Title: Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3.
Interviewer: Finger, William
Interviewee: Pierce, Jim
Subjects: King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968 Trade-unions--Southern States
Abstract: Jim Pierce grew up near Ponca City, Oklahoma, during the late 1920s and 1930s. Pierce begins by speaking briefly about his experiences growing up in Oklahoma, paying particular attention to his Cherokee heritage, his education, and his father's involvement in the AFL. Pierce describes how he attended "anti-CIO" meetings with his father during the 1930s, which piqued his interested in labor politics. During World War II, Pierce served in the Navy and developed a worldview that tilted his interest in the labor movement more towards the "militant" side he had been indoctrinated against as a child. Following the war, Pierce began to work for Western Electric, and by 1947, he had moved to Fort Worth, Texas. Along with his fellow workers, Pierce joined the small local union called the National Federation of Telephone Workers. Not associated with a national organizing force like the AFL or CIO, this small union was typical of organization for workers such as he during these years. Pierce participated in a six-week-long strike with his union in 1947. The workers were victorious and shortly thereafter they joined the CIO. Around that time, Pierce became a leader in the local union as a strategy to keep his company from transferring him away from his ill wife and their infant child. From there, Pierce joined the staff of the CIO and worked in Texas, organizing local unions for the CIO until 1954, when the merger with AFL occurred. Pierce's growing interest in the civil rights movement and his continuing adherence to the more radical principles of labor politics prompted him to go to work for the International Union of Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (IUE) at that point. Pierce remained in Texas for several years, organizing locals for the IUE, before taking a more regional approach. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Pierce spent much time organizing workers in Florida for IUE and relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina. During the 1960s, Pierce continued to work with IUE, but through the jurisdiction of the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department (IUD). From 1963 to 1968, Pierce was the regional director of the IUD's effort to organize textile workers in the Southeast. In particular, he focuses on the brief effort of the IUD to organize migrant workers in Florida. Pierce had become increasingly interested in the problems of migrant workers during his career in the labor movement, and the decision of the IUD to halt its effort at organizing this group was a major factor in his decision to leave the IUD in 1968. Pierce concludes the interview by discussing his disillusionment (and simultaneous belief) in the labor movement, his thoughts on the future of labor activism and organization, and his work with the National Sharecroppers Fund during the late 1960s and the early 1970s.