Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Title: Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Pierce, Jim, interviewee
Interview conducted by Finger, William
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 220 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-02-22, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0012-3)
Author: William Finger
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0012-3)
Author: Jim Pierce
Description: 228 Mb
Description: 70 p.
Note: Interview conducted on July 16, 1974, by William Finger; recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Susan Hathaway.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series E. Labor, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as "
All em dashes are encoded as —

Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974.
Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Pierce, Jim, interviewee


Interview Participants

    JIM PIERCE, interviewee
    WILLIAM FINGER, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
WILLIAM FINGER:
Jim, I guess the way to start might be for you to tell me how you got interested in the labor movement in the first place. Was that from your parents or your location?
JIM PIERCE:
My father was a union member, a member of the Carpenters Union active when I was young in helping saw mill workers organize in addition to others. Probably one of the very early and moved by the Carpenters Union to do any industrial type organization especially on an interracial basis. So, my background in trade union movement goes back to the time when I was a child and my father was a union member and a business agent for …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did he work for the Carpenters Union?
JIM PIERCE:
Well kind of on a local … he was a local business agent part of the time and sometimes … well

Page 2
President or Secretary of a local union. He worked on a job but he held office in the Carpenters Union.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that was in the Craft Union, the AFL Union?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Where was that?
JIM PIERCE:
This was in Ponca City, Oklahoma.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I didn't know there were unions in Ponca City, Oklahoma. How many were there?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh, when I was just … it was during the Depression, a tornado came through Ponca City and blew the roofs off the houses. It was the Carpenters Union that put the roofs back on. They were very strong. The Union in Ponca City in the middle thirties was stronger really than the Craft Union in Charlotte today because they built the homes, they built the garages, they built the additions. Now …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was it an all union town?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh, it was very well organized.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Industrially as well?
JIM PIERCE:
Well there were only two industries, two refineries. One was Conoco and it had the Oil Workers Union, and the other was City Service and it had an independent company union. So it was a union town. But Ponca City was kind of right in the middle of the old populists area, so you have got a lot of unions and you've got a lot of Norman Thomas, and you've got a lot of …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Now, you got that growing up, or you just kind of became aware of that later?

Page 3
JIM PIERCE:
No, no, no. This was my life. This was … dad was, as I said AF of L … I remember when the CIO was first formed and the … oh, preachers and people like that were going through the country calling the CIO a communist organization and they had their tent meetings, and they showed films of bodies laying all over the place, and the hammers and the cycles, you know, and everything. Dad would attend those meetings because he was strongly AF of L, and we went … ahh, he took us so we could see these kind of things.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was this 1936 - 1937?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So how old were you then?
JIM PIERCE:
Well, I was born in 1925. Ten, eleven, twelve.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Your mother was also an interesting part of your background?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh yes, mother was I guess half Cherokee. Her ancestors escaped from the trail of tears in Missouri, as they were marching the Cherokees over from North Carolina, and they settled in the Ozark section of Missouri and my father married her in Missouri and they moved to Oklahoma. So we actually … their background was Missouri. I was born there on the Osage Reservation … what was then the Osage Reservation, now is Osage County, Oklahoma.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Your father moved over to the Reservation?
JIM PIERCE:
He moved to Oklahoma and then he … the Osage Reservation was on one side of the Arkansas River and Ponca City was right across the rives in what they call Kay County, and so we lived part of the time in

Page 4
Ponca City and part of the time across the river on the Reservation. Part of that was due to the fact that, you know, in Oklahoma in those days we were half breeds, and it was just a little bit more comfortable living across the river on a Reservation than it was living in Ponca City.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How was … was your mother aware of a particular kind of repression as an Indian?
JIM PIERCE:
I don't really know. She died when I was about ten years old. I really don't know that much about that. I remember her as beautiful brown skinned, with long hair braided … I remember all of the Indian remedies for diseases … skunk oil she relied heavily on, and the herbs and things she got from her Indian background. She was very much an Indian and proud of it and I am too.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that stayed with you?
JIM PIERCE:
For a long time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you went to CIO meetings, what would your father …
JIM PIERCE:
No, these were not CIO meetings, these were anti-CIO meetings, conducted by the people who were fighting CIO. In that area you had the populists movement, but you also had a very traditionalist fundamentalist type of church movement, and these preachers at their tent meetings would … maybe this is why I don't like preachers too well … would take advantage of the fundamentalists background, the religious background of the people to preach against CIO, and they had some of the most horrible

Page 5
movies and films that you have ever seen. Dad would take us to those meetings because as an AF of L … a very active AF of L member, he was opposed to the CIO.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Would they be in union halls or churches?
JIM PIERCE:
Usually in tents. The ones I remember were in tents.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was it at a Revival meeting?
JIM PIERCE:
Revival type religious meeting with all of the anti CIO, oh hell, it was no different from what happened in Gastonia in the twenties and things like that. Industry uses religion to beat unions period. It still does, it did then, and will always do it if it can.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So the Carpenters and the other Craft Unions … were they already making some alliances with business at that time? I mean you were so young that …
JIM PIERCE:
I don't think they were alliances. It was just that the CIO posed a treat to the AF of L. the CIO posed a threat to the industry. Industry was using the preachers to defeat the CIO, and the AF of L was glad to see it happen, I guess.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Can you remember the first time you didn't feel anti-CIO yourself?
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah. While I was in the Navy … I don't remember a lot about this … the miners went on strike, and they were CIO and everybody was raising hell about the miners striking during the war, and I thought they were

Page 6
pretty gutsy people, and I think that brief exposure to John L. Lewis and the things that he believed in through the newspapers and over the radio made me feel pretty good about the CIO. But I think probably even prior to that, in Ponca City the workers at one refinery went into the Oil Workers Union which was a CIO Union and they just looked stronger and happier and they were more militant. This was when I was a kid.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were in high school in Ponca City?
JIM PIERCE:
Right. I was in high school, but it wasn't in Ponca City. I was living about two or three miles from Ponca City over in Osage County, and because there were so many Indians they didn't bus us to Ponca City two or three miles away, they bussed us to a little country town about 25 or 30 miles away. So I was actually in high school in a little town called Burbank. It was only in my senior year that they decided to start bussing from our section into Ponca City.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you went to school with Indian kids … you were an Indian kid?
JIM PIERCE:
Of course. Seventy or eighty percent of the … my classmates were Indians, or at least part Indian
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was it a segregated school system?
JIM PIERCE:
No.
WILLIAM FINGER:
A separate school system for the Reservation?
JIM PIERCE:
No, no. There were whites.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you felt like one of the Indians more than white?

Page 7
JIM PIERCE:
Of course I wanted to be one of them. Yeah, that's right. You know it only takes a few times for some white to tell you to get out of the way half breed, before you decide that you would rather be a half breed. You know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What was your father's reaction to that?
JIM PIERCE:
I don't know. You know, at that point, it was during the Depression, he had lost his job, there was no construction work. He tried to get a job in the refinery and had one for a little while and apparently because of his union background they tossed him out, and he was cutting wood, you know, out in the forest for a living and so you saw him very very little. I mean during the summer you would take a sandwich down to him or something like that, but … I didn't know my father in those early days. I didn't see him.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you have a lot of brothers and sisters?
JIM PIERCE:
Just two brothers younger than I. One only a couple of years younger and one was born when my mother died.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When you left high school, did you go straight to the Navy?
JIM PIERCE:
No I wasn't old enough. I graduated at 16 from high school, and I traveled. I worked on construction, … well the first job I had was selling magazines for about a month or two until I found out that it was a gip, and the people weren't getting the magazines, so I went on construction and followed construction crews as an apprentice carpenter, until I became 17, and then when I

Page 8
became 17, I enlisted.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That was up to the war years then?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right. That was in '42.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In '42. Still without much feeling about unions strongly except about the CIO. I mean you had the AFL background …
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you were mostly just a young man out to see the world? Is that the way you did …
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah. I wanted to know what was going on, and I thought traveling would do it, and in those few months between the time I graduated from high school and the time I went into the Navy, oh I was in Texas, then I went to Louisiana and from Louisiana to Iowa, from Iowa to Montana, from Montana to Nebraska, from Nebraska to California, from California to Oregon and then back to Oklahoma a time or two in between traveling, working to see what the world was like.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What else happened to you in the Navy that's important in terms of how it shaped your direction … you read about the miners, you read about John Lewis.
JIM PIERCE:
What really happened to me in the Navy was … I don't know, the Navy really did change me. I went overseas. I was in a bomber group in the Navy, mostly a reconnaissance type group, but the idea of killing, the idea of war, of working people in Germany and United States and England and France and Japan killing one another for the benefit of their governments or industry, which at that point, I was beginning to think

Page 9
that the whole war was brought on by some kind of conspiracy between industry to make money, and I am not so sure I wasn't right. My whole outlook … I saw suffering, I saw people of other races, I saw a lot of things I didn't like and I guess …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did you read to make you think there might be a conspiracy?
JIM PIERCE:
I am not sure that I read anything. I don't really remember. In the Navy you talk to a lot of people from different areas, you … I traveled a lot, I traveled all over the world while I was in the Navy. For a long time I was in the naval air transport service, and you never knew; You know, you may be in Africa today, and South America tomorrow and Australia the next day … when you weren't flying … I got out of the war part … I mean the fighting part pretty quick. I didn't like it and I don't think they liked me in it, and they put me in naval air transport … I had gone through a radar, super secret radar counter measure school, and in the process of getting clearance or getting me cleared for that, they did a study back, they did an investigation back home and found that when I was a senior in high school and on the debating team, … I think the question was "resolve that communism in theory is better than democracy in practice," and I probably did more reading getting ready for that debate than I did all the rest of the time put together, but I won the debate.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And the Navy found that out?
JIM PIERCE:
The Navy found that out and during the course

