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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Workers do not resist a union, but they do resist its radicalism

Pharis became president of his union chapter in the early 1920s, he says. He joined to push for workers' rights, but the union, the United Textiles Workers, eventually dissolved. It sounds like Pharis and his fellow workers were happy to join a union to safeguard their rights, and to give themselves something to do, but did not want to adopt a confrontational posture against their employer, who they felt compensated them well and treated them fairly.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. 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

CLIFF KUHN:
During that time there were textile unions that tried to start up and there was that strike that took place in 1934. Did that effect any of the places you were at?
JAMES PHARIS:
No, they never did. People wouldn't hold out then. They organized unions. They organized a loom fixers union when I was with Marshall Field. They had about a hundred percent. They had up in the nineties percent members. I was one of them. I got to be president of the union. But yet, I still was a company man. Because, at that time, I thought the company was treating us well. When anything would come up in the union hall that I knew wasn't true, I'd always fight for the company.
CLIFF KUHN:
Why did you join the union?
JAMES PHARIS:
Because for later years, for later time, when something did happen—they're going to oppress us or something—I stayed in that union. I know the general manager was a man named Pitcher. The superintendent called me in one day and told me that Mr. Pitcher asked him to talk to me. He asked me why I joined the organization against the company when they been as good as they was. I told him I ain't joined no organization against the company. I says, "I'll fight for the company. I'm in a position to fight for the company's rights by being in the union. I'm fair for the union and I'm fair for the company. I joined the union for the future protection not for what there is now." I know one time they had one of these radical speakers come in the union hall and I introduced him and when he got up there he was running down the supervisor and the white-collar bunch, I just got right up there on the stand. I told him, I says, "Wait a minute. You're on the wrong track here. You ain't going to make no hit with the people here."
CLIFF KUHN:
Was that someone from outside?
JAMES PHARIS:
Yes, someone from outside.
CLIFF KUHN:
How did you get this fellow to come down?
JAMES PHARIS:
The union sent him down.
CLIFF KUHN:
I see. The national union? Was that the United Textile Workers?
JAMES PHARIS:
Yeah. That union went down and just finally just dissolved itself. They could never give the company any trouble. I was in the position one time when I was president there that was a radical bunch in one mill. A loom fixer there, he joined the union and he felt like when he joined the union he didn't have to do his job. That's just the way alot of people in the union are. The supervisor told him that if he wasn't doing his job no more, he didn't have no use for him. He fired him. He come right to the union hall and they call to meeting and I was president at that time. They called a meeting and wanted to strike. They wanted all Marshall Field loom fixers to strike to make them take this man back even though he wasn't doing his job. They wanted to strike right then. I told them, "No. Let's investigate this thing and get the facts of it. If he's right, we'll back him up. If he ain't right, we won't back him up." So he pulled out of the union as soon as that happened and then it (the union) commenced going down. It just dissolved itself. I was there the day we took the charter down and sent it in. I says, "From that day on if ever I joined another union, the charter will be nailed to the wall." [Laughter]
CLIFF KUHN:
How long did the union last?
JAMES PHARIS:
It didn't last but about a year and a half, two years.
CLIFF KUHN:
Do you remember when that was?
JAMES PHARIS:
That was in the early twenties.
CLIFF KUHN:
Do you remember how it started? What caused it to start in the first place?
JAMES PHARIS:
Just somebody—an organizer—come in there and talked to the people, got them started. They commenced joining and it was like wild fire there for awhile.
CLIFF KUHN:
Why do you suppose it spread so quickly?
JAMES PHARIS:
People just wanted to do something. There's no reason at that time because we wasn't making nothing. Of course, we was happy with what we was making. They was treating us good. We had no reason for a union at that time.
CLIFF KUHN:
Did it spread to other parts of the mill or was it just…?
JAMES PHARIS:
No, that particular union didn't go any further.
CLIFF KUHN:
Just the loom fixers.
JAMES PHARIS:
Just the loom fixers.