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Title: Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 19, 1975. Interview E-0014-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Russell, John, 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: 176 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
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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 John Russell, July 19, 1975. Interview E-0014-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0014-3)
Author: William Finger
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 19, 1975. Interview E-0014-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0014-3)
Author: John Russell
Description: 173 Mb
Description: 59 p.
Note: Interview conducted on July 19, 1975, by William Finger; recorded in Asheville, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Gerry Cohen.
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.
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Interview with John Russell, July 19, 1975.
Interview E-0014-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Russell, John, interviewee


Interview Participants

    JOHN RUSSELL, interviewee
    WILLIAM FINGER, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
WILLIAM FINGER:
John, we left off about 1954, right after the merger happened. When the Fur and Leather Workers merged with the Meatcutters, the district situation was set up. Was 525 set up at the time?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, 525 came along a lot later, in 1961, and was the result of merging a number of locals we had built while we were at that time part of the Amalgamated Meatcutters.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What was your position in 1955?
JOHN RUSSELL:
In 1955, after the merger, I became an international rep and was charged with aiding organizational work here in the South, with both taking care of other problems like negotiating contracts.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who did you report to?
JOHN RUSSELL:
The primary report was to vice-president Leon Schacter, whose headquarters is in Washington, D.C. This is the national headquarters, actually there is a local headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, and possibly Philadelphia at that time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you remember what you felt then, in 1955?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you think at the time, not what you think now, that the merger would really limit what you could say, how you could act, what you could do? Would it mute your radical feelings about trade unions?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Let me just say there were a lot of fears in those days. They weren't the fears of losing jobs, they were the fears of being suppressed in developing militant progressive

Page 2
trade unionism as we know it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you're just trying to talk about the mood, what it was like then?
JOHN RUSSELL:
At that time we had certain fears we couldn't last inside this merged organization. We had a lot of respect for certain people, we certainly had respect for Pat Gorman, whose reputation was above par in most cases with all of our people. But we also had some reservations about other people who were in a strong political position inside the union, and we didn't know whether they had the influence to keep us from staying very long with the Amalgamated- In fact I think that most of our people, with the exception maybe of a few, felt that we wouldn't last long inside the Amalgamated.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Your people up in Chicago?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Up in Chicago, all around the country, there was a feeling we don't know where we're going. We don't know what's going to happen. We're merged, we've got articles of a merger agreement, and we're hoping that they stand up. At the same time we had some very sharp doubts of the ability of us to survive inside this merged group.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That was the kind of feeling you got from the top?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That plus the fact that we ourselves, many of us couldn't see being able to stay long inside the Amalgamated.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who is we now, people in North Carolina?
JOHN RUSSELL:
People like me. Not just North Carolina, but many other areas of the country too. All of them had

Page 3
reservations about them, let me put it that way. They had reservations about their ability to work inside the Amalgamated, and at the same time be at peace with their philosophical approach to life, and logical approach to life.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's the way you felt?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That's true. I felt the same way. I had my reservations, no argument. But I did say, at the meeting vice-president Schacter presided at with a group of organizers in his district—he had district 2 at that time, and it was the biggest district in the international—I said following that, to our own people, "I don't care, I'm going to build unions. This has given us an opportunity we've never had before in terms of jurisdiction. I'm going out to build unions for the Amalgamated because I think basically it's a decent union, they've got good people leading it and I'm going to do my best to not only build unions for them, but build the kind of unions I believe in. Progressive unions, people with ideas, at that time, discrimination, at that time the big struggles in the South hadn't started yet, do our bit to building a decent, progressive union movement that politically could register its mark."
WILLIAM FINGER:
So how did you go about doing that?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Once I had made up my mind, and you know I had serious doubts about doing it, we started organizing. We organized right from this town of Asheville. The first big thing we ever organized was the Farmer's Federation here. They had

Page 4
a poultry plant, about 150 to 180 workers we organized it, and built up the best conditions in the poultry workers anywhere in this area, in this state, I think anywhere in the Carolinas. We had up to six paid holidays, we had a pretty good vacation program, we had some insurance, and we had rates that were some fifty or sixty cents above the minimum rates in those days, that was terrific. I don't know what the minimum wage was in that period, I think around seventy-five cents and hour.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This was '55?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That was '54, no '55, '56. We were challenged in a de-certification by the company, and beat the pants off them later on. We had bargaining rights here, and we extended an agreement, had a good agreement, right up to the time the company went out of business, in about 1959 or 1960. In fact, we had a local established here, Local 49, I can't remember. It was 49.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When you made that decision to try to organize underneath the Meatcutters, what else did you consider doing at the time? You said you had serious doubts.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Everybody, and I was no exception, talked about getting involved in political work, or finding a more positive, not positive, but a job we were sure we would be in for a while.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You didn't know …
JOHN RUSSELL:
It was just a general feeling that we were in danger, and we weren't going to survive too long.

Page 5
WILLIAM FINGER:
But you never yourself considered taking another position?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, no, my own personal position was that they almost had to drive me out. That's not because I didn't think I had other abilities, because I knew I did. If I had wanted to be a real bastard I could have probably went with many companies that I dealt with, like A.C. Lawrence or others. They needed sharp young guys who could handle labor relations, and they probably would have paid much more than I ever heard of. But I just couldn't stomach that kind of a thing, Bill, and I never really entertained it seriously except I knew that somewhere along the line I might have to find some other kind of job.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But that was a time when you really questioned whether you would stay inside trade union work, that you would do other kinds of political work?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I questioned severely whether I would be able to stay inside, not that I wanted to, but that I would be able to. But trade union work is the one thing that I understood and knew and was willing to take my chances at.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So after you started organizing the Farmer's Federation in Asheville, and when other campaigns came up, did you feel any kinds of limitations? Compared with how you had been able to work within the Fur and Leather Workers?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Compared with how I worked inside of them?
WILLIAM FINGER:
Yes.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Always you felt somebody was looking over your

Page 6
shoulder to find some indication of what they might consider radicalism, some feeling that your position politically is way out in left field. You had to understand that, that was there, but that didn't bother me, because I figured that if I'd do a good job, I wouldn't worry. I considered it an opportunity. Like I told our people when we had our first meeting with vice-president Schacter, when he was named district director of District 2, "I'm going to do my best to do a good job because we've always waited for a much bigger jurisdiction, and we've got it now, and I'm going to work at it."
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you covered as an international rep North Carolina and you still had parts of East Tennessee?
JOHN RUSSELL:
We went anywhere they wanted to send us, but basically we worked in the Carolinas.
WILLIAM FINGER:
South Carolina?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Anything else you can think of about that time? It seems like it was kind of a, at least in terms of trade unions, a turning point. You were now an amalgamated. Personally, what I'm trying to get at, personally for yourself, if you kind of made a switch in the way you looked at your work?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Not so much that we made a switch, but I at least saw a golden opportunity to build something for the first time, in a field we never had before. See, up until then

Page 7
we were limited to a leather plant here, a leather plant there, or something in that area, or something close akin, even the laundry workers in Winston-Salem were with us. It was sort of a deviation. Nobody looked at who else had them, a laundry workers union. We didn't particularly want to build there. It happened before I came in, and it was in the midst of going ahead when I came into the South, and I didn't want to lose the situation. Frankly, we thought, I thought, merger with the Amalgamated gave us what a lot of our guys had been arguing about for many years, an expanded jurisdiction to work inside of and build unions. That's how we saw it. And, without any kind of argument, to make them the kind of unions we thought were good for working people, politically and …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kind of unions were those?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Progressive unions, unions that saw more than just the immediate demands of workers, but had a broader outlook on life.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What does that mean, though, progressive unions, like you wanted to build?
JOHN RUSSELL:
One who saw that trade unions weren't the final answer, that unions were a weapon in the struggle of workers to maintain a decent standard of living. But at the same time, while we centered on the immediate problems, to try and lift their sights a little higher and recognize that if we are going to genuinely have a nation where working people

