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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, September 5, 1976. Interview G-0040-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 on southern unionization

In this excerpt, McGill describes the impact of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and the subsequent anti-communist provisions on unionization in the South. According to McGill, these federally imposed regulations, which had state counterparts, made organization more difficult because potential members increasingly felt their efforts and grievances would go unheeded.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, September 5, 1976. Interview G-0040-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
What effect did the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 have?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, let me see. I've got the list somewhere in all them things past.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes. I can look that up. What effect did that have on the Amalgamated and on your work?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, any time that you have-now this is my experience-once you organize a shop, most of the manufacturers would rather have everybody inbecause it's still divided when you have two groups more or less in controversy and competition with each other, unless you are able to get an overwhelming majority to sign so that they pretty well don't look to see if the boss is giving the favoritism to the people who don't belong. You have people that don't belong accusing the boss men of favoring the union people, occasionally. As far as organizing, I can honestly say that a lot of people have said to me (whether they mean it or not), but I have had more people to say to me, "I'd join the union if everybody had to join. But I don't want to join the union and the rest of them get what I am getting and not have to help pay for it." Now that's honestly the truth; I've had a lot of people say that. And it's surprising the workers who do not know this; it's surprisingthe workers who do not know that there's laws that they don't have to join anything to work in the union shop. And they get really upset when they find out [laughter] people were working there and getting the same thing they were without helping pay for it. And as far as organizing, it's always been hard. If it's not one thing to combat it's another. It has hurt and certainly hindered organization, because more and more the law is weakened. The company gets up every day and says, "I don't have to do nothing; you can't make me do nothing. You can organize the union if you want to, but there ain't no way. . . . You have to come to me, and if I don't want to give it I don't have to give it." And the law has become pretty much. . . . A lot of the workers don't have much confidence in it, because they see so many ways the company can get around it. And there's so many slick ways they can say what they want the workers to think they said without actually saying it. Then too, the workers are afraid to file a complaint if they violate the law; they are afraid to back it up and give a statement and face them in it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
A whole spate of right to work laws were passed in the South after Taft-Hartley, weren't they?
EULA MCGILL:
Yes. They had to do that because, see, Taft-Hartley still give us the right for the union shop if the majority voted for it, and we was winning the elections overwhelmingly for the union shop, because workers wanted to join. They'd feel that everybody should help pay to defray expenses. And we were winning. If they left it to real union shops, the majority voted for it-I mean, a two-thirds majority had to vote for the union shop. And we were winning, and we practically lost none. Once you could win the election it was very easy to win the union shop, because most people felt that, "Well, if I'm going to have a union here, why I should join it and help." The average worker will join the union if they see some benefit to it. The few dollars they pay in dues is not what keeps people out of the union. And too, you can't have a voice unless you're a member: can't attend the meeting, have nothing to do with elections of officers. It was easy to win the second election for a union shop. And these powers-that-be begin to work to try to get state laws (which are very much easier to get passed).
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about the requirement that union officers had to sign anti-Communist affidavits, or affidavits saying that they were not members of the Communist party? Did that have a very negative effect on the union?
EULA MCGILL:
At first. Now it's pretty much a routine. People are a little more sophisticated. But I know the first ones who signed, the workers would look at you when they was elected officers and you handed them one of them papers to sign. They wondered, "Lord, what in the world? I am not a Communist; what do they want me to sign this for?" They felt like I do about it; "you're asking me to say that I'm not? I haven't even been accused or suspected, and here I am trying to prove that I'm not." They resented it. I think it's become a matter of routine now. They understand better that they're not being accused of anything. But it's still something that I think is terrible, to have to prove you're not something before you're even accused or suspected. And if a person's going to [laughter] work undercover, they'd sign it anyway. It's just a farce as far as I'm concerned.