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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George F. Dugger Sr., August 9, 1979. Interview H-0312. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Dealing with a strike

Dugger resolved a strike by convincing the general manager to allow a union to organize in his rayon plant. He details some of the negotiations he undertook with the manager and a strike leader which resulted in the reopening of the plant and the firing of some violent strikers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George F. Dugger Sr., August 9, 1979. Interview H-0312. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you become the lawyer for the plants?
GEORGE F. DUGGER, SR.:
Yes. They had a strike there. I think it was lack of knowledge in a lot of people. They had brought Dr. Mothwurf, a German official, over. They had big, fine horses and everything. They only paid fourteen cents an hour to start with, and they worked twelve hours a day because they had to have a continuous operation. And that was a big mistake. The man that's working twelve hours a day doesn't have any time for recreation or anything, and they got in terrible strikes. They were blowing up the water company and beating them up on the highway.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did they pay so little?
GEORGE F. DUGGER, SR.:
They kept it about two years. And people went to work. Then a man that had lived out here in the hills and had hunted and fished, it'd take a long time for him to get acclimated to put him in a closed place. He was restless. I knew all those things, because I'd been in charge as a foreman for two years down here and then as a night superintendent, and I had a union to deal with up there. Now here's where the trouble comes in. Unions are all right if they're run all right. But the manufacturer does not want the politicians talking to the labor, because he stirs up trouble through politics and different things. We had a shop council down there. And because I knew everyone here, was born and raised here, what happened was that I was made attorney in 1929, and we settled everything. But then here'd come a man, and they'd fire some fellow. The general manager was a good man, and this fellow would come in with a family and he'd be worrying like everything. He said, "Now this is politics. I voted against that man's brother for sheriff, and they swore vengeance, and I'm not guilty of this." Well, Major Wolfe was the general manager. He'd call me in. He said, "Now, George, make a secret investigation and see what the truth is to it." Well, you couldn't ever find the truth. And so I went back to him, and I said, "Now, listen." He said, "I either have to fire that poor man and uphold the foreman, or I have to change the foreman, and I don't want to do an injustice." "Well," I said, "it's impossible for me to get the truth, and what you need is a union. Then they can have representatives." So we decided, and I installed a union, and we worked good, and we had 6,000 members at one time. And everything went off fine in this country; they built this country back.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you install a union?
GEORGE F. DUGGER, SR.:
We had a fellow here that I'm writing up in the book. He was a minister, and he got elected president of the union. And they'd come in there fighting mad, arguing and everything, and he'd say, "Now, fellows, let's all be quiet. We're going to have a prayer." And he'd start to praying a long prayer. Well, that quieted them all down, you know. He was a good, honest man, and I want to put his name in my book. I'm going to write the story of him. Because what happened was, they had a strike down there, and in these unions the smart revolutionaries take charge, and they do a lot of injustices. And the solid people go home and get older; they watch the movies and take no interest in anything, just hoping it'll do all right. So what happened was, I was in New York, and General MacNider and I served together, and he was a Harvard graduate, the first minister to Canada. We'd been writing each other every Christmas. He'd written a book about World War I and put my name on the front flyleaf of it. He wrote me in World War II that he was going to the Pacific. He was going to go over as a colonel, and since I was now educated with a distinguished law degree and a former judge with a good record, that I could get anything I wanted. And he wanted me to come in, and he had an agreement with General MacArthur that he could have any officer he wanted. "Now," he said, "I will be a colonel, and you can get a commission as a lieutenant colonel, because you're forty-four years old. You go to Washington and get an application, and you'll get a commission probably in the Air Corps, but we'll transfer you." I called Mr. Fuller, the president of the plants, and told him that I was resigning and going to the Army, that I wanted to go back to the Army. And he said, "Don't you do that. I can't let you go. If you do, I'll never have anything to do with you as long as I live. I'll come to Elizabethton. You meet me there tomorrow." I come back to Elizabethton, and they had a strike on. They had about 300 out. And we talked, and he told me then that they was threatening to kill the Germans and that I'd have to be here because I was a major in the State Guard and I had three companies that I could call in at any time. So I didn't go into the Army; I stayed here, and he raised my salary to $14,000 a year, and I worked there and helped look after everything all the way through. And we had two or three little strikes, but these boys here had 300 down and they was threatening to close all the plant down. The president of this union called me up on the telephone and said, "I want to bring my committee to your home, and I'll have to come through the back way, because if they knew we were over there they'd accuse us of settling out, but we want some advice." And he brought his seven men over there, and they told me the seriousness of it. But he said, "Half of those men, they fired seventeen of them, and there's seven of them are innocent, and that means the whole plant'll be closed down. So we want to know what you think ought to be done." "Well," I said, "now when I come in on the train this morning, I …" [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
GEORGE F. DUGGER, SR.:
… from having to close the whole plant down. We had 6,000 people working, and they'd all be out of work. So this man said, "I'll be there at four o'clock." "Now," I said, "you go back over there. You've got about 1,000 men over there, and you've got funds. You buy them Coca-Cola and drinks and tell them that the government man's going to be here, and if they act up now it'll go hard with them. Because you've called him in, and he said he'd come here and be fair about it." So he came in, and he ordered and put them all back to work. And Dr. Vadovich and Judge Ben Allen declared they wouldn't do it. So they called for me, and I said, "Well, he says that he'll have a trial and he'll punish the guilty, because they've tried to beat up some people, and he'll fire every one of them that ought to be fired. But he's got to have time; he can't come back for about a week. He wants everything to cool off." So I talked them into signing it, and they signed it and they all went back to work. Then later on he had the trial, and he fired the guilty ones, and they went away, and they had peace for a long time. But it was this union committee that was trying to do the honest thing.