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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 >>

Desire to use direct action, rather than legal action, in labor movement

Pierce explains his decision to sever his ties with the IUE and IUD in 1968. Having worked with them since 1963, Pierce had become increasingly discontented with the labor movement and its decision to abandon efforts to organize migrant workers. He explains that his decision was ultimately made when the primary focus shifted to legal activism. Pierce preferred direct action and organizing workers and, as a result, he left the IUD in 1968.

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 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?
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
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 thing.