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W. E. Faison
The Dignity, Power and Responsibility of Organized Labor: Labor Day Address, Greensboro, N.C., September 4, 1905
[S. l.] (Raleigh, N.C. : Allied Printing Trades Council): [s. n.], [1905?].

Summary

William E. Faison was born in Wake County, North Carolina, near Rolesville, on December 8, 1869. When he was still a boy, Faison and his family relocated to Raleigh. He later worked as a printer, was a member of the Raleigh Typographical Workers Union, and served as commissioner of the North Carolina Bureau of Labor and Printing for several years. He was also a member of the Masons as well as the Junior Order United American Mechanics (JOUAM). The JOUAM eventually elected him head of their National Council and named him editor of their national journal, The American. He died in Raleigh on October 3, 1911.

By the early 1900s, North Carolina's nonagricultural workforce had grown quite large, but very few of those workers had joined labor unions. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) organized a few textile mills around 1900, but waves of repression from mill owners and local and state government continued to frustrate the North Carolina union effort. The AFL had greater success in urban areas such as Charlotte, Greensboro, and Salisbury, establishing trade unions that represented skilled workers such as carpenters, brick masons, typographers, and mechanics. These small craft unions—more organized than their industrial counterparts, which were predominantly tobacco and textile unions)—negotiated productively with employers for better wages and shorter hours.

In addition, most cities had umbrella organizations—variously known as the Central Labor Union or Committee of Trades Council—that brought together the local trade unions. These groups sponsored social gatherings, provided charitable aid to their members, endorsed local and state political candidates, and pushed for reforms such as compulsory education and the abolition of child labor. Although these demands might seem reasonable and responsible by modern standards, at the time, skeptics viewed trade unions as threats to civic order and to the individual liberties of workers and employers.

Faison offers a rebuttal to that skeptical perspective in this 1905 Labor Day address. He paints a patriotic portrait of labor as the backbone of society and defends the importance of unions in winning better wages and shorter hours. He also boasts of the growth of unions across the country and the success of strikes against the opposition of employers, state governments, and newspapers. However, he also represents the JOUAM's nativist platform and reveals his own virulent anti-immigrationist views by singling out immigrants from southern Europe as problematic in the workforce.

Faison speaks in broad terms rather than discussing North Carolina specifically, but both he and his audience surely recalled the disastrous 1900 textile strikes in Alamance County that effectively paralyzed labor organizing activities for two decades. Faison tries to soften unions' contentious reputation, however, by next emphasizing their contributions to the general welfare of North Carolina and the nation, especially by supporting efforts to establish compulsory education, ban child labor, limit immigration, and reform state government.

Works Consulted: Jolley, Harley. "The Labor Movement in North Carolina, 1880-1922" "North Carolina Historical Review" 30.3 (July 1953): 354-375.

Michael Sistrom

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