Title: Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 19, 1975. Interview E-0014-3.
Interviewer: Finger, William
Interviewee: Russell, John
Subjects: Trade-unions--Southern States Women in trade-unions--Southern States Trade-unions--African American membership Amalgamated Meat Cutters
Abstract: John Russell was an organizer and executive board member of the Fur and Leather Workers Union before it merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union in 1955. Russell begins the interview by briefly describing the merger of those two labor organizations, discussing both the limitations and opportunities the merger posed for radical labor activists. Because of Amalgamated's association with the AFL-CIO, Russell explains how former Fur and Leather Workers had to temper their progressive approach to trade unionization and their adherence to radical politics. At the same time, however, the merger broadened their access to workers and allowed them a wider jurisdiction within the movement. He goes on to describe his work as an international representative for Amalgamated, focusing primarily on his work in North Carolina. In describing how he helped to organize a number of locals for poultry workers throughout the state, Russell explains important tactics such as negotiations and strikes as tools of the labor movement. In addition, Russell charts important changes within the movement and discusses such factors as the impact of the civil rights movement, the relationship between labor and anti-war activism during the Vietnam War, and the shift from production to service workers as the primary base of support for organization. Finally, he offers his thoughts on the relationship between politics and labor, emphasizing his belief that the electoral system was deeply flawed and limiting in terms of offering workers power.