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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Joseph D. Pedigo, April 2, 1975. Interview E-0011-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Getting recognition of union as collective bargaining unit

Pedigo describes how he finagled recognition of the union he helped to organize for American Viscose textile workers in 1931 and 1932. He explains how initially he and the other organizers had trouble getting very many of the plant's 4500 workers interested in unionization—many were fearful of the consequences of unionization. In the midst of their organizing endeavors, however, the plant manager caught wind of what they were doing. Pedigo describes how he worked this situation to his advantage, garnering recognition of the union as a collective bargaining organization and, consequently, boosting enrollment in the union.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Joseph D. Pedigo, April 2, 1975. Interview E-0011-1. 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

JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Well, as I said, the conditions, the lack of dignity that you had in the plant, you were just constantly harassed by supervision and I think that was the motivating thing with most people. The fact that we had the best job around, if we got fired there, there was no place to go that paid anything comparable to what we were making and the company knew it and as a result of the company knowing it …
WILLIAM FINGER:
They kind of had you in a bind.
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
They had us in a bind and we just got tired of it. I recall the first meeting that we had, we held it uptown and I slipped around to thirty-five or forty people that I trusted and told them about the meeting. Not a one showed up, there were just the same old faithful seven.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Seven people, in a plant of 4500?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Yes. So, I finally decided that the reason that nobody showed up was that each one was afraid of the other. So, the next meeting that we had, I went up to a guy and ask him to come to the meeting and he would want to know who was coming and I would say, "Well, you are the only one from this shop. There is going to be somebody from viscose and somebody from engineering." He would say, "O.K.," and I would tell the next fellow the same thing. At the next meeting, I had about twenty people, but each one of them was scared of the other one. That's why they hadn't shown up the first time. But we didn't have anybody in the union to speak of, we had about 800 when the company called our hand. I was the temporary President of the group, we were collecting dues, so the secretary-treasurer worked in the same shop that I did and the foreman came up to me one day in the spinning room and said, "They want you up at the front office." I stepped off the platform and I saw this guy who was the secretary-treasurer step off the other end of the platform and he saw me and waited on me, he had had the same message, so we knew what was up before we got there. We walked in the office, the plant manager was a German, very abrupt, I had a lot of respect for him later on, but at the time I didn't. He didn't even invite us to sit down. He said, "What is this that I hear about a union starting up down here?" I looked at this other boy and he looked at me and I decided that well, it had hit the fan now and I might as well go on with it. I said, "Well, I don't know what you've been hearing, there is a union down here, if that is what you want to know." "Why haven't they been to see me. I thought they were to bargain with the management?" I said, "Well, that's true, but I'll be honest with you. The reason that we haven't been to see you was that we wanted to make sure that we had enough people in the union that if you fired us when we did come to see you, you weren't going to be able to make silk, and I'm glad you sent for us, because we are in that position now." He went through quite a long rigamarole about why did we need a union, his office was always open and we countered by telling him that it was a pretty long way from number six spinning room to his office and by the time that you got there, a telephone call would always beat you there. We had had a little experience with that. Finally, I saw that he wasn't going to fire us and I thought, "Well, we might as well start trying to push our luck a little bit more," and I said, "Well look, Mr. Nerrin, the fellows are looking for me back down there in that spinning room and if I don't get back down there pretty soon, something is liable to happen and I wouldn't want that." You couldn't have pulled those people out of there with a locomotive. [laughter]
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were a pretty good bluffer for a young whippersnapper, weren't you?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
I said, "I've got to tell them something when I get back, so are you going to recognize us or not?" He said, "Of course I recognize it, there is no darn sense in the damn thing, but I recognize it." We went back and spread the word and rented the American Legion Hall and had people standing up on the sidewalks all the way up the steps and lined up on the sidewalks like an unemployment line, waiting to join the union. We organized that thing overnight.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's amazing.
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
It was just on his word.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This was 1931?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Yeah, '31. '32 was the first contract.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, he signed a contract?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
The contract said … it was then called the Viscose Corporation of Virginia … "The Viscose Corporation of Virginia hereby recognizes Local 18 … "whatever it was, … "as a collective bargaining agency for such people as are members of it." Period.