Fraying Fabric

How Trade Policy and Industrial Decline Transformed America
Author: James C. Benton
Policy, the devastation of an industry, and an ominous turn in politics
Cloth – $125
Paper – $30
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 11/22/2022
Cloth: 11/22/2022
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About the Book

The decline of the U.S. textile and apparel industries between the 1940s and 1970s helped lay the groundwork for the twenty-first century's potent economic populism in America. James C. Benton looks at how shortsighted trade and economic policy by labor, business, and government undermined an employment sector that once employed millions and supported countless communities. Starting in the 1930s, Benton examines how the New Deal combined promoting trade with weakening worker rights. He then moves to the ineffective attempts to aid textile and apparel workers even as imports surged, the 1974 pivot by policymakers and big business to institute lowered trade barriers, and the deindustrialization and economic devastation that followed. Throughout, Benton provides the often-overlooked views of workers, executives, and federal officials who instituted the United States’ policy framework in the 1930s and guided it through the ensuing decades.Compelling and comprehensive, Fraying Fabric explains what happened to textile and apparel manufacturing and how it played a role in today's politics of anger.

About the Author

James C. Benton is director of the Race and Economic Empowerment Project at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University.


"Benton brilliantly traces the politics and mistakes that marked the 1970s. . . A model of scholarship. Moreover, it is a work that must be read to understand the fall of the economic order by the 'new era of globalization' and the political consequences that accompanied it." --New York Labor History Association

"Benton's work stands as a model history with a particular focus that expands in both breadth and chronology into a useful account for academics and contemporary policy makers. Highly recommended." --Choice

"In Fraying Fabric: How Trade Policy and Industrial Decline Transformed America, historian James C. Benton provides a richly detailed analysis of the impact of trade policy on textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States, and the ultimately unsuccessful efforts of unions in these closely related industries to limit the flow of imports." --H-Net Reviews

"Writing from a labor-left perspective, Benton's excellent case study of the U.S. textile industry is an unsparing appraisal of how trade policy ultimately compromised liberals' domestic goals of inclusive growth and full employment." --American Affairs


“James Benton engages with a complex topic that most labor historians have traditionally avoided: U.S. trade policy. An ambitious study taking us from the Roosevelt administration to the present, Fraying Fabric traces the evolution of that policy, its ultimately devastating impact on the textile and apparel sectors, and the response of business and organized labor to the challenge of global trade. Its provocative arguments should provoke overdue debate in the fields of labor history and public policy.”--Eric Arnesen, author of Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality