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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Edward Cline, November 8, 1979. Interview H-0239. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Non-union workers express their frustrations through violence

Cline remembers losing his temper on the job twice; before unions, violence was a frustrated worker's only recourse, he thinks. He remembers efforts at organizing his mill and explains that mills did not organize because employers could fire their workers for flirting with unionization.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Edward Cline, November 8, 1979. Interview H-0239. 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

ALLEN TULLOS:
Let me just ask you, this fighting is a real interesting topic. Did people ever get into fights with the overseer or the superintendent?
PAUL CLINE:
Oh yeah, I knocked the fool out of one, walked out one time.
ALLEN TULLOS:
When was that? What was that?
PAUL CLINE:
I just didn't like what he said to me. I busted his jaw just about.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would they be trying to speed people up, or. . . .
PAUL CLINE:
No, he just wanted to ride me, and I told him I wasn't no horse. I didn't care back in them days, and I was already mad. He hit me when I was wrong, I just whirl around and hit him. I knocked him down, I knocked him plumb out. Somebody throwed a bucket of water in his face. I just went on home. I got in a fight downstairs. Old boy cut my overalls. He started cutting them, and I told him to cut it out. He just playing, kept on and got bigger and bigger-brand new overalls. I knocked him plumb out the door. His daddy come running in there-that was before I went to weaving, I's young. I come off the farm and I was proud-his daddy come running in there, "What's going on?" I hit him before I knew who he was. I knocked him plumb out there. I went back up and told the second hand and showed him what was done. He said, "Just don't worry about it, I'll go straighten it out." That's the last time. Last time I had a fight, I hate it now about it. That don't make that I'm no biggity or something. I hate the way I done things about people, but see, you lose your temper. I guess it was about as much my fault sometimes. It's a wonder I hadn't got killed, I had a awful bad temper. I'd quit at the drop of a hat, for I could always get a job. That don't do you no good, but, there's a lot of pressure these people under in these mills. Any job's got pressure, but whenever you're doing the best you can, and they still want you to do better, but you're doing all you can and can't breathe and getting nervous and all, finally gets under your skin. That's what a lot of people has nervous breakdowns and things like that-all that pressure. You know, afraid they're going lose their job, some of them's got kids coming in school. That's something to have to worry about. If they'd only wake up and get a union down here. I've tried to tell them that, and I've tried to tell them that. If people'd get a union, where they'd have somebody to talk with, times would be a whole lot better. It's coming later on.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember any attempts to organize any unions in the 30's?
PAUL CLINE:
Sure, sure there was. I signed a card myself right after I went to work. They tried to organize them. See, people was too poor. That's the reason they couldn't. You stay in a company house, they find out you joined a union or signed a union card. They had stool pigeon, they's always somebody. They'd tell, they'd fire you, they don't have no excuse. The government wasn't sticking behind them like they do now. They'd kick you out. They kick people out of their house or don't kick them, they just moved them out-out in the street. You try to go over here and get a job, they'd find out where you work. They'd call up and want to know what's the matter. They had a union of their own. Say, "We fire him on account of union activities." Well, they, they wouldn't hire him for nothing. Sometimes you had to leave the state to get a job. That's the way it was. They moved these mills from (New) England down here to get this cheap labor, and they made millions off of us. They made us sick, now they don't want to remedy it or nothing. It's their fault, because they give us jobs, and we give them our life's work just about and come up with a case of byssinosis and no work compensation or nothing. Twenty-two dollar a month, a lot of people ain't getting that. That's wrong, and the Carolina Brown Lung Association is working to right that wrong. That's their motto. Getting people workmen's compensation, clean up the mill, and a safe work place. That's all I got to say.