Explanations for unions' failures in the textile industry
Elmore seeks to explain why textile mills remained impervious to union organization. He suggests that mill owners were willing to, or forced to, shut down their mills during periods of financial crisis; that mill workers needed what money they could earn; and that competition from the North (he indicts Jewish thread dealers as villains in this story) forced southern mills to keep prices low.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with George R. Elmore, March 11, 1976. Interview H-0266. 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
- BRENT GLASS:
Why do you think it is that the mills have been so slow to organize, when
other industries get organized all over the country? Yet you find in the
South the textile mills have not been organized.
- GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Well, one of the things, cotton mills are not a steady … they
have their peaks and they have their lows. And the majority of them
would shut those things down and throw the key away in those low periods
if they couldn't run them in an organized… They
cut their own throat: in other words there was too much competition,
over-production maybe, and they couldn't make enough to pay
the stockholders. The stock-holders never get much out of cotton mill
stock. And those families, if it hadn't been for someone in
the family being an officer and drawing—you know ten thousand
dollars was a big salary during the thirties…
That's about all they got out of it, and the rest of the
stockholders got next to nothing. It just wasn't there to
give. And the people knew that if they had insisted too much more there
by raising salaries, that the people couldn't make it. And
the man that was the head of the mills didn't have the
ability to get out and get better prices; they had been whittled down.
The Jewish people in the North were buying all of the thread and
handling that, and they would strike a hard bargain when
they'd buy that stuff. So I don't know
what… And they run more the sewing rooms. They were buying
stuff as cheap as they could. And of course the South, they had to stay
low, because they ran Massachusetts out of the textile industry by
underselling them. But it was a touch-and-go proposition. When
you're talking about strikes, we had seen so much happening
at Dan River. I think during World War I they had a strike or two up
there, and I don't know how many times they have been having
labor troubles in Dan River. Now I always looked
at the Cannon Mill; more or less they didn't have a company
union, they made it so pleasant for them over and above all other mills
that the union didn't have a chance there.