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Title: Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974. Interview E-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Russell, John, interviewee
Interview conducted by Finger, William
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 172 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
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Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-02-22, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974. Interview E-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0014-2)
Author: William Finger
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974. Interview E-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0014-2)
Author: John Russell
Description: 144 Mb
Description: 59 p.
Note: Interview conducted on July 25, 1974, by William Finger; recorded in Durham, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Susan Hathaway.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series E. Labor, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974.
Interview E-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Russell, John, interviewee


Interview Participants

    JOHN RUSSELL, interviewee
    WILLIAM FINGER, interviewer

[ 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
WILLIAM FINGER:
John, we got up to about 1954 last time. We talked about your growth with the Fur and Leather Workers, and you told me some things about how you managed to survive in North Carolina between that '50 - '54 period, when the Fur and Leather Workers were out of the mainstream of trade unionism, but there are a few things that we didn't cover before, that happened before 1954, that I'd like to go back to, if we could talk about that. One thing that interested me about that late forties period we talked about some, but not a lot, was the strong sense of regional unionism in western North Carolina. You started some locals there in Hazelwood, and there were some other locals not a part

Page 2
of the Fur and Leather Workers. The thing that prompted that was a fellow named Julius Davis, who is in the Hazelwood local.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, he was the leading guy in the Hazelwood local, that was the old Fur and Leather Worker Local 345.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you remember a committee he started, called the Dollar an Hour Committee?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, there was a committee like that and I can't remember now whether it was a Dollar or not, it probably was though … and where did you get that, I don't know, you see?
WILLIAM FINGER:
I got it in the Fur and Leather Workers magazine.
JOHN RUSSELL:
That must have been in 1946 or 1947.
WILLIAM FINGER:
1947.
JOHN RUSSELL:
'47, those years there. It's a long ways back to remember. In those years we set up certain goals. And then, we just organized the district conference and made a District 5 of the International Union, and of course, we set up realistic goals, goals that we felt we could achieve and that wouldn't make people feel that if they didn't achieve 100%, that they hadn't accomplished anything. So we set up realistic goals and some of them were real hard to achieve before we were done. Well, a dollar an hour don't sound like much, but it was a hell of a lot in those days,

Page 3
the way they saw it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you were thinking about that in terms of all your locals?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Right, and all of our people, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And other locals in the region?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, you see we had locals all around. That was in Hazelwood, North Carolina. We had a local in Armour at Sylva, North Carolina, Armour Leather Company. We had a local at Hans Reese in Asheville, North Carolina, had one in Brevard, North Carolina at a Silverstein Tanning Company, had one over in Rosman, that was another Silverstein Company.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In where?
JOHN RUSSELL:
In Rosman, North Carolina. And, we had one at Andrews, North Carolina … I figure that is gone completely … it was gone shortly after that. By 1947, I think it was 1947, we won to set up a local in Newport, Tennessee, at one of the A. C. Lawrence Leather Company Plants.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you the strongest union in Western North Carolina?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, it depends what you mean by strength. We were probably the most progressive, most militant, we certainly weren't the most numerically strong. You had at that time, you had … Enka was organized at that time, American Enka.

Page 4
WILLIAM FINGER:
Which union was that at that time?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That was the United Textile Workers Union of America, and there were other textile unions, there was … I'm trying to think of the name of that there in Asheville now, … there are a number of textile unions that were still, they were organized at that time and numerically were bigger than ours.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were they TWUA?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, TWUA, most of them. I think that the only one I can remember of UTW was American Enka.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Canton was organized too, wasn't it?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, Canton was not organized. Canton didn't organize until the late sixties. They never were organized. The plant, … the company that that plant belonged to was organized as I understand in other areas, but wasn't organized in … it took a number of attempts to organize that paper plant. The same thing went for Eucusta. Eucusta resisted ever since I can remember and Ecusta was there when they went South. They resisted organization way up until the late sixties too, and finally succumbed about the same time they won Canton in Champion Fiber. And of course, there were some Craft Unions and things like that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I want to mention the strength in western North Carolina about that time to try to get some …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, our union probably had … we had in

Page 5
in the district 1500 members, which, to us, was a big sum of people, and that included a small plant in Parsons, West Virginia and a plant in Ashland, Kentucky, which is also A. C. Lars Southern Plant, but all the rest were centered either in Tennessee or right in the mountain country in North Carolina. And I guess we had, I should say we also had a couple of little salvage units. We had one or two in Winston-Salem, and we had one in Asheville, one or two in Asheville, and that's about what it was.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you remember other kinds of influences in that area like Highlander Folk School, or anything else …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That helped you in organizing?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well the way it helped us … We sent people from Hazelwood to the Highlander Folk School, we sent … I don't think we sent Davis, but we sent George … somebody …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Hurley, from the Newport Local.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, George Hurley, he went and also some from Hazelwood went, and they went to the Highlander Folk School.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When they came back, how did they influence the local?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, it's not easy to judge, especially looking back. I realize that they played some role, because the Highlander Folk School was a real progressive group, they

Page 6
came to know certain terms, they began to realize things they didn't realize by just … that they wouldn't have realized by learning them on the local level. And at that period, that period of history, there was tremendous red-baiting against unions like ours, and the result was that the redbaiting helped … they let the red-baiting go right over their head, or at least they just ignored it. In some of the cases, they even understood what was going on, you see, that it was devisive and an attempt to split workers rather than to unite them. So, from that point of view, we sent wherever we could, wherever we had the money to do it, we sent people like that to schools that would teach and educate and do a good job as far as building a progressive trade union movement.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did Hardy Scott encourage that?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yes. Well, I think Hardy Scott encouraged that all the time, with everybody he could possibly work with. Hardy was a very progressive guy and he was a political trade unionist, beyond the argument. That was the first thing he saw.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Can you think of anything else about that time, any other specific kinds of influence?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That we … or that was influencing us?
WILLIAM FINGER:
That was helping you get this strength … these strong unions, you got them together and they seemed to be pretty …

Page 7
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, basically, our program and policies flowed out of the policies of the international union. And of course, both Hardy and myself, and some other people we knew, were pretty well aware politically of what was the score around the world, you know, and in the country. And I think probably that between our policies and political positions which we thought were correct, which helped to at least orient us toward building the kind of progressive trade union, that united black and white and women, all elements, in a way that we wouldn't have, I am sure, if we hadn't had that kind of understanding and influence and background.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you think much of the … besides strength that you brought from your awareness of the international situation and the Fur and Leather Workers positions, any kind of, you know, ground swell from the local people, say in Andrews of Hazelwood … did you have to build everything that you got, or did they want that kind of progressive trade union?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, I think we, you see, we understood … it. I did a lot of reading, Hardy was really up on the history and traditions of the mountain people, he did a lot of studying on this. And what we did, you see, is we used the progressive role of mountain people during the Civil War, and other times, to help their learning