Page 10
of clearing me for Radar Countermeasures School, and I liked to have not got cleared, but I did. I went on through the school, but instead of going back overseas, or something like that, they put me into training other people on radar countermeasures, then a short time later in Naval Transport, a non-combatant activity. So, you know, there is two things to do, you loaded your plane and took it some place and then when you got there you headed for the nearest bar, and talked to whoever was on the next stook you know. Well, you meet a lot of people that way, and when you are doing it all over the world, you meet a lot of interesting people.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you kind of got some kind of world view, is that what you are saying?
JIM PIERCE:
Maybe it was bar view, [laughter] at that point. Yeah, no seriously, you saw a lot of things that made you think, made you ask questions. You wondered why when you landed … well, we took a sea plane one time down to a place in the center of Africa called Lake Chad, guns ammunition to a bunch of natives it was picked up by obviously local people that were going to be guerillas in fighting the Germans and you wondered why in the world those people were involved in the war anyway, you know, because they were starving, hungry and they should have been out raising crops and feeding their family. Instead, somebody had conned them into a war that was of no real benefit to them either way. You wonder about things like that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did that make you do when you left? When you got out of the Navy, did you go back to Ponca City?
JIM PIERCE:
Briefly. I was quite restless. I had left

Page 11
high school with a scholarship to Tulsa University. I went back and tried to pick it up, but I just couldn't go to college. I was restless, I don't really know why, you know, if I could look back and do it over, I might have changed. I had a good technical training in electronics while I was in the Navy, so I went to work for Western Electric as an installer because they were hiring a lot of young guys like myself and it was travel again, and people my age, in the skill that I knew …
WILLIAM FINGER:
In Ponca City you went to work for Western Electric?
JIM PIERCE:
Actually I went to work for them in Tulsa. I went from Ponca City to Tulsa, went to the University for a little while, decided that I couldn't go the route, and joined Western Electric there. They shortly, within a few months, transferred to Texas, to Fort Worth and the rest of my life really is tied to Texas more than it is Oklahoma.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You installed what
JIM PIERCE:
It was central office equipment. We worked on the first L-Carrier, the first Coaxiae Cable that went across the country, that kind of long distance, highly technical equipment that was being installed right after the war.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you a member of a union then?
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah, a very interesting little company union that had dues of $.50 a month and the office was in the telephone building. A very cozy arrangement called the National Federation of Telephone Workers. It

Page 12
was set up by the company after passage of the Wagner Act to keep the AFL or CIO from organizing their workers. So the first union I belonged to after the Navy was a little company union that …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Most of the telephone operators themselves were members of the National Federation of Telephone Workers.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right. Nearly all of the telephone workers in the country belong to those little unions.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What was your perspective on that little Federation at the time? Were you just making it a part of your job, …
JIM PIERCE:
Well, I joined the union because I had always been taught that any union is better than no union, but it wasn't much of a union.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So something happened from Western Electric in that it had a telephone installer and a company union to organize the committee of the CIO.
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah, what happened was the union wasn't servicing the needs of the members and the people became more and more militant within this company union, and finally in 1947 against the advice of the leaders of the organization, we went on strike, and we stayed on strike for six or seven weeks, and won it, and won it in spite of the union in many cases.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This was a wage agreement strike within that union, this wasn't an organizing drive by CWA or something like that?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh no, no. CWA had not been formed at that

Page 13
point. This was actually a contract termination but a determination on the part of the people to get more than what the union would get for them. So it was actually a great big juicy wildcat strike, that is what it amounted to.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you won it?
JIM PIERCE:
And we won it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What happened …
JIM PIERCE:
Won it without strike being a. Won it without any real leadership because we had the greatest people in the world.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you assume leadership in that strike yourself?
JIM PIERCE:
Not really. I was active, but not really leadership. The day before the strike I got married, thought the strike would last two or three days and I could go on a honeymoon, and we did. Pat and I went to Carlsbad Caverns we took a bus, we didn't have a car, we took a bus to Carlsbad Caverns and spent two days down there and spent all the money we had and came back expecting the strike to be over, and found that it was going to last another five or six weeks without us having … without any money. So we picked up a little cash here and there and sponged on her relatives, and manned the picket lines. It was a lot of fun.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You never had any doubts though at the time?
JIM PIERCE:
That we'd win?
WILLIAM FINGER:
Having been married a week.

Page 14
JIM PIERCE:
No, No.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So after you got the contract you went back to work for Western Electric?
JIM PIERCE:
Went back to work for Western Electric and a lot of us got together and decided that we needed a real union and decided that the CIO was the union that we wanted. There was a movement at that point among some of the guys to … and this was the installers, a movement among some of the people to get a charter through AF of L and others through CIO. AF of L would not offer a charter, they wanted to put us in the IBEW, which already had a few telephone workers scattered across the country. We didn't want a charter … I mean we didn't want to be a part of an existing union, we wanted our own telephone union, and when they were unsuccessful, and I wasn't in this negotiation because I was leaning towards the CIO. But when they were unsuccessful in getting anything moving with AF of L, we went to CIO and formed the Telephone Workers Organizing Committee. We got an Organizing Committee Charter. Allen Haywood was put in … appointed by Phil Murray as the, you know, temporary Director, and we started organizing telephone workers in the CIO. There wasn't any full time staff to amount to anything, maybe two or three people. The rest of us were doing it on our own time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When you all went on this strike, and this was '48, I guess.
JIM PIERCE:
'47.

Page 15
WILLIAM FINGER:
'47. Were you in contact with other telephone workers in different parts of the country doing the same thing? Was this just a strict …
JIM PIERCE:
No, it was all over the country. It was a large national strike …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You didn't want to have this in your plan, that was my …
JIM PIERCE:
Oh no, no, no. It was a national strike.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you had gotten candid instructions (?) from other people? What was the network like, I mean who coordinated that?
JIM PIERCE:
It was most uncoordinated, as you would think of coordination now, the trade union was. It was just people on strike. Each of the telephone systems had a … well, Southern Bell had a union, the Western Electric Installers had one union called the National Federation of … anyway it was Local 77, I can't remember what the name was … Local 77, that was the Installers, the Long Lines people in Western had a different union, the factories had a different union, the operating company, Southern Bell, Southwestern Bell, all of these had a different union, and they were loosely a part of the National Federal of Telephone Workers, but it was so very loose that any local could do anything that it wanted to, and our local covered about five or six states and had five or six thousand or maybe two or three thousand members, a pretty good size local in those days.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But Allen Haywood hadn't worked with telephone

Page 16
workers before. I mean, the CIO hadn't sent anybody down during that strike, it was strictly a wild cat …
JIM PIERCE:
That's right. Now, as the strike progressed, we got help. When I say help, it was mostly in the form of just coming by and supporting you on the picket line, talking to you and things like that, but CIO and the people I knew who were CIO members are very responsive to some of our needs. Some of us got part time jobs during the strike. Some CIO planner, maybe an AF of L, I don't know, but the CIO people, I think, took a good look at this group of militant telephone workers … I think when we went to them later asking for a charter, I think they responded to that request as a result of the strike and the militancy shown in the picket line.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I was asking some details about that because that was your first taste of a real strike … I mean yourself.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that seemed to push you personally from working as an installer to a more avid interest in the CIO as an organization.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did that happen? What kind of interest did you take after the contract was signed?
JIM PIERCE:
I became an active union member. I helped organize, but I was still just a local guy … as we traveled, and the installers did travel from telephone location to telephone location we talked to the operators

Page 17
and the linemen and people like that in the operating company who we were trying to convince them to come CIO also, but it was just that kind of activity.
WILLIAM FINGER:
There was a strong move among all the workers then.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right. Our installers had found their way. They knew they wanted to go CIO. We already had a charter, but we were working in buildings where the telephone operators, lineman, and so forth were members of … well after that strike, the National Federation of Telephone Workers was reformed into the Communication Workers of America, CWA, and they were trying, I guess, to strengthen CWA and move it away from this company domination. We were trying, and they wanted to stay independent, we were trying to move these people out of the CWA into the CIO Telephone Workers Organizing Committee. So, it was that kind of organizing effort that I engaged in there for a while. But even at that point, I wasn't really dedicated to a life in the trade union movement. I was an installer. I would do most of my organizing on the job. I had not really decided that that is what I wanted to be … It just wasn't that strong. There was no question in my mind that … the CIO was the way for the people to go, that we needed a strong union, that we needed all of that, but I made no decision at that point to be an active strong leader in trade union movement or anything like that. It didn't happen that way then.
What happened was about

