Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Julius Fry, August 19, 1974. Interview E-0004. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Learning leadership and collective bargaining in the union

Fry describes his decision to go work directly for the Textile Workers Union of America in 1943. Between 1937 and 1943, Fry was an active member of the Lumberton, North Carolina, union and he served as the union's financial secretary. During these years, Fry learned how to collectively bargain and grew to overcome his "subjugated feeling" in order to embrace his role as a leader.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Julius Fry, August 19, 1974. Interview E-0004. 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

BILL FINGER:
But tell me how you got, maybe we can wind up this session then, how you got from being interested in TWOC, you know and under a contract, to being interested in the Textile Workers Union of America?
JULIUS FRY:
Well, I was basically interested and knew the unions, from what I had read, I always avidly read everything, you know and tried to build my knowledge. I know that unionism was right and I knew that TWOC was the only thing. John L. Lewis had just formed the CIO and TWOC was the textile end of it. And it was a very dynamic time. People were on the move following that Depression, it was the first time that they had a chance to express theirselves against the evils, you know, that they had gone through. So, then as a union official in Lumberton, we begin to make progress and I was asked by the union many times to go to work for the union. And I finally consented to do it in March, 1943.
BILL FINGER:
So, from '37 to '43, you were still in the plant?
JULIUS FRY:
As a union official.
BILL FINGER:
You were elected by your local union?
JULIUS FRY:
Yeah. I was financial secretary. I never did try to be president. I wanted somebody else to be it. Because I was rather shy, you know, and still am, to a great degree. And it just killed me to speak to anyone, you know, in front of a crowd, you know. I would just shake all over. The old subjugated feeling. So, I was content to let someone else be the president. And I was a member of the general shop committee and also financial secretary of the local most of the time.
BILL FINGER:
Did you learn how to bargain contracts in those days?
JULIUS FRY:
Oh, yes. The first real feeling that I had of bargaining, and the responsibility of bargaining, was that the company had gotten into trouble and had to borrow money from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, RFC. And in order to loan the money, they had to agree, as the way I understood it, that they would stay free of labor trouble. This was the advantage of having a friendly government. And so to assure that, they sent in a man who sort of headed up the operation to see that things stayed level and on keel and he negotiated with us our first raise. I think that we got negotiated a 2¼¢ an hour raise. And I felt that we were doing something. You know, here we were talking to the man about money and we had the union representative with us, and the man said, "Alright, I'll give you this much." And we said, "Well, we need some more money for some inequities." We didn't know what the word "inequities" was then, but for adjustments. And he said, "Well, I'll give you an extra 1¢ an hour. You put it where you want." And I'll never forget how shocked we were. Here we were, going to be putting some money somewhere for somebody to get it, you know. And the awful responsibility, "Who are we going to give it to?" [laughter] So, that was the first feeling of collective bargaining. And I mean, I really felt the fruits of it and over that little 2¼¢ and that 1¢. And from then on, we always did that.