A Feminist a Day: Crystal Lee Sutton

Who is she?

crystalCrystal Lee Sutton was an American trade union organiser who gained fame in the 1970s as the ‘real life Norma Rae’.

While working at a textile factory, folding towels for $US2.65 an hour, Crystal took a stand against the factory’s poor pay and work conditions. She tried to organise her co-workers, but was treated like a pariah in her town for opposing the textile mills, a large employer in the area. Crystal was finally sacked, and when management tried to remove her, she stood up and held up a sign that said “UNION”. Her co-workers silently gave her the victory symbol and turned off their machines.

Within a year, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union was representing the workers at Crystal’s factory and six others – more than 3000 workers. A court later ordered that Crystal be re-hired and awarded back wages. She returned to work for two days and then quit to become a union organiser.

unionSally Field played Crystal (but the character’s name was changed) in the 1979 film Norma Rae, winning an Oscar, a Golden Globe and Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance.

Why should we thank her?

Crystal’s brave stance saw her co-workers win union representation, and inspired a generation of textile workers (mostly women). As a result of her actions, women workers’ pay increased (a 1980 deal saw them paid $US5 an hour) and health and safety conditions improved.

Best quote

“The workers started cutting their machines and giving me the victory sign. All of a sudden the plant was dead quiet.”




A Feminist a Day: Crystal Lee Sutton

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