Page 18
a year and a half after the strike … well, nine or ten months after the strike, we had our first child … Linda was born, and about six months after that Pat developed TB, and we were living and working in Fort Worth. So, she had to go into the hospital in Dallas, which was 30 miles in one direction from Fort Worth, and she had a sister in Mineral Wells which was about 50 miles west of Fort Worth. So Anne took Linda, Pat went into the hospital, and I moved in with another sister and brother-in-law there in Fort Worth, we just broke our family up completely. One day after work I would go see Pat at the hospital, the next day I would go over to Mineral Wells and see Linda, … it was tough years … a tough time, but at least I could see her, it wasn't too far, and I could see Linda. Oh, just a few weeks after she went into the hospital, the company decided that even though there was plenty of work for me to do in Fort Worth, they wanted me in Wichita Falls, which was way out west in the state, and I went to them and asked them to change their minds, to let me stay there in Fort Worth, explained my problem, and the guy I talked to said well, that's your problem, not mine, and you're going on to Wichita Falls or else. We had a union meeting that night …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What union was this?
JIM PIERCE:
This is Local 77 Telephone Workers Organizing Committee [unknown] I mean, and … but it was a local union meeting and one of the guys

Page 19
reported this to the membership, and the contract was very weak at this point and there was no way they could keep me from being transferred. So they came up with the idea that two people in that whole union under the contract could not be transferred. That was the President of the Local Union, and the Secretary-Treasurer of the Local Union had to stay in Fort Worth so they could negotiate with the company. Anybody else could be transferred anywhere, and there was just one way to keep me from having to go to Wichita Falls being away from my wife and child, was to elect me Secretary Treasurer, so the Secretary-Treasurer resigned and they elected me Secretary-Treasurer and then notified … by that time I just took some time, because we had an election to go through, and they notified the company that they had to move me back from Wichita Falls to Fort Worth … for work because I was now the Secretary-Treasurer of the union, and that is when I became active there was never any question in my mind after that where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You are still working in this …
JIM PIERCE:
Oh yeah. I was very much a part-time Secretary-Treasurer, you know, and I didn't know anything about it. I took a correspondence course in bookkeeping so that I could be a good Secretary-Treasurer, and I stayed Secretary-Treasurer of that local until I went on the staff of CIO.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What made you want to go on the staff of CIO?
JIM PIERCE:
I don't know what made me want to. I got an offer. When I got back to Fort Worth, they had not

Page 20
organized a CIO Industrial Union Council in Forth Worth, and we decided that we needed a CIO Industrial Union Council. I went to work getting this group together, and we had a meeting, and I really thought that since I had worked so hard to organize the Industrial Union Council that I would be elected an officer. But it didn't happen. Just before the meeting, the man from the regional CIO office took me off to the side, and he said "Jim, don't run for office because the boss is going to ask you to go on the staff." So he did ask me to go on the staff at the time, and I thought it was a good opportunity to help other people get a good strong union.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They must have … did they observe you while you were forming that Industrial Union Council?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh sure.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is that what precipitated the offer?
JIM PIERCE:
I am sure of that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That was the only evidence of the kind of work that you did.
JIM PIERCE:
Well that plus helping other groups in strike. We had set up … there was a strike in Pangburn Candy Company, two or three hundred women mostly horribly abused by the company, organized in a union, and I helped the packing house workers organize them, you know, part time, in my spare time actually, and they went on strike. Now, you know, I was an installer for the telephone company, I was Secretary-Treasurer of my local, but I helped on a picket line and we set up, even before we got the Industrial Union Council with the help of … oh some very liberal

Page 21
people in Forth Worth, we set up an organization called the League for Social Justice, I believe that was it, and we put out leaflets … well the editor of the Little Labor paper was active in this league and they elected me chairman of this League for Social Justice, and we started putting out hand bills about Pangburn Candy, don't buy Pangburn … a boycott, trying to bring …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Small Town.
JIM PIERCE:
Oh yes. The labor movement, we really got all the labor movement involved in this.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Other parts of the community too, or just …
JIM PIERCE:
Oh yes, other parts, sure.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Which ones?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh, we had … I'll never forget a lawyer and his wife, Jack and Margreat Carter, Willard Barr, was the editor of the Little paper, a few people in the black community became involved in it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you do that kind of coalition work, or were you working with the labor?
JIM PIERCE:
At this point, we had formed … the League for Social Justice evolved out as a kind of coalition that was going there between unions and liberals and blacks, and we had regular monthly dinner meetings upstairs over a Chinese restaurant. We couldn't meet in the restaurant, we couldn't meet in the hotel, we couldn't meet anyplace because it was interracial. But there was a Chinese Restaurant He wouldn't serve us in his restaurant, but he had a place up over his restaurant that he let us use

Page 22
for a meeting room. So we came back once a month there, and out of these kind of little meetings, came the League for Social Justice. Out of the League for Social Justice came the need for a stronger coordinated labor movement calling for the CIO Industrial Union Council, then we organized the CIO Industrial Union Council.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And then you got hired?
JIM PIERCE:
And then I went on the staff.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who hired you?
JIM PIERCE:
Bob Oliver. Bob Oliver was Regional Director of CIO then. It was the old CIO Southern Organizing Committee. Van Bittner was in charge of it. The CIO Southern Organizing Committee …
WILLIAM FINGER:
John Riffe?
JIM PIERCE:
John Riffe was maybe Vann's assistant or something. John was up above way up above me.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Texas was then in the Southeast region?
JIM PIERCE:
Well the CIO Southern Organizing Committee started over here, I guess, and went all the way to Texas. In fact, we had a few campaigns over in New Mexico during that time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What's your first impression of going on CIO on the Southern Organizing Committee?
JIM PIERCE:
Elation, I guess, at the thought that I could do full time what I had nearly been doing full time anyway.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about your perception of the organization. They had just been through two tough years with Operation Dixie.
JIM PIERCE:
I probably didn't know that much about that at

Page 23
that point. My work had been so localized in Fort Worth I had been so involved in two things, but by this time I'm a devout socialist. The labor movement at that time is torn between the communist element on one hand, and the … well, there is more than one hand, there are a lot of hands, but there was quite a struggle between the socialists, as I perceive myself to be and the communist, and so we had that kind of internal thing within the CIO, and I was so involved in that struggle, in the Painburn Strike and the League and the Industrial Union Council, I didn't really know what was going on outside that. Really, I didn't.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You said locally, when you worked for CIO, …
JIM PIERCE:
When I first worked for CIO, it was all within the state of Texas. At that point, it was all within Texas. Later, I did some work in Oklahoma, some work in New Mexico, some work in Louisiana, but at that point, they hired me, set me up with another guy in Fort Worth and we started organizing Fort Worth.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who influenced you, or maybe it wasn't a person, maybe it was events to call yourself a devote socialist in 1948 or 1949?
JIM PIERCE:
In the coalition right after I became Secretary-Treasurer of my local and started to … got back to Fort Worth and started attending the meetings of the coalition with people like the Carters and Willard Barr and Ross Mathews, business agent for the Machinist Union that had the big Consolidated plant, aircraft factoryx … These

Page 24
were well read people and they …
WILLIAM FINGER:
They were older?
JIM PIERCE:
Much older. I won't say much older. Yeah, they were older. None of us were real old. There were a few people down through there that had come with the CIO from the sit in strikes and were very active trade unionists back in the thirties and then when they started to set up an organizing committee they brought a number of those people South … there was a guy named Joe Sahan who was an UAW organizer …
WILLIAM FINGER:
A lot of the people came from the Mine Workers.
JIM PIERCE:
A lot of them came from the Mine Workers, a lot of them came from UAW. The real backbone of the old CIO Southern Organizing Committee, though were the miners. And you know this is normal, Phil Murray was President of CIO, the steel workers had been organized by the miners, there … they had done a pretty good job of organizing their industries and there were representatives now available to go help other people.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Plus John Lewis's influence too among a lot of people.
JIM PIERCE:
Oh sure, sure.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was there anyone in Texas at the time though of the … I don't know caliber or influence of the way people talk like that about Van Bittner or John Wright or Walter Reuther for that matter. There wasn't one person like that who influences you.
JIM PIERCE:
No. Bob, Joe, an old gentlemen named Andy

Page 25
Hardesty who always carried a receipt book for the NAACP legal defense fund, and was Chairman of the State CIO Committee on human rights, he and I spent a lot of time together. He probably did more to get me active and then concerned and involved in the civil rights movement than any other single person did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Andy?
JIM PIERCE:
Hardesty. There is guy named Don Ellenger who is now dead, but at that time was very active in the trade union movement, but these people together with the Carter's and the Barr's and other people like that, they were older, they had read more, they had a much better education, and they kept pressing books at me. Books, ideas, you know …
WILLIAM FINGER:
People took an interest in you?
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It sounds like local people, not …
JIM PIERCE:
That's right it was local people. Local people and the organizers who were down with the CIO at the time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you know Walter Reuther?
JIM PIERCE:
Then? Oh no, no, no.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were just in Texas.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right, that's right. I met Phil Murray about two years after … or maybe a year after I went on staff, the first time I had ever met him … Allen Haywood about the same time. It wasn't until I became coordinator of the Industrial Union Department that I had been able to sit down with John L. Lewis and talk.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you are still cutting your teeth?

Page 26
JIM PIERCE:
I still am.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What are some of the other things you remember.
You left in '54 right?
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Five years you were with the CIO Organizing Department?
JIM PIERCE:
Right. In 1954 the merger talks between AFL-CIO were under way. I had five years of fighting the AF of L, I had five years of thinking about where I wanted to go. I didn't want to stay with a merged AFL-CIO. I had become very active in the Civil Rights struggle. I just couldn't see going off to merge the organization because I knew the AF of L representatives or at least the AF of L representatives that I knew did not share my ideas and dreams. I didn't want to be associated with them so, Jim Carey was Secretary-Treasurer of CIO and of the CIO Organizing Committee, I had met him a time or two. He, or somebody in his office called and asked me to transfer over from the CIO to the IUE. We had organized two or three plants for IUE at that time. It was a brand new union created out of the … as a result of the expulsion of UE from CIO, and it didn't have any representatives in the state. We had successfully organized two or three plants for IUE, and they needed a service representative and somebody to continue their organizing efforts. They were on their feet by this time financially, and they could afford to hire a couple of representatives, so they hired me and Red Purcell. We transferred over from the CIO to the IUE.

