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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Striking with a small, independent union in 1947

Pierce describes his experiences while working for Western Electric in Fort Worth, Texas. When Pierce first started to work for Western Electric after World War II, the workers had a small local union organized by the company under the National Federation of Telephone Workers. Tied in with the passage of the Wagner Act, the union waged a successful strike against Western Electric in 1947. Here, Pierce describes that strike and his thoughts on the kind of union this was.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. 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:
Were you a member of a union then?
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah, a very interesting little company union that had dues of $.50 a month and the office was in the telephone building. A very cozy arrangement called the National Federation of Telephone Workers. It was set up by the company after passage of the Wagner Act to keep the AFL or CIO from organizing their workers. So the first union I belonged to after the Navy was a little company union that …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Most of the telephone operators themselves were members of the National Federation of Telephone Workers.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right. Nearly all of the telephone workers in the country belong to those little unions.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What was your perspective on that little Federation at the time? Were you just making it a part of your job, …
JIM PIERCE:
Well, I joined the union because I had always been taught that any union is better than no union, but it wasn't much of a union.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So something happened from Western Electric in that it had a telephone installer and a company union to organize the committee of the CIO.
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah, what happened was the union wasn't servicing the needs of the members and the people became more and more militant within this company union, and finally in 1947 against the advice of the leaders of the organization, we went on strike, and we stayed on strike for six or seven weeks, and won it, and won it in spite of the union in many cases.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This was a wage agreement strike within that union, this wasn't an organizing drive by CWA or something like that?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh no, no. CWA had not been formed at that point. This was actually a contract termination but a determination on the part of the people to get more than what the union would get for them. So it was actually a great big juicy wildcat strike, that is what it amounted to.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you won it?
JIM PIERCE:
And we won it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What happened …
JIM PIERCE:
Won it without strike being a. Won it without any real leadership because we had the greatest people in the world.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you assume leadership in that strike yourself?
JIM PIERCE:
Not really. I was active, but not really leadership. The day before the strike I got married, thought the strike would last two or three days and I could go on a honeymoon, and we did. Pat and I went to Carlsbad Caverns we took a bus, we didn't have a car, we took a bus to Carlsbad Caverns and spent two days down there and spent all the money we had and came back expecting the strike to be over, and found that it was going to last another five or six weeks without us having … without any money. So we picked up a little cash here and there and sponged on her relatives, and manned the picket lines. It was a lot of fun.