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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 >>

Learning to organize and facing opposition to unionization in Winchester, Virginia

Pedigo talks about his work with the Textile Workers Union of America. Hired in 1939 by George Baldanzi to organize textile workers in locals throughout the South, Pedigo explains how his new job was an eye-opening experience in contrast to his work organizing the American Viscose union. Here, he focuses specifically on his experiences in Winchester, Virginia, where he was hassled by company men who opposed unionization. For Pedigo, this experience offered a crash course of sorts in the art of organization.

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

WILLIAM FINGER:
So, I guess that TWUA had started. What did you think? Now, you were an organizer. You had been an organizer eight years there in your local, but this was a little different.
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
This was a lot different.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What was different?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Well, we had a pretty civilized set-up there in Roanoke and when we started getting out in these cotton textile organizing situations, it was a lot less civilized.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were organizing and going from place to place?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Yes, my first assignment, I believe, was up in Martinsburg, West Virginia and Winchester, Virginia. Winchester is where I got my education.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why did you get your education there?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Well, nobody briefed me on what to do. Baldanzi called me and said, "Go down to Charlotte, North Carolina and see Fred Held and Fred will brief you on Winchester, Virginia and Martinsburg, West Virginia." I went down and …
WILLIAM FINGER:
This was your first assignment?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Yes. Fred was an old line hosiery worker. I went down to see Fred here in Charlotte and he briefed me on West Virginia and he said, "As far as Winchester, Virginia is concerned, stay the hell out of it." Of course, that got my curiousity up, so I went in there and made some contacts with fellows that were real go-getters, fellows who were real topnotch people. They were being pushed around something awful by that company. I had just come out of the plant, you know, I didn't know a damn thing about organizing. In the plant that I had come out of, you got ahold of management when they started pushing people around and had a meeting and told them to cut this stuff out. I picked up the telephone and called the plant manager and told him that I wanted that stuff cut out. He referred me to the company's lawyer. The company lawyer said, "Let's talk about it." He set up a meeting at the George Washington Hotel and I was staying in a little fleabag, the cheapest thing I could find, a few blocks away. I went up there to the hotel and he was just shocked that everything I described had been going on and said that he would put a stop to it and there was nothing to worry about. I left the hotel thinking, "Shoot, there ain't nothing to this job. All you have got to do is just tell them what the score is." It was dark as pitch going back to the hotel and there was an alley just before you got there and a couple of guys stepped out of the alley and came up to meet me just as I got close to it. I didn't pay any particular attention to them until they separated. The separated one on each side of me and they started swinging. I had a little flat briefcase and I was using it to try to knock the licks off and back-pedalling to the light, there was a street light not too far away and they didn't follow me into the street light. I got a little skinned up and my wristwatch broken, but didn't get hurt to speak of, but I decided then that it was going to be a pretty tough, damn job.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So what did you do, did you stay in Winchester?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Yes, I stayed. That was the only time that I ever got attacked. I had the opportunity to many times, but that was the only time. I thought that this was just the way it was. I didn't even bother to put it in my report. I went up to a hardware store the next morning and bought the best pocket knife that I could find and a whetstone and took it to the hotel and whetted it up to where I could shave with it and then thought, "Well, the next time that I go out in the dark, anybody that comes out of the alley, I'm going to get a little bit of meat while they are getting some." I would have to go up to that gate every midnight to meet the shift that came off and go up that dark street and as soon as I would step out of that old hotel, I would find something to whittle on and I would walk along whittling. [laughter]
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, that was a deterrent to anyone.
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Well, nobody ever … I don't know if it was the deterrent, but I was just never bothered. It was so obvious what happened, because nobody knew I was in town except the company and these fellows that I was taking up for. So, it was obvious that they had just set me up.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you get a local organized?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
No, I got beaten. It was the first election that I ever had and I got the heck beat out of me. I got enough people to petition for an election, but I got beaten.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was that discouraging?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Not too much, I was inexperienced. If I had had any experience, I might could have won that one, I don't know. I made plenty of mistakes.