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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 >>

Disappointment in the labor movement

Pierce describes more fully his intense anger at the decision of IUE and IUD, and specifically Walter Reuther, to halt the organization of migrant workers during the 1960s. For Pierce, his anger was part of his larger discontent with the labor movement at that time. Although Pierce still believed that labor movement was capable of success, he had begun to think that it was not doing enough to help as many workers as possible.

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

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 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 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.