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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974. Interview E-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Aftermath of the merger of the Fur and Leather Workers Union with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters

Russell briefly addresses some of the problems that former Fur and Leather Workers leaders faced within the Amalgamated Meat Cutters—namely that their progressive views were out of line with the more moderate approach of Amalgamated. Nevertheless, Russell concludes that trade unions had adopted a more progressive voice from the merger up to the mid-1970s when the interview was conducted. In describing this process, he discusses the role of Patrick Gorman as a leader of Amalgamated.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 25, 1974. Interview E-0014-2. 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:
You have been with the Meatcutters a lot longer than you were with …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Fur and Leather Workers, yeah, that's right. In terms of time, I suppose it could be divided that way, but in terms of education and understanding, there's no approach. But we are still with the Fur and Leather, you know. I don't have much left. I have a couple of leather plants, and … but what the hell is the difference? We did something we used to talk about. Here, we are doing something we used to talk about. We had some real problems following the merger. We had guys who were excellent fellows. Real progressive trade union guys who pursued the most sectarian policy inside the Amalgamated for years, and they had made us some troubles too. I mean what the hell, what is the job of a progressive trade union guy inside of an organization like Amalgamated? First of all, it's to build where you can build, and secondly, to influence policy. And when you got guys who are so sectarian, so convinced ahead of time, that the Amalgamated is an old Craft Union with nothing but a bunch of old bureaucrats that you can't do nothing with them, but all you got to do is take a look and see. Since they have merged with the Packing House Union, they merged with these Mitchell's farm groups down in the …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Agriculture …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Agriculture Workers Union, Sheep Shearers Union, and a number of other smaller unions. And someday, we will probably merge with the retail clerks RDVSU and maybe both. But what the hell, the union today is a much more progressive voice. We've got blacks in leadership moving in there. We've never had that before. We have women in leadership, never had them before. I am talking not just on a local basis but on an international scale. Who the hell is known better around the country in the women's movement than Hattie Wyatt? A black, you know, terrific. Gorman used to be so opposed to a woman even being an international rep, or a business agent. They figured all she was good for was screwing, you know, go to bed with and get the guys in trouble and all kinds of … But it proves out differently. Given the real opportunity of a woman really getting recognition based upon ability …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did Gorman let that happen? Did he push that, allowing that kind of leadership to surface?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I don't think he could help to … See, you know how forces build up, you know the dynamics of these things. When unions like ours and Packing House begin to play a real role, put women in places and he can't hardly resist, you see. And then came the Civil Rights movement … of course, Gorman was always decent on these issues, I don't think that Gorman was any whore or anything like that. He was weak maybe many times in enforcing things, simply because, you have to know the structure of the Amalgamated, you understand, to know why there were these weaknesses. And there were weaknesses.
WILLIAM FINGER:
There were very autonomous international unions.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Very autonomous locals. You had … you know, most unions are structured, you have locals, districts, and then the international. The result is you had a line of communications that touches two or three bases going down through and back up through, but here you got districts, but they are shit in most cases. Then you got up on the top the king and the barons, you see, running the locals, and that is about the way it works.