Page 8
have a fair, decent opportunity. It has to be the kind of a nation that working people control. That of course means a tremendous change in the political, social, and economic system.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You'd talk like that to locals?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, yes. We never hid much. We never bragged about what our political points of view were, but we did our best to influence people.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you have a program, a more short-range thing? Were you involved in electoral politics? What kind of ways would a progressive union work in this period?
JOHN RUSSELL:
In that period, and in the period up until the sixties, we had very little use for working inside the electoral system. Very frankly, we just didn't feel there was much possibility of doing much with it. We were pretty repelled by the approach of the labor movement as a whole to Wallace in 1948. We were a little bit disillusioned …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were what to Wallace in 1948?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I'm talking about Henry Wallace, not …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You supported him?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yes, we did. We did, but not the labor movement. They supported Truman, you understand. But my union supported Wallace. We went out of our way, and we were a little put off that workers couldn't see the difference between a guy

Page 9
who wants to build a new American imperialism like Truman did or attempted to do, and a guy like Wallace who was concerned, at least as we saw it, with some of the basic problems of the American people.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So from '55 on into the sixties …
JOHN RUSSELL:
We built unions. We built them almost in a haphazard fashion, because that's, as we saw it, we had to build something in the South. If it was a local here, a local there, it didn't matter whether it had fifty people or twelve people or a hundred people, or a hundred fifty people, the important thing was to get down a base, and then we would talk about the future from there on. We had six different local unions we had built in the South by the beginning of 1960.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Six different …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Six different local unions here in North Carolina that we had never had before. There were five, I mean. There was one local union that was a local of the Swift Oil Refining Company in Charlotte, North Carolina, thirty-five people. In 1960 it becamse pretty apparent to us that this kind of approach was not going to solve the question of organizing in the deep South.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Nineteen what?
JOHN RUSSELL:
In 1960. That what we needed was to be able to pool their finances, their resources, all the strength their leadership ability, etcetera, and make a statewide local and use their forces, and their money, to do a real job of or

Page 10
ganizing the jurisdiction that comes within the amalgamated in the Carolinas. Thats how we came about merging all these local unions into 525, that's how it came into being.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In 1960?
JOHN RUSSELL:
It came really in 1961, but the beginning was in 1960. Through the whole thing.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was that discussed within the locals?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, yes. We had spent about six months preparing these people, getting an agreement out of it, pointing out to them the weaknesses of being single, isolated little local unions. Then we went to a general conference in February of 1961, and at that conference we agreed we would all merge, and that we would have elections, and that we would set up a single treasury, they'd all merge the money they'd have, and that we'd go from there as a single group, and utilize all that forces and all that money to try to accomplish building a good union.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They all supported that?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes. Yes at that time we had about three hundred, three hundred twenty-five people in six local unions. You can see why it becamse apparent to us that was not the road to go, and we had to change course.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you had how many, six hundred …
JOHN RUSSELL:
About three hundred and twenty-five.
WILLIAM FINGER:
About three hundred twenty-five in about five different locals …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Six different locals.

Page 11
WILLIAM FINGER:
Where were they?
JOHN RUSSELL:
We had one here, that's either 49 or 409, maybe 409, time kind of shrouds my mind. We also had a local we'd set up in Durham, and one in Greensboro, and we had this little Hazlewood group of leather workers out here, 345. We had a local in Charlotte, I think its number was 269, that was Swift Oil Workers. We had a little local down in Raeford, and we had one in Concord, that was the six that we're talking about.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So from fifty-five to sixty-one, you built those six locals.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yah, and I guess when we first came, when the merger took place between the Amalgamated and the Fur and Leather Workers in this state, I mean in the nation, in this state they had thirty-five people, and that was in Swift Oil down in Charlotte, North Carolina, that was all they had. We built the other ones, and this was the beginning of our organizational work, and in that period of time we had some fantastic struggles. Organizational struggles, for instance, we had an NLRB election against Watson in 1956 …
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's Watson poultry?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Watson Seafood and Poultry. We had one a couple of years later. We had another campaign another few years later than that, and finally in either sixty-one or sixty-two. These were the beginning where we had to make it very clear to the employers that we're going to organize the plants one way or

Page 12
the other. The same thing with Jesse Jones, the same thing with the Farmers Exchange, which is now Goldkist in Durham, a very solid group. And in many others, A&P all the way down the line. It became a question of establishing the fact that we were going to organize their people come hell or high water.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did you establish that with someone as big as A&P? These other ones are small independent ones compared to A&P.
JOHN RUSSELL:
The same way we do with these other ones. I don't think it was any real difference in our approach. If we won an election, we laid down our own position. We said if you want to fight over checkoff or over arbitration, which in those days were the issues used to destroy unions even if you won elections. In other words, they wouldn't give you a checkoff, they wouldn't give you arbitration, and they would let you just set there and die a natural death. They've done the same things with textiles recently …
WILLIAM FINGER:
They still do that now.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Right, they still do it too. We took a position though, that if we win your place, we don't give a god damn if you offer the highest wage rates in the world, we're going to keep our sites high enough that we're going to take you on over checkoffs and arbitration, and you're going to pay. If you lick us, you're going to bleed too, until you're sick and tired of the battle. And that was our position then. We went eighteen

Page 13
months in a fight with Southeastern.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Southeastern?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Southeastern Poultry in Charlotte. We went six months with the Carriker Poultry which preceded that, in the same plant, over the same issues even. We fought that, and B&B Poultry up in Burlington, North Carolina. And finally, Rose Hill, we went four years down in Rose Hill, North Carolina.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Four years people were out on strike?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Four years we had picket lines in front of the place. I don't say it was an effective strike, it was a boycott, picket line operation, you know? But they bled too. In fact there were many times in that long four years that they were in the process of trying to make peace with us.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When were those four years in Rose Hill?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That was in, it must have been about sixty-five, sixty-six, give or take a year or two either way.
WILLIAM FINGER:
People that went out were still there four years later?
JOHN RUSSELL:
We had a picket line, that's about all you can say. They could get scabs in any place, you understand, and those places was no exception. But we had struggles against them, we carried on consumer picketing. We picketed Colonial Stores, we picketed the A&P stores, we put out out hundreds and hundreds of thousands of leaflets as well as creating problems for them in these places. Until the time came that

Page 14
it was an accepted fact, in our area at least, that we were not going to buy a contract that did not have a checkoff, that didn't have arbitration. We were not going to buy a contract that did not at least take care of the minimum needs of the workers in terms of money. It took a long time, because we were dealing with the worst rednecks in industry in the South at that time.
Many of these towns used to get some group, a little group of people who could put up forty or fifty thousand dollars combined, and go to the small businessmen's organization in Washington and pick up another hundred and fifty thousand bucks, and put up a poultry plant, in order to get a payroll in town. The result was, of course, that we had all these problems to deal with. Fortunately our history is evolving and history is going to show that we drove out many of these small, cheap independents who would have hung on paying minimum wages or less.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How many did you drive out, do you know?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, take Carriker for an example. We drove them out, it took a six months strike. B&B Poultry, with a hundred workers in Burlington, drove them out.
Rockingham Poultry, a big company who came in and said we'll give you a contract, we'll deal with you, and we even didn't have to go through an election. These are important gains for workers, because it moves us forward, you see,

Page 15
in this state. There were many others this same way, you see. The essence was struggle. I don't know how many strikes we've had in this state, some of them long, some bitter, some short ones. In the industries that were generally controlled by local rednecks, there's never been a short strike. We'll spend six months, four months, a year, two years, four years, that kind of a deal.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How about with A&P? Did they sign a contract with checkoff and all that too? You had the butchers in A&P all across the state.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Right. When we first struggled with A&P, we won the meatcutters in Durham, we won the meatcutters in Greensboro in almost simultaneous elections, we went through the board at the same time. We won twenty-four to two or twentytwo to two in Durham, and we won twenty-three to eight or nine in Greensboro. That was the beginning, that's only sixty people. We wound up finally with 1400 A&P people in that union. That includes the warehouse down, in Charlotte, the meat warehouse. Today we only have about 850 because of the cut-down in stores as well as layoffs in the plant. The point was that when we first got our first election wins, with A&P in Durham and Greensboro, they sent in an attorney out of Charlotte, a very decent man, I forget his name now …
WILLIAM FINGER:
It wasn't Blakeney …
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, no, they didn't hire Blakeney, they had their own attorney. Anyway, they sent this guy in, he's dead