Page 8
and understanding in that period of time there too, you see. For instance, you know that the mountain country sent a lot of troops to the Union and were anti-slavery, and these things we were able to use, this past history and tradition, to begin to develop some understanding on the current problems of black and white issues, for instance, and the red-baiting going on, and all these things. So that we were able at least to soften the impact of outside attempts from the outside to split and divide our people.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Local people knew you were being red-baited?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yes, yes, sure, sure … in practically every issue. For instance in 1950, when we left the CIO, before I even got back from the convention, the CIO had organizers into Asheville and into Newport, Tennessee attempting to take them away on the grounds that we were a bunch of communists and that Ben Gold had been found guilty, or had been charged with lying under oath about the Taft-Hartley law, and things like this. And they came in making a big issue out of the red issue, you see, and offering to lead these workers out to the good sane, as they say "sensible" american trade union … that wasn't going to have all that foreign dominance and influence. But I think that certainly it was a credit to our union, to our policies and programs, as well as to the terrific understanding of these people in the mountains, not only as far as tolerance

Page 9
is concerned, and things like that, but real understanding, that the red … I don't say it didn't go right over their head, we had some problems with certain people, but basically, they just shook it off and said, "This is our union, it fought for us, and by God we are in it, we don't give a damn what they call them." And that is probably as good, in that period of time, as you could expect from any group, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I've got to find Hardy Scott and talk to him about that.
JOHN RUSSELL:
He's in Alabama or somewhere. If you could find Don West, he'd know where he is. I am sure that Don would know where Hardy is.
WILLIAM FINGER:
From what I have read, it seems the most dramatic strike during that period was the Winston-Salem Laundry Workers strike.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes, it was the hardest, meanest, one that we conducted, and the toughest. No doubt about it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I've got a few notes here from the Fur and Leather Workers' Newspaper, but I think you could add some insight on it.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Go ahead.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you remember how many workers went out and what the …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Close to 500.

Page 10
WILLIAM FINGER:
… nature of the …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, the nature of the issues in the strike were … Well, first of all, it was a question of recognition, and secondly, of course, the whole conditions of these people. You just couldn't believe what was happening, that people worked many times 49, 50, 60 hours a week and only got $11 or $12 a week for their pay. Yet, that is exactly what it was getting. We used to have stubs of workers for $12, $11 and the hours on it were 49 or 50 hours, right on the stub.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did you get in there in the first place?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, we already had this little salvage group in Winston-Salem, that's how we got into it. And it was in there when I came down in 1946, in August, and they were just beginning to … Hardy was just beginning to organize these laundry workers. They came to our union for help. Nobody else would take them, they were probably 90% black, or 80% at least, and nobody else would take them. Everybody recognized that you couldn't use the NLRB, because of their intra-state character. And so, nobody wanted them and we said, "Well, we'll take a hand and try it."
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why couldn't you use an NLRB?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Because you couldn't in those days. They were considered intra-state instead of interstate and I think it's the same today.

Page 11
WILLIAM FINGER:
They were all women?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh no, a lot of them were men. I say a lot of them, the best I can recollect, there must have been 25% men. They did jobs of driving, the heavy work, and stuff like that. We had some excellent men leaders which was at that time, among black people quite an astonishing thing in these kind of places where women dominated, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So did you try to negotiate a contract first?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yeah. Yes, in fact, we had a number of meetings with the representatives of the laundry association, and I might say it was peculiar, but Reynolds had some influence at that time. They were organized, and they had some influence in seeing to it that they met, but we couldn't reach any agreement.
WILLIAM FINGER:
The company?
JOHN RUSSELL:
The company, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They saw to it that …
JOHN RUSSELL:
That the landry workers association in that town met with us. I don't say they saw to it, but it was our understanding that they had insisted that these guys at least meet, so they probably wouldn't be accused of just ignoring this kind of group of people, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did Reynolds control all of their workers?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh no, I don't know. Who knows? I wouldn't know. They were part of the Southeast Laundry Owners Association.

Page 12
I don't know if that is the exact name, but there was a head of the Southeast Laundry Owners Association or some kind of an organization like this with the Southeastern label on it. I could probably look back in the old file and find out for you, if we even have a file on them, I don't know. I think that, had they been left alone, they might have bargained with us, but the influence of the outside, the other laundry owners in other cities and throughout the whole Southeast, I think, played a big role in their thinking.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You think it was more of the Laundry Workers than Reynolds?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Than Reynolds, yes. Reynolds was still organized at that time by a very progressive group and I don't think they put their hand into the thing with any intention to block it. I think they would rather have had that happen than … I mean, they would rather have seen them organized and have a contract, I think, than have a big fight that might have affected their people who were coming up too, for negotiations, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When you first went in, and had these initial bargaining sessions, what was the role of the tobacco workers?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Very good, very good. I think they probably influenced Reynolds to some degree, to do what they done. I know we had one meeting where the Reynolds, some of

Page 13
Reynolds representatives I am sure, or at least the same lawyers, sat in there with these people that were attempting to negotiate, or attempting to talk to us, from the Laundry Workers Association … Laundry Owners Association. And I am sure they didn't … I'm sure that Local 22, through Miranda Smith, and Chick and these people, Chick Black and Velma Hopkins played a big role in pushing the company, to either keep hands off, or do anything to give a hand to prevent the big pull up there in town, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What other leaders do you remember besides Velma Hopkins and Miranda Smith?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, Chick Black, Carl Korstadt, who is a white leader …
WILLIAM FINGER:
That is still in Reynolds, right?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, in Reynolds … oh, you are talking about …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well both.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, in the Tobacco Workers Union, we had the … there was Carl Korstadt, there was Theodisia Simpson, and … God, there are so many, I can't even remember the names anymore. They had one black who turned out later to be a very reactionary black. I'm just trying to think of his name, I know it. Well, I can't think of it right now.

Page 14
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about in the Laundry Workers?
JOHN RUSSELL:
In the Laundry Workers, we had a number of people, we had some excellent leadership, both men and women. Again, the problem of remembering names is just a little too much. It has been some twenty years … 25, and if I knew …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you have it in the files?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I might find it somewhere, but we had some by the name of Jones, we had … I am afraid to say because the names are going through my head, and you get them mixed up in all the campaigns we've been in. If you had your notes or something, I could remember, but without them, I don't believe I could.
WILLIAM FINGER:
A couple things about these articles in the newspaper really interested me. First of all, there were very tough sentences on the people that were arrested.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes, indeed they were. I think we got up to three years in some cases.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you pursue that?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yeah. They never served all that time, you know. We had a few people who were in jail for a month, or something like that, but we finally, through our attorneys, we worked off a deal and got it ended. I forget what it cost the International, it cost them a pretty good piece of dough.

