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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

North Carolina's right-to-work law

Finlator discusses North Carolina's so-called right-to-work law in this excerpt. Learning about this law, which makes unionizing very difficult, animated his labor activism and opened his eyes to how anti-union forces were preventing workers from organizing. Finlator reveals some of the tactics companies use to prevent their workers from joining unions and bemoans the fact that working people in the state have so little support.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. 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

Civil rights advocates in North Carolina are relatively few and far between. Tell us about some of your colleagues in this cause in North Carolina.
Well, it would be difficult to name one without naming a lot of others, Jay. I hesitate to do this, but let me tell you an incident. When I first came to Raleigh I picked up an article, and I don't know where I saw it, but it was an article by a young professor of law at the University of North Carolina, named Daniel Pollitt. It was an article about what the labor unions call "14b." And that's known as the right-to-work law. It was an article dealing with the injustice of these laws which were being adopted by legislatures across the country, particularly in the South. A law which really operated to the effect of making it almost impossible to organize labor unions. It was a misnomer: it was called the right-to-work but actually it was in one sense the very opposite of that. And I was already aware of this kind of activity and this law. When I read this article, I said, that law professor has written with such clarity and persuasion and force that I'd like to know him. And I wrote him a letter to congratulate him and thank him for it. And then one thing led to another and he and I became friends. I found out he was one of the most enlightened supporters of the rights of laboring people. Through him and through the years with him (he teaches Constitutional law and the Bill of Rights) my vision was enlarged and my perceptions deepened about civil liberties. He and I have oftentimes come over to testify to committees in the General Assembly. And then I began to learn how labor is treated in North Carolina. And one day I was down in—I won't name the town but it was—an industrial community in North Carolina and the issue of unionization was at stake. They were about to vote. And I saw, Jay, intimidation at its worst. If any of these people working for this industry were seen to be in any kind of association with the labor union organizer, or if they were saying anything in favor of unionization, their jobs were at stake. They were fired. And not only were they fired, but if their wives and children and relatives were in the same industry, their jobs were at stake. And then when this person who'd been fired went out to get credit, the banks refused to extend the credit. If he went to the grocery store and asked them for a charge, the grocery store would deny him. All of the town would penalize him. And then if he went to an adjoining town, or a nearby town, or a town far away he was on a blacklist and they wouldn't hire him because of this. And I saw that he had no right of free speech, free assembly, free press, due process, equality under the law, and I said, "My God. There's no hope for these people unless they have something to protect them. And if the labor union is not able to deliver on better wages or working conditions, just the fact that it would give these people a sense of belonging to something, a solidarity, a base of support to make them become self-respecting American citizens." And I said, "All of their civil liberties have been denied." How could you not defend those people? This association with poverty was another matter for the University. Frank Graham, Paul Green, Daniel Pollitt. None of them Baptists, but they were all dear friends, very enriching in my life. And so I saw that unions … I remember the story about this guy going to court and hearing his case read out. "The next case is the State of North Carolina against Paul Jones." And when Paul Jones heard that read out he said, "My God, what a majority!" But when you look at a union in North Carolina, what have you got against it? You've got the churches against it. I've been to AFL-CIO meetings in North Carolina and people told me, "Oh, I wish our pastor would identify with us. He always identifies with his managers." The chamber of commerce, many of the newspapers, merchants associations. Everything in North Carolina that has power is against the working man when he tries to have a little power of his own with his union. And not to be an advocate of this person is to forfeit, in many ways, your opportunity as a minister to love people.