Page 16
now. We said to them, if you're going to play games about checkoffs, about arbitration, we're going to tell you right now, don't do it. You've got a strike, and we're going to do our best, with as little as we've got, to knock you out of the saddle.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You said this to A&P?
JOHN RUSSELL:
To A&P. We didn't get the best contract in the world, but checkoff and arbitration, it was no issue after that. Oh, they made moves now and then, that they're going to take this away, or take that away, or they're going to do this. But every time, we told them, look, you do that, you can't offer us money for the settlement, we want you to know it. The committee knows it, we always built our committee up and told them, and educated them, and worked on them to understand the importance of arbitration, the importance of protecting our gains, the checkoff, to maintain the strength going back in the bargaining the next session. We never had no problem with A&P after that. Then, along came Colonial in 1961, we organized before we organized them, we organized a number of other places with A&P. We organized Wilson, North Carolina, we …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You had to go at them one at a time?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That's how we organized then, we still do it by the way, we organize on a town by town basis. Then we organized Roanoke Rapids, then we organized …
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is still A&P?

Page 17
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yah. This is outside of Goldsboro …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Rocky Mount?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, going down seventy …
WILLIAM FINGER:
You mean Smithfield?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yah, Smithfield.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well you went town by town then.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Town by town. We'd already built a number of these, but we had no master contract …
WILLIAM FINGER:
New Bern?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, we tried New Bern and lost, we never did get nowhere. But we went from there and we began to build at A&P. Going into Raleigh, we won that wall to wall. In 1963 we won, first of all we won Fayetteville wall to wall, that was the first place we won, we won the meatworkers first in an election, we won the grocery end against the Retail Clerks, against every opposition they could throw up. And they saw that as a testing grounds but we won it. Then we won Raleigh, then we won Winston-Salem, then we won Asheville, and by then we were in a pretty good shape with A&P plenty of trouble insisted on being stupid in negotiations. Today, of course, we are in pretty good shape with A&P, we have statewide contracts now for many years.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You have a contract with all the towns at the same time?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Right, we have contractwide seniority, with protection on seniority rights up to two years during layoffs

Page 18
and things that guarantees them almost that there is any impossibility of being back. We went out about building these kinds of unions in those days.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did did the membership go from? In 1960 you were three twenty-five, with …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Three twenty-five …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Six locals …
JOHN RUSSELL:
We reached a peak about 1970 or 1971, of four thousand members or better, a little bit better than four thousand. We had at that time about five thousand under contract, but because of right-to-work laws, especially in the poultry plants it's awful hard to maintain a …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Membership …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Membership, up there.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How was that four thousand break down.
JOHN RUSSELL:
We had about at that time four thousand, we had practically half were retail.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Mostly A&P and Colonial?
JOHN RUSSELL:
A&P, Colonial, and Allied at that time. We had Allied Supermarkets. We also had, and that was the warehouse [unknown]. We had probably about fifteen hundred, no about twelve hundred members in poultry. We had some food processing, we had Gerber's, which is a food processing plant. I guess it was after 1970 that we took in Fairmont, we took in Heinz. Nothing just Heinz, up in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The rest were meat

Page 19
people. Packing plants like Armour down in Charlotte, all the Swift branch houses …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Those were pretty small …
JOHN RUSSELL:
They're small, they're not very big, you see. Carolina Meats came after a long strike in 1970 or 1971. We won a plant down there, they had about three or four hundred workers down there. That's how it came about. Three people up to about three hundred. Morton's Frozen Food, about four hundred people. We've had awful losses in the last few years.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Just from layoffs?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yes, plants closing, layoffs, everything. We lost in the last four years, we lost, I'm talking about four years, the last two years, we lost Morton Frozen Foods in December of 1973, with four hundred workers at the poultry plant as well as the baking plant.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did they close up?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Closed up, they never opened again.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Where did they go?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, Morton is ITT, all around the country. They just transferred operations.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why did they close it? Because of the union?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, not basically. I think because their plant was antiquated and they weren't able to produce efficiently there. I guess certainly, while the rates had improved tremendously and the conditions, it wasn't because of the union.

Page 20
They paid much higher in other areas, but they had more modern operations, which is the key. But even there it wasn't a question. They had to close something, so they closed the least productive from their point view.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So the union didn't have much effect on them one way or the other?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, I don't even think they would claim that. Of course we had raised wages, but I don't think wages were the reason for company closing plants. Normally, wages are only part of a problem. While I don't say they have some impact, they are not the real reason that you don't. The acccess to markets, the productivity of the plant, the modernization, all these things play a much greater role than the question whether you pay a guy three dollars and a half an hour or three dollars and seventy five.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So then layoffs came too?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Then came, then we lost some additional people, we lost Morgan, we lost Watson with five hundred last year.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why did you lose them?
JOHN RUSSELL:
He just said we're going out of business, we haven't any money. We're not going to fight with the union when negotiations come around. He said we've lost three million dollars in the last few months, we are not going to keep on losing money, we are not going to fight with the union, because we just don't think that's profitable. The reason that they

Page 21
talked with us, of course, was that Watson was also a co-partner with his brother Merritt Watson, and Nash Johnson down the Rose Hill Poultry where we had a four year strike. Obviously they saw how can you win. Why they better close their plant, take their losses, and go, and that's what they've done. Then we also closed Southeastern, we had an eighteen month strike back in 1960, and they closed last year, a hundred and fifty workers out of business. But that's because of pollution and surcharges on water and sewerage that they just couldn't overcome. It wasn't wages itself, they said so, we can pay, but we can't pay these god damned surcharges. They're soaking us for sewerage and water. There's a plant and it's creating problems for the city, and the city would just as soon not have them. That's what it amounted to. We had Poultry close down, two hundred workers. B&B closed down, there's Ballantine Packing down in Greenville, South Carolina. It took us better than a year to organize them, better than a year to get a contract, then we were in business with a contract for about a year and a half, and then they went out of business and we lost three hundred workers there.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did all these workers think of the union when the place was closed down? Did they blame it on you?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, no we never heard that …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Anyplace?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I don't say, maybe some individuals said maybe if the union hadn't come in we wouldn't have been, but basically

Page 22
they accepted the fact that the union did a good job while they were there, the plant was on its last legs. I don't doubt Heinz Packing in Greenville, South Carolina, workers told us if the union don't come in, we're dead. They're going to knock us out of the saddle here. So, they never blamed us. We've never had a word from any responsible people, in fact I don't know of any people ever talking about such places. When they're closed down, they're closed down, it's an accepted fact of life for workers.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So Local 525 activity in North Carolina kind of built up gradually, very gradually from '55 to '60 [unknown], and then more on up to '71 [unknown]…
JOHN RUSSELL:
Well, 525 wasn't in being until …
WILLIAM FINGER:
'61 [unknown].
JOHN RUSSELL:
Until '61 [unknown], you see. Once they came into being and we were in a position to influence its policies and programs we always did that before individually with the locals, but now as a collective group we became a local which had to be reckoned with inside the state.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What do you mean?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I mean politically, as well on positions.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Politically?
JOHN RUSSELL:
We didn't do it over night. We had eight hundred workers, nine hundred workers, sometimes it seemed like we stayed years on them when we only stayed a short time. Eleven hundred, twelve hundred. We had our own problems with our international.

