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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 >>

What changed following the strike and what is still the same

Though the strike attracted national attention at first, the mill owners soon figured out ways to win over public support, tactics that they still used at the time of this interview. The Finleys reflect on what was and was not achieved and on the attitude of the contemporary generation toward the strikers and toward unions.

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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
When the whole thing was over, did you think that it had achieved anything? Did you think it was worth what had happened?
SAM FINLEY:
Well, I don't know whether anything that's any good is a cause of bloodshed always. And if you consider these old houses here on stilts, go out there in the street and pump your water by hand (maybe have to wait `til the well filled up again before you could get some water), and go on back here out in the fields in back of the house to the toilet, and running water; if you consider water in the house, toilets built-in, anything, it done us good.
VESTA FINLEY:
It done a lot of good. And too, these streets. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
When they first had the strike, then newspaper reporters-Sinclair Lewis and the bunch of them-they flocked here from everywhere to get stories. And they was taking pictures of these old houses and everything, and plastering the headlines on the front pages of their northern papers. Well, they got busy before anything ever got settled and went to putting water in these houses.
VESTA FINLEY:
And the streets were just cinders that they took out from there; they just got rid of them by just putting them in the streets. So we got streets now. It did a lot of good. And in the inside it was messy; they didn't keep the mill cleaned up, the toilets and things in there like they should have.
SAM FINLEY:
One or two times lately they've got to talking union talk around, and when they get to talking that pretty strongly they get better to the help-just for a week or two. Want to be good to them. But after it blows over then they just get back like they were.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So the permanent changes were mainly in the form of material things, like toilets inside and water. But what about. . . . Did things ever reach a point again where you tried to organize again?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well yes, they've had a real good
SAM FINLEY:
Well, three or four years ago they got to talking it pretty strong and things looked good. And the manager of this plant here stopped everybody's jobs in the whole mill, stopped their jobs off and called them out to the conference room and had a little talk with them. Everybody. And he told them: "Now," he said, "they're trying to organize a union here, and we don't want that. If they organize it," he said, "we'll shut down right then. We're losing four thousand dollars every day we're on." Well, anybody knowed he was lying.
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, he made believers out of them.
SAM FINLEY:
Didn't out of me [laughter] . He said: "We're losing four thousand dollars every day, just running to accommodate the help. Good to them."
VESTA FINLEY:
And you know that was just a. . . . [laughter]
SAM FINLEY:
And he said, "If you get that union, we'll close it down, because we wouldn't care a bit to close it down."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You said a lot of people were believers. How did they believe that? Why did they believe that?
VESTA FINLEY:
Sure. Well, because the big fellow had called them, you know. The big fellow said so [laughter] . Had speakers to come here, or. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
And then when it went for us to have an election, they hired people (several of them) to come in. They give them jobs in order for them to vote in this election; and when the election was over they let them go.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Oh, you mean to vote against the union?
SAM FINLEY:
To vote against the union. It was pretty close, I think, at that.
VESTA FINLEY:
But anybody that had a cent of reason in them knowed that any company couldn't run a loss like that. That's just absolutely out of the world to think they'd do that. But a lot of people: "Well, they said it, and they're losing that money to give us a job. We ought to appreciate it."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were these people mainly your age, or were they younger than you, who believed this?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, in this last go-around they was the younger generation; I mean, you know, younger than now.
SAM FINLEY:
A lot of them don't know about what happened back in 1929.
VESTA FINLEY:
Oh all these young people, they don't know anything about it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
They don't hear from their parents?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, if they do they don't take it in.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That's interesting. What about your own children? I'm sure they've heard you talk about it.
SAM FINLEY:
Well, they believe what I say [laughter, Sam and Vesta Finley]
VESTA FINLEY:
It was all over though before they came along.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were they proud of what you had done?
SAM FINLEY:
Well, I couldn't say for that. I believe they'd fight for me [laughter]
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, I think they were proud to the extent that they knew that living conditions were improved greatly on the mill village. And then they did raise wages gradually along, and the people got to living better. Of course now, these people working down here makes over a hundred dollars, and some of them close to two hundred dollars every week now. Where it used to you didn't.
SAM FINLEY:
I've worked many a week for five dollars.
VESTA FINLEY:
You used to work fifty cents a day when you first started. That was before my time. But it was just a sweat-shop slave place. And they were making money.
SAM FINLEY:
They'd blow a whistle at five thirty in the morning to wake everybody up, to be sure to get them up and get their breakfast and get to work by six o'clock. Well, they worked 'til six that evening, and another shift comes and works 'til six the next morning. They'd stop, maybe, fifteen-twenty minutes to eat a little bite. But now this night shift, it was just all night. Then when they had that strike, they cut it down from twelve hours (never stop), they got it cut it down to where they worked 'til five o'clock in the morning. And they'd go home and the other shift would come in and start right up.