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Screwmen protest hiring of African Americans

November
28
1882

On this day in 1882, the Screwmen's Benevolent Association called a general holiday for its members in opposition to the appearance of black workers in the cotton-screwing trade. The association, originally formed in 1866 as a benevolent society, became a trade union of specialized longshoremen who, with the aid of screwjacks, stowed and packed cotton bales into the holds of ships before the use of the power cotton compress. Screwmen were almost entirely of European origin and were strongly opposed to the hiring of blacks in their trade. The association introduced an apprenticeship system in 1885 that resulted in an increased white labor force, thereby gaining a virtual monopoly of the work at the port of Galveston. By 1891, when the association celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, its evolution from a benevolent society to a union was complete. But in 1901 the closed shop went out, and the introduction of the high-density cotton compress in 1910 ended the need for screwmen.

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