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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Hierarchy among cotton mill workers

Mary Thompson explains why she preferred working piecework to getting an hourly wage. This leads her into a conversation about the hierarchy of jobs in the mills.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. 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

JIM LELOUDIS:
Did those of you who were draw-in hands ever set some kind of informal rules about how long you'd work or how fast you'd work?
MARY THOMPSON:
No, you could work as fast as you wanted to. Of course, there was laws; if you worked over eight hours after the law come in, you'd have to be paid time-and-a-half. But before the law come in, they didn't have to pay time-and-a-half noway, but you still got paid for the work you done; it was piecework. And the more you worked, the more money you made, but you still didn't get time-and-a-half. But if the bossman wanted you to work and you wanted to work, there wasn't no law that said that you couldn't work or nothing like that. So maybe I'd want to work late, and if they needed me the bossman would ask me, and I'd tell him I would. I always was right up to working late, getting all the work in I could. So that's just the way it was. It was all piecework, and if I drawed in fast I just made more money. Somebody else fool around and go to the bathroom or sit around and talk and such as that, why, they just lost their money. But I was out for making all the money I could. [Laughter] So I done good at it.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did you prefer piece rate over an hourly wage?
MARY THOMPSON:
Oh, yes. That gives you the incentive to get more interested in your work, to see how much you can do. Yes, I liked piecework the best. People that didn't like to work much, that wanted to sit around and talk and go to the bathroom and such as that, most of them would say they'd rather work on hour work, but people that go in there to make money… See, you made more money on piecework. But that's about all I know about my work. It was kind of interesting to me, but it was boresome, I guess, to hear other people talk about it. [Laughter]
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did any of you ever compete to see who would do the most?
MARY THOMPSON:
I don't know whether you could call it competing or not. Some of us could do it whole lots better than others. There was some that could do even better than me. I could usually stay up about with the top. And there was some of them that wasn't a fast hand and didn't want to be. As long as they could make the minimum wage, they were satisfied, and so they didn't make too much. But drawing in is a good-paying job. They always paid us good.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How much did you make?
MARY THOMPSON:
Well, there was different prices. When Roosevelt first come in, we made twenty-five cents an hour. [Laughter] Before then, we didn't make that much. I don't remember much. When I first started working in the mill spooling, I think I made about ten cents an hour. But then when I went to drawing in, I don't remember just what I made then, but I've made as much as a hundred dollars a week drawing in. That was before things got… That was good money, but not every week. Just when they'd have good work, good patterns, and everything went just right.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did the other people in the mill look up to you or treat you any better?
MARY THOMPSON:
No. We was all cotton mill people, so it didn't make any difference. I don't guess they did. I never did think of myself as any better than anybody else.
CARL THOMPSON:
We was all just about alike.
MARY THOMPSON:
Loom fixers made about the same as we did. Everybody was just about the same. There wasn't no one no better than the others because they had a different job. We was all workers, and cotton mill workers.