Title: Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974. Interview E-0014-2.
Interviewer: Finger, William
Interviewee: Russell, John
Subjects: Trade-unions--Southern States Trade-unions--Officials and employees--Southern States--Education Amalgamated Meat Cutters
Abstract: John Russell was an organizer for the Fur and Leather Workers Union during the 1940s and 1950s. A member of the executive board during those years, Russell describes the events leading to the Fur and Leather Workers' merger with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union in 1955. Russell begins the interview by describing the Fur and Leather Workers heritage of radical politics and their strong southern presence, particularly in the mountain region of North Carolina and Tennessee. Russell discusses the Fur and Leather Workers' success in organizing strong locals throughout this region, including the Laundry Workers Strike of 1947 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Although that strike ultimately failed, Russell uses the event as a lens for understanding the strategies and tactics of the Fur and Leather Workers and to describe the strong support base they had. Throughout the interview, Russell focuses on the progressive thinking of the Fur and Leather Workers and argues that they had a strong vision for trade unionization. As a result, they supported Progressive presidential candidate Henry Wallace in 1948 while the mainstream labor movement loaned their support to Harry S. Truman. Because of their progressive politics (and their association with the Communist Party), Russell explains how the Fur and Leather Workers were increasingly prone to red-baiting by the late 1940s and early 1950s. Because of this, Russell argues that the executive board ultimately determined to fall in line with the mainstream movement by merging with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters (and by proxy the AFL-CIO) because they believed they could make a stronger impact by working within the movement rather than outside of it. In describing how the merger came to fruition, Russell focuses on the roles of various leaders of the Fur and Leather Workers, including Ben Gold, Abe Fineglass, and Irving Potash. Finally, Russell briefly discusses the aftermath of the merger and how AFL-CIO leaders like George Meany and Patrick Gorman affected the progressive approach of the former Fur and Leather Workers.