Tension escalates between striking food workers and the state
Pollitt offers an outline of escalating tension between the striking food workers, their supporters, and the state. During the strike, Pollitt was the chairman of the Faculty Advisory Committee. Because the university was not allowed to engage in collective bargaining, Pollitt explains how the Committee supported the strikers as best they could. In addition, he describes how he and other faculty were supportive of the food workers' alternative cafeteria, which sparked media tension and led to Governor Robert Scott's decision to put the national guard on alert.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, March 21-22, 1991. Interview L-0064-6. 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
- ANN MCCOLL:
So there were the food workers' strike going on, but other
parts of the University were also getting pulled into this?
- DANIEL POLLITT:
Oh, yes. They were getting pulled into it because they were, you know,
sisters and brothers and cousins and neighbors and all that sort of
thing. Now the interesting thing is that when Bill Aycock was the
Chancellor, there had been an informal group called the
Janitors' Union. The head of it was the head janitor at the
law school and they used to meet every other week with Bill Aycock to
discuss their problems, but when Bill Aycock stopped doing it, nobody
picked it up. There was another major problem with our dispute; the
state law of North Carolina, which is unique, it's the only
one in fifty states that says that it is illegal for public employees to
engage in collective bargaining. It's illegal. So the
Chancellor, Carlysle Sitterson, sent over to the Attorney General some
request for information. "Can I sit down and negotiate with
these people?" And he got back the expected answer which was,
"No, you can't." I don't know
why he asked. He knew what he would get. The Attorney General is not
friendly. Beverly Lake or somebody. So they shouldn't have
said negotiating. What we urged was that he have
an open door policy and talk to all members of the University community.
That was our position. That's not collective bargaining.
That's open door policy and if he'd asked that he
would have gotten a different answer I think. So Sitterson was, I like
him and we'd been allies on a lot of things and
I'd been his chief opposition on a lot of things, but I was
the chairman of the Faculty Advisory Committee, a group of nine faculty
which meets once a month to advise the Chancellor. It's
supposed to meet once a month, but the by-laws say it can meet on the
call of the chairman. Well, I was the chairman then and I called it
quite regularly without Sitterson's presence so we could
discuss in his absence and then report to him advice that we thought was
appropriate because there were a lot of things going on at that time. So
in any event, that's what we did. And then the strike
progressed and there wasn't much action. We had moved out of
the law school and the workers at Lenoir picketed every day between
mealtimes. It was closed most of the time, but they had a few strike
breakers who would come and serve. The cafeteria workers met in the old
law school building. It would get cold in February and March and snow.
There's one of the pictures in the Tarheel where
there's snow on the ground. So that's where they
hung out. They hung out in the old law school building. Then they
decided to serve meals there and it was to support the strikers really,
for a dollar. You had to pay a dollar. You got a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich and all the Kool-Aid you could drink. But they made sandwiches.
They didn't wrap them; they just had
them there and they'd have Spam sandwiches and peanut butter
and jelly and whatever and then the great big jugs of Kool-Aid. I used
to eat there every day. Then my group would meet there. We started to
meet there. Then they put out a black liberation flag that was hanging
from it and WRAL came around. I don't know. I think Jesse
Helms was still the Vice President there and he had his five minute
commentary every day at 6:25, so he broadcast, "Hey, the
strikers have seized the University building. They have appropriated it
for their own and it's public property and why
doesn't Governor Scott free the University buildings from the
strikers?" With that, what could Governor do? So he announced
that he was going to evacuate the cafeteria strikers from the old law
school building at 11:00 on a given day. So they sent a hundred highway
patrolmen and they all had these plastic masks coming down over their
face and everything in case anybody threw tear gas at them or something.
And they had batons which were about five or six feet long. As great big
a things as I had ever seen; they were big. They came over in buses and
they parked behind the old baseball field.
- ANN MCCOLL:
Had there been any violence up to this point?
- DANIEL POLLITT:
No there'd been no violence. Well, there'd been one
episode of violence. They did have meals. Some few people ate there.
Then there was picketing. I picketed. I picketed every supper at the
entrance that faces the old law school. There'd be about
fifty of us and we'd have a big elliptical thing. And I was
there every night from 6:00 to 6:30 after I left the law school on my
way home. But a group of black student movement
people, maybe ten of them, at about 7:30…. They stop serving
at 7:30 and they clear out at 8:00. At about 7:30 at closing time a
group of ten black student movement people went through Lenoir and
turned over the tables. So they were indicted; "Assault upon
the tables," as Judge Bailey put it. The judge acquitted them.
The DA didn't prosecute or something. But that was a big
deal. "The black student movement trashes Lenoir Hall"
or something. But that was the only violence, I think. Now there was
some other possibly. There would be an early morning delivery of the
food and that would be about 5:30 or something. They'd bring
the milk and butter and the bread and whatever and they'd
come in trucks and they came from Durham. Those guys were members of the
Teamsters Union. So the decision was whether we ought to picket at 5:30
when the trucks come. Well, I wasn't going to picket at 5:30.
So somehow the Malcolm X University agreed. This is the black Muslim
crowd and Malcolm X is their leader. The truck drivers were whites. So
after they picketed a week and the truck drivers had passed right
through them and they'd shout at them,
"Honkey", I think they formed a line and laid down on
the street or something. Then the cops came to pull them away and they
did it roughly; dragged them along, you know. Then that led to an
exchange of words, "Okay, you're resisting arrest.
I'm going to put the cuffs on you." "You
ain't going to put no cuffs on me you white son of a
bitch." And then they did get an injunction against the Malcolm
X University; "Interfering in our labor dispute." They
ignored it and nothing happened. So those were the episodes of violence.
It was really that one episode when they
overturned the tables and the other episode where they blocked the
street. But in any event, Governor Scott came to the rescue of the law
school building. The whole faculty from here went over to see it.
- ANN MCCOLL:
Were there camera crews? Did everyone know this was going to happen at a
- DANIEL POLLITT:
Oh, yes. They had camera crews from NBC and CBS and everybody was there.
There was a certain time they were going to evacuate. They wound up on
the walkway between South Building and Wilson Library which is halfway.
They had a big line; I think they had three ranks or something like
that. Then the command was, "Step forward". So they
all made one step forward. And you know we were there to give them
daisies or flowers. [laughter] I got mad.
I really did. I didn't think I could get mad about this, but
I really felt angry that they were invading my campus and that they were
liberating the law school which did not need liberating. If
they'd just wait a few minutes they could go in there and get
some Kool-Aid and a ham sandwich or something. But it was wrong. They
were trying to put the strikers out in the snow. So they did. They
advanced one step at a time. Richard Smith, who was a colleague of mine
at the law school, had been neutral. He'd signed this
petition against saying that any graduate students who strike ought to
be fired. That's law and order, which everybody in the law
school had signed except me. Richard had signed it and he had been real
big. He played tackle at Arkansas and was an All Southwestern football
player who had been offered Chicago Bears in the draft
or something. He hurt a knee. So he was here and he was
with me and he got mad. I said, "Richard, leave them
alone". He said, "But they're coming on our
campus." It was very aggravating. But they took their steps.
They took their giant steps and we'd take little midget
steps, three backwards. Then they go to the cafeteria in the law school
building and a couple of black kids took down the flag hanging out of
the window and they all scooted out the back entrance and the building