Page 15
WILLIAM FINGER:
But the International stuck with them?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh sure, right through to the end. Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who were your attorneys?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Who came in there? I can't remember. It might have been Cammer, I'm not sure, Harold Cammer. It could be.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Local attorney or …
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, International. If it was the International guy, it would have been Harold Cammer, I'm sure, or somebody from his office. Or, we may have used a local guy. Now, what we did do one time, we employed a local lawyer from there, who is now a big name lawyer in international law … Charles Livengood, who came from Duke by the way, and has been an arbitrator for us. We got awful teed off at this guy, because the son-of-a-bitch did nothing, and charged us an awful bill.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Really?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, and we got real teed off. Later on, we have had him in some arbitrations, and I guess he remembers me and remembers the union, and we've gotten some pretty decent decisions from the guy.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you remember the effect the strike had on the town?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Terrific … we were the talk of the town for many many months there, you know. Because we used to

Page 16
leaflet the entire town. We fed down town, not the shopping centers, but the down town areas … these are the tobacco plants, we leafleted everywhere we could leaflet, even in the residential areas. We got leaflets that were politically oriented.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What do you mean "politically"?
JOHN RUSSELL:
In a sense of pointing out the political effect of the strike, what it would do to the town, the county and everything else. We also had those who approved purely from a humanitarian point of view. And anyway, we spent weeks and weeks and we probably spent as much leafleting as we did in strike benefits. We laid out a real cause all around that area of the country.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Ben Gold came down then?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Ben Gold came and spent about a week down there, close to it, and made a number of speeches …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did it move him?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, yeah. I'll never forget Ben. We took him on a tour of the areas right around the tobacco plants, and in those days they were nothing but slums, as you remember, or if you ever knew the country at all. But there were, oh, some horrible places, and even horrible by modern day slums, I mean. Some areas of the nation today … they were much worse than that because of outside toilets, in many cases, one water spicket sticking up between two or three houses, and

Page 17
and that is what they used for water and stuff like that. And nobody could tolerate those conditions today, I guess, or would now, but in those days they were there, and I'll never forget what Ben said to me one day, he said "John, you see the most amazing thing, look at those kids, look at their teeth … so white, and so clean, they are handsome young people." He said, "I guess the only thing that makes these people, that makes these kids look that way, is that most of them who aren't strong and very able, die out at an early age, and I guess there is something to that, too. Only the strongest survive among them." Anyway, Ben was a very compassionate guy. Ben Gold was a guy who bled every time he saw any suffering, and he … it moved him tremendously. He put in about six months, I don't know how much money, but for that period of time, it would be far in excess of our International or any union today would do, you know. Simply because when he came, when he saw, it didn't matter then how much money he spent, you know, as long as he was able to get it. He was that kind of a guy.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He wrote a … your word is the best one, a very "compassionate," but also a strongly political letter in the Fur Leather Workers paper.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
A long …

Page 18
JOHN RUSSELL:
He always did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kind of support do you remember, when you leafleted all over the county, from the …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Excellent, it was a surprising thing. In fact, let me tell you, they were … those laundries were in trouble for a long long time. People just stayed away from them. We used to picket in front of them … picket in front and pass out leaflets, and in every struck plant. And the reception was wonderful, and in the neighborhoods or on the streets or anywhere. We developed a picture of these people, actual pictures of their homes, their conditions, their pay checks … It just couldn't help but move somebody, you know, and it moved tens of thousands of these people around that area. We used to go into other towns like High Point, and put them out so they would get the message to them. We had leafleting committees printing every day.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did other workers walk out other places?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, no, no. We had all the laundries there on strike, you understand, all of … any size. Now, I don't remember if there were any small ones we didn't put on. We had all the … we had every one that had from fifty workers up, most of them had 100 to 150 workers in them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you remember some names like Reverend Pitts?

Page 19
JOHN RUSSELL:
Reverend Pitts, I remember, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
T. C. Callum?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Callum, yes, yes. These were people who also helped the old Tobacco Workers Union, you know, were very strong factors in their growth and strength.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Can you account for any reason that Winston-Salem had some black leadership like this, that took some chances and …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Of course, there was a political movement in Winston-Salem. The Communist party had a lot of people in there. I say a lot of people, a lot of people for a southern city, and they had a lot of people in Local 22, and …
WILLIAM FINGER:
That was?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That was the Food and Tobacco Workers Union. And they had programs that were basically oriented towards the welfare of poor people, including their own membership. And they played a role in the community on that basis, too. It just is too bad that they lost out eventually, you see, and not only for them, but for the fate of all the other workers in tobacco around the country.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did the … you won the strike then?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, we didn't win. After six months the company had filled the plants with scabs. I don't say they filled it, but it became obvious you couldn't win … that either the companies were being subsidized by somebody

Page 20
and we didn't know who, but it could have been the other employers in the industry. But there came a time when it was apparent that if we continued the strike, we were merely putting our people through a useless struggle, you know. And that we might better quit while they had a chance to go somewhere and get a job. So after some six months and some days … I forget how much, …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You had no NLRB protection?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, no NLRB protection, no. There was no way you could get it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
No way you could get these people back to work?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No way.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did they get a job? Did they get back to work?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah. We used to get letters from them for a few years even. They used to write what was happening to them and things … we still had contacts way up until, I guess the middle of the fifties, with these people down there, and …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kind of letters?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Letters talking about what they were doing and stuff like that, basically just friendly social letters, but also talking about the battle at times, you know. They remember the old battle we had. It was very, very … we got some real warm letters. It was a pleasure to get them from these people.

Page 21
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did they ever ask you to come back to them?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, most of them were gone from this industry, you see. And like most people, I assume what happened back there didn't affect them that much after they were gone from the industry.
WILLIAM FINGER:
There was a massive black list from that strike?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I doubt it. If there were, we didn't know it. Most of these people went and got jobs. They would have only gotten jobs in the lowest, poorest paid jobs anyway, you see. So, from that point of view … chances are that people who hired them were happy to get anybody they could. [Interruption]
… They wanted so badly for us to win, too. Simply because they felt that it would take … not only would it help politicalize the town more, and the working class movement there, but it would, of course, help their union in their struggles against Reynolds. It would divert some heat from them, you know, I suppose, at least give them allies in the battle, and so they were … they did everything they could, they were an excellent group. We got all kinds of money from them, we got all kinds of physical help, we got all kinds of leadership from them, in forms of people who could figure out things, you know … Miranda Smith, and people like this. We had a very close relationship. I'll never forget that when the strike

Page 22
ended, we had to come in and call a special meeting of the leadership first to tell them that … they knew it already, but we could make it a formal thing, and so we invited in some 22 people. Miranda Smith, and Chick Black, and Velma and many others, and I will never forget how Miranda just broke down and cried like a baby. It's just terrific the feelings that they had, that that strike had developed.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who made the decision finally to call off the strike?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, it was apparent to me it was lost, you know, and no hope of winning, and to continue it would only mean endless suffering for our people. And so we figured they might better go at a good time, and get out when they could get a job.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was there a strike committee, too, then?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yeah, we had …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You mean they thought that too?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yeah, yeah, there was … even Miranda and all of them agreed that you can't go anymore. They were very surprised that we lasted that long, but they agreed you couldn't go anymore. But that doesn't prevent the heartbreak and the feeling about the thing, because you do develop a tremendous comradeship in these kind of struggles, you see, and my God, we were … it was a real joy to work with those people in Winston-Salem.

