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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Western Electric telephone workers join the CIO

Pierce discusses the strike he participated in during 1947 and he explains the decision of the workers to join a more organized national union shortly thereafter. According to Pierce, the strike had been part of a national, albeit largely uncoordinated, effort. Pierce describes the process by which the telephone workers at Western Electric determined to join the CIO and argues that the militancy they demonstrated in their 1947 strike made them more appealing to the CIO.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WILLIAM FINGER:
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.
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 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.