Strategies for creating unity among workers
Here, Allen describes how following the initial efforts of the union in Badin, North Carolina, working conditions at the Alcoa aluminum plant still continued to be less than adequate. As a result, several of the union members tried to test the authority of the company by trying to sign up new members outside of the gates of the plants. They were arrested for trespassing and brought a class action lawsuit against the company, which Allen says served to unify the workers even more.
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
- ROSEMARIE HESTER:
So this image of Alcoa building a town that was very, very sanitary, that
had all the modern conveniences, was really not true at the time? There
were certain things about the living conditions here that were
- CARY J. ALLEN, JR.:
They weren't satisfactory, no. Not satisfactory at all. No, the company.
. . . It was so very hot over there in the pot rooms. They kept the
doors down on the theory that if they could keep the heat in the pots,
it would make more aluminum. The gasses that were given off in the
pot-fluorine gasses and the various other
gasses-would blister the guys' faces, and they'd have to put
salve on their faces. Also, they would take heat cramps, and they'd have
a gang of them laying out beside the first aid building down there with
their muscles knotted up with heat cramps. And it needed a lot of
changes. Of course, that's the way they'd always run everything, and
somebody had to get busy and try to make things a little bit better for
the people that come after. We had reached a stalemate. We had got all
in the local union we could get. So one night we had a normal meeting
down at the union hall. Somebody made a motion to go down to the gates
and see if we couldn't sign up the crew that was going in. We went down
to the gates. And it was the best thing for the union that ever happened
and the worst thing for the company. Because the company
said we were trespassing on the company's property. We
weren't on the company propertySo they had
their own police force or guard duty, which is one and the same thing.
So they proceeded to load us all up in cars and carry us off and put us
in jail. And after we got out of jail, the guys that had been reluctant
to sign up said, "Well, they can't treat you folks like that.
Give me a card. I want to sign up with the union." So that was
the deciding factor, really, on how the union started. Something had to
be done; we had reached all we could do, and we just decided to take
that one big chance, get locked up. A big enough disturbance that they
would go ahead and see if they can accomplish that. The government sent
down a referee in the courts. The North Carolina judge said, "I
believe the referee pointed out that the automobile workers have been
permitted to organize a union in the company property, and it was in our
rights." The judge said, "Well, I'm going by North
Carolina law. Three people come up to the mob up there, asked them to
disperse, and they wouldn't disperse." So we had a class trial,
and one? him just like
all the rest of us, I think, becausepossibility
in the world? But out of it all came, like I
say, a unification. It had a big effect on the organizing.