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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Wilbur Hobby, March 13, 1975. Interview E-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Becoming involved in the union and labor politics

Hobby describes how he came to be involved in the labor movement. In 1946, Hobby was employed by the American Tobacco Company. Shortly thereafter he joined the union—at the time, he explains, he was simply "following the crowd." After filing a grievance with the union over his treatment on the job, Hobby became increasingly involved in the union and was eventually elected as the president of the night shift union workers. From there, he became increasingly involved in politics, namely with the Voters for Better Government at the time.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Wilbur Hobby, March 13, 1975. Interview E-0006. 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:
Well, Wilbur, when you started in the American Tobacco Company, what did you know about the union?
WILBUR HOBBY:
I didn't know anything about the union, Bill, at all.
BILL FINGER:
They had a union, though?
WILBUR HOBBY:
They had a union there and after I worked there for sixty days, there was a provision in the union contract that said that management would call the new employees together and explain to them what the union was and that they would like for them to join the union. So, after sixty days, they called us together and told us about the union and said that they would like for us to join. The union representative was there and handed out cards and everybody joined. So, I just followed the crowd.
BILL FINGER:
They said that they would like for you to join the union?
WILBUR HOBBY:
Yeah. In the little group that I was in, there were about twelve of us and they called us into the stairwell of the steps out there. This is still, I think, a provision in the contract with the American Tobacco Company. So, we joined the union and I guess that I paid my dues and that was all there was to it for about two months. Then, I was oiling cigarette machines and as I oiled it, if you hurried you could get through in two or three hours.
BILL FINGER:
For an eight hour shift?
WILBUR HOBBY:
Yeah. Or you could let things go that didn't have to be done. So, I would do my work and go into the washroom and just go around and talk to people. I came in one day and they told me that I had to oil the fourth floor. I was on the third floor. They said, "You have to oil the third and the fourth floors." I grumbled a little bit to myself about it and went into the washroom on the third floor there a little later and it was about ten o'clock that night. Somebody asked me where I had been, saying that they hadn't seen me around in the past few hours. I said, "Well, they doubled my work load, they sent me up to fourth. I have to do third and fourth floors." This guy said, "If they did that to me, I'd see the union." Somebody else said, "Yeah, don't let them treat you like that." So, I went to see the union man and they took up the grievance and he came back to me about half an hour later and said, "Tomorrow night, you will just be on the third floor." So, the night shift had union meetings and they had one that night and I thought that I would be mighty ungrateful if I didn't go down there that night and tell them that I appreciated what they had done. So, I went down there and told them that I appreciated them helping to get my workload cut back. I got interested in it and I went to every union meeting. This was probably in September and I went to every union meeting. The last week in November, they were supposed to elect new officers. We had an old farmer on there that knew the contract and knew Robert's Rules of Order and could double talk, he was just terrific. He refused to run again and nobody would take it. Finally, they asked me to take it and I said that I didn't know anything about it, but they still wanted me to take it. I said, "Well, I'll try if that is what you want." So, I became president of the night shift.
BILL FINGER:
President of …
WILBUR HOBBY:
Of the American Tobacco Company night shift group, which was about three hundred workers. I hadn't been there for about six for five months. My predecessor, who I said was sharp, well, he got out there and he started calling my hands on things and making a fool out of me, really. It was kind of a joke to him to show that I didn't know anything. So, I took it on myself to learn the contract and to learn Robert's Rules of Order and be able to handle him, you know. I was able, when he started to bring up points of order, because he had been bringing up things that were out of line but nobody knew any better, so I called him out of order a few times and called him down and he appealed my decision and people sided with me. I became a pretty good chairman and was doing the work there and was interested in it. While I was chairing one of those meetings there that year, Sparky Williamson came up and he asked Leo Hicks, who was president of the local union and was active in the central labor union and Leo and Sparky were good friends and they came up asking for some help for the council race. Television wasn't quite in then and so on Sunday afternoon they were going to have a meeting and asked anyone to come …
BILL FINGER:
This wasn't a union meeting, this was just a meeting to help their campaign?
WILBUR HOBBY:
Yeah, this was a meeting of the voters for better government, to plan on the participation. When I got to the meeting, there were Dan Edwards and Lesley Atkins. It was the first meeting that I had ever been there. Well, they were claiming that there were almost 15,000 union members in Durham and that included Durham county. But as I sat there that day and they were talking about 15,000 union members and how there would only be about 8,000 votes cast, I had a vision you know, that the labor movement could run this thing and the workers ought to have it. I had this vision and it didn't ever occur to me that half of our people weren't registered, half of them wouldn't go vote. I just got this vision and so, I got active in Voters for Better Government. I got Professor Douglas Magg, a constitutional lawyer at Duke Law School and he and a young college student by the name of Henry Hall Wilson, drew up the by-laws for Voters for Better Government. We got active in the thing and I worked hard in it. I put all my extra time into Voters for Better Government.