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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lawrence Rogin, November 2, 1975. Interview E-0013. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of leadership and labor education in organizing southern hosiery workers

Rogin describes the role of leading negotiators such as Scott Hoyman, Roy Lawrence, and Julius Fry in the organization of textile workers in the South from the 1930s into the 1950s. In addition, Rogin explains how labor education was central to organizing efforts. Of particular interest is his description of education workshops held for workers throughout the South. The purpose of these, according to Rogin, was to educate workers about the background of their industry and to give them confidence about their value as workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lawrence Rogin, November 2, 1975. Interview E-0013. 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:
He's now become one of the best negotiators for the union.
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Yes. He learned under a good man, except he has a little more flexibility. That's one of the tragedies of the union, that, in a sense—this is one thing I saw when I went South in T.W.O.C. before T.W.U.A… Roy Lawrence was a southern director for the union. And Roy was a printer, and the printers make a big thing out of contracts, you know. Do you know any of their contracts? And getting the right language is what's important, and so on. Julius Fry came out of Lumberton and became a staff rep for the union, and became very close to Roy, and Roy trained him. And Julius then became a very good man on language—in a sense, a very good contract administrator. But he never—neither he nor Roy—could ever attract a member to the union. They would win them benefits, but it would be lifeless. And so in a sense, I think (I was out of the union by the time the Henderson strikes took place) but I think it's Julius's efficiency really brought those strikes, because he'd take these damn arbitration cases and he'd win them all. And that was what the guy was sore about.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's right.
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
And anybody who's willing to put up the money can beat the union in a strike; I think any company in any industry could. I'm not sure about that. But I saw a small company beat the auto workers in a Detroit suburb when I was out in Michigan, and so if they can be beat in Detroit, then I guess any company can beat a union that really wants to. And that's what happened in Henderson, of course. And Scott was trained by Julius, and he was a good negotiator. I used to argue with Scott all the time about the relative merits of the good contract or the membership. I'm always a believer in: you get the members and let the contract take care of itself. I suppose I go to the other extreme. Scott would really be arguing about it with Julius.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did you do with your time as education director? How did your days go?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Oh well, when you went South, you know… It was a whole big program, you know; a hell of a lot of it was administration. But if you went South … well, we ran institutes. We used to run them all over the South, one-week institutes. And we used to go into towns and run them. We used to run them during organizing campaigns, or run them during strikes (combining, you know, with educational work).
WILLIAM FINGER:
What would you do at an institute? How would it go?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Well, it would be just like all the others that everybody's ever run—a little different, maybe, one way or another, but… Say if it was during an organizing campaign then we'd be running them, say, for a week during the campaign, the evenings: something of the history of the unions, something on the condition of the industry, something on what the union's like when it's in existence (what stewards do, what officers do), to give them a feeling of confidence that they could… This is the big thing of all textile workers, because they're always low paid, North and South, and there's not really much difference——a little different for synthetic yarn because of their backgrounds—in their feeling of incompetency to deal with the employer. And that's true of all low-paid workers, I think, and so you have to give them some confidence in themselves. Try to give them some knowledge and some confidence, and try to find leadership.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Would you work with the Southern Summer School in any way?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
We did, as I said, with the hosiery workers. We worked with the Southern Summer School, well, see, two periods. The one period they were really just … they would come down in the summer and it used to be at Asheville at the school there, and then we'd have probably a weekend (because there was nobody organized, or very few, so you couldn't get people to go off their jobs, but you could get them there for a weekend). We had some organization, I guess; maybe some people could get off—I don't remember. We did it there and at Highlander. Then later on, when the Southern Summer School became a kind of a traveling Chataugua kind of thing we worked with them then; and then they used to come into textile communities and so on.