North Carolina “Lion of Labor” Philip M. Koritz Has Died

Philip Koritz in 2009. Photo by Joseph Rodriguez (News & Record)

He was 94 years old

Legendary union organizer Philip M. Koritz died April 16, 2011 in Seattle, WA. Koritz headed FTA Local 22, CIO, where he organized tobacco workers in Winston-Salem in the 1940s. The Greensboro News & Record wrote about Koritz and that campaign for the 2009 article, “Strike: When workers broke Camel City”.

Philip Koritz was born on March 20, 1917 in New York City and was raised in Worcester and Boston, MA. He was a lifelong fighter for workers rights and the rights of the African-American people.

In 1944 Koritz arrived in Winston-Salem, NC to find in the company town a mighty tobacco empire and thousands of black workers toiling for substandard wages in inhumane working conditions while enduring the injustices and indignities of life and work in the Jim Crow South.

Koritz set about organizing tobacco workers, mostly blacks but some whites as well, into Local 22 of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers (FTA), CIO. In 1946, 65 percent of RJR’s 10,000 employees voted for the union, which negotiated for a 60-cent minimum wage, pay raises, and 3 paid vacation days. The largest union in the south, Local 22 became a beacon of “Civil Rights Unionism,” achieving great gains both in the workplace and in the social justice movements of the community – including the election of the first black political candidate over a white candidate in the 20th century South.

When Koritz intervened to stop the chief of police from attacking a worker during a violent police raid on a picket line, Koritz was charged with resisting arrest. He was sentenced to six months of hard labor in Sparta before being banished from the state of North Carolina.

Koritz traveled the United States and the world to promote unionism and workers’ rights and to continue organizing workers at home and abroad.

In later years, Philip Koritz was honored by the NC State AFL-CIO as a “Lion of Labor” for his contributions to North Carolina’s union movement. In 2009, he was honored as an “Unsung Hero” by the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Our condolences go out to his family, including son Richard Koritz (and wife Sandra) of Greensboro. You can read Philip Koritz’s obit here: