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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Cary J. Allen Jr., April 3, 1980. Interview H-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Efforts to persuade workers to join the union

Allen again emphasizes the impact of employer paternalism in making aluminum workers in Badin, North Carolina, reluctant to join the union. Despite widespread fear of job loss, Allen and other labor activists were able to hold an election and establish a union in 1937. Promises of better working conditions, higher wages, and media coverage of labor agitation nationwide served to garner just enough support for a union. In general, Allen recalls that most union members at the time were single; workers with families to support were more hesitant to join the cause.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Cary J. Allen Jr., April 3, 1980. Interview H-0001. 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

ROSEMARIE HESTER:
How about the question about S.A. Copp? Did his paternalist influence that he had in the town encourage people to want to join the union?
CARY J. ALLEN, JR.:
No, on the contrary.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
They were fearful?
CARY J. ALLEN, JR.:
They were bitterly against unions.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
How did you finally convince them?
CARY J. ALLEN, JR.:
I don't know whether we ever convinced him or not. We just formed a union, and then the government came down and took a vote. They went to the various places, to High Rock and all, and took the vote, and we won the vote and then sat down and negotiated a contract with the company.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
How did you win the vote?
CARY J. ALLEN, JR.:
They had a secret ballot, and the guys would go in and vote for the union or against the union. The union won by eleven votes out of over fifty working plants, so you see it was a very close election.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
This was in 1937.
CARY J. ALLEN, JR.:
I don't really know. I think so.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
But why did they vote for the union if, as you said, they were bitterly against it?
CARY J. ALLEN, JR.:
No, the individuals who worked for the company were not bitterly against a union. They simply feared joining a union because they thought they might lose their job if they did. So they had to be persuaded.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
What arguments did you use to persuade them?
CARY J. ALLEN, JR.:
Better working conditions, for one thing. A higher wage, possibly, if it could be negotiated, was another. We could institute a clean-up modification campaign in the houses that I had previously described to you.. The idea that was spreading over the country with the sit-down strikes in the automobile industry and the upswing of unionism in Big Steel. They were all persuading-type factors. Although I say that most of the early members of the union were single people; they didn't have a family. They had nothing to fear. If they lost their job, they could go down the road and get on another one, so they were willing to join.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
So the news of what was happening in the rest of the country was a factor in reducing people's fear about a union here?
CARY J. ALLEN, JR.:
Yes.