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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Vesta and Sam Finley, July 22, 1975. Interview H-0267. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Mill conditions and the reasons for the strike

Vesta and Sam describe the work conditions in the mills in Marion, and this leads them into a discussion of the reasons for the strike of 1929.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Vesta and Sam Finley, July 22, 1975. Interview H-0267. 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

What was the pace like? What did you do when you came to work in the morning, and how. . .
VESTA FINLEY:
Well we went to work at the regular hour, seven o'clock in the morning. But we wasn't rushed like they are today. You'd have rest periods, and they had what they called the company store, where they sold drinks and knick-knacks and candy, and all that stuff. We were allowed fifteen minutes.
SAM FINLEY:
I know you've heard Ernie Ford sing "I owe my soul to the company store." Well, that's where it comes from. [laughter]
VESTA FINLEY:
But then we had an hour for dinner; you see, we came. . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
In the middle of the day, you mean?
VESTA FINLEY:
Yes. From twelve to one we had an hour off for lunch. Most everybody lived here on mill village; most of them did. They'd come home; if they didn't, they carried their sandwiches with them. See, now they've got it set up with cafeterias and all this stuff. But we didn't rush; we'd just stand around and talk. We just sort of kept our work going; you know, the machinery running. But now, you go in there now and you work eight hours; I think it's twenty minutes they allow you for lunch now? Most of them eat on the run, they call it. They carry sandwiches and. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
When they they set up this here stop watch, man with a stop watch to see what you can do in a certain length of time. They wanted everybody to have nine minutes rest out of every hour. When he got through saying that the rest period was over. [laughter]
VESTA FINLEY:
They allow them to smoke. They go smoke, the people that smoke. But they're just allowed so many, and so long at that.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
When you were working there and you had an hour off in the middle of the day for lunch, was this in around 1929 when you started working? What were the conditions like in the mill that made people want to go on strike, and made people want to have a union?
SAM FINLEY:
Well, just oppression, wanting more work out of us. Now you see, they brought up this stretch out system, they called it. They'd put more work on you for the same pay. More work; they didn't know when to quit. And they got to where the people couldn't stand it no longer. That's when they got to hunting somebody to organize them as a union.
VESTA FINLEY:
Well too, there was unrest because there wasn't any. . . . You came out of that mill every thread on your body wet; you know, perspiration. They didn't have the. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
Air conditioning.
VESTA FINLEY:
Air conditioner or anything, we didn't have. It was just hot in there. You'd just burn to a frizzle, the saying is. But it was starvation wages. I know, I started working in the cloth room; I worked fifty-five hours a week for nine dollars and a big five cents. In the weave shop they paid anywhere from $13-$16-$18-$20, depending on how many looms, you know, you had to run. But on the mill village, these houses were just thrown together: no underpinning at all. They had two pumps on each street here for eight families. One pump used to be in our yard; that's before I moved over here. But we had to carry water; all the families on these streets had to carry water from two pumps to do all their washing. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
Had to do your own pumping to get your water. The johnny-house was out in the field.
VESTA FINLEY:
[laughter] Outside, you know. People found out that there were better things for them. And then people from these places like Michigan and New York and Baltimore, they found out about the conditions. And the union organizers come here to let people know there were better pay and better things in store for them. And so then when they did come, they got to writing up, giving write-ups in the Baltimore papers, the New York papers, and putting pictures in there of the mill village, and telling what the wages were and how people were living. Well, that got the people here, the managers, the president of the mill and all, got busy. They underpinned the houses and cleaned the houses. They put bathrooms in the houses, and tried to do that to keep the union out. Which it did; I mean, people went in for that, you know. So we still picked up every once in a while and tried to organize down here, but they never. . . . Some of the places, some of the new industries have been set up here; they have unions. But so far we don't have one down here.