Discouraging unionized businesses
In this excerpt, Faircloth describes his goals as head of the Commerce Department under Governor Jim Hunt. He focused on stunting the growth of unions, which he views as "anathema to growth." Faircloth was so anti-union that he discouraged General Motors from building a plant in North Carolina. Faircloth describes the deeply uncomfortable meeting with GM executives.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Lauch Faircloth, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0069. 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
JM: Yeah. Tell me about your tenure there. What was your ambition going in? What had you hoped to see to begin to develop on the North Carolina economic landscape? What sorts of headway did you make? What principal challenges had you found still remaining?
LF: Well, the headway we made was we brought in a lot of industry, an enormous amount of it. It was spectacular. We led the nation for a number of years. One thing I did was to try to keep the industrial climate so it could continue to grow. One event that would have changed the landscape of the Research Triangle Park in it's heyday going back then--. I felt very strongly that unions--. Well, I didn't feel. I knew.
JM: I'm sorry. You felt very strongly that--?
LF: I knew that if we ever allowed a union mindset to come into the state, we could forget the high tech part [of development]. That's proven to be true all over the country. You look at Austin today. You look at Sunnyvale, California. Any area that is heavily union dominated has simply not been able to grow in that area. Anyway, early on--. This is kind of a funny story. Of course, I just view unions as an anathema to business. Early on -- back in the fifties or some time when all the tobacco companies were making a lot of money -- Liggett and Myers bought a verifying piece of land out in the Park, at the edge of it. I don’t know. It was a big piece of land. Maybe it was fifteen hundred acres. It was a big piece of land. Of course, Liggett and Myers just went to hell in the tobacco business. It was the worst run company ever put together. They did it all wrong. Anyway, [they did this] without saying anything to anybody. This must have been '78, maybe. We began to hear that General Motors was buying the piece of land or looking at it, negotiating to buy it and build a Chevrolet engine plant there to be a General Motors manufacturing facility. Well, we'd been all over the country trying to recruit industry, but non-union primarily. It was the way to go. We might not have liked it -- everybody in that mind set -- but if it was a union plant, I just simply had more difficulty finding them a location. We never hung out a sign, but anyway that just absolutely shocked me because I knew the kind of people we were trying to get with IBM and Northern Telecom and Burroughs-Wellcome. I was courting Glaxo back and forth. Of course, they were coming, at that time, to Zebulon. I knew that the last thing under the sun we wanted was a United Autoworkers Union sitting out there. Shearon Harris, president of CP&L, at the time, was on the GM board. A man named Charles Murphy -- I think that’s the man's name -- was president of General Motors. I called Shearon, and he got me an appointment with Mr. Murphy. Well, I got up there. A big limousine met me at the airport and took me up to the GM building. Mr. Murphy's office was big as a warehouse and mahogany walled. Anyway, it was in the morning -- about ten thirty or eleven o'clock. We were going to have lunch. That was the plan. I was by myself. I didn't carry anybody with me for a number of reasons. I normally travel by myself. I didn't feel like I needed anybody. Particularly on this trip, I didn't want to take anybody. He had a room full of people -- you know, seven or eight. He started out saying that he knew how anxious we were to have the General Motors plant. It wouldn't be as fast as we wanted it, but they were negotiating on the land and would begin to be moving. I said, “Mr. Murphy, there is a misunderstanding as to why I am here.” Hunt did not know [about] this. I think he would've been appalled if he--. I'm sure he would not have wanted to block that GM plant, but I didn't tell anybody anything. I said, “Mr. Murphy, we don't want a GM plant in the Park. We feel that it is not the direction we want to move in and would be detrimental to the type of industry we are trying to attract there with the UAW there.” I said -- and this was the one thing I said that made me just furious -- “You all signed that Ruth and Naomi agreement with the union. We simply don't want that.” He says, “What do you mean, Ruth and Naomi?” I said, “You remember in the Bible where Ruth told Naomi 'Where thou goest, I goest.’'' I says, “You all have signed that with the union, which means UAW will be there from day one. There's no question. It's just not what we want.” He says, “You mean you don't want a General Motors plant in North Carolina?” I said, “Well, no. That's not what I said.” I said, “I would prefer you not come into that particular area. That’s where we're trying to develop a very high tech industry.” He says, “Well, I don’t see the difference.” I said, “There is a difference.” Anyway, he did what all big shots do. He pushed a button or something. In came his secretary or aide in a flurry and said that he had two dead uncles and a dying mother, and he had to go immediately. So, out he went. Then in a little bit the other people were--. Nobody was saying anything. The conversation was kind of dying, and they began to drift off. Some, without saying anything. Finally, it was down to one man. Oh, and of course Mr. Murphy had had to cancel the lunch with all the things that were coming up. Finally, one sort of young man -- kind of the aide to the aide to the aide --asked me if I needed a ride back to the airport. I told him, “No, I'd go down front and get a cab and get on back.” I got up and left and that was the end of that. They never came.
JM: I guess not. Anybody here in North Carolina displeased that you had sort of freelanced on chasing General Motors away?
LF: I don't know that a lot of people even knew it. They didn't announce that a jackass from the Commerce Department had come up and told them that they didn't want them to come. They announced something very stiffly and let it die.