Page 23
WILLIAM FINGER:
Everything you read about that sounds like a different mood than today.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes it was, indeed. Today, it is too much, "I'll take care of my wagon and you take care of yours." We even had help from the furniture workers union. They had had a big strike in High Point, and they had a very progressive group in High Point, by the way.
WILLIAM FINGER:
[unknown]
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes, and they had very close alliances with the Reynolds Tobacco Workers … Miranda Smith and these people. And we, of course, very quickly had an affinity with these people, you see, and they used to send us over help and they also sent over some muscle when we had a couple scabs we had to dump you know, and things like that, and I guess that they felt that we would return the favor when the time came, you know. You know how things are like that, anyway …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did they come up when you had to announce that you were ending the strike?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That we weren't ending it, or we were?
WILLIAM FINGER:
That you were ending the strike.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yes, yes … they came, they had people from over there. We had a good relationship with everybody in that area. I say everybody, I say everybody in the progressive labor movement.

Page 24
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you think the defeat of that strike was kind of a turning point for the progressive … both labor and other people in that area?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, who knows how much impact that had. My guess is that it didn't help any, because if we had won it, we'd have been there. We'd have been probably the first union. We were out of CIO before the FTA, and … I think we were, maybe I'm wrong, but I think we were. I believe we were.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I can't remember, it was close.
JOHN RUSSELL:
I'll go back and look. It was very close because they were kicked out, if you remember …
WILLIAM FINGER:
They were like U.E…
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, they were kicked out, but we didn't get kicked out, we walked out. I know it was a fine distinction there … much more than just the appearance than there was in the substance, because we were going anyway, one way or the other. We just decided to walk out instead of being thrown out.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When did FTA lose members?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, I think they lost it in 1948 or 1949, because I know we participated in the struggles right up through '50 and we went on this fishermans strike and organizational campaign. And we participated in their struggles to ward off the CIO, and the AF of L at that time.

Page 25
You know, these two campaigns, I can't … it seems to me that there were two campaigns that I remember. We sent them help, we sent them Mary Robinson, by the way, who was a local union organizer around at that time, and she …
WILLIAM FINGER:
For FTA?
JOHN RUSSELL:
For us, and we sent her down to help them, you see, and we sent money, I was there myself. I spent many weeks there helping them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I should talk to Mary about that?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah. Mary will talk to you about it, sure, yeah. I can't remember which …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Can't remember whether the jurisdictional, I mean whether the CIO came in there …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well the CIO was in there, yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They were in there?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And they called for an election and …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, see that is what they did. They … FTA could not get … the first time FTA got on the ballot I think, … I think that is before they got kicked out, they lost the election. Now, let me just do some thinking about them. I think maybe FTA was out ahead of us …
WILLIAM FINGER:
No, I mean at Winston-Salem.
JOHN RUSSELL:
That is what I am saying. I am just trying to think whether or not the company de-certified and they

Page 26
couldn't get on the ballot to oppose any certification. It seems to me that that is what happened, I think, anyway that the CIO asked for de-certification, and they couldn't get on the ballot … they had to have the people … that is what I think took place. If I can remember …
WILLIAM FINGER:
[unknown] more closely.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You weren't directly involved in that anyway.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, doubtlessly we helped with the tail end of leafleting and all this kind of business, but I think Mary was in that fight.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who was in leadership of FTA that was down, analagous to you?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, any of them. I was an International rep at that time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I mean FTA?
JOHN RUSSELL:
A fellow by the name of Kouritz, or Carl Korstadt, or Miranda. Miranda was a local person but she had national stature already at that time. So did Chick, and even Velma was closely approaching national recognition as a terrific leader, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
A lot of local people were really educated at that time … I mean given a sense of political reality.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did these letters indicate that that statement held down through the years?

Page 27
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yeah … oh you mean our people from the laundry? Oh yes, yes. See, nothing shook those people. Red-baiting didn't shake them and didn't make a damn bit of difference what they called us.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were they active in the Civil Rights movement?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, it hadn't really begun to move in those days, you see. The seed was there, beyond any argument, because of working with them, our constantly pushing them forward as leaders, and developing them. So that I would suspect that most of them must have taken part in the Civil Rights movement.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You don't know for sure from those letters that you got.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, they hadn't started then, you see. There was no great Civil Rights movement until '61 or '62 at least.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You weren't getting letters then at that time?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, they were already either married and gone or were transferred.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, I think that helps on that …
JOHN RUSSELL:
I had a … you know, I don't know a tougher job to do than to admit you got a licking, and you have to go in and bite hard on the bullet sometimes. And sometimes there are real reasons. You don't want people destroyed completely, you see. You can demoralize people until they never have a chance to come back. See, this is something

Page 28
that left-wing unions have to be careful of. They knew when to retreat, you know, otherwise first of all, you don't have nothing left and secondly, you destroy people in a struggle, you see. Some you make harder and tougher than nails, but a lot of them could be saved and salvaged, you make them cynical and disillusion them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It did that to organizers too.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes, it does indeed. I know a lot of them became battle weary, battle victims really and they just … too many wars.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you didn't?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, no. I don't think so. Sometimes, I get … I guess maybe because I am getting a little older, I have a tendency to get a little sharp, a little, but maybe that is because you get a little bureaucratic, running a union like this. So there is no use kidding about it, but I don't … as far as the struggles are concerned, no. What bothers me more than anything else, Bill, to be honest with you, some of these cock-eyed, kooky sects that are supposed to be part of the left, you know. Maybe it is a good thing and maybe it isn't, I don't know. But Jesus Christ, you know, if a man had told me thirty years ago, or twenty years ago, "Look, you don't need unions and I'm a Communist and I'm … this is my philosophy that the goddamn unions are so lousy, you don't need unions anymore,

Page 29
you need committees like ours," you know. I'd just have said, "You must be a little bit nutty." Those guys ought to be put in an insane asylum, but you find them today and they do it in the name of preserving unions. They do it in the name of progressive action, they do it in the name of fighting for a socialist state, you see, and … but it is part of the whole battle, I understand that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let's go back to what … I want to pursue that later, because that's what is on your mind today too, it means more.
Right after that defeat in Winston-Salem, you had … to help you kind of get back into the battle was Henry Wallace's campaign.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, and of course we took a strong position in that, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I'm curious about what … after a defeat like that in an industrial campaign it was very dramatic, it had real strong community spirit …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Then to kind of get back in the battle, you went into the political realm. What was the link up there in your philosophy or …
JOHN RUSSELL:
In the philosophy, you know. As we saw it … it was a 1948 campaign and Truman never sounded dull to me then and really didn't afterwords either, never at

Page 30
any time. In fact he introduces … he came in 1946 … was it '46? '48 was when he got elected … '46 he was still carrying out the unexpired term. But Taft-Hartley came in under the son-of-a-bitch and as he never impressed me as, he does other trade unions, that he was any liberal guy. Now he may be an outspoken guy, but there are a lot of outspoken bastards, you know. And maybe he wasn't the worst guy, I certainly wouldn't compare him with this son-of-a-bitch we've got now. Who the hell could? He was far from doing great services for labor or poor people, as I saw it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you feel that the CIO leadership at the time was cowardly because they wouldn't …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well cowardly … I thought they were opportunistic … first of all, I thought they lacked an ideology. You don't call people cowardly, I don't think, because of that, you know. They certainly didn't ever see eye to eye with people like us as far as the development of a progressive trade union movement, or the need to develop labor's own party, or to have an ideology in the labor movement. They never never saw eye to eye with this. So, I wouldn't say they were cowardly, what I would say about the sons-of-bitches, they were pragmatic trade unionists. Like Phil Murray, who saw that the left was going to be under heavy attack … not the left, but the whole labor movement

