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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 19, 1975. Interview E-0014-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Shift from production to service workers as base for labor organization

Russell offers a brief history of the evolution of the labor movement and offers his thoughts on what he believes the next phase to be when the interview was conducted in 1975. According to Russell, a decisive shift had occurred since the 1930s, when the thrust of the labor movement had been oriented around the organization of production workers. By the mid-1970s, Russell suggests that workers in various service industries—health, education, law enforcement—would constitute the next major basis of organized labor.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 19, 1975. Interview E-0014-3. 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

Let me just point out something on a national basis. In the thirties, the great movement was for the great mass production indistries to organize, right? This was a completely new thing, with rare exceptions, like the Mineworkers, you know. Basically steel, auto, electrical. They organized. This was new thing in organzation. They went off and organized mass industries. It was absolutely necessary at that time. The elite as represented by the building trades and many other groups like that had been bought off, paid off, they wouldn't fight for nothing except their own narrow interests. These people knew they had to go, they felt instinctively, that's their only means of survival. What's been happening in the last few years here? What you see now is state, county, municipal workers, federal workers, all kinds, it doesn't matter, doing things like fighting, striking, doing things they never did before. Another great mass of people being moved into action. By the very facts of life, whether you like it or not. For instance, a teacher used to get $6000 a year, $6700 after years of experience, or $8000 was a big deal. Our policemen got a hundred dollars a week, a hundred and twenty-five, today he makes nine, ten, twelve thousand bucks a year. So they got moved into action because of the basic economics of the situation. They just couldn't stand it any longer. Now you see it, the county workers, the hospital workers you name it, great sections that were never organized before.
Well it's true, AFSCME's getting much larger. But the percentage is still getting smaller.
It doesn't matter. What I am saying is that today those who are in service industries, you name it, hospital, medical, doctors, policeman, all these are organizing. They're not mass production workers any longer. That great section is organizing simply because they got the screwing for many, many years, and they ain't going to take it any longer. As they push up their wages and their conditions, and the ecomomy adjusts to that, it will adjust one way or another, this history. The brunt of poor wages, of practically poverty wages and poor conditions are probably going to fall on some other group. What's that other group? Other groups have to be white collare workers, office workers, people who haven't had some organization, who really consider themselves the middle class. They're going to organize, they're going to be forced to do so. They're going to be like the building trades that were organized for many years, the mass production, the service, the public sector, you see. They are all going to, just like the ballplayers, just like the doctors and the lawyers, like anybody else, there has to be an organization to represent you. So I see trade unions as growing bigger and bigger, becoming a more important part of the nation. You say to me, what's bigger, it's just corrupt. But that will come to an end. In my opinion it will come to an end. How will it come to an end? A revolutionary end, no other way.