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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 >>

Decline of paternalism in one working community

Drye discusses the changing relationship between Alcoa management, the workers, and the community from the 1950s through the 1970s in Badin, North Carolina. According to Drye, the paternalistic role of Alcoa had largely dissipated during this time period and he describes in detail how Alcoa had relinquished its control over the water system. In addition, Drye reflects on the impact of a works manager named McAllister, who had taken over in the late 1970s. Under McAllister, Alcoa was in the process of buying up land and tearing down buildings in the downtown area. Drye saw this as an especially growing strain on management-employee relationships within the plant and in the community.

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:
Do people also hold him to some extent responsible for the withdrawal of Alcoa from its civic role in this town in a lot of ways?
CARLEE DRYE:
They haven't gotten around to that yet.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
You think that's next?
CARLEE DRYE:
I think that's next. Now the true colors are. . . . [Laughter] In my opinion, I think McAlister's got at the maximum two years at this plant location, if somebody at the Pittsburgh level is on their toes. He came in here to do a job, in my opinion, and he's just about accomplished it. And he's built resentment in this town by going up here and tearing down these vacant buildings. I mean there's still a deep attachment for the old folks, and there's a certain sentimental value. But what the hell, if they're falling in and it's an eyesore. I try to take a middle road about that when they're blaming McAlister for it. Well, that's about all he's accomplished while he's been here. He's about bought everything downtown, and sooner or later there won't be anything but the union hall and the telephone building and our new credit union building, if we ever get around to building it. There was a meeting; I was supposed to go to, and they cancelled it on us. One boy had to go out of town or somebody was sick or something, I don't know what it was. I'm not going to say what we're going to build and then have all the people in the plant cussing me again. It's going to be the committee. I'm ready to take the. . . . [Laughter] I've been through it twice already, so I know what to expect. But I think it's in the man who is the works manager, rather than a change of operation policy.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
But do you think he was dispatched from Pittsburgh to get all the buildings knocked down here in Badin and to eliminate the town buildings?
CARLEE DRYE:
Yes. Now let me tell you a story about Alcoa's operation. The plans that Alcoa is making today, what they're doing today is for implementation ten years from now. Because I saw the set of blueprints for this plant, that was built and put in operation in 1960, in 1954. The whole thing.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
You mean they're trying to expand Alcoa, and they're going to take over this property?
CARLEE DRYE:
That is my thinking, because, you see, if you look at the plant and what's surrounding it, there's not much other way to go except to the north, and the plant road was relocated because of that expansion. You talk about a roller mill in here where you roll out the sheet, it takes more than that space, and the downtown will be some kind of extrusion. Alcoa, in my opinion, is coming to a finished product on the primary aluminum production site. Where aluminum is made, that's where the product's going to be finished, and you're going to ship the finished product. I heard that thirty years ago.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
So you think their next plan is extrusion in that downtown area.
CARLEE DRYE:
Yes. So that the land is not available. You couldn't say that Alcoa has kept other industry out. You can't come in and build a plant, just some little fly-by-night outfit. I don't want that kind in here, and I don't think the people do. And there's not an industry could move in. They've pretty much controlled, because they owned everything for miles up and down the river, lumber and everything else. When they started in '57, they started to divest themselves of forestry and that sort of thing.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
What does this mean for the people in the town? The people came here because, as you were talking about before, Alcoa recruited them. And they set up this town so that people would stay here. And now their hiring policy is such that they don't just hire from people in Badin anymore. And McAlister just about told me himself that they were trying to kind of divest themselves of this company-town image and trying to cut their ties with the community. What do you think this all means for the people in this town who have this special feeling about Alcoa?
CARLEE DRYE:
I think Alcoa, for the financial gain, there's going to be a cost that's going to be expensive. They approached me in 1956 or '57, about disposing of the water and sewers, which was just not being implemented. And I bucked it. And I still buck it. I think it was the wrong thing. Alcoa established this town; they hired people and brought them in here; and this is one of the services that you supplied as part of the wages. Now you can nail that one any way you want to, and we'll argue about it, but I still say Alcoa is obligated to maintain this water system. It's one of the fringe benefits, if you please. But it started in other plants, and probably Badin is the last one that still had this. . . .And there's a resentment when they keep the water treatment plant in operation to supply their own plant. And this is bad relations with your employees. And you keep adding those little things on the people, and you build back the resentment you had back there years ago. What it takes to clear the air in the future, I wouldn't go that far. But now they're shoving off the responsibility of their old dilapidated water system on the county, and it's going to come back to the people who they have-let's put it bluntly-discarded. No mistake, we earn good pensions, and we're well taken care of. But we had to fight hard for it. And you'd have to say, "Well, they're no different from any other plant. They wouldn't have been as good if we hadn't had the union here battling for it, and beginning to strike [unclear] for it." They just didn't hand it to us. We would threaten to strike and all this through the years, and we've actually pulled the strikes. There was one in `56 for ten days. I can't, not really, accept this. I think actually this was a decision that was made on the top level in the Pittsburgh office, to divest themselves of. . . . In other words, they're just an aluminum production business. That's what they tried to tell me in `57. I said, "You may be, but this is part of the cost of producing that same damn aluminum. As long as I'm president of this local, you're going to keep it, too. You may do it, but it'd be over my battle, and I'll take it as much as our treasury (treasurer?) will let me go, and my executive board will let me spend."
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
So you don't see this as a paternalistic attitude that Alcoa has in the water and the sewage system, that those days of paternalism are really over.
CARLEE DRYE:
They're gone. They're over and done, as far as Alcoa's attitude is concerned.