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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A belief in good behavior on the job, including staying out of a union

Norman remembers how much she disliked workers drinking on the job. Her employer lost a lot of money because of drinking, she believes. When the company erected a fence around the mill to prevent union infiltration, it also prevented workers from sneaking out to buy liquor on payday. Norman remembers that her loyalty to Spencer Love, her employer, stifled her interest in unionizing, but she was not rewarded for her loyalty in the long run. She was forced out of her job before she could work long enough to earn a pension.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. 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

MARY MURPHY:
How long did it take you to begin to like the mill?
ICY NORMAN:
After I got to where I got up to drawing ten dollars a week I was well satisfied. I liked it all right except on payday when they, them men, would go to getting drunk. I didn't like that.
MARY MURPHY:
Did the women get drunk?
ICY NORMAN:
No, I never seen a woman up there drink. But the men would. I don't know what it was they drunk or nothing about it. They would have something they'd get drunk on. They'd get so drunk they'd pass out. Them machines running. It was a lot of waste. Spence Love lost a lot of money there on account of the help, because the help didn't care. A lot of places, all they care is eight hours and pay day. As far as making perfect work, doing their job right and trying to improve their job where it would make it easier on you to do your job, people don't care. As I say all they look for is eight hours and Friday, or whenever payday come, is all they care for. They don't care nothing about their jobs. It's a many and a many a person that's working like that. They don't take no interest in it. But I did. I took an interest in my job. And I'd study to see which would be the best and which I thought would be the best for the company. I tried to keep my job up. When I come out of that mill I was keeping two warp mills up on cotton. Them other warp mills they had three or four hands in them, creeling, and I kept two a running myself. It's just like I said, a lot of people, they just don't care. They'll lay down and let the work get behind. Next thing they holler to the boss man, "I need some help." They could go ahead and do it themselves if they was a mind to. So many people ain't going to do that.
MARY MURPHY:
How did they get things straightened out in the mill, how did they get people to stop drinking?
ICY NORMAN:
I started to tell you. They come a union there. They was wanting to get union in. Work was running bad. It was people that was working there when work got bad would quit and go to other places. Then when the mill boomed out they'd come back to the Burlington Mill. That's the way it was. They put a fence around that mill and they had a gate watchman. They took our picture. Couldn't nobody go in that mill unless they had a picture on them. He looked at your picture every time you went in, that gate watchman would.
MARY MURPHY:
This was after they tried to get a union?
ICY NORMAN:
No, that was before. We was wearing our pictures then with our picture and number on it. After they put that fence around there that stopped the drinking. They couldn't run out and get it all during the night and day. But Jim Copland, he would fire them. If he come through. He got so he'd go through there of a night. I don't see how the poor fellow stayed awake. He'd come through there of a night every two hours. He'd go over to that mill every two hours.
MARY MURPHY:
He was there all day?
ICY NORMAN:
And he'd be there the next morning. I don't see how in the world the man held it down. But he did. If he seen any of them a drinking he'd fire them. Hire somebody and put in their place. But everybody went in that mill, they had to learn their job for nothing. But now in this day and time, people would laugh at you if you said, "Well I'll give you a job if you want to learn it. After you get learnt I'll pay you." They wouldn't do it. No way could you get nobody to do that this day and time. Then that was the only way you got a job with the Burlington Mill. If you didn't already know how to do. If you went in there to learn you learnt for nothing. And I really learnt for nothing. I stayed on with them. A lot of them would try to get me to quit when the work was slack and go other places. I wouldn't do it. I stayed right on with them. I know work was getting so bad, Spence Love come down there and he look like he was so down and out. I said, "Mr. Love, you look like you're mighty low this morning." He says, "I am. I'm just on rock bottom. I don't know which way to do for the best. I'm going to have to close the place down." I says, "Well, there's always a brighter day a coming. My mama told me that when I come here and I told you how bad I hated this place. But I really love to work here now. It will be a brighter day." He says, "You really think so?" I says, "Yes. It will be a brighter day. I'll stick with you through thick and thin. If you sink, I'll go down with you." I laughed and he got to laughing. He says, "You just beat all I've ever seen." Then it wasn't too long until that strike, they walked out. Well, I think they was out, a week or two weeks. Some of them signed the union and some of them didn't. I never did sign it. Time and again since then they'd be out at the gate trying to get— I believe a time or two after that they give them papers out. And I think a time or two they did come in the mill and people would go talk to them. If you wanted to sign, you signed. If you wanted to not sign, you didn't sign.
MARY MURPHY:
You were never interested?
ICY NORMAN:
I never did sign.
MARY MURPHY:
How come?
ICY NORMAN:
I don't know. I just heard so much about the union, I thought "I don't know whether it would pay or not." I read the paper about people being out for months and months on strike. I just didn't believe in it. If you was working and was making money all that times you was out on strike, you would come out to the end a whole lot better than you would be laying out maybe three and four months at a time. So I never did sign it. So I stayed with the Burlington Mill. I did everything they ever asked me to do. I always got along with every boss man. I seen different bosses. In other words, I seen overseers, bosses and second hands go and come. I always got along with every one of them. I never did have one say a short word to me because I always went and done what they would tell me to do. I do my work as near right as I know how. And so I swung with them for forty-seven years. I said, "Well, you knowed that was in the making when I quit." I begged them to let me work on but they wouldn't. They knowed it was in the making. They could have let me work on until January. Then I could have got that big profit sharing they all get now. It's five retired since I did and they ain't been there the years I was there. I feel like I was part in making the Burlington Industries, because I come there and stayed with them, I went with them through thick and thin. In other words, I give the best part of my life to the Burlington Industries. It kind of hurt me to think that as long as I stayed there and as faithful as I worked and all, that I didn't get none of that profit that they…
MARY MURPHY:
Was this a pension or a profit…
ICY NORMAN:
Well, you see, if you're there so many years and retire at sixty-five you get $12,500.00. See, they knowed that was in the making. They could have let me work on until January and I would have got that. But my bosses and my supervisors, my second hand supervisor and my superintendent, they had a meeting. They brought it up. They said that I was part of the Burlington Mill, I helped found it. And I stuck with them. They felt that I should have that. You know Klopman, he's gone in the Burlington Mills. Old Klopman spoke up and said, "No, if she's to get it, the ones that been out two or three years wasn't entitled to it. Do you think so?" And that's what my superintendent and overseers and all—and Klopman said, "No they'd have to come back." That kind of hurt me, kind of hurt my feelings. I felt like I was part of the Burlington Mill. Because Burlington Mill was nothing but a little old two room plant when I went there.
MARY MURPHY:
What year was it you retired?
ICY NORMAN:
I retired in '76, first day of June. They let me work until June. And my birthday was in April. I wanted to work on but they wouldn't let me. But they could have let me work from June until the first of January. It was five that retired since, see I retired in June. They had a meeting after I retired and explained it to them. It was five in January, February and March, all five of them retired. All of five of them, I absolutely knowed, they quit, and worked at other places three or four years and then come back to the Burlington Mills. I still say they didn't do me right over that. That was allright if that was the way they wanted it. I still say I'd rather work at the Burlington plant than any other place I heard of. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed my work. I took pride in my work. I tried to get along with everybody. When I retired it was like leaving my family, because I felt like they was all my family. I was just with them day in and day out. They felt like my family. So that was the way it was. Every time I go back up there I feel like I'm going back home. [Laughter]