From the turn of the century to the Second World War
In the second decade of the 20th century, the global cotton market was shaped by intense international competition. At the beginning of the war, with 2000 people working in the Spinnerei, the supply of raw cotton almost entirely collapsed. Sometimes, thread was even made from paper there. Protests by workers prevented a complete shutdown of production. Instead, at least 30,000 spindles remained in operation. From 1917 onwards, munitions factories producing light explosive mines were set up here. At around this time, workers went on strike to demand an 8-hour day.
After the war, cotton imports resumed only gradually, and at inflated prices (50 or 80 times what they had previously been). Despite an increasing decline in profits during the inflation crisis years and politically-motivated strikes, the machines continued to produce. The figures, however, had changed beyond all recognition. In February of 1923, a kilo of Egyptian cotton cost 10,600 times what it had cost in 1914, and a spinner’s wages were 2,170 times what they had been ten years previously.
Record harvests in 1925 and 1926 flooded the market with so much cotton that it could not be processed. Fluctuations in production and the downward economic trend contributed to the uncertain financial situation. As the 1930s dawned, the situation escalated, with wage cuts as just one consequence of this chain of circumstances. In the 1920s, the KPD (or Communist Party of Germany) had called for clandestine cells to be set up within all businesses, and the illegal workers’ newspaper “Die rote Spinne” was produced within the Spinnerei. When workers went on strike for higher wages in November 1931, bringing production to a halt, the directors responded by summarily dismissing all employees.
As National Socialism created a resurgence all over Germany, producing thread for military uniforms became a profitable business, and production in Leipzig increased. Houses with bathrooms and electrical cookers were built for workers (three-quarters of whom were women at this time), and families enjoyed many benefits – free clothing, free milk, money, spa cures etc.) The other side of the National Socialist coin was the blacklisting of undesirable opponents of the dictatorship and the monitoring and purges of KPD and SPD (Socialist Party of Germany) members.
The Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei refused to admit concentration camp inmates to the production process, but was assigned 500 foreign forced labourers, for whom kitchens and washing, sleeping and living space were provided on the ground floor of the first Spinnerei building. Walter Cramer, a member of the Spinnerei’s supervisory board who belonged to a civil resistance group led by former mayor Dr. Carl Goerdeler, may have been behind the refusal to use camp inmates for as a labour force. Cramer was arrested and executed following the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler on the 20th of July.