man of a gang one day for one stevedore might be an ordinary screw-"
man in another gang under a different stevedore the next. Most ex-
perienced and capable men were foremen from time to time and few
screwmen were always foremen or "boss screwmen" as they were called.
Such practices had a leveling effect-all screwmen had a unity of in-
terest in work rules and procedures. The extraordinary unity of screw-
men was stimulated by the necessity for members of a gang to work
together harmoniously and efficiently. The foreman, once chosen by
the stevedore, had absolute control over the choice of his gang mem-
bers. Thus he chose his friends, or fellow union members, for his
gang. Moreover, unity was promoted by the confining area of work
sFor discussions of other unions' activities in the state during this era see James V.
Reese, "The Early History of Labor Organizations in Texas, 1838-1876," Southwestern
Historical Quarterly, LXXII (July, 1968), 9-2o; Ruth Allen, Chapters in the History of
Organized Labor in Texas (Austin, 1941), 7-15, 19-25, 91-100.
4F. Ray Marshall, Labor in the South (Cambridge, 1967), 60.
"For an extremely thorough and convincing examination of the economic value of
cotton screwing see Allen Clayton Taylor, "A History of the Screwmen's Benevolent Asso-
ciation from 1866 to 1924" (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, Austin, 1968), 39-44.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972, periodical, 1972; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/m1/171/: accessed October 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.