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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Anne Queen, April 30, 1976. Interview G-0049-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Company paternalism and growing awareness of workers' rights

Queen describes the paternalistic nature of the Champion Paper and Fiber Company. Queen worked for Champion during the 1930s and she describes how the company was family-owned and operated. Queen describes how this paternalism affected the workforce and she explains its impact on efforts to organize the workers. According to Queen, social changes implemented by the Roosevelt administration made workers more aware of their rights to organize, despite what she terms "the beneficent paternalism" of Champion.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Anne Queen, April 30, 1976. Interview G-0049-1. 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

Champion has a reputation for being kind of a model paternalistic factory.
Yes, it was. But you know, now the management has changed. Reuben B. Robertson married the daughter of Peter G. Thompson and he became the chairman of the board and I expect that the most powerful people on the board were still Thompson-related. Reuben B. Robertson, who is a Yale graduate, was on the board and two of Thompson's sons were on the board and during those days, it represented, I would say, a kind of beneficient paternalistic enterprise. It was better than the Cannons. They built Camp Hope, which was a recreation center for people in the county. Lake Logan … Camp Hope was named for Mrs. Robertson, Lake Logan was named for one of the sons, who by the way, is now involved in this Pinehurst Mortgage and Loan Company that has declared bankruptcy and they haven't been able to get a hold of him to report his losing a million dollars. Then there were three children of the Robertsons, Hope, who married one of the Dr. Northerns, Reuben, Jr., who became sort of the heir apparent to his father, and Logan, who is a physician but is now in business. Both of the sons went to Yale. Reuben, Jr. graduated from Yale, and I think may have gone to Yale Law School. All during that administration in Champion, it was really very much a family institution. For instance when my youngest sister wanted to get a job, I went to the director of personnel, and because I worked there and I had a good record, my sister was able to get a job. Up until a few years ago, that's the way that people got a job, using influence. But Reuben B. Robertson, Jr. was killed in an automobile accident outside Cincinnati and died after I had come to Chapel Hill, while I was still living on Valentine Lane. With the death of Reuben B. Robertson, Jr., the stockholders began to change and now, it looks as if the Robertsons have very little if any influence or any power. It is very different. And of course for a while they had very little competition, but now the competition in the paper industry is very fierce and the whole nature of the relationship between employer and employees has changed. I can remember during my early years that there was a strike and an effort to organize. They were never organized until just a few years ago and for a while my sister didn't join the union, although I had long since come to the point where I really saw the value and necessity of organized labor in our society, I felt that this was her decision to make and she came to the decision to join the union for the right reasons. She joined because she felt that unless you have the union to represent your interests now in the kind of administration that they have, that you didn't have any security. I thought that the most moral reason that she gave was that it was unfair for a person who works to be the recepient of benefits of the union without carrying their responsibility for the union. When you were in the mountains last year, they were negotiating a new contract and it looked as if there was going to be a strike and you know, there was just sort of a feeling of gloom that settled on the whole county, because Champion, although it doesn't have the same kind of power in the county that Cannon has, it is …the county is dependent on it for its economic well being and actually, the date for the strike had been set and they came back for one more session and reached an agreement on the contract.
But you said that there was labor union activity there in the thirties.
No, it was before that, in the twenties. I was very young. I can remember … I have very clear memories of the sense of despair that everyone had and …this shows how it was a very subtle effort to control the workers, but there were some people who lost their jobs because of their union activity and were never able to regain their jobs, but on the other hand, there were some who were active in the union and who went back to work when the union was defeated and the plant reopened.
I wanted to try to put together the paternalistic operation of Champion with a need for a union and also your growing social awareness of the labor movement.
Well, this may sort of get at it. There was what was called the Mill Council. Have you ever heard of that? Well, I think this was an effort to at least give the appearance of the democratic process for workers. There was a Mill Council and workers sat on this Mill Council, but the company obviously controlled the council. I'm not quite sure at what point the awareness for the need of a union began to grow in the hearts and the minds of people. It just may be that it was as the competition for the paper industry began to grow and people had a deeper feeling of insecurity. Then I think also that the social legislation that was passed during the Roosevelt Adminstration helped to impress upon people who worked that they do have a voice in their destiny. This, I believe, may have contributed to it as much as anything. As I said, it was beneficient paternalism, but I believe that it was this awareness on the part of people and of course, when I read Pope's Millhands and Preachers, that was sort of the beginning of my own awareness of the role that the trade union movement has in a democratic society.