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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mareda Sigmon Cobb and Carrie Sigmon Yelton, June 16 and 18, 1979. Interview H-0115. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Cobb's husband's union activities

Though Cobb refused to participate in the unions, her husband became a prominent member, even serving as the president of his local chapter for a time. She describes what he did for the union, how the employers responded, and why she did not join the effort as well.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mareda Sigmon Cobb and Carrie Sigmon Yelton, June 16 and 18, 1979. Interview H-0115. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
I'd like to hear a little bit more about your husband. You said he was the president of the local union at Hickory Spinning?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did he get elected to that?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
It was in the thirties. I don't know just what year it was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did he get involved in the union?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
He just believed in organized labor and was always pitching.
JACQUELYN HALL:
From the very first, as soon as you married him?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
Yes, all the time.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had he already been involved in some organizing drives
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
No. He didn't get involved till later years. But in the South, why, you never could have nothing, because they won't stick. People won't stick together, and that's what it takes to have a union.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did they win an election at Hickory Spinning?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
Yes. Alec Shuford went and signed a contract, yes. Yes, they won an election up at the Hickory Spinning that one time, and then he went down there and signed a contract when they struck. And he was involved with the one in Gastonia with the CDA's. They had one for years there.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What is the CDA's?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
They've got three mills there at South Gastonia. CDA. The last he worked was in the Armstrong, and he worked there nineteen years in the Armstrong mill. Claire, Dunn, and Armstrong is what they was called, CDA. That's what they call it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How long was he at Hickory Spinning?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
He worked there for two and a half or three years.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he there when they won the election?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
Yes. There when they struck.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How were they able to win the election?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
They had the most votes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did he go around house to house and talk to people?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
No, just in the mill. They had meetings at different places, but that's all. There wasn't no rough stuff or nothing. Grady Falls went all the way; Hickory Spinning didn't. And Grady Falls come over here and tried to start some rough stuff, tried to shut them down up here, but they never got it done completely. That's when Alec went and signed a contract with them. But what made their union weak, they wouldn't pay the union dues, wouldn't sign up for the union. See? You can't make nothing out of nothing if you don't support it. So that's the way it went.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is there still a local there?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What happened to it?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
I don't know, but people went on out. All Shuford's mill was on a contract there for years, but they ain't anymore. But you remember when they was on a contract, don't you, Carrie?
CARRIE SIGMON YELTON:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was the local able to get any of the grievances that they had settled?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
They got a few of them, yes. But the ones that didn't pay union dues called it more than the ones that paid union dues. I mean they wanted more out of it. It don't work that way.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he involved in any strikes?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
Nothing only this one up here at the Hickory Spinning. They never did strike over at the CDA's; they just signed a contract. They never did have no trouble over there. Because they knew them people wouldn't stick and they wouldn't pay union dues, so naturally it would go down.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you think they just went ahead and signed the contract thinking that ...
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
It would go down. They signed a contract there without striking.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did your husband try to keep people from... Talk to people and try to convince them to stick and to pay their dues?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
No, he just asked them to join. Most of them joined voluntarily from the organization, and then they just put him as president, that's all. And then he was secretary-treasurer a while.
JACQUELYN HALL:
At Hickory Spinning?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
No, down at CDA's. He was secretary-treasurer there for a couple years. They had their union in there about eight or ten years, but a factory that way, they change hands, see. It's a different turnover every two or three years, a lot of ...
JACQUELYN HALL:
A different management?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
No, not different management. Different hands. But I never did join a union, and I wouldn't if I was beginning working today, because southern people won't stick together. I don't know, some of the people's scared they'll go hungry or something, in the public works. They ain't going to do it. And a lot of people, they ruin their organization; they think just as soon as they get the organization started, they think they'll strike and get something. That ruins it. There's their first downfall.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why does that ruin it?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
They shouldn't go out on strike. They ought to try to work together and see. I don't think they should go out on strikes. You take that trucking outfit right now, running around, going, doing all that. That ain't doing them no good. They're just wasting their energy, their gas. If they're getting gas to do that, why come they can't get gas to haul? [Laughter] That's right.