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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Joseph D. Pedigo, April 2, 1975. Interview E-0011-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Desire for human dignity as impetus for unionization

Pedigo talks about how he was one of the founding members of the union at American Viscose in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1931. For Pedigo, the impetus for unionization was linked to "a question of human dignity." Later he explains that he was paid relatively high wages in comparison to other textile workers; however, as he describes here, foremen in the plant tended to belittle workers such as himself and threatened them constantly with job loss. In response, Pedigo and a few others worked to build a base of support, selling bootleg liquor to fund their cause.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Joseph D. Pedigo, April 2, 1975. Interview E-0011-1. 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

WILLIAM FINGER:
Were there many unions in Roanoke when you grew up?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
At that time, we were the only ones. We started out from scratch in 1931 …
WILLIAM FINGER:
"We" is the Textile Workers?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Yeah, I had gone to work at this Viscose plant and a few of us began to get together in 1931 and at that time, of course, there was no law to protect you at all and we were slipping around like we were selling bootleg liquor to try to get a few people organized, so that the company wouldn't get wise until we had a little strength.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you go to college?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
No.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You just worked in the area?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you go to high school?
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Yes, but I went to work at Viscose … I believe that I was nineteen at the time that I started at Viscose. So, we finally got that plant organized and got recognized without any election. There was no such thing as an election, of course.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, tell me about how you first came to think about a union at all.
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
Well, conditions were pretty bad in the '30s and you could make the least mistake and there would be some little cockroach foreman that would run up to you and say, "Look, Pedigo, if you can't do this work right, there is a barefooted boy outside looking for a job." He was telling the truth, there was, plenty of them out there looking for jobs. It didn't make you feel any better. As far as I was concerned, if I never got anything out of the union, if I never got a raise or vacations or anything else, just to get rid of hearing that kind of stuff and be able to look the guy in the eye and speak my piece was what I was after and I think that a number of the other people were motivated by the same reason, just a question of human dignity. You didn't like to take the kind of guff you had to take in this plant.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did someone come to you and say, "Joe, why don't you come to a meeting on such and such a night?"
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
I think that it was the other way around.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You went to other people. [laughter]
JOSEPH PEDIGO:
I was a charter member there and I was in the spinning section and I got to talking with a man from the Viscose section that was interested and that I trusted and he in turn knew of an engineer and there were the three major departments there. We started from that.