Page 27
WILLIAM FINGER:
Are they now a member of the merged AFL-CIO?
JIM PIERCE:
They were a member of the merged AFL-CIO.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you were uncomfortable working for them.
JIM PIERCE:
No, because, you know, it was an international union. It made its own policies; just being a member of the AFL-CIO doesn't …
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM FINGER:
Before we go on with IUE because I think that is an important story, how UE was expelled and how IUE was formed. A few more questions about the CIO.
JIM PIERCE:
Okay.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were on the organizing committee, or were you under the Regional Director or was there a difference?
JIM PIERCE:
There was no difference. I was a member of the staff of the CIO Organizing Committee. Each state in the South had a Director and Sub-Directors and I worked directly under Bob in Texas.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who did Bob report to?
JIM PIERCE:
Well, Van Bittner until he died, and then for a short period of time a guy named Baldanzi was Director. He was camped, he was trouble.
WILLIAM FINGER:
[unclear]
JIM PIERCE:
[unclear] came out with a bunch of report forms that he didn't like … oh hell, we had to strike a time or two inside the group.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well he finally went to AFL, right? United Textile?
JIM PIERCE:
He went to UTW, right. Then John Riffe became the Director of the Southern CIO Organizing Committee.

Page 28
WILLIAM FINGER:
So the State Director Bob Oliver reported to the Director of the Southern Organizing Committee.
JIM PIERCE:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And then he reported to Al Haywood and Phil Murray.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who were … well there are a couple of names I could throw at you … I'm interested in this … at this particular time, the role of liberal intellectuals like Lucy Rendolph Mason, for example, was a trouble shooter, she worked out of the Atlanta office, she went around to hot spots and she walked in … she was 55 or 60 years old and she did various things. Other intellectuals wrote like David Burgess. Were you aware of those kinds of roles a few played?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh sure, because they, in many cases, became involved in our organizing campaign as you know. We'd start an organizing campaign, we'd run into trouble, all kinds of trouble, then we'd have to call on these people … the specialists from the Atlanta office … the writers were always in and out. We had one guy who did publicity for just Texas but many times … I can't remember the guys name from the Atlanta office that helped me to write. Lucy would come in.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Lucy who?
JIM PIERCE:
Mason.
WILLIAM FINGER:
She came into some …
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah, into the area into the specific campaign … There was …

Page 29
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is it amyth about her Virginia heritage in helping her get around to places you couldn't get. Is that the way it really was?
JIM PIERCE:
She made some beautiful contacts for us. There was another guy. He headed up a Department called Religion and Labor.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Wasn't …
JIM PIERCE:
Ramsey. What was his first name? Anyway, he would come in and try to muster church support for the organizing campaign. You were always getting somebody from outside to come in and help on things like that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Besides assisting, did you feel like they were essential?
JIM PIERCE:
I don't know that I had a feeling there. I was told … I was young, and I was told that they were coming in to help, and I accepted it as help and in most cases it was help. The most help it was to me, it broadened my view of labor movement and the liberal movement because they weren't organizing, you were sitting around in the motel or a room someplace talking about the old times.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So besides affecting the campaign, they affected you personally?
JIM PIERCE:
In my individual life, that was their biggest contribution. I think they helped me a lot more in developing my ideas than actually on the organizing campaigns.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Can you remember say on Lucy Mason, how many times she came to Texas?
JIM PIERCE:
No, I have no idea. I came in contact with her maybe two or three times in those five years.

Page 30
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about during those years any rank and file people that were part of campaigns. Do you remember particular people very vividly then for one reason or another?
JIM PIERCE:
Sure. You know I can hardly remember my own name, but I can recall numerous instances of extreme courage and dedication on the part of people inside the plant and people in the community. I am sure you don't want individual experiences, but …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Maybe we'll get some of those later.
JIM PIERCE:
But there were a lot of people …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You remember specific people?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh sure. In many cases they eventually became staff members during that period. I kept a lot of the old leaflets and old records and reports from that time because I just like to go back and look at them and think about the campaign in Louisiana, or in Corpus Christi. You know, you just like to look back occasionally.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you happen to … this is just kind of off the top of my head, but did you ever run into a fishermens strike during the early fifties that was being run by … I guess, by the fur and leather workers.
JIM PIERCE:
Down in Louisiana.
WILLIAM FINGER:
All around the coast, John Russell told me about a two year …
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah, I read about it. I wasn't involved in that. But I did read about it. In fact, it was during that period, and I don't remember where or when, I first met H. L. Mitchell, and I think he might have been involved in that.

Page 31
WILLIAM FINGER:
I think he was working for the Meatcutters but maybe …
JIM PIERCE:
I think so. I don't remember.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Your transition to IUE-it makes sense the way you were disturbed by the merger within the organization and you went to work for an international. What kind of residual influence was there from UE. Were all the communist party people … they weren't around, right?
JIM PIERCE:
Well, they had no locals in Texas. I think they may have had one or two small units. You know, like electric, you have a master contractor, you have little tiny units scattered that come under national agreement. There may have been one or two UE units in Texas at that time that I wasn't aware of. One that I was aware of because somebody had wanted me to … asked me to go over and try to raid it, get out of UE and into IUE, and I told them I wasn't interested. There were too many unorganized people to organize, instead of raiding a union that was already established, and I just didn't do it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So your primary commitment then was still to trade union work. I mean, it wasn't that you had gotten so involved with Civil Rights and other things that you were working more with coalition? You were working for IUE.
JIM PIERCE:
I was working for IUE, yes, I was involved in the Civil Rights thing, and one of the understandings we had was that I could continue that completely as a staff member for IUE. In fact, Carey encouraged

Page 32
and protected me during that period because it wasn't easy, you know, to … well, there was a lot of criticism even from our own locals about my involvement in the Civil Rights movement. And when they would complain to Carey, he would just ignore it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kind of involvements would this kind of work mean?
JIM PIERCE:
Well, during the CIO days we worked real hard … most of it was just getting money together for the legal defense funds fight on what eventually became the Brown case. But then after that, oh in '55 and '56 actually trying to integrate the unions, insisting that we have our conventions, our State CIO Conventions in an integrated facility. There were just all kinds of … like, we organized a plant that was a former AF of L plant that had separate seniority lists, and we forced them to integrate the seniority list. I, you know, … putting non-discrimination clauses in union contracts for example and encouraging others to do it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you did start at home. I mean you started with your locals.
JIM PIERCE:
Absolutely.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was the IUE, were most of those locals mostly white?
JIM PIERCE:
Most of them, yes. Remember, IUE now as factory workers go, was among the better paid, more skilled workers, and there was an awful lot of whites in the IUE plants. In fact a great majority.

Page 33
Now, when I went to work for CIO, we set up a little office in the packing house workers local office. We had a little one room office in their building in Fort Worth which is a large, one of the largest locals of packing house workers in the country, and so we were always involved with … and I have always been closely identified … I identify with people from the packing house workers union because of those early years we were in there in every activity. And, of course, it … even at that point it was very much an integrated union, blacks were active and strong in the leadership capacity and I worked very closely with them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you try to bring some of those people onto your staff with IUE?
JIM PIERCE:
We didn't have a staff. The only staff we had was me and Red Purcell.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You became Regional Director though, right?
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah, much later and over here.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you were in Texas for say how long?
JIM PIERCE:
I was in Texas for about a year or a year and a half with IUE then they started picking me to more or less involve myself in other states, to trouble-shoot. I had got some experience at that point in negotiating, handling NLRB cases, arbitration cases, so they started lifting me out of Texas and sending me to Mississippi and Louisiana and Florida and places like that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you were still organizing and servicing locals and negotiating contracts.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.

