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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 >>

The "race issue" and its impact on labor organization in the South

Here, McGill describes how the "race issue" affected labor activism. In several elections in the 1950s and 1960s, McGill explains how company bosses played the race card to prevent the unions from gaining too much of a majority. Although the National Labor Relations Board sided with the unions that employers should not be allowed to make race an issue in order to thwart labor organization, company bosses found a way around the restrictions. McGill attributes the union election losses during this era to company bosses' assertions that the organization of laboring people would lead to miscegenation. This demonstrates one way in which issues of race and class might have worked together to either limit or further the aims of the labor movement.

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

think that's when I came to Bremen to start a campaign on the Sewell Manufacturing Company. And I was in there about two years, and went through about three elections. Had to have run-overs due to them violating the law. That's when the Board made the decision that you couldn't use the race issue. That's where the ruling came that the race issue should not be injected into an organizing campaign. An unfair labor practice was the race issue. And we had two elections set aside.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The NLRB made that decision?
EULA MCGILL:
Yes, based on our charges. That's what they used, the race issue.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did they do that?
EULA MCGILL:
They put out leaflets showing black and white people together, saying "Do you want this?". About that time, you know, was when there were the riots of the 1954 Supreme Court decision for integration. And they made it so strong we filed charges and used that as one of the reasons. The Board ruled in our favor. We had another election and lost it. They used the same things again, violated the same laws. So the second time we got it set aside we decided there wasn't no use doing it again. They didn't mind violating the law; they'd just do the same thing again. And during the time I was there then the Decherd situation got hot. I went up there, and we had to strike that plant. Then I came back and there was a walk-out in. . . . [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
EULA MCGILL:
In '65 or '66, I guess it was about that time, we had contacted a few people at the Warren Sewell Clothing Company in Bowden, Georgia. People walked out on strike.And as a result of that, why, we signed up a majority of the people. But we lost the election, and we lost that election over the race issue, I think. I think it was a predominant factor that caused us to lose that election, because while there was nothing we could prove. . . . There were three actually separate plants, separate buildings. I called it the Compound: a coat shop and a topcoat shop and a pants plant, particularly suits. The day of the election the Board agents came down to inspect the polls, something no company had ever done before. Took us all through all the plants, inside, outside, walking across dirt, and took us in the last building where the election was going to be held last. It was not necessary to take us through all those buildings, and I thought at the time there was something funny. Usually the company will take you in the door nearest the polls and that's all they'll let you see. But they took us through every one of the plants, walked us through. And the men holding the election, among one of them was Maynard Jackson who was working for the NLRB. That was the first time I had ever seen Maynard Jackson. So we had the election. And that night after the election was over and we were back at the union hall some of the people asked me if he was a Negro, asked me if there was a Negro holdingthe election, asked me if he was a Negro. And I said, "Well, I don't know"-and I frankly didn't, because Maynard was light and I didn't think about it. But that's what had happened. All during the day they had gone around and said, "See, who they have holding the election. They've got a Negro holding the election." And I think that caused us to lose it. And then I realized why the company had paraded us all through those plants, so they could let the people see Maynard.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there a big upsurge in using the race issue against the union after '54, or had that been done all along?
EULA MCGILL:
It had been done, yes. Oh, the CIO, we were known as, they called us Negro lovers and Communists. Even some of the AF of L groups, while we was separate, used that even in talking to people when they were trying to get them to join their union instead of ours. They used the same thing that the bosses used on us, especially the [laughter] United Garment Workers. They used the same tactics the bosses did, calling us Reds and nigger-lovers and all this kind of stuff.