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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Cary J. Allen Jr., April 3, 1980. Interview H-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Living conditions and paternalistic control in a working community

Allen describes the paternalistic nature of Alcoa in Badin, North Carolina. Allen describes the kinds of conditions workers faced in company housing, which were typically substandard, and he emphasizes the control Alcoa exercised within the community. Many workers were afraid to join the unionization effort for fear of losing their jobs. Nevertheless, Allen insists that the labor movement was purely economic in nature and that there were generally no hard feelings and little physical violence between the workers and the company.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Cary J. Allen Jr., April 3, 1980. Interview H-0001. 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

It was a house-to-house campaign, and I'd go in a house and say, "I want you to join the union." They'd say, "No, if I join the union, I have three or four kids here, and the company'll fire me, and how'll I feed them?" I said, "If we get enough into the local that it'll be safe for you to join, you feel safe, will you join then?" "Yes." After a union held up, they'd join. Badin was a very paternalistic-run company back then. They'd have one light bulb down from the ceiling. Your light bill was low, and your water bill was very low. The houses were unfinished inside. The two-by-fours were all showing all around the wall. You'd hang your pictures right between the two-by-fours. They had no screens in the houses. Had no bathtubs. Had no commode there. [Laughter] You'd sit down on the seat, and it had a spring on it that'd pitch you out on the back porch. [Laughter] It was a rather primitive sort of way to live after coming off a nice ship, where you had everything you wanted. I think probably most of the people that lived and worked here were used to it and didn't notice it like we did. So we decided to do what we could about it, and it was a long, slow process. But I'll say this for Alcoa: during the two strikes and all the other time, there was never any physical violence whatsoever. We both recognized it for what it was. It was an economic battle, not a personal battle. Because we knew that when the strike was over, we'd go back to work and want to go back to work as friends with the foremen and the people around, and we didn't want any trouble, and the company certainly didn't give us any.