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.
You'd sit down on the seat, and it had a spring on it that'd
pitch you out on the back porch.
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.