Page 34
WILLIAM FINGER:
And grievances?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You had full …
JIM PIERCE:
You weren't doing all of these at one time, but it was interesting. I thought, … they gave me an opportunity to get a very good trade union education because they allowed me to involve myself so much.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you aware of things in Texas similar to that League of Social Justice on a state-wide level, like a Texas coalition, the Texas Observer.
JIM PIERCE:
Oh sure, sure.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you meet Larry Goodwin during those years?
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah, yeah, and Ronnie Dugger … Ronnie is still a good friend of mine, and Larry … Larry is at Duke isn't he … yeah, yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He keeps doing the same work …
JIM PIERCE:
Sure, I knew all of those guys. Mrs. Randolph, who was the financial angel for the Observer, is a great old lady. We had quite a thing going then. It was during that period that the Democratic party in Texas deserted the Democratic party and the only real tie we had with the national party was through the various coalitions we had going at that time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, you represented labor in the different coalition meetings. You along with other people.
JIM PIERCE:
Sure.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you becoming a spokesman in their eyes?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh gosh, I don't know. I was heavily

Page 35
involved … well, I doubt that, I was still awful young … I was the young punk on the staff.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were working under Red Purcell?
JIM PIERCE:
Well not really at this point with IUE. We … in CIO he was over me, when we transferred to IUE, we were just two representatives, that's all it was. We'd organize a plant, and he would negotiate a contract; the next one he would organize and I would negotiate the contract. In fact, it was kind of a co-worker kind of thing. But I was more active in the Civil Rights movement. I was more active in the State CIO Council. I was more active in the political action arm of the CIO. Red pretty well limited himself to organizing, and I went on the board of the State CIO Council, for example, and he did not. You know, things like that. At this point I was involved in a lot more different things than he was.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you still living in Fort Worth at the time?
JIM PIERCE:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, did IUE grow in Texas?
JIM PIERCE:
Very much. It's a nice big solid union over there now.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You and Red Purcell took it from scattered locals …
JIM PIERCE:
From nothing actually. See there were no IUE locals when we first became involved with IUE. While we were still with CIO we organized a few plants for IUE

Page 36
under the CIO banner, then when we transferred over to IUE we started actually setting up … we organized a lot of plants.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you find it harder … I mean, these were the fifties when things were tough, certainly tough in this state.
JIM PIERCE:
They were tough.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What was harder about organizing in the fifties than say in the late forties. You were younger in the forties so your perceptions have changed … but, I mean, was the political atmosphere tougher, or was the mood of the workers not as much pro union or what were the factors?
JIM PIERCE:
I found it very easy to organize the workers. Your opposition from the companies were … was horrible. They used a lot of goon squad tactics. They attempted to turn a community and the churches and you know groups like that against you. You were denied facilities, you know, for meetings. We held a hell of a lot of meetings under trees and in the dark and out in the woods and out on the roads … well in Texas too. It was hard and particularly since we were under direct orders and certainly agreed with these orders not to have segregated meetings. It is pretty damn hard to have an integrated meeting in East Texas or Louisiana in 1952 or 1953, when you were organizing a saw mill out in the middle of a rural area … it was hard, but fun.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was it dangerous?
JIM PIERCE:
Looking back, I guess we were pretty stupid.

Page 37
Yeah, it was dangerous, darned dangerous.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did Pat ever tell you why don't you skip that one under the trees?
JIM PIERCE:
No, she was with me all the way. I guess I wouldn't have made it if she hadn't of been. She was tough … but there was a standard number of arrests for everything from … well, the arrest would say one thing, the arrest would really mean an integrated meeting or putting out leaflets or something like that … a few beatings along the way.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were they Klan?
JIM PIERCE:
We ran into them occasionally. Not too often where I was.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But the mood I am trying to get at is different than Mitchell and those guys in 1934. I mean they met under trees, but it sounded more dangerous when they talk about the kind of meetings they had in 1934.
JIM PIERCE:
I don't know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You weren't there in 1934?
JIM PIERCE:
I wasn't there.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It's a big jump to 1963, but I want to move along because I think … you were in Texas then for about 15 years.
JIM PIERCE:
We lived … I went to Texas in 1946, I guess, the latter part of '46 probably. Pat and I were married in 1947. They lived … Pat and the kids lived in Texas until we moved over here in 1961. From '56 to '61, I worked for IUE throughout the South. For a number of years I spent nearly all of my time in Florida. They were

Page 38
in Texas, I was in Florida, I would go back and forth, they would come back back and forth. During the summers they would move into the little motel with me wherever I was, and when school started I would take them all back home and see them once every month or six weeks after that until the next summer, but they lived in Texas, right, until '61.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why so much concentration on Florida? Were you Regional Director of IUE?
JIM PIERCE:
I was kind of in charge of the organizing efforts in Florida at that point. There was a lot of industry and a lot of heavy electrical industry moving into Florida and they asked me to go down and you know organize the plants like GE and Westinghouse, and Sperry and Strombery Carlson and people like that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you know Jim Carey?
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So he was still …
JIM PIERCE:
Oh sure, he was President all during the time that I was with IUE. But it was virtually an impossible place to take your children. You know, the school situation was bad; the living conditions were bad. Florida was going through a real boom in population growth, and schools were like half-day things. You'd go half days to school, and it was just a bad situation.
Secretary Treasurer of IUE, Al Hartnett, at the time, tried many times to get me to move my family down there, but I just couldn't see it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You didn't work with migrants or black workers

Page 39
that much during those Florida years. This was still mostly highly skilled industry?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And they were mostly just white workers?
JIM PIERCE:
Mostly.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you come in contact with migrants?
JIM PIERCE:
It was in Florida when I resumed my interest in migrants. In my early CIO days, I have done a considerable amount of organizing in Texas, along the Texas coast, and even out around El Paso, I saw and became involved as a part of the Civil Rights struggle some of the problems of migrants. In fact, you know, when you had a day off you couldn't drive all the way to Fort Worth, and a campaign was slack, well a lot of times you'd just drive out and learn things. You know, see people and talk to people. So, I developed an interest in, and I think this probably comes from my own rural background, an interest in problems that they had in the Texas valley, but there wasn't much that we could do about it. We did it through the CIO Council, we did what we could, but it wasn't a lot. But then when I got back to Florida … when I got to Florida as kind of a State Director for IUE, I continued my involvement in the Civil Rights movement, in the political movement, and they were involved with migrants and that is when I first became involved with what we call the eastern stream of migrants, but not very heavily involved.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were learning.
JIM PIERCE:
Learning is right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was anyone working with you then?

Page 40
JIM PIERCE:
Yes, the National Council of Churches was doing some work, The American Friends Service Committee was doing some work. Most of it was service type work and not organized.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What happened in IUE to make you move on? In 1961 you were … '56 to '61 you were in Florida and then you were with IUE for about two more years …
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah in '61 they asked me to transfer to the Southeast and become, I think it was Regional Director was the title. The District of IUE stretched all the way from Philadelphia to Florida. They set up a southern division and I guess they called me Regional Director. They asked me to move over here and take charge of IUE's operations in Virginia and south, and actually told me that I could move any place I wanted to. So Pat and the kids had been a habit now for a number of years, were traveling with me during the summer if I travelled, or stayed with me if I was in one location, came over and we spent the summer together. At this point I was servicing a number of locals all the way from Virginia to Florida. We picked Charlotte, and I came over here as Regional Director of IUE.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You told me once before that you picked Charlotte because of its airport?
JIM PIERCE:
We had to have a place where you could hop a plane and go someplace fast in case of a strike situation. We also had young children. Linda was in school and I think maybe Brenda had had a year of school. Anyway, three young

Page 41
children and we were looking for a school situation that was integrated, where it didn't look like there were going to be very many problems. Atlanta was the logical place, but Atlanta had people running around threatening to … violence and the ax handle and all that kind of thing. I just wasn't about to move into that kind of environment with my children. Charlotte was calm, it was integrated on that freedom of choice thing. We found a section of town where the schools were … at least the high school was pretty well integrated. In fact, Garinger has about the same number of … percentage of blacks to whites as it did then. It was as well an integrated school as we could find.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you moved to Charlotte in 1961.
JIM PIERCE:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you were able to stay closer to home then? You didn't have to do the Fort Worth - Florida…
JIM PIERCE:
I did a lot of travelling, but I had staff. I had 12 or 14 staff people who were working under my direction and they did the day to day stuff. I still went in on campaigns. I still went in to handle NLRB. cases, or arbitrate agreements, or negotiate a contract. I still did all that, but at least I was home some of the time, and I had an office here for the first time in my life.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In 1961, then, that was the first time you had staff under you really?
JIM PIERCE:
No from '56 to '61, and particularly when I was in Florida, I had four or five people working

Page 42
under me.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you make an effort during this time to bring in black workers into the IUE, or was the work force so skilled where you were trying to organize it, that it was usually higher skilled, mostly white work force.
JIM PIERCE:
The most you could do on that during this period … you remember, your basic thrust is organizing already existing plants. So in the organizing end of it, you had no control. You organized whoever the company hired. Now when you negotiate the contract, you bore down on it very strongly … integrated seniority lists, nondiscrimination cluase, hire more blacks, hire more blacks, hire more blacks. And where we had strength we were able to accomplish a great deal, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So after two years as Regional Director here with about 14 staff people, you moved on to IUD?
JIM PIERCE:
I didn't move on. I stayed on IUE's payroll and … as a member of the IUE staff right up until 1968, but I was on loan to the IUD. What happened they decided to set up the IUD Coordinated Organizing Campaign, now remember Reuther is President, they've merged, Reuther is President of the Industrial Union Department, and Jim Carey is Secretary Treasurer of the Industrial Union Department, and they decided they wanted to do some coordinated organizing among the industrial union …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Jim Carey is Secretary-Treasurer of the Industrial Union and the National President of IUE.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right, and … so they decided they

Page 43
wanted to do this organizing effort. They picked five locations, they picked the Boston area, the Philadelphia area, the Texas area, Detroit area, and the Southeast, and they were going to do really concentrated organizing of all the industrial unions working together. There was a special industry campaign to organize, a major thrust, to organize the textile industry. So you had five regional projects that they decided on plus one industry. Well, there for a while they were dickering with the possibility of a second industry which was wood, but that was also in the southeast.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What was the one industry?
JIM PIERCE:
Textiles. Textiles, some attention given to wood, and all of the textile thing fell in the southeast Textiles was here of course and then the wood thing was in this area also, furniture. The first idea was to put a coordinator in each of the areas, a special coordinator for textiles, and a special coordinator for furniture, wooden furniture. They had a number of meetings and Bill Pollack and John Chupka of Textile wanted me to take over the textile drive, the industry drive. Nick Zonarich was the Director of organizing and was put in charge of this. IUE wanted me to stay closely allied with them and was willing to release me and even continue to pay my salary if I would take on the southeastern drive. So I compromised. They decided that I would be the coordinator of both textile and wood, the regional coordinator for the industry drive. So I became the coordinator not only of

