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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 >>

The changing state of the southern textile industry after WWII

Rogin offers his thoughts on how the southern textile industry was changing after World War II. In particular, Rogin addresses the challenges of organization with changing labor policies and describes strategies employed by labor activists for effective direct action. Rogin cites labor unrest in Tarboro, North Carolina, and in Huntsville, Alabama, as particularly revealing of the changing nature of labor activism during those years. In addition, Rogin offers a description of the kinds of textile mills that were the most desirable for staging strikes.

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:
What was your perspective on the industry? Again, I'm interested in the way the industry… You know, the war ended, the orders dropped off, and there were lots of strikes all over the country in '46. Then Taft-Hartley came; then Operation Dixie in '47-'48 had lots of money and organizers in the South. Did the industry, you know, always have the blues?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
No, but that isn't, I don't think, what stopped it from organizing. See, the textile industry's always had the blues, all the time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Does it really have the blues, or does it just say that?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Well, sometimes it does and sometimes they just say they do. In either case they didn't want us to organize, and so it didn't matter.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It didn't matter to you all?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
It didn't matter to us what the state of the industry was. It may have made organizing a little more difficult; you can't tell, sometimes, in industry.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You didn't consciously try to pick out the most profitable companies, that you knew wouldn't be put out of business if you got a contract?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Yes, you tried not to pick out the sweatshops, the ones that were on the edge, you see. But inevitably those were the ones where the workers revolted. But you tried not to pick them out. You were always torn in what policy… Do you bother with these little plants that are isolated. And in some of them you might even get contracts, but they were about to go out of business anyway. You went to the big ones, and so on. And we changed about that in the course… The thing about the southern drive: that's what convinced me that any mill that wanted to could beat the union. See, the southern drive was over before '51 when we had the strike in the organized mills. A lot of small mills, not big companies, where elections were won, almost inevitably they ended up in a strike, or a strike took place. And the pattern was pretty much the same: the plant would stay closed for about four months. Meanwhile the company would recruit a group of scabs (usually from the neighborhood, and people who they'd fired or who had left or whatever). They'd get the state police, and then usually get a state court injunction against violence, and they'd open up. You know, any plant, I don't care where it is or what the union is, unless you've got the discipline that the miners have (which they enforce with a high-powered rifle and a telescopic sight—it's not the spirit of the workers), has some people who are ready to go back. And so if you start with about twenty-five percent, then gradually it wears you down. The mill I watched closest was Tarboro, and I used to go down there. I don't know how long it lasted. But the one strike, the one place that that didn't happen (that happened in Gaffney, that happened in Also, that happened in Rockingham, that happened in Tarboro) was in … the Deering Milliken plant in Huntsville, Alabama—I'm trying to remember the name of it now. And we kept that shut for a year. It was an economic strike; nobody went in. And they closed it; it went out of business.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is that right?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Yes. I was in the office in Charlotte when the phone call came from Darlington. And Lloyd Gosset, who took the call, (he was out of Atlanta, I think) but he was all excited, because it sounded very good. (When would this be? I was running the Burlington campaign then.) But in any event, I said to him, "Lloyd, if you win the goddamn thing they'll close the plant up. Don't go down there." And he said, "Well, we'll get it organized." I said, "Yes, I know. But you won't get it organized; they'll close it. It's the same company." And I told him about Huntsville. Well, of course, he went down there.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He went down there in '54 or something?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
'54, and organized it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And in Darlington?
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
The people had organized themselves. Won the election over against great odds; the company did everything they could to beat him in the election.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And now they still haven't gotten back.
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
They haven't gotten back pay yet in '75; it's twenty-one years.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Yes.
LAWRENCE ROGIN:
Absolutely crazy. But mostly they beat us in strikes.