Page 23
I don't want to minimize that, and I think it's important that people understand that sometimes you build unions despite your international policies and opinions. We had people in the international who were complaining that both Manny and I were on the staff of the Amalgamated yet we were building a union down here in a local union. You know, I don't know what the hell they wanted out of it, us, it's all contributing to the international in terms of capita. But you run across these types of people.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They felt that you were too autonomous?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I don't know really, sometimes I wondered what they wanted. They agreed and they admitted we built the unions. We built them where no one was ever able, they couldn't build them. The executive vice-president of this union, Harry Poole, he had this district, District 2, he was the director of it for many, many years. In Local 269, the Swift Oil workers in Charlotte with thirty-five people was the best he was able to do. He hung up a lot of charter. It seems to me all he ever worried about was whether we were ever going to get a real foothold out here. That's the way it seemed to me. The only good thing we had going was that I think Pat Gorman was a pretty decent guy, with many of his own guys around him, arguing. He seemed to be a guy who wanted to build unions, philosophically, a decent guy. He understood, you don't build unions cheaply or easily.

Page 24
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let me understand the district structure then. When the merger happened, I thought you told me before, there was a system established where there weren't districts. Out of the international office, they came straight to the local level. Is that right?
JOHN RUSSELL:
It depends on which merger you're talking about. If you're talking about the Fur and Leather Workers …
WILLIAM FINGER:
No, no, with the Meatcutters, with the merger with the Meatcutters.
JOHN RUSSELL:
I'm saying, you're talking about the Fur and Leather Workers merging with the Meatcutters, that was true. What happened was that districts, the old districts were dissolved, and they merged into the area that already had been established. You see, at that time we had only twenty, maybe forty thousand people. You merged with somebody that had 250,000, you don't dominate the deal. Then we merged later, in 1968, with the Packinghouse Workers Union, then they had to greatly enlarge the number of districts, all around the United States and Canada. New districts were formed with new district directors, in an effort to reach an agreement and compromise on how the new merged union was to be established.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So 525 did report to a district director?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, yah, and Leon Schacter was our director from the beginning of the merger with the Fur and Leather Workers Union up until the merger with the Packinghouse Workers Union,

Page 25
when Don Smith, who was an old packinghouse worker on their executive board became the director as part of the agreement.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So Don Smith's the district vice-president?
JOHN RUSSELL:
He's in charge of the district, he's the director. He's the …
WILLIAM FINGER:
He covers what, Virginia and North Carolina …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and North Carolina South Carolina.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Are the other states all organized on statewide locals?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, no. There may be some, no I think we were one of the very few, maybe there is two or three more around the United States. Generally speaking, they broke them up into cities and counties. When we proposed this merger …
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is in sixty-one now?
JOHN RUSSELL:
In 1961, with all the six locals, Gorman went along with it, Schacter was a hundred percent with it. Leon may have some different ideas I can disagree with very easily, but basically he understands organization, he's a good guy. He said, you're right. If you want to go with that merger, that's the only way to go out and develop the muscle to do a real job. He never hesitated. A few did. I don't think Poole was very enthusiastic, he never has been and he never did. But Leon was, and in fact he thought it was his brain-child, he always looked at it, I was the district director in the Carolinas when they built that local in the Carolinas nobody

Page 26
else could build.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When you started organizing and building this union from three hundred people on up to four thousand, did you feel isolated in North Carolina, or did you get good support from the amalgamated?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes, we got good support. I can't quarrel. I can't quarrel with the support we got, I don't say we got every kind of support we should have got. There were times we should have had strike sanction coming and we should have got it without any hindrances. We got it, but it was always a conditioned deal. Instead of saying, here's strike sanction for you people, now we've got enough respect for you, we know you and understand you, you go ahead and if you have to make the strike, you make the strike. I don't have that problem now. First of all, Don Smith is a guy who unequivocally says, okay you got a strike, here's my sanction. That, of course, is okayed by the international. I got it out of Leon in practically every place. Maybe it was because Leon didn't trust us old fur and leather wotkers any more than he did somebody else. But we always got it eventually out of him. We always got pretty good support out of Leon in many other ways too. I got to hand it to this guy, I may disagree with him politically, but god damn, he's a pretty good trade unionist.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So it doesn't ever sound like you felt hindered by the Amalgamated in a way.

Page 27
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, I felt hindered, but you go ahead anyway. You take your chances of maybe doing something they'll go after you for. This is something you had to do. You had to take your chances.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did you feel hindered?
JOHN RUSSELL:
You knew that if you made big mistakes that cost them money, they could easily make an argument, dump your butt, what you got? You ain't got no protection.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Your own job, you mean.
JOHN RUSSELL:
I'm not talking about that personal part of it. But they never bothered us. You felt it, but you go fight it. I guess everyone in their right mind has got to consider something like this.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But what was happening in the state? We talked about the international. Things that kind of influence your work. Anything outside the meatpacking industry? The strike, the textile strike in Henderson.
JOHN RUSSELL:
The textile workers strike in Henderson cotton mills, we supported it. Our local sent money, we sent people up there. We saw it as a very key strike in this state. We never, that was in 1958, even though we were individual locals, we always saw the inadequacy of having little locals trying to develop money, they couldn't do it. Maybe this is one of the things that helped shape our opinion on certain things. We helped all we could, all we had the force to do. There was no question of the impact on my thinking and a number of other

Page 28
guys, Manny about losing the battle in Harriet-Henderson cotton mills. This is one of those things. If you got a licking, you know why you got a licking, you know what's happening. At that time you had a merger with AFL-CIO for about four years. You'd hoped for a lot more, and you didn't see it. I don't think it broke any backs, it didn't ours at least. We got a licking there and went on and did our own thing.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It broke textile's back in a big way.
JOHN RUSSELL:
I'm not saying it didn't. It all depends. I'm sure all the money they spent, all the time, all the energy, losing it was a tremendous demoralizing factor for many many years. We lost tremendous struggles too. Our union in many other areas. You know here. But you don't say, what the hell, I'm going to fold up and quit working. You don't do that. I see that out of the Henderson Cotton Mill strike, the same thing we see out of a Rose Hill, or the same thing we saw out of a Southeastern, or the same thing we saw out of Carolina Meat, or the same thing we saw out of the Gerber strike, it was right here. We do a lot of things you don't count up in terms of money, you don't maybe even count it up in terms of what we get in the contract. You establish your credibility with every employer. When I wrote an article a couple of months ago in our paper, where we said, we want to tell all the employers, we're not a strike-happy union, we're not foolish. But if strikes are necessary, that's what we're going to do. I pointed out to them, that in 1973 or 1972, a couple of them, Colonial Stores,

Page 29
that thought they could just disregard the real, legitimate demands of the workers, and they had to face struggles. In seventy-five and seventy-six, we hope they'll take a realistic look. But if they don't, we'll consider seventy-five and seventy-six as strike years too. That's how we feel. We're not going to run away from it. If we're going to have struggles, we're going to have them, that's all there is to it. I don't know of any better way to educate workers than through struggles.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you think the people are willing to go with that too?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, I think so.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I mean right now, do you think people are less willing to go on strike now?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I don't say there's not fears, I know there's fears, there's fears of strikes now because of the unemploymentt situation. We all understand this, but the point is that if they are properly lead, if the issues are developed properly, and the proper tactics and strategies are used to bring it to a head, I think I can get a strike in Goldkist which used to be the Farmer's Exchange in Durham. I got a little kook left, you know, the old Progressive Labor Party, that doesn't have any use for unions. They don't say they don't have, but every move is devised to divide and disrupt and destroy unions. Nothing you can do is going to satisfy them. If we get double gas for

