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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lacy Wright, March 10, 1975. Interview E-0017. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Organization efforts at Cone Mills in the mid-1950s

Wright talks about how the White Oak and Proximity plants for Cone Mills preferred the Textile Workers Union of America and the Congress of Industrial Organization to the United Textile Workers and the American Federation of Labor. Focusing on the role of labor organizers such as Luke Carroll and Scott Hoyman, Wright explains how those two plants grappled with organization and the impact of organization on the plants during the mid-1950s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lacy Wright, March 10, 1975. Interview E-0017. 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:
Do you remember why you wanted to go back to T.W.U.A., to the C.I.O. union, then, instead of an A.F.L.? Do you remember that?
LACY WRIGHT:
Yes, I remember that well. And now, there was one thing I liked about A.F. of L.; it wasn't so much good to textile workers, but they had craft unions and C.I.O. didn't.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you liked that?
LACY WRIGHT:
I liked craft unions. Not all together for textile, I don't think there'd be too many things that textile would be any good for. But I still liked it, because when you had the craft union you pick up, like carpenters, brick masons and things like that, all around all over the country. And the more members you got in any union, the more backing you've got. And, you see, the C.I.O. was textile all together, generally speaking, in the state at that time. But I know one of them; Ray Payne was the man that asked me about it, about the time Scott kept meeting with us over there when Luke was still here. He come to our meetings.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, Luke … go ahead.
LACY WRIGHT:
So Ray Payne come to me one time over there; he said: "How do you feel about going from A.F.L. to C.I.O.?" Well, as I told you a while ago, the A.F. of L. was broke. They just absolutely could not support us in anything.
WILLIAM FINGER:
The United Textile Workers'?
LACY WRIGHT:
Yes. And they couldn't hardly afford to keep us a man in here. Our membership was low, and they had a lot of members that were members that wouldn't pay a dime. They just created a bad situation. Well, at that time we knew that the C.I.O. was strong.
CHIP HUGHES:
How did you know that?
LACY WRIGHT:
Well, we knew from the workings and getting what news we could here and there, you know.
MRS. WRIGHT:
WILLIAM FINGER:
They had Proximity. They had the contract at Proximity.
LACY WRIGHT:
Yes, had the contract. We learned a lot of it from there.
MRS. WRIGHT:
They had a check-off over there.
LACY WRIGHT:
Now that was another thing that Luke done. He was instrumental, in a way, in tearing up that union in Proximity.
MRS. WRIGHT:
That's exactly right. Luke Carroll…
LACY WRIGHT:
'Cause they had voted and switched from C.I.O. to A.F. of L. when we did, when we ourselves got certified in it, the A.F. of L.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Proximity switched…
LACY WRIGHT:
From C.I.O. to A.F. of L.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When you all got your first contract.
LACY WRIGHT:
When we got our first contract, right. Well, then what stopped them backing them, we switched back…
WILLIAM FINGER:
They switched back.
LACY WRIGHT:
switched back, but when they switched over there it just killed that union.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Which switch? Either one of them? The first one?
LACY WRIGHT:
When they switched from C.I.O. the first time to A.F. of L. it killed that union at Proximity.
CHIP HUGHES:
In what way did it kill them?
LACY WRIGHT:
Evidently people just didn't believe in it. In other words, they liked the C.I.O. better.
CHIP HUGHES:
What was the sentiment that moved them to vote for the A.F.L.? Just because of Luke? You said Luke did it. Is that what you said? That it was Luke that did it?
LACY WRIGHT:
Luke was instrumental in it, in getting them to switch. Because what he was wanting to do, he was wanting to get a Joint Board, like it was finally would up with: Reidsville, Haw River, Gibsonville, Salisbury, Greensboro. In other words, at one time we had nine plants on the Joint Board. We got all of that movement started, but we didn't get it consolidated until after we went on the C.I.O., and then Scott come in and got it consolidated. Called Greensboro-Burlington Joint Board, is what it was called. And Scott was the man that really got it all consolidated. Now this was another thing this contract company wouldn't do: they wouldn't talk to us about a master contract. They wanted each separate plant. In other words, you had to negotiate… And they always wanted when a contract run out here, they wanted all the rest of them in force yet. And just about the time another one was going to run out somewhere or other, they'd make a settlement of this one, you see. In other words, their idea was to separate you, to divide. Anybody could see through it, you know. In other words, the White Oak contract set out when the next contract would maybe be two months old. But during that two month period somewhere or another they'd loosen up a little bit and get a contract for White Oak. And they kept us divided.