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90 years ago, Black women led a multiracial strike at a St. Louis factory

 A black and white image from 1941, showing a store display of cans of nuts from the Funsten Nut company in St. Louis.
Missouri Historical Society
A store's window display of cans of shelled pecans from the Funsten Nut company in St. Louis in 1941.

In 1933, the Funsten Nut factory in St. Louis found itself at the center of a significant labor strike. Though separated by racially segregated floors and facilities, the factory’s workforce of women laborers began to take to the streets by the hundreds.

The strike came at a time when St. Louis was a center of radical organizing, said Devin Thomas O’Shea, who wrote about the strike in April in a lengthy story in Jacobin.

Writer Devin Thomas O'Shea.
Danny Wicentowski
Writer Devin Thomas O'Shea

“In the heart of the Great Depression, this strike is all about Black female workers,” he said. He noted that the time period featured “spontaneous ‘poor people's’ campaigns erupting in cities around the country, including St. Louis, where the dispossessed of the city basically march on City Hall and stand outside for days on end.”

The strike ultimately put about 2,000 Black women workers on the streets. As the strike stretched on, the workers on the picket line were joined by their white counterparts.

“On the second day, lots and lots of the white workers walk off the job as well,” O’Shea said. “So there's a huge amount of solidarity.”

The strike ended on May 24, 1933, with the factory owners agreeing to increase their workers’ wages. Though the strike is little-known today, O’Shea argued that the Funsten Nut strike helped shape the following decades of labor and civil rights activism.

“This is something that had not happened in the American labor movement before,” he told St. Louis on the Air. “It's a really keystone example of, as David Roediger, a labor historian says: ‘Up until this point, labor is white and male,’ and this is a huge change.”

To hear more about the Funsten Nut strike, its organizers and writer Devin Thomas O’Shea’s insights, listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Listen to Devin Thomas O'Shea discuss the Funsten Nut strike

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."
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