Page 30
for them, we, they'll say we could have gotten more for the union. You've always got this. Strikes I could get there, no problem, tomorrow. I'm going back into negotiations, they've offered us sixty cents. I'm sure we can get anywhere from seventy to seventy-five in cash, plus another nickel or ten cents in fringes. In poultry industries, that's a god damned good settlement. I could have a strike just as easily. Despite the unemployment …
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JOHN RUSSELL:
We never had much problem with our own people.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How much is the thing in the Goldkist situation? Do the PL people accuse you of not bringing along local leadership, so that they can participate in the bargaining?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, they attacked our local leadership. They attacked Laura Green, who is the chief steward in the plant. They haven't been doing much of that lately, because it hasn't been doing them much good. They attacked Pete Leake. Pete is a black, he came out of Watson's. They attacked him as incompetent, no matter what he does, he can't please them. Now, I'm not saying he's perfect. He'se got his weaknesses. But, basically, he's energetic, and a pretty honest guy. They attacked him simply because they've got to attack somebody and they found it wouldn't pay them to attack the international, it didn't pay them to attack Laura Green. They're always attacking somebody.
WILLIAM FINGER:
As you're getting older and more experienced, you

Page 31
don't just bargain yourself because you know better how to do it than these local people?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh, no. In fact, I didn't get into the first negotiations, the people in the committee did it. I wasn't in Fairmont in the beginning. I only come in when it looks like they're locking up and it needs a little help. You see, negoitations are not a simple question of we make a proposal and we retreat a little bit, and they retreat a little bit from their position. It's not that, that's bullshit. First of all, the most important is the relationship of forces involved. Second of all, you've got to know the conditions in the industry. Then you've got to know what your people are thinking about, what's the goal. You've got to know the national picture, you've got to know a whole god damned thing. That's the things you've got to know and understand. Then you've got also to have something that maybe I can't put over to you what I mean. You've got to know when a company has got weaknesses here and there. When they're weak on an issue, when they're not weak on an issue. Something that they'll take a strike over and something that they won't. You've got to know when you can afford to take a strike and when not to. If you take a strike, what does it mean? Does it have an impact on the industry? Or is it just plain bullshit? Because it doesn't make sense to have a strike just to prove that you're tough. You have to strike to make a point, you may have a strike just to teach the industry something. Sometimes being tough

Page 32
teaches them something. That's what I mean by credibility. But just don't do it haphazard, because they just reach a point where they say, shit, can't deal with these guys, you might just as well take them on in the beginning, don't try to negotiate. It happens that way.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How do you teach people all those things that you said. How do they know those things?
JOHN RUSSELL:
It's not easy, believe me. Part of it a development you only get through experience. I teach Jim what I taught Tony the same thing I taught Manny. I put them out there and make them do the job. If they want help, they talk to me.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you bring women along to teach them too?
JOHN RUSSELL:
My god, some of our best negotiators are women …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who is that? In North Carolina?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes Elsie Hale is going to be a terrific negotiator, better than Jim, by a lot. She works with Jim on these things. I'd say that we've got some local people who are excellent chief stewards who can do a fine job in negotiating. It's a question of experience plus adaptability and understanding what's going on. How do you put it together? I don't know. I know one thing. If you always move in and run the whole show. I let them go until I know they need help. Until the committee says they want help. They learn. The only way I know how a worker can learn how to deal with a boss is to deal with him, to negotiate with him, to argue with him,

Page 33
to arbitrate with him, to mediate with him, to talk with him. Then when he gets done, you see, he's much more experienced than he was before. If he isn't, then he's a nincompoop, and you get rid of him. I've got black women and black men, white women and white men, I got young, I got old. They can do fantastic jobs in their own right. Much better than some of the guys who are getting paid for it by the unions right now.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They're still in shops …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Because we carried on a broad, progressive approach to developing leadership. We didn't exclude anyone, men, women, black, white, we don't care. Young, old, all we ask them is that they are dedicated to doing something for the people around them, and honest sincere dedication.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How many business agents do you have in North Carolina now?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Right now we have five full-time business agents and organizers, besides Manny and I.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is Elsie one of those?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Elsie's one.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So it's the four men and Elsie?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That's right. We got two black and two white full-time guys, we've got Ruddy Downing, we've got Tony. Tony's coming on as a real, able guy, that's Tony Muncus. They're all able people, they've all got abilities. I know their weaknesses. But I tell you, compared with what I watch in other business agents in the state, other reps, they're

Page 34
still way above the middle.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They have a big job, they have to organize and service, right?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Right. That's the way we want a guy. We don't want a guy to do just one thing. I want him if he's possible, to be the kind of a guy who can organize, who can service, who can negotiate, who can develop, theoretically, the program of the union. This is important, somebody's got to do it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let me ask you some more. Over this period of time, now, still from fifty-five to the present, the Henderson strike was one big political event in the state that affected trade unions. Were there some other things, you keep talking about progressive trade unionism. The way what you are trying to build can affect things, like the civil rights movement in a town, or the Speaker Ban Law, or voter registration …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Probably the next biggest impact that was tremendous, that's going to influence the South most is the civil rights movement. This brought into play the tremendous power of blacks when they're organized. They see it translated into plants. Take Lundy's for instance. Lundy's back in 1958, fifty-nine, we had an election there and what had happened, we organized that, had about eighty-five percent signed up, but the international told me, don't go to an election. We can shut him off in New York, we have him by the balls. They had him, at the time, had him right where it hurt. We waited, we waited better than a year, a year and two or three months, and then we shut them off. And then came Landrum-Griffin in

Page 35
that period, in 1959, and our guys were so scared because of the provisions on the secondary boycott, that they wouldn't move up in New York, we couldn't get them to move. The international said we can't get them to do anything because they're scared, and the international's scared too. Nobody knew how they were going on the law at that time, and so they said go ahead with an election, and we went ahead, and we lost it by fifteen votes. A change of eight votes would have won it for us. At that time about one-third were Indian, about one-third white, and about a third were black. Today, eighty percent are black. One of the reasons there is a big change in the atmosphere in the whole town, the whole attitude in the town, back in those days vice-presidents of banks went out visiting workers to get to them, very frankly. If you vote for this union, or if we suspect you do, your mortgage is coming due at a certain point, you better be right on time with your payments, or you're in trouble.
We had merchants visiting. They used to come along on the street and pass Manny, they searched Manny's car, and Millard Barbee's1 car. They used to search everybody's car two or three times a week if you were around that area. They would pick up workers who were going to work, walking down the street, blacks, Indians, whatever they were, whites, pick them up, the cops would, and take them in and say, now look, god damn it, you're drunk. I'm going to tell you right now, the next time you get drunk if you're with that union, you're in trouble. This is a

Page 36
fantastic pressure to keep on for a year, a year and a half. Don't forget, we went through a year of organizing before we had to wait a year.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Could you prove agency in a thing …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Maybe, maybe we could have. But by the time we went up there, we thought had it locked up. I never thought that, but we were told not to go in, not to go for NLRB, it would shut them off. In those days we had Max Block in New York with tremendous power, and we probably could have done it. But anyway, we didn't go, but today it's a different story. Today, I tell you the respect is absolutely fantastic. From the police they came out they've got a town ordinance saying the only reason we didn't challenge the town ordinance against picketing was because they gave us twelve workers and [unknown] eight. Whereas if we went to court, they'd probably get us cut down to four, [unknown] experience. We got the Firestone sales right next door to them gave us a piece of land bigger than this right here. Pitch your tents and stay. It wouldn't have happened in those days. Part of it is because of the respect they had for these blacks. They're no longer no god damned pushovers you undertand. Even in the heart of the Klan country like that is. They're just afraid of them, politically, they're afraid of marches, town fathers are afraid of demonstrations. The chief of police, the whole god damned gang are scared of the blacks. So this had a tremendous impact.
With

