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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, September 5, 1976. Interview G-0040-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Labor activist explains her philosophy of worker's education

In this excerpt, McGill explains her philosophy on worker's education. According to McGill, what is most important in educating workers about labor strife was to provide them with a solid background in the history of the labor movement. In addition to understanding current problems, McGill believed that knowing where the labor movement had come from and what kind of progress it had made would help workers to build confidence in their own activism and would prevent discouragement at temporary setbacks. She stresses the importance of historical knowledge at the grassroots level for the success of union agitation.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, September 5, 1976. Interview G-0040-2. 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

Were you sympathetic toward the idea of residential workers' education at that time?
Yes, yes, I am. I've always been interested, because I don't think these one or two days' seminars on workers' education really have the effect it ought to have and really prepare the workers good enough to be real leaders. I think they need more time to study it.
What do you think workers' education should accomplish?
Well, I think it should accomplish. . . . So many times the seminars that I've been to more or less don't give enough labor background history to make a person feel when they're talking to workers or the particular leaders of the rank and file workers in the shop-I hate to use that word "rank and file," because [laughter] I don't feel like I'm nothing but a rank and filer [laughter]. But some people, they want to make the distinction between the paid representatives on the staff and what we call "rank and filers" (but for the people who are working the shop and are the local union leaders). I think in recruiting people who you want to be the leaders in an organizing campaign, you should be prepared (or the people who are talking to people should be prepared); it helps them in talking to workers to help them to understand the philosophy behind the labor movement. I think it helps to give them more confidence in themselves when they're discussing the need for organization to know something about the early struggles, and to know something about people who have tried and failed and kept trying again, and kept failing maybe again and trying again over and over, so that people won't become impatient if it don't happen as fast as they want it to happen. And I think if they understand that and are able to convey that to the potential leaders who are helping to organize and to build the union in the shop it makes them more effective. It makes them be able to talk more and to put down some of the . . . . If a person comes and says, "Well my father was in the coal mines or in the steel mills or in the textile mills, and they tried to get a union and they got fired, and the struggle they went through," then they think, "Oh, what's the use ofputting up a fight for it, because you may fail." They're so afraid to try because they might fail. And so many people who did try and failed and may for a while become discouraged, if they really had the unionism in them and believed in it they'd keep fighting for it. I think it's only the people who let temporary setbacks put them down and hold them back that are . . . I won't say harmful, but they are the people who won't make leaders. You have to have the determination to still believe although you fail.
In your work have you had the time, or have you tried in your own work to provide that kind of workers' education?
Yes. I think that everyday workers' education, every day if you have time to talk with workers not to always talk about current problems, but to let them know where this movement came from, so that it'll help them overcome the temporary setbacks they have by putting the courage in them to keep on-not to become impatient and give up.