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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Caesar Cone, January 7, 1983. Interview C-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Unions try to gain a foothold in the southern textile industry.

Cone remembers a "nasty" strike at his mills in the 1950s. He kept the mills running, but needed to call in the police to protect workers crossing picket lines. The textile industry is particularly vulnerable to unions, he believes, because it does not compensate its employees or its shareholders as well as other industries. Unions follow the money to the doors of the mills, Cone says, but they never gained much of a foothold in the South or among mill workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Caesar Cone, January 7, 1983. Interview C-0003. 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

You mentioned unions a while back. What's been your experience with unions over the years?
The only personal experience I've had with them is, we had a strike some years ago. It was economic as far as the union was concerned. It was the check-off. We didn't give them the check-off. They called a strike, which was unsuccessful. The big majority of our people, I think, went through the gates and kept the mills running. But they had a picket line, and some of your folks from down at Chapel Hill came out there and wanted to see what they could do. Political Science Department. What the heck was his name? It was all over in a few months. I guess it wasn't that long. But it was nasty; we had to have the police out there to protect the gates. See, if the union calls a successful strike and shuts you down, you have no trouble. But if you try to run for those that want to work or the non-union, then you have your trouble. It's a most unfair situation, in my opinion. You have to be real careful, or otherwise you get charged for an unfair labor practice if you try to run your plant for the benefit of those who want to work.
This strike was in the 1960's, I guess?
Oh, it was before that, I guess. I guess it was in the fifties, the last time we had any real trouble. Of course, where you have a union, you constantly have to bargain whatever you do, wage raises or any changes in anything. But the textile union has had its problems, because they realize that they've got a very weak industry. Management doesn't make the wages that other managements make; labor doesn't make the kind of wages; the stockholders don't get the kind of return. I'm talking about in industry in general. The unions recognize that, and they're smart. They go where the money is. They go to the steel and the automobile and the electrical and that kind of industry. After the War, those industries were able to sell their product for anything and didn't want to stand a strike and gave the unions everything they wanted. They got into the hands of the unions to the extent they couldn't get out. The textile industry was not in that situation. I don't know how they set out there now, but we never gave them the check-off, based on the fact that at one time they had two textile unions, the United Textile Workers and the Textile Workers' Union of America. They always had this inter-union strife. At one time we had the TWUA. We were giving them the check-off. The UTW came in. They had a big fight. A fellow, Baldanzi, was one of them. I remember that name. The UTW took over. Then they had a squabble: who owns the local treasury? So we just quit checking off when this new crowd came in. We said, "You all can decide who owns what. We're not going to check off from our people." I don't know how that was settled. Finally, TWUA came in again after a few years. Since then, we haven't given the check-off. The last of my knowledge, up at Danville they still have the United Textile Workers. I don't know just what's what. Of course, the check-off is the life-blood for unions. No expense of collection, a big pot every week. If they have to go punch doorbells for union dues, it costs them damn near as much to pay the guy who's going around soliciting the dues as they're going to get. They say money's at the root of all evils; I agree. They've never been too strong in the South. I think Stevens made a bad mistake. We never fought the unions. We tried to be realistic. Back during my day, ten years ago—I don't know how it is now—out of our about twenty-two plants, I think the unions had contracts in about five or six.