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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Perkel, May 27, 1986. Interview H-0281. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Organized labor finds some success in the South

Perkel notes some of organized labor's successes in the South, including its campaign to pressure the federal government to pass labor-friendly legislation and forcing progress on worker health and safety.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Perkel, May 27, 1986. Interview H-0281. 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

Was there anything about it that you felt you'd actually accomplished—I don't know if this is an embarrassing question. It seems like such a long time of so much failure.
Well, there was a sense of satisfaction, even in the face of failures, because fairly early in the Union's history, people saw that it was going to be a tough job and, in order to accomplish anything, they would have to apply leverage as much as possible to augment the little power that they had. This was done primarily through trying to work through the federal government, to achieve more than we could simply on our own. The Fair Labor Standards Act was the first of the laws that were used. Well, even before that, the National Recovery Act, the activities of the NRA committees, were used to try to build worker protection more effectively than we could through our own efforts. The War Labor Board was a government agency that we used to accomplish more than we could by ourselves. The Fair Labor Standards Act, the Minimum Wage hearings and commissions that were set up periodically afterwards were all used to achieve higher wages for textile workers, more security for textile workers, and, most recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was used pretty effectively to gain important protections for textile workers in the health field. The whole problem of byssinosis, the cotton dust desease, was something that the Union, being a minority union, couldn't deal with on its own and had to leverage its power by using the government to establish standards and to enforce standards to protect textile workers from disease. So, much of the satisfaction that we feel—at least, I feel— over the efforts that I've expended, is that we were able to use the government quite effectively in improving the lot of textile workers, in the ways that I've just mentioned.
Well, given the situation you were working against, that certainly does seem like that's something to be proud of.
Yes, I am proud of that. That has given me a great deal of satisfaction.