Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974. Interview E-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Henry Wallace, Harry Truman, and the labor movement

Russell explains why the Fur and Leather Workers Union supported the Progressive presidential candidate, Henry Wallace, rather than the incumbent Democrat Harry Truman in the election of 1948. Although Russell did not believe that Truman was an ineffective leader, he argues that Truman was not as much of a "friend" to the labor movement as he could have been. In addition, Russell believes that the Congress of Industrial Workers supported Truman over Wallace because they had adopted a more moderate approach to the labor movement and did not share the Fur and Leather Workers' vision of a progressive trade union movement by the late 1940s.

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

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 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 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.