Page 44
the southeastern region for IUE but director of a special textile drive and a special wooden furniture drive which never really did get off the ground to well. But the textile did. So IUE loaned me to the the Industrial Union Department to be the coordinator for IUD from '63 to '68.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Because they wanted you to head the southeastern regional?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Are you tired?
JIM PIERCE:
No.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Okay. Just a few things about those IUE years in Florida from '61 to '63. Any particular campaigns come to mind that seemed very important. Did you learn things about the various industries, say about GE in Florida, things that you thought about when you got to J.P. Stevens later … you know, when one fell and you understand a snow ball effect, for example.
JIM PIERCE:
Not in Florida. Of course, you know, I was working in all the other southeastern states at the same time I was working in Florida. I think I learned a great deal from organizing … oh, for example, helping on the GE plant in Rome, Georgia, the GE plant in Roanoke, Virginia, negotiating a contract for the American Boxch-Arma in Columbus, Mississippi.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What year was this?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh gosh!
WILLIAM FINGER:
I'll have to look at your files.
JIM PIERCE:
You'll have to look at the file. Now, I don't

Page 45
have the vaguest idea.
WILLIAM FINGER:
These were the IUE years?
JIM PIERCE:
These were the IUE years. I don't know that there was any one. You gather experiences, techniques, meet people during nearly every organizing campaign that lends something to your actions in the future, you know. You run into situations …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about from the industry's point of view, the leverage points in industry like, I mean, I don't know as much about GE as say I do about Stevens. Did you have to break them?
JIM PIERCE:
GE was always a tough one.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's what I thought.
JIM PIERCE:
Awful tough to organize, and they did call on me … They did not call on the community for support, they did enlist the white citizens council in their campaign, they did call on this jack legged preacher, … here this guy, what's his name, George Heaton, calls himself an industrial psychologist. He is a former Baptist preacher who would go into a place where you were organizing and after the company had pitched a party and got the workers about half drunk, he'd come in a preach a sermon, you know. You had those kind of things, and you had them in all industries. You had it over in the Vickers campaign in Jackson, Mississippi, You had the company, with the aid of the people in the community, putting out a picture of Jim Carey dancing with a beautiful black woman, who was, I believe, the wife of some Ambassador from an African country, They used all that stuff, and they used

Page 46
these fundamentalists, anti-union publications. There is not a lot of difference in the industry down here. You can't pick out one and say it didn't use a racial thing and the other one did. They all used it. They all use the same tactics, the same lawyers, the same tricks to try to beat the union, and you learn from all of them. That is why it was not difficult to switch gears five times in a day … talking about a Stevens campaign, you are talking about a steel mill campaign, a furniture campaign, a packing house or an assembly plant, or an electrical plant—not that much difference. People that work in these plants all have the same hopes and dreams whether they are black or white or female or male or young or old.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But there are some differences in what the industry can do, for example, Stevens can shift their work to other towns.
JIM PIERCE:
Oh yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that makes them tougher when they can transfer work?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right, but so could GE, and so could Westinghouse and so could a lot of others, you know. So you recognize those tactics, you've understood those problems from working in other industry.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did the assignment in 1963 seem a little overwhelming? You had to head a textile drive, the key thrust of IUD's decision, when you had to head the southeast

Page 47
region as well.
JIM PIERCE:
Oh, it was a job. It was hard getting organized. We hired a bunch of young organizers, put me back to where I was a lot of years before when I was young and came on the staff and somebody helped me. We hired a lot of young people, we had a lot of experienced organizers that were transferred in from other locations.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who were some of those people? Among the exerienced ones, the young ones were people like Michael Lozoff and Gene Guerro, right?
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah. Well, no, they were kind of later on when we got to the migrant thing. See right at the start In addition to everything else, a year or two later, we started the migrant organizing campaign which was just another industry campaign like textile, only much more exciting and heart breaking in the end.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who were some of the older organizers that were assigned down here that were important, especially when the Stevens campaign started?
JIM PIERCE:
It was always hard to tell who was actually assigned and who you were working with. I wouldn't want to say this guy was actually working with us, when he was actually working for his international union … but people like Joe Kirk. Joe Kirk is presently maybe a sub-director of the steelworkers union, was on the old CIO Organizing Campaign. I had met him first in Rome, Georgia when we were organizing the GE plant … most helpful in getting this thing started off. Herbie Williams at that time was the

Page 48
Regional Director of the textile workers. He didn't work for me, but had some people on his staff who he assigned to the IUD for the Stevens drive. Jimmy Blackwell who did the publicity for textiles. also did the publicity for us. Oh gosh, I'd have to go through records to clear up, I know the names, but I don't remember exactly what their status was.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But all of them … even though they were assigned from various internationals or from the IUE … IUD Department, you were in charge of them?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you coordinated with Reuther or with …?
JIM PIERCE:
Well with Nick Zonarich, the line was kind of like this. Nick was the Director of Organizing for IUD. He reported directly to Walter Reuther and Jim Carey. I was, of course, a coordinator. There were five of us. We would have regular coordinator meetings and discuss strategies.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You mean in addition to Boston and Detroit?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right. In each area location, we had a committee composed of Regional Directors, or somebody assigned from the participating international union. So you've got an awful lot of help from these people, and they would meet periodically … well, solve jurisdictional problems, shift staff as it was needed… mostly giving good technical help to me in their particular industries.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were there strong feelings from people outside textiles that it was, you know, that it wasn't necessarily the right industry? I mean, was there

Page 49
consensus that we had to go against textiles? It happened in 1937, and it happened in 1947 and a lot of money had been lost on textiles.
JIM PIERCE:
I think … I don't know if there was consensus, but there was certainly a majority feeling almong all of the unions, as they were represented by the committee that was set up down here, and of course, in Washington when we would meet there, that textile was an extremely important industry and therefore we should conduct that drive and give it priority even maybe over the regional drive. People like Pat Grayhouse and Joe Mooney, who were our liaison with UAW — Pat is Vice-President of UAW, Joe was his assistant, — felt strongly about the Stephens campaign. Yeah, I think if there wasn't consensus, there was certainly a majority opinion that this was it. I don't know of anybody who opposed it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you have the money that you needed?
JIM PIERCE:
Relatively well funded at the beginning, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that was 1965?
JIM PIERCE:
That was '63, '64.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You started with Stevens right off the bat.
JIM PIERCE:
Probably within six months after the decision was made, Stevens was pretty well tagged as the target. Now this was the result of hundreds of thousands of leaflets put out at various textile plants to feel out the interest of the people, because it wasn't just us sitting here saying Stevens is the target, it could

Page 50
have been deering Milliken, it could have been Burlington, it could have been somebody else, but after getting a staff aboard and making thousands of plant distributions, talking to thousands of people, and in flowing it all in, and mixing it with the research that we had done on the various companies, the decision was made. It was not a top level decision alone; it was a top level decision that as a result of the interest shown by the Stevens people, it should be the one.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, it was both?
JIM PIERCE:
It was both, right. It was both. If during that period of time there had been less interest among the workers at Stevens than there had been say at Burlington, I am sure we would have found a way to make it Burlington.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I am real interested in coming back later and talking about this period in detail because of what is happening at Stevens now in Roanoke Rapids and what happened already in South Carolina in Wallace. Once again, the Stevens campaign occurs, but we will have to come back to that because that is a big story and I need to do some of that research. In '65 you say you took on the migrant drive.
JIM PIERCE:
I believe it was '65, right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was Stevens in full gear?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was that because the young guys like Lozoff and Guerro that you hired? Did they push you into that or

Page 51
did you …
JIM PIERCE:
Oh no, no, no, no, no.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You sought them out.
JIM PIERCE:
Yes, we sought them out, yes.
The migrant thing probably …you know, how does something like this start … you look back and you don't really know how it started because different people were doing different things aimed at the same direction. Reuther, of course, had a strong interest in farm workers. Nick Zonarich always wanted to organize the very poorest more depressed people. He always wanted us to bear down on them. I had had exposure in both the Texas valley and in Florida to the migrants, and I was pushing strongly for it. There were others, churches, people that we worked with politically that had an interest in this.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Had Chavez became more nationally known ?…
JIM PIERCE:
Not really at that time. At that point, Chavez was running a … I think it was probably an OEO funded community action type thing that was organizing farm workers, yes, but hadn't achieved the stature that he presently has, and it was not within the labor movement. I can't remember on the west coast who headed up the farmworkers the AFL-CIO had a farm workers campaign going. I think it was based with strong support in the Philipino community and had been for many years, there were a lot of Chicanos and blacks in it. I just can't remember that guy, I didn't know him that well. He left and Franz Daniels

Page 52
was working for me at that time. Franz back during the old CIO Organizing Campaign, had been a State Director, and I don't know where all he went after that, but he came back here assigned to me, later was withdrawn and sent out to work with the farm workers in California. It is possible that somebody made a decision, I can't be sure of this, that you would organize in both areas and under different structures and see what happened, I don't know, I wasn't in on that … on those decisions. Anyway, the decision was made to hit the Florida stream, find out what the problems are with migrants, get them interested in unions, follow them as they go upstream, find out what the conditions are upstream, and organize them, and we did. We started out and we first used IUD cards.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did they join different unions? Did they join different internationals?
JIM PIERCE:
This time it was an IUD card they were signing, then later the decision was made that you involve the Laborers International Union, so we switched over to the Laborers International Union cards, and they became involved. A man named Bud Loeberg our liaison with the laborers… came in occasionally. Vurnie Reed is still with the Laborers Union, a really nice guy … got involved with it, very excited about it, but it fell apart for some reason.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You signed up …
JIM PIERCE:
We signed up 25,000 or 30,000 or more maybe …
WILLIAM FINGER:
But they didn't …