Page 37
the proper utilization by the labor movement, if it wasn't for George Meany, we'd have much better co-operation with these people. It's a big fact to deal with. That's probably the next big thing I saw in this period …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is that what you mean by political, progressive trade unions, trade unionism …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Of course. That was part of it. Knowing that you had to have a union that was progressive on the racial issue, about political issues, on all the issues. Ours is, and we had a proper approach, at least I think we did, and the best proof is not the staff we got, but the unity we have with practically all elements except kookies who we can't control. They take a position, if you're a unionist, you must be already co-opted by the bosses, which doesn't do them no good. That was probably the next most important fact …
WILLIAM FINGER:
How do you think that's going to influence the place of trade unions?
JOHN RUSSELL:
My own opinion is that it may make the difference between organizing textiles eventually, or not. You put them to a textile plant of six hundred people, two hundred fifty, three hundred blacks, they'll move that textile plant before they're done, and that's terribly important. They put backbone into the whites, they put backbone into the other minorities, and they take the guts out of the communities they're living in [unknown] so it's tremendously

Page 38
important.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What else, there were several electoral campaigns that you probably thought. The Kennedy election in 1960? Did you work in that?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Yes I did, of course. Everybody worked in that. First of all, I'm not a great Kennedy lover. I've never been mesmerized by the Kennedys. I looked at them as guys who had millions of dollars who recognized they had to keep the system patched up to make it viable. They were, you have to divide the Kennedys too. I saw Bobby Kennedy as a much better guy than anybody else, beyond any argument, a much better guy. A decent guy, who had almost instinctive feelings about human beings and about… John Kennedy was a big faker and a fraud. I don't know too much about Teddy. I think the role he plays, you have to give some recognition to and utilize what you can out of the deal. He screwed himself in Chappaquiddick, I don't see…
WILLIAM FINGER:
But in terms of talking about trade unions being political…
JOHN RUSSELL:
No, I never saw this …
WILLIAM FINGER:
That wasn't the …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Let me tell you frankly, I considered Johnson a much better guy on many things. Like around civil rights. I consider that he was better even on trade unions than the Kennedys, except the guy, the god damned bastard ran away evertime we had a fight around 14(b), but I think that was the

Page 39
labor movement's fault, I think it was Meany's fault. Very frankly I never bought the argument they would repeal 14(b). My position was, and always has been for many, many years, especially since the 1964 double it was pretty obvious we got a real my position was that it would have been much simpler for them to outflank the whole fight around 14(b) by fighting for a positive action, and that would be a national agency shop law, which would have ended 14(b) already ten years ago. But you couldn't get the bastards like Meany to get off their asses on this issue. In fact, I was told by Arnold Mayer, who's our legislative guy in Washington along with Leon—and Arnold is sympathetic to the agency shop thing, its not that—he just said, John, and this is after we got beaten on 14(b), about 1965 in a legislative conference, and I raised the issue, I said why the hell do we fight on this issue, it's an emotional issue down South. Every god damned southern guy is going to be up in arms about it, but the same guy who is going to be up in arms about this can't make an argument when we're forced by law to represent the workers but we can't even collect a penny from them for doing it. I said the way to lick this thing is to outflank the god damned issue, by getting the national agency shop, then I tell you right now the one percent who might stay out of trade unions are religious fanatics who believe exactly what they say. But the rest are going to be in because them bastards if they're going to pay the money, they're going to

Page 40
get in the union. You'll have a union shop without any bullshit. I said what the hell is the difference. Nobody can tell me, we're talking about compulsory membership, making people pay when they weren't members of the union. What kind of bullshit is that I said. You tell me what's the difference with making a guy pay a service charge when he's not a member of a union, or making him get in the union and making him pay his god damned dues when he don't want to be in the union. You show me the god damned difference. Morally there's no difference, philosophically there's no difference. They can't show you this. This has been my position. I think you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you really think the open shop has been a critical deterrent in North Carolina.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Fantastic.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You say you had contact in seventy-one with five thousand, you had four thousand members. That's eighty percent, that's not bad.
JOHN RUSSELL:
But we're an exceptional union, we put more money into servicing than practically any other union would ever think about in this state. We spent the money on these people to keep the union strong enough to do a job for them. But I know unions they don't take care of grievances, they don't on negotiations, all they want to know is, have you got membership. I don 't want to get into naming, a lot of them I have to live with, I have to work with. I have to make compromises many times with them on political arrangements in

Page 41
elections here in this state, the AEL-CIO. But I have my opinions, and I'm sure you don't want me telling you about them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about McGovern. Did you think about him any different than the Kennedys? Any other possibilities in electoral politics, would you …
JOHN RUSSELL:
The guy was basically an honest guy. Maybe he has all kinds of weaknesses. Organizationally, he wasn't the smartest guy in the world. Maybe from the point of view of strategy and tactics, he wasn't the best, but you know, I can fault the guy for a lot off things, after all, nobody has got a monopoly on wisdom in developing strategy and tactics or anything else along this line. If he's got an honest approach, if he's a decent person, and I think he was, I think he did something that won't be recognized for fifteen, maybe twenty years, he opened up the Democrat party, the whole electoral process to blacks, to women, to many other elements. At least, nobody is going to take them for granted the way that they used to, and I think this is a tremendous thing he did for the …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Under his commission, as much as actually running for President …
JOHN RUSSELL:
That's right, that's what I'm talking about. I don't even give a damn if he retreats now. It don't make any difference. What he did, he had an effect. Today, you see guys like Jesse Jackson and many others who are tremendous

Page 42
figures to be dealt with, like Julian Bond, as well as some fantastic women in this world of ours.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you think that labor in terms of being political trade unionists currently? Do you think building an interest in electoral politics is important. building a separate party or working within one of the two parties?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Let me just say how I feel about it. I guess I'm just like anybody else, I get so god damned disgusted with the pragmatic approach to politics that I get sick of it. For instance, you see what's happening in Congress right now, waltzing around on the energy issue. Each one, they try to blame the President, and he tries to blame them. It's all getting ready for seventy-six, and it doesn't seem they care about what happens to people in between, providing they are in a good position in seventy-six. Some of it may be important, that they expose Ford, I think he's a fraud, I think he's a continuation of Nixon in a much more gentle, subtler form. But it's the same god damned politics of aiding the rich and the rich are getting richer, and the poor are to get poorer, you see. That to me is how I make my decision. Here is the way I feel about electoral politics, the common approach to elections and electoral politics, you had to do it. You got to do it for some reasons. First of all, there can be some practical advantage that's made by labor and by the people. More, important, how can you get people to look inside of a system and see how corrupt and rotten it is unless they take part?

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If a man is isolated, and he says, ah shit, they ain't no god damned good. He says that, but if he really means it and has a philosophical understanding of why they're no good, I don't care then. But if all it is, is because they gave me a screwing on this last year or three years ago, and I don't like it, or I don't even know what the hell they're doing, I say that's crap. The best way to change people is to get them in and see the impossibility of doing something with a certain system or a certain procedure. If they can see that, the time comes when they'll say, there has got to be a change, but it can't just be a change of taking Joe instead of Bill, or Pat instead of Pete, it's got to be a fundamental change. Where people have a real, genuine right to say something because they own and control the methods and the means of media, and everything else in this country of ours. Production, everything else. I see this as important to take part in them, because I don't buy this bullshit of saying the people don't engage in these things because up [unknown] a high goal, you see. I don't buy that kind of business because first of all they got to see the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the system they've got now and then maybe at the same time, if you point directly and properly, they may see that's got to be the goal, because this ain't going to be…
They have got to see that alternatives based upon their recognition and experience of the failure of the system they live under.

