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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carlee Drye, April 2, 1980. Interview H-0005. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Management and its treatment of workers as catalyst for unionization

Drye explains why he believed the local union was formed during the late 1930s in Badin, North Carolina. Initially part of the Aluminum Workers International (and later merging with the Steel Workers), the local union arose, according to Drye, because the Alcoa plant management failed to respect the pride aluminum workers took in their work and in their community. For Drye, the breaking point occured in 1939 when Alcoa had union organizers for trying to recruit new members outside of the plant. His comments demonstrate interesting tensions between workers and management in the formation of the local union.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carlee Drye, April 2, 1980. Interview H-0005. 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:
To go back to what you were saying before about why the union was formed in the early days, during the thirties.
CARLEE DRYE:
I think there was two things, and I don't want to put too much credence on the first instance. I carried S. A. Copp's, who was works manager, clubs around the golf course more than one time. Fifty cents, and ten-cent tips.Always a ten-cent tip. Was a lot of money. But that's about five miles of walking, the way he played the game. But somehow the people in Badin, even from 1938 on, and he left here probably in '45 to '48, somewhere along. . . . But the father-son, this big fa[mily?]. . . . Well, he turned. He probably made a mistake when it. . . . But that kind of statement from anybody in management gets around fast.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
What did he say?
CARLEE DRYE:
He said Badin was wonderful. It was a big, happy family and didn't need anybody. But he didn't realize there was a lot of unhappy people out there in the plant. He was probably depending on the lower-echelon management.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
Why were they unhappy?
CARLEE DRYE:
General working conditions. Low recognition of the true worth of the people. The people in Badin-perhaps it's a localized thing, and perhaps it's not; I don't know, I've never been able to analyze the Tar Heel, the North Carolinian-they're a prideful people, and they take pride in their work. And that, I think, is the key to the fact that this Badin plant is still here, the modern version of 1960, when it started. Because Alcoa recognized that if there was something to be tried out, some new test equipment, the new techniques, they always came to Badin to test it. It might be taken somewhere else and built. But I think it's pride in work; there's pride in the job well done. This is an old clichè-sort of a thing, but it's a basic fact in the type of people.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
Are you saying that S. A. Copp sort of undermined this pride that people had in their work?
CARLEE DRYE:
No, I think he should have recognized it. He didn't recognize it. He'd been here too many years. Perhaps he was getting on up in years. It was probably nearly seven years ago, maybe, when he died. When I was a young boy I thought he was an old man then, but he wasn't really. Because I have it brought home more every day as I get older. I'm no spring chicken either. But that, and I give Alcoa management credit for not having common sense, not having their pulse on the rank-and-file attitude. And Alcoa really built this local union. They made a bad move at a bad time. It was prior to the time that we went into the Steel Workers, trying to get a local union formed. We were recognized, and they were dealing with the old Aluminum Workers International union. There are still some. . . . It's never been really effective. And they rode the steel workers' shirttails as far as benefits every. . . . Just a little behind. You know, enough to keep them out of the Steel Workers. And frankly I think they, in the past ten years, would have rather had them all in the Steel Workers and negotiate everybody. Three locals of the United Automobile Workers came in, and they keep themselves busy negotiating that way. That's not good philosophy from the national Chamber of Commerce viewpoint. They'd rather pick you off one at a time than try to take you on all together, collectively. And at that point, I recall very vividly the night that it happened. It was in 1939, somewhere in that vicinity. They were trying to get people to join the union. It was to go out and beat the bushes, and then you have to go out and hand-collect dues. It's hand-to-mouth existence, because we had to go out in the plant and take up a collection to send somebody to negotiate a contract. No real income. And we had a union meeting one night, one of those foot-stomping, organizing sort of a thing, although Dean Culver was by no means a foot-stomper nor a rabble-rouser type. He was very quiet, but he believed in this union with complete dedication. We'd go down that night and meet the eleven o'clock crew going in and coming off. Had a little ten-cent baseball bat with a placard on it, "Join Or Else". Then Alcoa proceeded to lock up. . . . That figure is cloudy, because the record shows it was sixty-nine, but there didn't actually but sixty-three get in the jail. They filled the County Jail up and tried to get them to go home so they could bring the rest of us in. They just picked off the leaders, and just peons didn't make any difference. Well, that was a mistake, because for the next probably thirty daysas many people came to the union and joined the union as were members at the time it happened. The people really locked up in the jail, they tried to turn them out on recognition bond. They would have no part of it. They stayed in till next morning, it got time to go to work. They all got turned out. That was the breaking point initially, in my opinion, in Badin. I've said it to management through the years. Because people recognized then just what the management in the Badin plant really basically thought of them.