Page 31
was, by reaction and right wing forces, and who was willing to desert that left center coalition that made the CIO what it was in the thirties and early forties, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about people that had more … had been more open to the left, like Walter Reuther or Jim Carey?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Some of these guys … Jim Carey, never, no … he …
WILLIAM FINGER:
He never was open?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, but he never was nothing easy, he never was, as far as I know, anything more than about an ADA guy, or something like that, you know, and …
WILLIAM FINGER:
ADA?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Americans for Democratic Action type of guy, see. I don't remember whether Carey was ever known as a left winger or not.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He was with UE before …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Doesn't mean much, you see. That's why UE was kicked out of UE, you know that. And Fitzgerald took his place. Of course, a guy like Matlass, and Ernie, … what the hell was his name, Demell, was that his name?
WILLIAM FINGER:
I don't know.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Remember, these guys were the key leaders in UE, you see. But I don't remember Jim Carey as ever being considered left-wing. I think it was a Catholic Trade Unionists, ACTU guy.

Page 32
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about Reuther?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, Reuther was always a disappointment for me. I always hoped that the Reuthers would stand up. You know, they went to the Soviet Union, they worked in the Soviet Union, they learned in the Soviet Union, and we hoped that they would be able to stand up … We knew what they were going through, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you know them?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, but I knew of them, of course, see but, you know, you know these guys … and I knew them through the papers, the progressive papers and things, and you know the guys had an opportunity to see, that they even came back with high praises for a collective system for the workers, for a socialist state, but evidently their ambitions to become something big in the labor movement were more important to them and that is what they did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, personally at this time, you knew the Fur and Leather Worker leadership?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yeah, yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You didn't know the other big names in the other international unions.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Oh no, no, not a guy like Reuther and them. We knew of them, of course. Who the hell don't know them. I really talked about Reuther's policies, but even in those days … the late forties and fifties, Reuther was not

Page 33
the top guy, you know. Mushmouth Thomas was the … do you remember Thomas, from the auto workers? Yeah, we used to know them. Now, they were pretty decent guys, we could work with them, we always worked with them. And see, it was after Reuther knocked Thomas out and took over that policies of auto unions changed and began to go down hill pretty fast, from our point of view.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you work with … I think her name was Mary Price, who ran for Governor in North Carolina.
JOHN RUSSELL:
No.
WILLIAM FINGER:
From the Progressive party.
JOHN RUSSELL:
When was this?
WILLIAM FINGER:
1948.
JOHN RUSSELL:
If we did, I don't remember, to tell you the truth. We fought for heavy … but most of the Wallace campaign I was back up north. They had had a real calamity take place in the Endicott … in the area. Since I organized it, they asked me to come up and help, so I took a leave of absence during the '48 period. I was in the North actually when the Wallace … I came back South on periodic visits to make sure that Hardy and these guys were moving in the direction of helping Wallace as much as we could in the South at that time, you see. We did what we could do.

Page 34
WILLIAM FINGER:
When we talked before … let's move on now, you talked in some detail about the Fur and Leather Workers leaving the CIO in 1950. We talked about the labor - business alliances and CIO leadership and so forth, and you talked some about how your district survived in that '50 - '54 period with Menhaden Fish. What I would be interested … what I want to explore now is the shifts in Fur and Leather Worker leadership from '50 to '54, and the factors that led up to the merger with Amalgamated.
JOHN RUSSELL:
There wasn't so much shift in leadership between '50 and '54. There was a lot of stresses inside the leadership. There were obviously people who felt we should not stay out of the main stream of labor, and who would have been happy to be back in the main stream. And of course, these weren't the most political guys, most of these were just plain progressive trade union guys who went along with progressive policies.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They wanted back in?
JOHN RUSSELL:
They felt that they needed the umbrella early, you see, and …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did you feel?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well in the beginning, you know, I was a young guy, and I just couldn't take that shit that they were dishing out, I just said "Look, if we have to, we can live alone." It may have been a mistake then, you know.

Page 35
Who knows. One thing is sure though, other unions survived. The UE survived. But at the time, you see, we had tremendous connections with people in the Mine, Mill, and Smelter unions like this. The Harry Briges Union, you know, and there was a feeling "fuck 'em, we can go alone if we gotta," you see, and they genuinely felt that way. Now maybe …
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you did.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes, we did in '54. But in '54, by then there had been a series of raids and attacks and it was apparent that they were going to use the hatchet on us, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who was they?
JOHN RUSSELL:
They, the federal government, you know, where ever they could. And thinking began to shift, I'd say, in about '52 or '53. You know, raid after raid … we beat them off but it became a question of time as we saw it, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
CIO raids or AF of L?
JOHN RUSSELL:
All kinds … CIO, AF of L … political attacks by the government, everything, you see. We had guys in jail … Christ, they went to jail, Potash, and all these fellows, you see. Well, Potash went earlier than that, but we had guys who went and … there were guys who could have went … even Gold was under attack. They were trying to put him in jail, you see. So eventually we

Page 36
felt, "Alright, if there was any possibility, maybe we better find some group" … Well, it wasn't just a question of protection. I don't think that was the main, the only motivation. I think that we began to realize that we weren't influencing a hell of a lot of people outside the labor movement, you know. I mean, outside of our own union, in the other unions of the AF of L, CIO. And that the one thing that …
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JOHN RUSSELL:
… were gone, you see, and that if we were going to do a service for the American Labor Movement, we had to be somewhere where we could influence it, you know. And while it is one thing to influence by example from outside, it's a hell of a lot better to influence by example inside, plus having something to say about policies inside, you see. Even if you are an isolated group inside, it would appear that you are better off, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You had less and less power.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Less and less power, that's right, and less and less influence. So, you see as early as '52, there was … people were beginning to say, "Well, maybe we ought to think in terms of some reaffiliation …"

Page 37
WILLIAM FINGER:
Would you meet together with the district people, and with the Executive Board, and talk like this?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, I was on the national board. I was on the Executive Board of the AFL-CIO …
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you would talk with Gold and Potashe?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh sure, yes, and we had special … you know, we had meetings, Executive Board meetings, formal Executive Board meetings, but that could mean anything. That could mean meeting with some ACTU guys, some old socialists, some just plain simple economic trade unionists, you know, and all kinds of elements. So, you always had other meetings too, where the guys of progressive thinking could work out their own line of thought on a deal, and more and more, it became apparent that we were going to have to go … and there were some who resisted and Gold was one of the strongest.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He resisted?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah. He recognized the validity of the thinking, but he also recognized the consequences of acting on it, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In this Brody book, he talks about Gold citing the …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Non-Communists … this is what they were after him on, lying under oath, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He was convicted, wasn't he?