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WILLIAM FINGER:
You said earlier, before we started taping, that you didn't use to have a bank account. A nicer house?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I guess everyone wants a few bucks, I guess.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You said that when you were younger, you thought that was bourgeois?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Indeed.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And then when you got older, you realized that quote, they didn't take care of you when you got old.
JOHN RUSSELL:
It didn't make any difference whether it was bourgeois or not, that's the system I'm living under right now, and I don't think anyone else will take care of John Russell, I'm not talking right now if a banker takes care of a banker, or certain trade unionists take care of other trade unionists, I'm talking now if me and my wife don't take a few bucks out of our income, and put it aside, we're looking for trouble in our old age. I think you got to recognize the system, you got to live inside of it, but you also got to fight to change it, and dissolve the god damned thing.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What do you think from fifty-five until now, as you watch people participate in experience in electoral politics and trade union politics, what's the difference in their view of things? Your membership.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Membership, I can tell you basically the same or much different. I think we have a much more enlightened membership. Sometimes they just make you wonder. Than most unions, because we put out educational stuff, we have institutes. All of this has some impact, otherwise what's the

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sense of doing it. I'm convinced it has some impact. Our people developed politically and trade union consciously and in many other ways, because of our type of union. I don't know how well that answers you.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I just wondered, you've been at this work a long time now.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Have I seen changes in their attitude? Yes, I have. For instance, when the Vietnam War started, we had a lot of people on our executive board who took the same position that Johnson did and many others. But they changed. They changed much more rapidly than we saw anybody else in the state changed, because we were against him on the issue. There was never any hesitation on our part to denounce the Vietnam War right from the beginning. We talked about it. We took issue with Meany. When George supported it, we said, George speaks for himself, he doesnt speak for us. Our people listened, they began to see, to put together the tremendous costs of the war. Somebody has to point up the issues and problems. So they began to see it. I think our union was the first in the state to take a position on the war, if you remember, Bill.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's right.
JOHN RUSSELL:
So, you see, we have impact on other people. They accepted it, they followed it. Today, they follow our leadership in many ways, simply because in other ways, we're right. This happens with unions. How do you convince people,

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if you are right on issues that effect their pocketbook, as the Vietnam War did, you got to show them how, the taxes and what they were doing with their money, and what they weren't doing with things they should have been doing. So, you do this properly, and on other issues they'll follow your leadership, on the assumption that these guys know what they're talking about, and this union is well led. That's why progressive unions have a role to play, whether it's the state federation or the national body it influences. It's important that somebody who has some decent ideas, speaks up and says so. That don't mean on every issue you pop off because you can become a pop-off too. It means that where there are fundamental problems you've got to come to grips with, you can't dodge them, you've got to speak your mind and take your chances, and let the chips fall where they will.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What about changes in the standard of living, material things. People aren't as willing now to take risks as much now because of what, the job security …
JOHN RUSSELL:
That happens all the time, you couldn't change that. Even when you develop a much more progressive and positive thinking on the part of the membership there's no doubt when there is a time like this when there is layoffs, recession, tremendous unemployment, everybody has certain fears. They're not going to be so god damned hot to trot to strike, because it don't happen that way.

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You have two periods in history when people are hot to trot, when they think things are good, when the money is there, and they feel the pressures of [unknown]. The other is a real revolutionary time …
WILLIAM FINGER:
When things are real bad …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Real bad, and they're organized and intelligent enough to say, god damn it, let's change the whole deal. Why patch up when we can cure, and finish it. That's what I'm saying. These are the times. In periods like this, because no matter how much we like it Bill, we may not want to admit it, but the American working class with the exception of eight to ten million unemployed, is living very good. Take a look and see. You've got two people have jobs, three people have jobs in the same family, some of them have two jobs. So there is a depression for eight million people.
WILLIAM FINGER:
The unemployed.
JOHN RUSSELL:
The unemployed. But the great rank-and-file. It's interesting how much they like to lump in as middle class, which is bullshit, because they're not middle class. They're trying to get the idea, you're the middle class, you're making the money. The depression doesn't touch you, listen to our conservative policies. The truth of the matter is …
WILLIAM FINGER:
The working class is living very good …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Still living pretty god damned good and don't

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you think they aren't. And that still plays a role here.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What do you think that does to your own membership's self-consciousness? Do they think they got it good?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Let me tell you something, some of them do. Some, in fact, what are you talking about? By the end of next year, our J.B.s are making $251 a week.
WILLIAM FINGER:
J.B.s?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Journeymen butchers. You know what that means? We talking about $12,000 or $13,000 a year. A head meatcutter who makes $15,000 or $16,000 a year. You're talking about a possibility that they know about already, that we may move them into as much as a $300 a week class. You tell me, their insurance is paid, their pension is paid, they get nine or ten paid holidays a year …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Not at Goldkist, though …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Up to five. I agree. Even they, it's a relative thing. Let me show you what Laura says. Laura's a killer, of course she makes more money, but some on the committee, some of them are not killers. But on base pay, when we organized Goldkist, they were getting seventy-five cents or maybe a dollar an hour, minimum. They got that and sometimes maybe a nickel more or ten cents more.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This was '60 …
JOHN RUSSELL:
'64, or '65. Now, you see, they're making two seventy-five, they've already had an offer right now of twenty-five cents an hour, they'll

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probably get a few more pennies the first year, so they'll probably go $3.03 an hour, a $121, compared in those years to thirty or forty dollars a week. You know what they say? When they offered us sixty cents, they said it was a good settlement. I said, wait now, hold it. That's no where near enough. You can still get ten, twenty cents more. We have to tell some of these people, and it's not because they're afraid to fight, but they see it's not such a bad deal. We can't afford to settle that because there other areas where we have to reckon with what we settle here. It isn't always as simple …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kind of time do you think this is in the country? You're talking about …
JOHN RUSSELL:
There's no question, we're facing a crisis. Inflationwise, unemploymentwise. At the same time, I tell you that there was tremendous, why do you think Ford is being accepted now, Ford is being accepted because to a lot of people, he represents stability. He's a guy who won't rock the boat. This kind of business is exactly what kind of thing workers accept from that point of view. And this is a great danger for any Democratic aspirants in 1976. I don't say they can't overcome it, because I know the god damned guy hasn't got anything on the ball, and you know he hasn't got anything on the ball, and most of our people know it. But as long as he satisfies that big section of people who feel, we're not threatened right now. He's going

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to be hard to beat in another year or two.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What I'm trying to get at is what is the value of trade unions. When you stared, the value of Fur and Leather when you started, seems clearer to me than the value of them now. What do you think of the differences, as an institution?
JOHN RUSSELL:
It was a different story back in those days. The immediate aims and aspirations of working people were much clearer and much more urgent back in those days. You had to eat, you had to have jobs. There were practically no unions back in the early thirties. They fought to build unions. Now the unions become accepted by great elements among the working class as facts of life. And one of the facts of life accepted by them is that unions have corrupt and bureaucratic leadership. That don't change my opinion of the need for unions or the value of unions. We went through a period of well-being that was paid for by the sufferings and miseries of hundreds of millions of people all over the world. We were the bankers, we were the armament makers, we were the ones who got rich off everybody's raw resources. We lived through a period that is almost ready to go now.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What period are you talking about? The war?
JOHN RUSSELL:
We lived in a period after World War Two where the world was our oyster, and we were able to open it up anytime we wanted to. But this is different now. It's

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becoming a question of our being shut off of some of the great colonial markets around the world. It means we're going to have to live off our own flesh and blood instead of that of the world. So you see that while we may go through a few more years, eventually the whole dynamics of the situation tend to move in the direction of less for us as a nation, and that means in the fight over the big pie, it's between those who got it now and control the means of production and those who haven't got it. So I see it getting sharper and sharper.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It's true that the people who are organized is less and less of the workforce. And the numer of unemployed is more and more, and as the fewer percentage of those who are employed who are organized, right?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No argument.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So that means the big unions can broker when this crunch comes. So it is those who aren't organized and those who are unemployed. Do you still think trade unions are the kind of approach to take to people?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Let's take a look and see …
WILLIAM FINGER:
From your own experience, too …
JOHN RUSSELL:
Let …
WILLIAM FINGER:
And in the South.
JOHN RUSSELL:
Let me just point out something on a national basis. In the thirties, the great movement was for the great mass production indistries to organize, right?

