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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 >>

Anger at unions and government regulation

Evidently frustrated about the effects of regulation, Cone passionately complains that unions and government involvement in business damage the marketplace in this excerpt. Unions demand too much compensation for their members; government regulation stifles new businesses and encourages workers to file frivolous lawsuits which hamstring employers. Cone seems quite irritated with the ease with which Americans can sue employers.

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

HARRY WATSON:
What would be the effect if there was industry-wide unionization in textiles?
CEASAR CONE:
You'd have the same problem you've got with steel and automobiles. You'd have things pushed to the point where we'd all be out of business, and Japan would be taking the whole thing over. As low as textile wages are, we're still in a hell of a fix from all this import stuff. And we're way low, compared to what you see up here in automobiles and steel. Why the hell should those folks make twenty-five or thirty dollars an hour, with fringes, and our folks make only about eight or nine with fringes? How they expect to sell automobiles to the eight- or nine-dollar-an-hour guy, and they're going to get twenty-odd dollars themselves, and that's what you've got in this country. The places where the union has pushed the hardest and management went along because they could sell anything at any price right after the War has just screwed up the so-called marketplace idea. And the same thing's true with capital. You don't make the return on capital in textiles you were making. Now we're still going along, and they're trying to get concessions, getting back off this damn high plateau. And it's creating a hell of a problem with the unions, because the unions don't want to go to the folks and say, "Look, you were getting too damn much. You'd better be willing to work at a hell of a lot less." But the problem is, those folks now, "We'll either get twenty dollars, or we won't work at all." I don't know. I'm rather bearish on where we go from here. The whole setup is… Government has gotten into the economy, the society, to an extent where in a democracy it's most difficult. Now a communistic setup, I don't care whether it's a dictatorship of the right or a dictatorship of the left… To me, it's necessary to at least have a line of command and responsibility on the part of people to take orders from people. I mean we've gotten to the point now, every time an employer hires anybody, he's subject to a lawsuit. You don't know where you are. Government can't tell you. We're a democracy. You go to the labor department and say, "I want to hire ten people." How many blacks, how many whites, how many young, how many old, how many lame, how many female. To keep from being in trouble. And the department of labor says, "We're sorry, Mr. Cone. You know, we can't tell you what to do. The law says so-and-so. But everybody has a right to sue, no matter what you do. If you go by the law, it's up to the court to decide whether you did or didn't. Chances are, if they sue"— if they sue"!;when they sue—"you'll be all right." Well, how in the heck, if you're starting in business today, are you going to put your money on the line, and hire anybody, running into that kind of a possibility? I mean, that's just who you hire or who you don't hire. You see, that was never on any books up until ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. You could hire anybody you wanted and fire anybody you wanted. And unfortunately, the guy that you hire today can leave you any bright day he wants to and find another job. He's not hooked. See, that is involuntary servitude, for him to agree that he'll stay with you irrespective. But you, as the employer, are up against all these daggone possible suits. Out here at this school I went to, I was on the board. They let a fellow go that was a teacher out there, and hell, he's suing the school right now. We've already paid $5,000 to a lawyer at this point. The government investigated and said nothing to it, but the guy still has a right to sue you through the courts, you see. I never knew this guy, but he was of Polish descent, Gabrowski or something like that, and a Catholic. One year the fellow at the last minute didn't come back, and so they went to this employment agency for professional people. He came down here for a year and didn't get along with the folks, and they let him go. Well, now he's suing, based on the fact that they fired him because he was Polish and a Catholic. Well, they hired him in the first place knowing he was Polish and a Catholic, but you see that's no defense. And the institution out there has spent $5,000 already fighting the damn thing. And this is a non-profit setup. Well, you can see it in the papers every day, some of these lawsuits.
HARRY WATSON:
Oh, yes.
CEASAR CONE:
It inhibits anybody wanting to start a business today. Frankly, I don't see anybody starting his own business anymore, with all the obligations. Now you don't know whether you're going to make it or not in the first place, but you've got all these obligations to anybody you even talk to, almost. If you don't hire somebody, he'll come along and say, "You didn't hire me because I was this, that, or the other." And here you are, before you've even started, up against all these extra costs. The labor unions can't meet their commitments. They've got no more power to make a guy work for you, if he doesn't want to, than you have. Involuntary servitude, that's slavery. And I don't think they should. But on the other hand, you've got all these daggone guarantees, and you've got the possibility that you'll get sued. It's not only a question of who you hire and who you don't hire, but who gets sick and when they get sick. Lord knows, they tell me, some of these asbestos people now… Forty years down the road, somebody gets sick with cancer, and you know there are going to be cancer people, probably, forty years down the road. They'll say, "Oh, well, my father worked with cancer when I was a little boy, and therefore he came home with the dust on him, and I got it now forty years down the road." They'll sue somebody, if he can find him. I mean, it's something.