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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 19, 1975. Interview E-0014-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Factors of successful negotiation in labor organization

Russell discusses the factors that affect negotiations between workers and companies. According to Russell, the role of the organizer is as mediator between the two and he describes how crucial it is to have an extensive knowledge of all aspects of the struggle and the individual parties involved. Here, Russell suggests that successful negotiations are a powerful tool in labor organization and he argues that while strikes can serve a profound effect, they should usually be a last resort.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Russell, July 19, 1975. Interview E-0014-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WILLIAM FINGER:
As you're getting older and more experienced, you 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 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, 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.