Page 53
JIM PIERCE:
No I think someplace along there the decision was made by Reuther to put all the money and effort, everything that they had on the west coast instead of here, and they turned this over to the Packing House Workers Union and it has fallen flat on its face after that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It was out of your hands?
JIM PIERCE:
It was out of my hands. I was specifically instructed not to involve myself in it whatsoever. I got plenty pissed off about that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about your staff that had been travelling with them?
JIM PIERCE:
Well they first were transferred over to the Laborers or worked with the Laborers and then they were pretty well dissipated …
WILLIAM FINGER:
And they were pretty angry too?
JIM PIERCE:
I hope they were. I know they were. In fact I
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
WILLIAM FINGER:
Go ahead and say it anyway.
JIM PIERCE:
I was never able after that to look at Walter Reuther and see God. You know, he was now a labor leader, he was now a man who made political decisions instead of human decisions, he was now a man who would desert 30,000 or more people and that's the way I felt about … he was a man now, he was no longer God. At one time he was and there were a few gods in my life and he was one of them, but after that I was never able to feel the same. Before that, in Washington, I had an opportunity to sit in the same room with Reuther and listen to him talk and talk to him. It was a great pleasure. After that I really

Page 54
didn't care to.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you in on those meetings that made that decision?
JIM PIERCE:
No. The decision was made … I was called into Washington, I went into a meeting and Jack Conway and Ralph Helstein, I believe it was Ralph from the Packing House Workers were present. They took me into the room and Conway laid the law out to us that we were no longer involved with the migrant campaign, that we were to turn over all books and records and cards and everything else to the Packing House Workers and that was it. I blew my stack. I cussed them out and I raised cain. I couldn't change the decision and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I could have quit. I started to, but I also was aware that I still had the Stevens thing, I had the area thing going, that if I did quit it wouldn't affect anything, but it caused me to do a lot of thinking, and I did that … It was that that moved me where I am today, it started the movement.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It sounds like that was the most bitter feeling you had for the kind of standard criticism of labor … a top level decision handed down.
JIM PIERCE:
My wife couldn't live with me for weeks after that. Nobody could live with me for weeks after that. I was a very angry person, and I didn't hide any of it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you angry at those individuals, or

Page 55
what had happened to a union movement or was it all mixed together?
JIM PIERCE:
Oh, it was all mixed together. It was a period in my life that I don't even like to remember. I was … I felt awful bad because I knew that we could do something for those workers. I knew that we knew how to organize them. I knew we knew how to set up grievance procedure, and negotiate contracts, and conduct strikes. The people were with us. We had had some successful strikes in the Belle Glade area, by the union movement in many cases. So I knew we could do a job. So I felt awful bad because we weren't given the opportunity and that we were having to leave the people. I was angry. Angry at Conway because he was a vehicle that brought the word to me, angry at Walter Reuther for making the decision, angry at anybody else that I didn't even know I was angry at.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you tell Reuther what you thought?
JIM PIERCE:
I sure did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did he say?
JIM PIERCE:
He was very tolerant … didn't blow his stack when I cussed him out.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was he defensive?
JIM PIERCE:
I don't really remember to much about that conversation. You know, I had reverted back to nearly being an animal at that point. So angry that I couldn't think.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Then you came back here.

Page 56
JIM PIERCE:
Came back here and worked even harder on the things I was doing because I couldn't do anything.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you kept moving and that was about '67 when that happened.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And about a year later you left the IUD.
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I guess you left IUE.
JIM PIERCE:
Yeah, I left IUE at that point. There were other things. [unknown] that period when I was with IUD there was a big internal fight within IUE. Al Hartenett had tried to take over the Presidency from Jim Carey. He had made a big mess of it. He had tried to accuse the staff of embezzling funds, to use that against Jim Carey. We had a big investigation by the Justice Department in which I was involved. It resulted in two or three guys actually getting sentences before the Justice Department. They found out what Hartnett was trying to do, and how he had maneuvered all of this. Then they dropped the charges against everybody else. We had a new President at that point. Paul Jennings had won the election from Jim Carey, and so Paul was President of IUE. But as coordinator for the Industrial Union Department, I became involved in the struggle for a state, county and municipal employees to organize in the South. Jerry Wurf had been elected President, and AFSCME was a more militant union. There was a lot of movement in the South. They were organizing Memphis, and we, because I was the coordinator for the southeast,

Page 57
were involved in it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were still with IUE?
JIM PIERCE:
I was still with IUD. I was still with IUD, but still with IUE, yes. I was still on the payroll of IUE, still coordinating for IUD, and then of course the Memphis thing happened when Martin was killed. The State, County (AFSCME) professed a strong desire to organize in my area and became involved in the IUD effort. The sanatation workers in Charlotte had contacted me at the office wanting a union. Joe Ames, the Secretary-Treasurer of State County had been down two or three times. IUD at that time was losing support from its international unions. I had been with it for five years, the staff was well trained … I was bored. The migrant thing had been terminated and I was back to this. It had become routine, I needed action, and State County offered me the opportunity to get back into the real struggle not only for unions, but for Civil Rights. It looked like a union that was really willing to fight and I needed a fight pretty bad then, and they offered me the job. I went in to talk to Nick; I went in to talk to Paul Jennings. I told Paul that it would necessitate me severing from IUE. I wouldn't ask them to make it a loan. The loan situation from IUE to IUD was satisfactory but it didn't seem proper to do that with State County, so I severed after all those years.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You could have had fights where you were couldn't you? I mean, Stevens wasn't won?

Page 58
JIM PIERCE:
It wasn't a fight. Stevens had become a long series of NLRB legal cases, miles of testimony, miles of unfair labor practice charges.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did it look hopeless?
JIM PIERCE:
No, it didn't look hopeless at all. It just was a legal battle, and I needed track action. You know, I needed direct action. I tried in many cases to say, you know, screw the NLRB, let's go out and organize like they did in the thirties. Let's organize and strike and come hell or high water we will either win or lose, but the legal thing was just tearing us apart and always will. It just is not the way to organize unions.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So that is another element that caused you to change jobs?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right. I was getting away from NLRB by going with State County because they weren't covered by the NLRB. I was getting away from being a lawyer instead of an organizer. I was getting away from solving labor union problems through the courts instead of by direct action, and I wanted direct action.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So it was not only the autocratic level of a Reuther kind of decision on migrants, it was a direction that certain kinds of union activity had taken legally [unknown]
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And it was your particular situation at IUD.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right, But also, everything was colored by my bitterness going back a couple years to the migrant

Page 59
thing.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you went with AFSCME in '69.
JIM PIERCE:
'68.
WILLIAM FINGER:
'68, when you were in Memphis during that big garbage workers strike, were you active? You weren't the key organizer, were you?
JIM PIERCE:
No. I was an absolute nothing. I was a support person like thousands of other people were. This was an AFSCME thing. I was there because I knew some people who had some talents, but no, I was not a key person.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who were the key AFSCME people in Memphis?
JIM PIERCE:
Gosh, I don't know. During that time my association, what little bit I had, was working with Civil Rights leaders, Martin Luther King and other people like that and meeting occasionally with Joe Ames [unknown] Jerry Wurf, or whoever they happened to send in. I know some of the people that were, you know, were on the spot, Jesse Eppes, and Clayton and some others.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you meet with King and Civil Rights people?
JIM PIERCE:
Well, all during my IUE days and my IUD days, I was involved in various marches in Selma and Birmingham, and I helped organize the march on Washington in '63. So I knew Martin Luther King well and intimately during all this. So it wasn't that I got acquainted with him in Memphis, it was that I was there probably because I had a feeling for him. [Phone ringing]

Page 60
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you went to Memphis primarily because of your relationship with Civil Rights leaders, not your trade union position? AFSCME didn't need you? or they didn't call you to come?
JIM PIERCE:
Well they needed support from everybody. Now this is like on the first march, one that resulted in a little disturbance. Martin called it off, if you remember that. They needed support, but they didn't need actual involvement in the strike situation as much as they did just broad support from people outside, Of course, I would have gone simply because I was the Coordinator of IUD and because Nick Zonarich was going and so forth, but it wasn't that kind of involvement, And of course, the fact though that this was one of a continuing series of things that I had had going for years with Martin Luther King and Andy and the others caused me to want to be there. And then of course, a week or two later, whenever it was when they had the next march and he was killed, I wasn't there. I can't remember why I wasn't there. Some business kept me from being there. But it was his death that drew me awful close to State County and the plight of the workers, plus the fact that constant pressure here in Charlotte from sanitation workers and water department workers wanted the union here. So I was very receptive at this point for that kind of a change. Also, I wanted to get away from National Labor Relations Board because I was too embarrassed by some of Meaney's statements and because I wanted more action and IUD was not getting enough support, not

