Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

Contrasting being paid by the piece to hourly wages

Cobb and Yelton explain to the interviewers why they preferred being paid by the piece instead of by the hour. Cobb then tells the story of how she fought against the stretch out at her mill and won.

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

I enjoyed my job. I loved to work. And I always liked to be right at the top of the payroll [laughter] , on piecework. I tried to anyhow.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And did you, usually?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
Usually I did, yes. I tried. I had a bossman come to me at Rex and told me one time--Jim Wilson; he's dead now--"Cobb, you're going to have to cut down. You drawed more than I did this week." He was overhead seer [Laughter] I was just fighting that, though.
CARRIE SIGMON YELTON:
You've got to fight if you make anything on piecework.
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
Yes, you do. You have to fight it. And I enjoyed it. I was pretty active. Before I got sick I wasn't sick nor nothing, and I'd go in there and fight that eight hours. But I'd go down and set down and eat my lunch. Now I wasn't too tight to do that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did some people not even take any lunch?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
No, they wouldn't even sit down. And one time they put a stretchout, this man at Modena. That's when they started giving you more work. Burlington's bought it, and Burlington's put it in.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did they have it?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
In the forties.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And they put in a stretchout?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
Well, Burlington's always do. Anyhow, they was putting the stretchout in, and I didn't work that day. There was something I had to be out. They come around that day and told them not to set down and eat their lunch. I went in a day or two after that. I was setting over there eating my lunch. I never did pay no attention to it, you know. I sat down to eat my lunch. The rest of them... One friend of mine was standing there. I was doubling at that time. It's something like winding, but it was doubling your threads. I was running a big, long doubler. And this lady was standing up beside, watching her doubler, eating her lunch. Then a big dressed-up man looked at me and went over to her, and he asked her, "Little lady, why come you ain't setting down over there like that other lady, eating your lunch?" She said, "They don't allow us to." He said, "Well, why come she's setting down over there eating her'n, and you ain't?" She said, "Well, I've got children to keep up, and I'm scared they'll fire me, and she don't care if they do fire her." [Laughter] See, I didn't have nobody but myself.
PATTY DILLEY:
Who was this guy in the suit?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
He was out of Raleigh, on the wage-hour program. And you ain't allowed to tell them not to set down and eat their lunch. They got laws for that. That was in the late forties, and Roosevelt made laws to that effect. You couldn't tell them not to set down.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But they'd do it anyway?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
They did that time. But when he went out, the overhead seer come along and said, "Everybody set down and eat their lunch, but don't take too long." [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you mean people would keep on working and eat at the same time?
MAREDA SIGMON COBB:
Yes. I saw people do that when they didn't have to do it, though, in public work, because they was so greedy. That's what I told you a while ago; I never was that greedy. I always liked to stay on top, but I went to the lunch room and set down to eat my lunch. I wasn't ever that way. I don't think it pays you to be that way. It makes you nervous. If you set down and relax a little bit and drink something and eat a little something, when you go back you can do a whole lot more. That's the way I always had it figured, in this here lunch business working. And I never would work on a job that got on my nerves.