Page 38
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, but he never served no time because we got it reversed, I think. We got it reversed. I forget the exact grounds, but the Constitutional grounds or something, you see…
WILLIAM FINGER:
But he resigned from …
JOHN RUSSELL:
In 1955, he finally resigned … I mean …
WILLIAM FINGER:
1954.
JOHN RUSSELL:
'54, yeah … Virgil was '55, and they took over in '54. He resigned after making a fantastic protest, one to make you almost cry. In doing it, you loved him. You knew how he must be bleeding to give up something he spent his lifetime building. But, it became the decision and the decision he had to live by.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did he get isolated from the union after that?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah. Now, there were others who had to go, you know, but they knew it too. They knew it even while they argued for going back into the labor movement. See, that is what always made me a proud guy to be associated with these fellows. Gold didn't, it wasn't no personal fear of having a job that motivated Gold, or anything like that, nothing that cheap or anything. It just was that he thought we were wrong in giving up the union … or sacrificing to move back into the labor movement. The other guys knew they were going to go, and yet they voted right down the line.

Page 39
WILLIAM FINGER:
To go on in?
JOHN RUSSELL:
To go, …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Even though they …
JOHN RUSSELL:
[unknown]
WILLIAM FINGER:
Because of their history …
JOHN RUSSELL:
This, to me, was the greatest proof of their loyalty to progressive thinking, and they lived, I mean, they went out just like they always lived …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did they do after that?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did they accept the labor movement?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yeah, sure, in the progressive movement. Well, some of them went back into shops, they are all furriers, you know. Some went back into shops, earned a good living and what have you. Some of our guys, let me say, the guys that came out of furs organized on a temporary basis, used to say "Goddamn, Ben, let me go back in the shop and earn enough living so I can go back and organize some more." And it was the truth, because they made good money in the shops. They used to take $100 a week cuts sometimes to come out and work in the goddamn field, and that is a rarity …
WILLIAM FINGER:
It's not that way anymore.
JOHN RUSSELL:
But it was wonderful. I remember a young kid named Billy Wasserman. He was a floor boy, and he

Page 40
made at the time about $240 a week. I guess that would be equivalent to about $500 or $600 now, you know. And he said, "Goddamn" he said, "I got to talk to Ben, I can't stand it out here anymore." He said, "I ain't making enough money to pay my goddamn bills." He said "I got to go in and do some work in that plant for a while". I know where a lot of them went. They had Herman Paul … let me think, had he gone … I think he went before the merger … yeah, before. And then we had Leon Strauss, who was a terrific leader of labor. He was the guy who organized the Floor Boys in New York … that Local, and made a tremendous voice in the Furriers Union, and in the District Council, which was the council of all the locals in the manufacturing end of fur, and Leon went into an import business and later became the labor relations guy for Shop-rite, this big retail chain. He's still one of the best guys I know. That's not for publishing, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When Fineglass took over he didn't have a CP history like Gold?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yes, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But not as …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Not as blatant, not as open, and he wasn't on the national committee. You see, we had this kind of a problem with Gold, and with Potash, both were on the national committee of the Communist party. Obviously,

Page 41
Meany wasn't going to sanction any goddamn merger that involved these guys … or Green, I should say, was it Green?
WILLIAM FINGER:
No, it was Meany.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Meany was it? Well, … when did Green give up the ghost?
WILLIAM FINGER:
Maybe when you started it was Green.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, but anyway, it was obvious that the AF of L and/or the CIO, neither one would … See we talked to two different groups.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I was going to ask you … why not think about the Packing House Workers?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, we did. We had a lot of talks with them, you see. But who knows … I wasn't in on the talks, but I am convinced that there was some jealousies on the parts of some people, and I think that the Packing House were basically afraid that they would choose an open Communist group. "If they come with us, we'll be under serious attack too, you know."
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, it is just very weird that the Amalgamated would take that risk in the … in the AF of L.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, don't you see … you don't see the logic, you see. Our union not only talked with Packing House, but we talked with Shoe. In fact, I was in on one meeting with Shoe that has this fellow named Fitzgerald or

Page 42
Fitzpatrick, or whatever his name was, who was the head of the shoe workers union then. We talked seriously about merger. I think Mark Cleve was there, and see, that would be a logical tie up too, Shoe with Fur and Leather. I think Admira was there, I can't recall who was in on that … Pershing might have been there too. But anyway they talked with a number of unions, you see, in the CIO and in the AF of L, and it just so happened, that Abe, who had some relationship with Gorman already, I guess before that …
WILLIAM FINGER:
[unknown]
JOHN RUSSELL:
Gorman. There were some other objective conditions that made us go to the Meatcutters. One, of course, was that the Meatcutters have the jurisdiction of Leather for the AF of L, and we thought in terms of uniting Leather, you see. Secondly, …
WILLIAM FINGER:
They had already taken in the Leather Workers Union?
JOHN RUSSELL:
They had already taken in the old Barney Quinn's, no, they took in Barney Quinn's AF of L Leather Workers Union, which, of course, means nothing. You know Barney Quinn was nothing, he was shit. Mostly union contracts were used to take them away from him every time we went after them. But I think also, in addition to that, in addition to this unity of the Leather, was the fact that Gorman was considered a pretty independent thinker, and also an old socialist,

Page 43
you know, with the philosophy that you could live with and it would divide people who would disagree with him. And of course, you understand that he wasn't going to tolerate a Ben Gold in his organization by any means, but … and of course, there was … probably, I don't know any other organization inside of the AF of L or CIO that would have had the strength and the guts really to take in a known left-wing organization, except Gorman. And he did it. Don't forget he did it shakely too, and so …
WILLIAM FINGER:
In some ways this is unique, that the merger occurred.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes it is indeed. In fact probably our merger helped kick off the AF of L, CIO merger. You know, it indicated the direction and perhaps in the inevitability of mergers between unions and so, it was a good thing for the labor movement in a sense.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did Gorman seek out Fur and Leather shortly after Fineglass started.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Because he felt that Fineglass wasn't …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well no, who knows how they get wind, but they knew that we were looking for a home. At least, I assume they did. They also knew that they needed … that they couldn't get to first base in Leather, there was no way they could. They used to attack the shit, we beat them so goddamn bad … even while they were out front

Page 44
shouting a bunch of communists, you know … "don't vote for the Russians," and shit like that, you know … We beat them so goddamn bad and that and labor board elections, they would just have to hide, you know. Sometimes they would even wait for … oh shit, I'm not kidding you … I had a situation in Newport, Tennessee where they came in and they leafletted … oh, they came in first and they went to three or four leaders in the company, … in the local, and they said, "Now we're in here to liberate you from these Communists, and I'll tell you what we are going to do. We are going to go around and talk to all of your people. We hope you don't get mad, we hope you understand this." They said, "Go ahead and talk to them, we don't care." They said, "We know how they think, and if you want to try to talk to them go ahead and talk." So they talked for about two or three weeks, and it just so happens that within three or four more weeks, there were negotiations, and we had to open up proposals and stuff like this. So finally, they had talked, and they had gone to practically every home and everybody. So one day, they were up in front of the plant, they'd come up and hang right around and talk to these guys saying "You got to get out, a bunch of reds are running this thing." And a committee from the workers, and I never talked to them … the committee said, "Now look, we let you talk to all our

