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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Julius Fry, August 19, 1974. Interview E-0004. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Wage cuts in a textile mill during the Great Depression

Julius Fry describes the kind of wage cuts he and other workers faced in the early years of the Great Depression. As a textile worker at Mansfield Mill, Fry had been making twenty dollars a week for sixty hours worth of work. With the economic crisis at its height, however, Fry explains how the company cut wages several times, first by fifteen percent, and later at increments of ten percent. What makes this excerpt especially interesting is Fry's description of how the workers were notified of these wage cuts. He describes one event in which the workers were gathered and as the employers delivered the news about wage cuts, several workers in the crowd cheered. According to Fry, it is likely that these workers were "company stooges" hired to help prevent labor agitation amongst the workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Julius Fry, August 19, 1974. Interview E-0004. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BILL FINGER:
From 1934 to 1937, when you said that Miles came in, do you remember what kind of wage cuts, were there lots of people laid off from work?
JULIUS FRY:
Well, during the Depression, the plants curtailed operations down to as little as two days a week and sometimes down at a week at a time. We had several wage cuts. I recall three at least. One of them was where Morehead called a group together at shift change time. . . that's right, we were still on a. . . .
BILL FINGER:
Three shifts or two shifts?
JULIUS FRY:
Wait just a minute. He called them together at shift change time, I believe that Turner was the supertindent then. See, without having my notes, I wander, but I will try to get things in. The supertindent before Morehead was Turner. So, Turner called a meeting and I don't know, he must have called two meetings, one on the night shift and one on the day. . . anyhow, I was on the day shift at that time. And he called a meeting and told everyone how bad off the company was and, "we've just got to cut wages, we've just got to do it. So, I'm announcing a 15% wage reduction immediately." Some of the people in the crowd actually applauded. Now, whether or not he had them planted, I don't know, but I recall that some of them were considered by the other workers to be sort of company pimps, more or less, or stooges. At least, they were afraid to talk around them for fear that the boss would hear it. So, they actually applauded. And then on two other occassions, he had two other meetings and announced a 10% decrease. . . .
BILL FINGER:
After that?
JULIUS FRY:
After that, in each of those meetings.
BILL FINGER:
Now, you were making $60 a week, something like that?
JULIUS FRY:
No, I said $20.
BILL FINGER:
You said 60 hours, $20.
JULIUS FRY:
Yeah, 60 hours.
BILL FINGER:
$20 a week. And that was cut 15%?
JULIUS FRY:
Yes, the wages were cut 15% at one pop and then 10% another and then again, 10% at another.
BILL FINGER:
And this is something like '35, '36?
JULIUS FRY:
That was during the period of the Depression. I would say from '31 on up to, well, late '29, '30, '31.