Page 61
enough support to suit me. It was kind of boring. I was pretty well fed up …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Besides the action, did you think you would have more freedom?
JIM PIERCE:
Not really more freedom because I was very very free under Nick, and with IUD. I couldn't have had more freedom. No, I really questioned whether I would have as much because I had seen Jerry Wurf in action, but not closely. I didn't know him, but I knew I was taking on a few problems. I didn't realize how many problems I was taking on.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So did he hire you, Jerry Wurf?
JIM PIERCE:
Well actually, Joe Ames and Jerry's assistant did the negotiating - Bob Hastings I believe it was. I didn't see Jerry until I actually had gone to work, and that was probably the second or third time I had ever met him. It was certainly the first chance I had to have a conversation with him, and it wasn't that lengthy. He just said "glad to have you aboard" sort of thing.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were hired as Southern Regional Director?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And he let you locate in Charlotte because you lived here, and because they were down here already and because of the Charlotte sanitation workers?
JIM PIERCE:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This was a natural place to stay.
JIM PIERCE:
It was natural, that's right. The only other place that would have been logical would have been Atlanta

Page 62
and there was no real reason for me to move there since I would be travelling the whole area anyway.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were there for about a year?
JIM PIERCE:
Until Christmas of '69.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Not even a year and a half. What were the major strikes or the major activity besides Chapel Hill?
JIM PIERCE:
Well, you had the Charlotte sanitation strike it was a city strike. Actually, it involved a lot more than sanitation workers. It was a good one, it resulted in a memorandum of agreement and very closely resembled a contract. The following year, probably my most important contribution, or one that I had a part in at least, was rebuilding Memphis after Martin Luther King's death.
The union was shattered, the contract was a couple of pages. It didn't cover basic union things that are normally in union contracts, and I spent a great deal of time during that year in Memphis actually engaged in negotiations, rebuilding the local. We brought it up from a few hundred to about six or seven thousand. We negotiated an agreement, did it without a strike. That probably was the most important thing although there were others that were as exciting — an organization of Sanitation Workers in Jackson, Mississippi went on strike in the city in the middle of the day. And organizing we did a lot of organizing that year Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida.
It was a beautiful exciting year and then back to

Page 63
Chapel Hill in the fall.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you think of Memphis as your primary contribution, as the most important thing regionally?
JIM PIERCE:
I think probably so, yes,-to bring that out of the shambles that it was in and get an agreement that still holds. I think it would really have to be judged on not just what you do at the moment but on how long it goes, how long it will last after that. Many of the involvements with State County fell apart after I left for one reason or the other, and I feel bad about that. Not that I feel like I could have kept them together when other people couldn't, but I just never liked to see one that I organized fall down. But the Memphis thing did hold although I don't know how much it is holding right now.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about the others in Jackson?
JIM PIERCE:
Jackson, I think, fell apart; Charlotte fell apart after I left, There was a series of strikes, of losing strikes, that resulted in not having any union, [unknown] thing at Chapel Hill fell apart later although we had a good union contract, I think we could have kept the thing together, but they didn't.
WILLIAM FINGER:
As you were coming near the end of being with AFSCME in Christmas, 1969 you had been involved in a lot of different things in the sixties, both with IUD and then with AFSCME. A lot of labor history is written about big strike upheaval periods, like the Pullman strike and the

Page 64
general strike in 1934 here in North Carolina. Some recent labor historians write about upheaval periods in the sixties similarly. But the base was not only working people, it was mixed in with students, black people and the Civil Rights movement. From what you have told me today, you were not ever a part of a big upheaval labor time, not like the general strike in '34 or the UAW in the late thirties.
JIM PIERCE:
No.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you were involved in the sixties when there was a general upheaval time in the society.
JIM PIERCE:
Oh with the students through the SSOC involvement and with all the young people, especially the young people that worked with me in the migrant thing, the whole Civil Rights thing. I missed very little in the Civil Rights movement from '47 to today … All of that, yes, I was a part of that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did those kind of events and people that were involved in these movements, push you away from the labor movement as well as the specific things we talked about? I mean, a lot of those people weren't in the labor movement that you worked with; the people that you just mentioned-students, civil rights leaders, community leaders.
JIM PIERCE:
Throughout my labor days probably more than 50% of my time was spent outside the labor movement anyway, working in Civil Rights and various other causes. I have used my role in labor …

Page 65
I view labor role the thirties and forties as being the kind of social action movement that the Civil Rights movement was in the sixties, and as the student movement was and so on. So labor was to me a vehicle that could accomplish certain goals but also could be used by other groups to accomplish it. And I always felt like labor was, you know, a tool to get things not only for their own members but for others as well, and I feel that way about the National Sharecroppers Fund.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In 1970 you left the State County, which we talked about at some length, in a previous interview and then you had about nine months there when you were in limbo before you started the Sharecroppers Fund.
JIM PIERCE:
Six months.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You talked a little bit about that the other time working in Charlotte, neighborhood organizing. What things pushed you to the Sharecroppers Fund? Did you need a job?
JIM PIERCE:
No.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you want to …
JIM PIERCE:
I think the migrant thing caused my mind to go back to my childhood when I was rural, and through all these years with the labor movement. Of course, in the South it was basically a rural movement too, you know. You were organizing factories in small towns, you were organizing people in many cases who lived on the land and commuted to work, and had a horse and a cow and a field and so forth. So I'd stay

Page 66
close to the rural area, but I hadn't done anything about it, I knew that there were things that needed to be done. I went on the board of the National Sharecroppers Fund in 1969. I was always a supporter of the Sharecroppers Fund and the things they were trying to do, but I was not very active. During this six months when I had for the first time in my life a chance just to sit down and say, "Jim, you've come to a point, you've done certain things. What do you want to do with the rest of your life. You are coming close to the middle of it. You've hit that 45 when people start thinking, ‘what do I do."’
WILLIAM FINGER:
Prime years.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right, and I had that opportunity. There was also the fact that it was nearly forced on me, I wasn't about to go to work for anybody and then ask for a leave of absence a month later and go to jail to serve my jail sentence. So I wasn't about to go to work for anybody on a permanent basis during that time. It gave me a chance to do a lot of thinking, a lot of talking, I made a lot of colleges and talked to people about labor and Civil Rights, and the South. The more I thought, the more I felt like I really needed to get to the basics of some of America's problems and the basics in the rural areas. That's where the city problems start, and that's where they are going to have to be solved. You are going to continue to have ghettos

Page 67
and unemployment and disease and crime in the cities until you can oan keep people from coming to the cities who are unprepared for city life. That meant to me it took me a long time to figure it out that somebody had to wade into the rural areas and try to solve some of the problems before they got to the city.
Then this opportunity came along. I approached it and I accepted the position [Executive Director] with many reservations which I made known to the Board of NSF. I only accepted it really for a year, a try out period with full understanding that I would help them reorganize and they did need some reorganizing. They needed some real attention to be given to directions of the staff, what they were and what they should be. I agreed to do that, but with the understanding at the end of a year that reorganization was completed, I could go on back to the labor movement. That really is what they expected me to do, I think that may have been what I expected to do in a way, but that year just convinced me that what I needed to do with a few remaining productive years, if there were any at all, is to do it from here. [the NSF]
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you travel a lot that first year? Did you see a lot of rural areas in the South? Is that what convinced you?
JIM PIERCE:
That first year that is about all I did … was to go to projects, look for problems, talk to people about solutions find out where NSF should direct its attention. And the only way you could find that out is the same way that we will ever find out what

Page 68
the solution is going to be when you have enough people involved in it, local people, and find out what they want and how they want to go, where they want to go and when they want to go. Then that will be a meaningful solution and then NSF will be a meaningful organization. That's the only way an organization really becomes meaningful.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you put a lot of hopes in the co-ops? How can NSF become meaningful besides the way its network and its political contacts work?
JIM PIERCE:
I see a need for a Graham Center, where people can get together and people can train, where people can trade ideas, where people can spend some time in an appropriate atmosphere to really discuss their problems and come to some kind of an idea as to how they want to solve them. So I see it as an important facility. I don't see it as the major thrust of NSF. I see our work out in the field with local farmers as the major thrust, but I see the need for this and the things that can be done here to make this other more possible.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you feel like when you are at the Graham Center today, and you are travelling among the other co-ops that working with farmers and working with the labor movement are linked together?
JIM PIERCE:
Absolutely. I see so much value in the labor movement and the people that are in the labor

Page 69
movement that I want to devote an awful lot of time to bringing the problems of the rural areas, and the people of the rural areas, in closer contact with the labor movement. I have problems with the labor movement, I have problems with my wife and myself. But it is still to me the best continuing organization for social change. Now that doesn't mean that other organizations won't spring up, affect change, do great things, but they tend to die; the labor movement goes slower, and bulkier, and you have to just drag it along, but it is always there. It'll be there when nobody else is. After another 50 organizations have sprung up and died, the labor movement will still be there plodding along for social change.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's an hopeful view of the labor movement, and I hope its right.
JIM PIERCE:
That's right. Now it doesn't mean that you don't take two steps back and one step forward. But its an organization that is devoted to social change. I mean that's its purpose. That's right, that's its purpose.
It'll get off of the track sometimes, but there will always be somebody to bring it back sooner or later.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You have given me a lot of good insights into the different areas of your life. I want to go back another time to get names of rank and file leaders that you remember in particular strike because then I think I can use those names with your own research and your records to get some good insights about why certain things failed and didn't go further. But I think this

Page 70
gives us a good start. Thank you.
JIM PIERCE:
Very good.
END OF INTERVIEW