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This was a completely new thing, with rare exceptions, like the Mineworkers, you know. Basically steel, auto, electrical. They organized. This was new thing in organzation. They went off and organized mass industries. It was absolutely necessary at that time. The elite as represented by the building trades and many other groups like that had been bought off, paid off, they wouldn't fight for nothing except their own narrow interests. These people knew they had to go, they felt instinctively, that's their only means of survival. What's been happening in the last few years here? What you see now is state, county, municipal workers, federal workers, all kinds, it doesn't matter, doing things like fighting, striking, doing things they never did before. Another great mass of people being moved into action. By the very facts of life, whether you like it or not. For instance, a teacher used to get $6000 a year, $6700 after years of experience, or $8000 was a big deal. Our policemen got a hundred dollars a week, a hundred and twenty-five, today he makes nine, ten, twelve thousand bucks a year. So they got moved into action because of the basic economics of the situation. They just couldn't stand it any longer. Now you see it, the county workers, the hospital workers you name it, great sections that were never organized before.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well it's true, AFSCME's getting much larger. But the percentage is still getting smaller.

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JOHN RUSSELL:
It doesn't matter. What I am saying is that today those who are in service industries, you name it, hospital, medical, doctors, policeman, all these are organizing. They're not mass production workers any longer. That great section is organizing simply because they got the screwing for many, many years, and they ain't going to take it any longer. As they push up their wages and their conditions, and the ecomomy adjusts to that, it will adjust one way or another, this history. The brunt of poor wages, of practically poverty wages and poor conditions are probably going to fall on some other group. What's that other group? Other groups have to be white collare workers, office workers, people who haven't had some organization, who really consider themselves the middle class. They're going to organize, they're going to be forced to do so. They're going to be like the building trades that were organized for many years, the mass production, the service, the public sector, you see. They are all going to, just like the ballplayers, just like the doctors and the lawyers, like anybody else, there has to be an organization to represent you. So I see trade unions as growing bigger and bigger, becoming a more important part of the nation. You say to me, what's bigger, it's just corrupt. But that will come to an end. In my opinion it will come to an end. How will it come to an end? A revolutionary end, no other way.

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WILLIAM FINGER:
What does that mean?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That means you have to get rid of the god damned type of guy you have in Meany, whether it's Kirkland …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Sadlowski in the Steelworkers, is that revolutionary?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Abel, the whole group. I don't know Sadlowski, I know of his name. Inside the Steelworkers Union, struggles take place now. Not tremendous changes, but struggles for power. But these represent and are caused by conditions down below, and ferment down below. The fact that they change one bastard for another may not change much, but the fact that they're able to do it leads to things beyond just making a change again. It's going to happen, you'll see. It's going …
WILLIAM FINGER:
Maybe the fact that you had to take care of yourself, living in this kind of house, doesn't depress you in the sense that society …
JOHN RUSSELL:
I'm going to retire in a few more years. I'm going to have a place where I can work in that garden and live. All I want is a place to live. [Laughter]
WILLIAM FINGER:
You still think that more and more people want to organize?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Oh yah, I …
WILLIAM FINGER:
No question about it?
JOHN RUSSELL:
No question. I tell you, as certain elements

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take a bigger cut of the national pie, that's what it amounts too, and leave less for the employers, the great corporations, they in turn have got to screw somebody else out of some more money to maintain their rate of profits. Who are they going to go to? It's simple, those who are not organized. Eventually it will force the whole system into organizing. I don't say it will all have to organize, in Russia the working class was not all organized before the revolution. But the time will come somewhere along the line, maybe not in my day, maybe in my day. But somewhere along the line the time will come when the great masses are going to say, we've had it, that's all there is too it. As long as you've got Carolina Power and Light, and Duke, and the great gas companies, the oil companies that own everything, can set the rates they please, hell, we ain't got no god damned democracy in America, except for the lip service, and that's what it amounts too. You'll see them take the bull by the horns, and there is only one way to go. You've got to dump the system.
What is they key sector of the economy in the South?
WILLIAM FINGER:
It's been textiles.
JOHN RUSSELL:
It's true that right now that many other sectors of the private industry, electrical, glass, many others, are moving into sections of the South. It's almost like putting an anchor out to windward, that's what many of them are doing. They build a plant in the South. Many

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of them are hamstrung by that plant in the South by the lack of skilled employees. You just can't find the skilled personnel to keep it going. Even the cost may be higher in the North, they continue in the North. But the time will come when it's going to be a little bit different. The skilled employees will develop in the South. I don't think they're going to stay forever a bunch of nincompoops. What has been the two big challenges to organization in the South? One has been, of course, the right-to-work laws since 1947 or 1948. The second has been the fact that with rare exceptions, workers have been one generation removed from the agrarian economy. That's why they think as individuals in terms of unions. They have no history, their dad knew nothing about it. These have been the two big stumbling blocks as I see them in the South. Do you know what the third one is? I'll tell you, county politics and things like this, or courthouse politics. This probably. Whether or not in the right order, these probably are the three biggest in the monolithic thinking of the regional leadership of the South. During the early thirties, they made some [unknown] down here. They had guts down here who supported trade unions, like Olin Johnson, like down here in South Carolina. Like Kefauver in Tennessee, in this state, Graham and a few others. It hasn't always been a bunch of whores and bastards. It'll

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come again, I believe anyway.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you think the people you've worked with, especially in the Meatcutters, especially in the poultry industry, you really see them as right off the farm?
JOHN RUSSELL:
That's been one of our problems with them. We've got plants with thirty, forty percent turnover every year, simply because people go back when the planting season comes in. What are you going to say? If they're not close to the farms, I don't know anybody who is. They'll quit their jobs and go back.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Are they interested in trade unions?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Many of them are. A lot of them sign up in the union. Some get out when the pressure gets on. They have a habit of waiving right before that escape period when the contract expires. You have an escape period under the law for the checkoff, and they get out then. But they become less and less in most places. Right now we lost five hundred people in Watson, four hundred in Morton, a hundred and fifty in Southeastern, about another hundred and seventy in Cross, and I don't know how many more from A&P, maybe six hundred. But we're only down about six or seven hundred from our 3800 high of a few years ago.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You've got about 3200 now?
JOHN RUSSELL:
About 3200. We've consolidated, that's an important aspect of trade unionism.

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WILLIAM FINGER:
What's consolidation mean?
JOHN RUSSELL:
Making sure that if you've got a plant of two hundred people, that they're all in the union, or as near as you can get. It takes a lot of work, but we worked. We educated, and we worked at the problem. The point I'm trying to make is that despite the tremendous loss, an overall loss in plants, we're not down that much. I think that no matter how backward a worker is, how recently he left the farm, with proper leadership, you can guide him in the right channels. Sooner or later if he gets out this year, he won't get out quite as quickly next year if you sign him back up again. The time comes when what the hell is ten, twelve dollars a month, eight bucks …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What are dues now?
JOHN RUSSELL:
They run, it depends, we got them on a percentage basis now, we just passed that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is it like eight to twelve?
JOHN RUSSELL:
I don't think we got anybody at twelve dollars. It's from eight up to ten, ten fifty. Since it's on percentage it will go up. The seventy cents, sixty cents, whatever we get out of Goldkist will mean these people will be paying another buck, buck and a half dues, in that neighborhood.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let me ask you one more quick question. Do you think the labor laws, the way NLRB works now, and the influence it exercises over campaigns, it's gotten so unwieldy and so large that it is a hindrance to organizing rather than a protection?
JOHN RUSSELL:
There's no question that the NLRB has adopted policies and programs that greatly diminish the ability of labor to organize. Not only in 1947, but all down the years it has been a continuing thing. From a real concept of right to work and organize, it's been a diminishing thing for so

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long ever since 1947. Your right to picket, your right to conduct certain kinds of strikes, all the way down through. Not only that, your ability to prove unfair labor practices has become much harder, simply because the yardstick they use in determining knowledge on the part of the employer, misdeeds on the part of the employer, is much more vague, and much more, you almost got to…
END OF INTERVIEW
1. Former N.C. AFL-CIO President