Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, December 12, 1974. Interview G-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Dangerous lives of union organizers in 1930s

Workers joining the United Textile Workers in the 1930s faced firings and union organizers faced harassment and beatings from anti-union workers and police.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, December 12, 1974. Interview G-0039. 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

LEWIS LIPSITZ Right. Was it a risky business to become a union supporter or a union organizer in those days?
EULA MCGILL:
Very risky because at that time, as I said, they didn't have . . . as I remember, there were only two paid organizers on the Textile staff, that's the old United Textile Workers. I don't mean "old," but since we have . . . . LEWIS LIPSITZ The former one.
EULA MCGILL:
Yes. The United Textile Workers, and they had the whole state of Alabama. Most of the people who were involved and carrying the brunt of it were the workers in the plant who were what we would call volunteer organizers, of which I was one. Those people were harassed in their homes by the people that were anti-union that worked with them, the police, because in Gadsden, Alabama a lot of people know the history of the struggles of the workers there to organize, in the Goodyear mills and in the Republic Steel mills and in the Dwight Manfacturing Company, the big textile mill. So many people who were active in the organizing campaign, the workers who were in the plant and on the volunteer organizing committee and we called them volunteer organizers, were beaten up, taken out and flogged and it was very risky. LEWIS LIPSITZ Well, why did people do it? Why did you do it?
EULA MCGILL:
Why I did it? LEWIS LIPSITZ Why did you take the risk? Why not just go along, you know what I mean?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, you see, in a way, you felt that . . . well, my mother said to me when I first joined the organizing committee in the plant in which I worked, and I think that it sums it up as to how all of us felt. My sister, who had it a little better than me, her husband was a union man in plaster and making pretty good money at the time and we were discussing the union at home one night and of course, my father was out of work because of the Depression and I was the only one having a steady paycheck coming in, although it wasn't but three or four dollars a week, it was the only money that we counted on every week. We were sitting at the table talking and I said, "I'm going to join the organizing committee." My sister said, "You'll get fired." My mother said, "Well, what does it matter if she does get fired? She is eating and sleeping, that's all she's doing and she's going to eat and sleep some way." So, we felt that there was no place to go but up and that was the attitude that I had and that was the attitude that I think most of the people that worked with me had. Of course, I didn't last very long, I got discharged and after the general textile strike,which most of the people that came out on strike lost, we did form some good local unions, some of them are still in existence today in Alabama. Most of us, however, had to go back without a contract. Then I joined the Woman's Trade Union League.