Page 45
people, we never argued a damn bit with you guys … [Interruption]
WILLIAM FINGER:
So the workers …
JOHN RUSSELL:
So they went into the committee … a committee of six or eight and they represented all the departments … they were the real leadership in the plant, and they said "Now look, you came and asked us if you could visit the people, and we said ‘go ahead’, and you've been around here now for three or four weeks, and now we tell you you've visited them, you know what they have to say, we don't want you around here no more because we are going into a battle with our company, and it is a pretty tough company, and we don't want to fight with you at the same time." One of the guys got pretty smart and he said "We've got a right to be around here and nobody is going to tell us we can't be." I said, "That is alright with us, do you see that creek there," that is, the Pigeon River flows behind the plant, "If you are around here again after we give you this warning, you're going to be swimming out of that goddamn river every day."
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were these Amalgamated organizers?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah. "You're going to be swimming out of that goddamn river every day and you may not swim out, they …"
WILLIAM FINGER:
And seven years later they took you in.

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JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, they took us in whileManny … Manny was down in Texas raiding other plants. They sent him down there …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, let me ask you then … this Brody book again talks about the merger agreement. There were lots of other things favorable for fur in other regions, you kept your autonomy, you …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yes, yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You had a separate … separate …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Division, you know that is why we have a Division in the International.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Abe was head of the …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Separate identity, Abe was Vice-President, and we also got a guy from Leather, so we had two Vice-Presidents, and now, look at them today, you see, when you stop and look what it did … we've got Abe and Steve …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Steve Coyle … Steve became the Vice-President. See, they had no Leather division, it was the Fur and Leather, but we got two Vice-Presidents. Abe became the Vice-President of the Fur and Leather Department. Steve was just a Vice-President and began to do odd jobs for Gorman … today he is the Vice-President of the Poultry and Food Processors … Poultry, Seafood and Food Processors Department, Ervin Stern was also an editor, as well as an

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organizer in the International Fur Union, became the leader of the Butcher Workmen in New York … the whole Butchers Council there, as wellas the leader of the biggest locals. And today is a Vice-President of that whole area … District One.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Your Vice-President?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, he was a leader of our union and became that. He became the Vice-President for District One of the Amalgamated Meatcutters Union, the biggest district in the entire International, 90,000 people, as well as the local union, I forget, he is either the President of the local or he's the general organizer, whatever he is, he is the key guy.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you get to be a Vice-President too?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, no. I could have had Steve's job, but I didn't want to go …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Didn't want to do it?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I didn't want to be Furman's boy. I didn't want to run around for Gorman. Secondly, I wanted to work in the field. I don't like office work or this shit … carrying somebody's message for them. I want to make my own decisions. Steve was a good guy, don't get me wrong on this. We've got a progressive guy. Both the guys we put in as VP's were progressive guys.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You could have gone in at that time?

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JOHN RUSSELL:
At that time, yes. Steve would have stepped aside and wouldn't have even argued. Him and I and a couple more were up, and there would have been no question about my getting the backing, and I didn't want to leave here, and I didn't want to quit field work. I was very, very … I was a little bit more suspicious of the Amalgamated than many others were. I had a feeling that they weren't going to last very long. I was wrong, you know, but it was a feeling that I had then. My time was limited with the Fur and Leather Workers … with the Amalgamated. They knew who I was, it wasn't that people like myself wasn't known … just as well as Ben Gold and others except …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You weren't as well known as Beard?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, what I am saying, it was well known by the people who had the know, like the FBI, and the Amalgamated. Because whoever the FBI knew, I am sure the Amalgamated got through somebody, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well that brings me to my next question. Is part of the merger agreement every official of Fur and Leather had to sign …
JOHN RUSSELL:
A non-Communist affidavit, did it for years, in fact.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you signed that paper?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, because … but they are talking there about a member of the Communist Party. I don't know …

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it would be a fine distinction, you understand. The technical thing, I suppose, whether you are a political Communist or whether you are an organized Communist, or whether you are philosophically a Communist, or whether you are also an organized one. So …
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you signed it?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, everybody did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And it went on to the Amalgamated records and so you could keep …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, yeah … technically we were right, you know, and they knew it. They knew it didn't mean anything.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well did they put that in the merger agreement so they could show Meany?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, that is the only way they got any blessing from Meany on the deal, you see. Not Meany, Meany was a son-of-a-bitch, but also Bedensky was a bastard, you see … who were radically opposed. You see, Meany had his negotiating to do with the old guard Socialists, you see, who were bitterly opposed to arguing to come back to the AF of L. In fact, it took a number of meetings with Meany and a number of meetings with the Executive Board before it was finally okayed. They kept attaching conditions, I mean the conditions on the thing …
WILLIAM FINGER:
They had to go through this New York City purge.

Page 50
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah … Leon Strauss, Joe … what's his name? Isn't it funny the way names go out of my head nowadays that I'm getting old. Anyway, all kinds of our guys, Jack Snyder, people like that had to go, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But Fineglass was interested in getting the merger through so he did what he had to do in New York City.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do people hold that against him?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, I don't think so. Gold did for many years and probably does yet, but I don't … I'm not even sure about that … I know Potash don't … you know old Potash isn't where he is, so at least I don't believe he does. They speak at dinners for these people and things. For instance, they had a dinner for Leon Strauss, everybody comes … the old guys, the guys who are gone, you know. They meet, they have drinks together. I think there is still some bitterness on Ben's part, how much, I don't really know. I haven't seen Ben now in many years, and I don't even see Abe anymore, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He travels around.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, he travels, but we're busy too, you see, and they cut off certain lines of communication. So when they cut off organizational staff meeting and things like that, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, what did you feel like then when you were

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under something that had to do with George Meany and people like that? Did you feel any tie with George Meany?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh no, never. See, even when he does something that is commendable, I suppose you can say is commendable, when he stands up and roars, I know that is about all he is going to do about it, you know. It's like on wage and price control, and things like this, he has no great pretention of shaking anything to the roots or doing anything that is basic. George is beyond …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You mean even in 1955?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Even in those days. See, Meany was a right trade unionist, an old craft unionist. We knew what he was and we know that if his own position is threatened, he may fight, but he and the system is like that, he and the political forces are like that …
WILLIAM FINGER:
But Fineglass did think it was important to get the Executive Committee to okay that merger?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yes, no argument there.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you would have that umbrella?
JOHN RUSSELL:
So you would have that umbrella … you know, when it rains or sleets, you've got to do something sometimes. Maybe we could have survived, you know. Who the hell knows in retrospect and political Monday morning quarterbacking is simple sometimes, to think that, "Well

