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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974. Interview E-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Fur and Leather Workers Union as a progressive organization

Russell talks about the strengths of the Fur and Leather Workers Union during the late 1940s, prior to their merger with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union in 1955. Focusing specifically on the "Dollar an Hour" campaign of 1947, Russell argues that the union's strength lay in its progressive outlook and its tactic of establishing realistic goals. Although the Textile Workers Union of America had a stronger base numerically in the South, Russell shows here how the Fur and Leather Workers had an especially strong base in western North Carolina.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974. Interview E-0014-2. 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:
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, 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.
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.