Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The Great Depression and the New Deal as motivating forces for unionization

Here, McGill explains why she believes workers were eager to mobilize for unions in the early 1930s. Noting the failed attempts of mine workers to organize in the 1920s, McGill believes that it was the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and the enactment of New Deal measures that gave many workers the hope that their efforts would now have more powerful backing. The convergence of an economic crisis, presidential initiative, and an expectant labor movement provided the impetus for active organization to begin to flourish.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
What were the grievances that you had, and what motivated people to organize the local?
EULA MCGILL:
Everything: more money, better conditions, and certainly sanitation. It was everything, and the main thing was conditions of employment plus money. You were at the whim of the boss: you'd go up and ask or say something and "If you don't like it, hit the street," that was the answer you got to anything you wanted to say. You couldn't talk sensibly to the boss. Mostly you didn't ask, because you knew what it was going to be; if you had a beef you didn't. . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
But how do you account for people at this point being willing to organize the union, try to do something about these conditions?
EULA MCGILL:
Had no place to go but up. Couldn't go back; up was the only place you could go.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were people aware of the NRA Textile Codes, and that you were supposed to be getting more than you were?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, you see, when Roosevelt took office he practically had no opposition down South. Newspapers and everything were very quick to publish everything, because everyone wanted to get the country back on its feet. So consequently these people were expecting, they were ready to try to do something.
JACQUELYN HALL:
They thought that Roosevelt was going to do something?
EULA MCGILL:
People looked up to him; and he was a dynamic person, as you very well know, and was well-loved by the average person. They felt protected; they felt that now was the chance for them to do something for themselves. And a lot of people who had had some union experiences before and failed. . . . You must remember the mines had tried to organize in the twenties and failed, and out of that came some people who were still hoping some day to organize. They hadn't killed the labor movement when they lost and failed; there were still some people in all plants who were ready to take advantage of anything to get the union.