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we could have done that." Well, I don't know, who knows what would have taken place in history at that time. It appeared from our point of view that the right thing to do was to get back into the mainstream of labor, to influence it from inside, and that's what we done. I think it is a terrific thing. I don't think that they had had a merger with Packing, the Meatcutters, if it hadn't of been for our merger. I don't think that the Packing House guys would have felt safe.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You would have been too vulnerable a point for attack?
Well, I think that if we hadn't of been in … already went in and shown that you could live inside the Meatcutters that the Packing House Workers wouldn't have dared do it. Their struggles with Amalgamated were much more bitter than ours. Ours was over a few Locals in Leather, they didn't have enough to make us any great trouble. Whereas the battles between the Packing House Workers Union and Amalgamated were … Christ they …
Well, they never did merge, did they?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, they did merge, but only after we merged, but their battles were damn near … were tremendous struggles over thousands and thousands of workers, you see, and when they met on the battle field, hell they weren't talking about 150 tannery workers … 200 or something

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like that, they were talking about some plant with 4,000 workers in it, or 3,000. You can imagine, the earth shook when they came together, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
One more question about the merger. Did you have any direct part in talks with Fineglass and with Gorman?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, no. We were constantly posted about the thing, you see, because he couldn't have made the merger if he didn't. Because even guys like me, I had doubts about it too, you know. Everybody had fears about it and we just, he couldn't have done it. It was a very close liason between all of our people, all groups. And sure, we … Abe did most of the negotiating … I don't think …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did Abe inform them?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah, well Abe and Harry Poole. Not Gorman, even. Gorman didn't take part. He may have in some talks, but the initial conditions, I think, were worked out between Poole and basically Fineglass … he might have had a guy with him now and then, but I am sure you know that … but Abe kept everybody. We knew what was going on all the time, you know. There was never any question, and oh no, it would have been too easy for Gold to stop the merger that … of course, see, Gold would have already been gone a year, it was the year … whatever it

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was, Fineglass in was the pre-conditions to moving towards a merger with us. We couldn't have done it otherwise.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well that brings us to a certain point. From then until now you have been with Meatcutters.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Right … quite a few years with them, you know? I was looking back the other night at those. It don't seem like its been almost 20 years. It's just goddamn close.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You have been with the Meatcutters a lot longer than you were with …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Fur and Leather Workers, yeah, that's right. In terms of time, I suppose it could be divided that way, but in terms of education and understanding, there's no approach. But we are still with the Fur and Leather, you know. I don't have much left. I have a couple of leather plants, and … but what the hell is the difference? We did something we used to talk about. Here, we are doing something we used to talk about. We had some real problems following the merger. We had guys who were excellent fellows. Real progressive trade union guys who pursued the most sectarian policy inside the Amalgamated for years, and they had made us some troubles too. I mean what the hell, what is the job of a progressive trade union guy inside of an organization like Amalgamated? First of all, it's to build where you can build, and secondly, to influence

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policy. And when you got guys who are so sectarian, so convinced ahead of time, that the Amalgamated is an old Craft Union with nothing but a bunch of old bureaucrats that you can't do nothing with them, but all you got to do is take a look and see. Since they have merged with the Packing House Union, they merged with these Mitchell's farm groups down in the …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Agriculture …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Agriculture Workers Union, Sheep Shearers Union, and a number of other smaller unions. And someday, we will probably merge with the retail clerks RDVSU and maybe both. But what the hell, the union today is a much more progressive voice. We've got blacks in leadership moving in there. We've never had that before. We have women in leadership, never had them before. I am talking not just on a local basis but on an international scale. Who the hell is known better around the country in the women's movement than Hattie Wyatt? A black, you know, terrific. Gorman used to be so opposed to a woman even being an international rep, or a business agent. They figured all she was good for was screwing, you know, go to bed with and get the guys in trouble and all kinds of … But it proves out differently. Given the real opportunity of a woman really getting recognition based upon ability …

Page 56
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did Gorman let that happen? Did he push that, allowing that kind of leadership to surface?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I don't think he could help to … See, you know how forces build up, you know the dynamics of these things. When unions like ours and Packing House begin to play a real role, put women in places and he can't hardly resist, you see. And then came the Civil Rights movement … of course, Gorman was always decent on these issues, I don't think that Gorman was any whore or anything like that. He was weak maybe many times in enforcing things, simply because, you have to know the structure of the Amalgamated, you understand, to know why there were these weaknesses. And there were weaknesses.
WILLIAM FINGER:
There were very autonomous international unions.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Very autonomous locals. You had … you know, most unions are structured, you have locals, districts, and then the international. The result is you had a line of communications that touches two or three bases going down through and back up through, but here you got districts, but they are shit in most cases. Then you got up on the top the king and the barons, you see, running the locals, and that is about the way it works.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's good for you, or is that bad?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, it's good … no, it has both good and bad aspects, you see. It is good in the sense that the

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local guy is much closer to Gorman because there is nothing in between that can shelter, you see. Some workers down there are getting a real revolution going, Gorman hears about it goddamn quick up here, you see. That's one of the reasons, I would guess, without taking a deep look at it, that we've had a hell of a lot of receiverships in our international in the last twenty years. Simply because when things begin to boil like hell down in that local union, Gorman knew about it very quickly. There was nobody above us to put out the fire, you see, in between, an echelon in there. And some of these district directors piss in their pants when there is complaints from the workers. Don Smith, our own guy, is one of them. I got a guy named Jack Edwards down in Rock Hill, in a Colonial Store … and it is a long involved story. I don't want to get into it, except that he put a Chinese Wall around the Carolinas … a pay board, did you see it, and just between you and me I suspect that they had some cooperation from our guys on the board, who aren't the best guys, because they make all kind of deals on the Pay Board. "You help me on this issue, I'll give you a break over this one." So, they closed off the Carolinas.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That is the National Pay Board you are talking about?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes, and put a Chinese Wall around us as they call it. Which meant that we couldn't ask the Pay

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Board for parity with Virginia or parity with Georgia, where the rates are higher, you see. But they could ask for parity with the North and other areas and get away with it, you see. For instance Virginia could ask for parity with the Baltimore-Washington rates, their rates used to be no higher than ours.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why pick out the Carolinas?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, Carolina is a big geographical entity and my guess, also, is that we were here.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Which year was this?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Pay work period, and for instance they got a guy in Atlanta, who is a good guy, I like him. But he is a pure and simple trade unionist. The Vice-President down there is a guy named Shark, a real whore, he's a wheeler and dealer, hasn't any thing on the ball. This kind of deal, you see, and what I guess is that on the Pay Board, Poole, Jack Boyd and a few guys who are representatives, gave them the right down there … got from the employers the right that they would support parity from them, providing that they didn't have to give parity for the Carolinas. That's just between you and me, don't say anything.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Okay.
JOHN RUSSELL:
They would agree to Virginia because Washington locals come down into Virginia too, that's another reason of course. But now the Pay Board is gone and this fall we

Page 59
are taking them on, and we are just going to have to do some awful goddamn whoring around if they block us this time. See, we were prepared last year, but they told us you can't strike for paper rates, "We won't support it."
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's kind of a … what can I say, an indication we can lead up to. Let's talk next time about '55 up to the present.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Alright.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Because that is when you were a meatcutter then in some ways. Thanks a lot.
END OF INTERVIEW