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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 that turned violent

Dugger offers a look at some of plant managers' responses to strikers and strikers' responses to management. He recalls his effort to break the 1929 Elizabethton rayon plant strike in two ways. First, he offered jobs to strikers' family members, thereby shaming the strikers into returning to work. Second, he filed an injunction to keep strikers off the plant property. Strikers attacked his car as he entered plant property, he remembers. Despite their anger, workers returned to their positions and were later given higher wages and better conditions.

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:
Could you tell me a little bit more about the 1929 strike?
GEORGE F. DUGGER, SR.:
This strike here was in the beginning of World War II, and we had a lot of trouble here, a lot of trouble.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'm trying to learn about the 1929 strike.
GEORGE F. DUGGER, SR.:
That's when we did have all the trouble, but we went into the plant and took a vote, and most of the people wanted to work. And we pledged them all, said, "Now, we're going to give everybody a chance to come back to work, and those that don't come back to work, we'll not put them in here on you." We had 140 people that refused to come back. Then they wanted to get jobs, and they raised cain. And I was the diplomat. I was calling the shots. I said, "Now make an announcement. Let's show that we don't have anything against their family. Let's get the names of all their brothers and sisters, and let's go to hiring them. Give them the preference for a job, and then it'll look like a wart on a man's nose that these other people have done wrong out here, and it's not against the family. If we turn on 140 families here, we've got war. We've got to do this." So we began to call them to work. And it went over ten or twelve years, and then finally the thing got over and we began to slip one or two in. But we never had no more trouble over that, because they found out that we meant business. We went in there and pledged that, that "if you want to strike, that's your business, but if you don't want to strike and they try to run you out of here, we're going to stay with you." And that's what happens shooting at people. The unions gets out of hand, get mad and do a lot of things. And sometimes they've been wrong, and sometimes they have wronged theirself. Human relations is something that is hard to deal with. But the plants here had tax exemption. And they've talked about that, and they lie about that. What happened was that the plants gave the schools a lot more money than they would have had to pay in taxes. But we would give it to the county to pay schoolteachers. During the Depression was terrible. People starved. And I'm scared to death that's what's going to happen again. Because you once get it all out of pocket and they can't get money, something has to happen. And I'm just hoping and praying that we can get some things straightened out.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me about the injunction that the company got against the strikers. You went into the plant to get the bond?
GEORGE F. DUGGER, SR.:
Yes. We got an injunction to keep them off the property, see. And I went in, and they had the officials all locked up in the plant and wouldn't let them out. The vice-president, treasurer, and everybody, the doctors. They was all in there, and they couldn't get out, because there was a mob out there threatening to beat them up. They were turning over cars and beating them up. We had the lawyers in Johnson City get the injunction, and then I had to take it in the plant to get the treasurer to sign it. When I got to the first entrance, there was about 300 there, and I thought, "Well, I can't make it." I went to the other entrance, and I put my car in low, and I had a ninety-two-horsepower; now you've got 400 horsepower. But I put that ninety-two horsepower, and there was about 300 people in front trying to hold the car. And it was jumping; I had it in low. And somebody hollered, "Get to the side and turn the SOB over." And when they broke loose, I touched forward. And I saw an old man with a brown coat on who was on his hands and knees, and I was bumping him and I didn't want to kill him and I stopped. And a big rock come through the back window. It weighed about two pounds and landed on my steering wheel and fell down on the ground, but it broke the glass, and I bleed easily, and my face was bloody all over. Well, I got in there. The doctors was all scared, and I told them, "I'm not hurt. It just pricked my skin." And I got treated up, and I had to get out. And I had that injunction signed, and we never did get them all out of the plant. They was eating up the food down there; they couldn't get out. They had 2,000 people locked up in that plant, and they wouldn't let them out. They was marching around there with clubs and sticks and everything else. So I come out the front, and I had a wildcat whistle on. And I put my wildcat whistle on. I let it play. It'd sing like everything. They was out there whooping and hollering, and I started out. And I told some of them there then, "I think they've got sense enough to run out of the road, but I'm going across and hit that Bemberg road, and I'm going fifty miles an hour. But I think with this whistle that that'll teach them that there's danger." And they all ran out of the road, and I got across. Then I come uptown and gave it to the deputy sheriff with twenty deputies, all armed, and he went down there and ordered them off the property. He punched them off and got them all off and got it quieted down. Then we got the people out, and then we got back to work.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you settle the strike?
GEORGE F. DUGGER, SR.:
We settled it by just putting them back to work. We never had no settlements. We just called people back to work. They didn't have enough weight then to do anything. They all wanted to get back to work. Then we improved a lot of conditions and put them on a forty-hour week instead of twelve hours a day, and put them on three shifts. Then we went to raising wages, and we were high wages. We were high industry, and all these homes that you see here was built by those plants. They improved a lot of things. And then they messed them up. The politicians got in it, and a politician cannot handle labor. It's got to be done by the management that's got to deal directly with them. Then they can talk their language and remove a lot of the little frictions. But if the politicians get in there, they stir it up and make it worse.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did the politicians do?
GEORGE F. DUGGER, SR.:
They go and try to control them, you see. They stir it up, talk and do a lot of things. They're only interested in getting votes, and sometimes they make a mistake and they go and get people doing crazy things. Just like up here on the highway, shooting. They shot a doctor up there yesterday. That's the worst thing they could do.