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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

An employee seeks to take advantage of union presence after termination

The violent 1934 textile mill strikes never reached the mill where Pharis worked, he recalls. A different kind of controversy arose that year, however, when an aggrieved worker went to a union after being fired, and the union took Pharis's employer to court. The union lost the trial and never managed to gain much of a foothold in the mill.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. 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

CLIFF KUHN:
That thirty-four strike never hit any of the places you were at?
JAMES PHARIS:
NO, no. Was that the strikewhere they had the flying squadron?
CLIFF KUHN:
That's right.
JAMES PHARIS:
I remember that very well.
CLIFF KUHN:
What do you remember about that?
JAMES PHARIS:
I just remember that I'd gone to Reidsville at that time. I was in Reidsville as a supervisor. We was looking for them any time. I had orders from the top that if they come in in any force just to close the mill down and tell all the people to go home. But they never did come in.
CLIFF KUHN:
Had you got any other orders concerning instructions to give to weavers or the people in your division?
JAMES PHARIS:
The strike didn't ever come there.
CLIFF KUHN:
So most people were pretty satisfied?
JAMES PHARIS:
Yeah, they were pretty satisfied but they were excited. You know how anything like that will excite people. They were pretty careful. One time they tried to organize that plant. At that time, the union knew it wasn't right. They give us orders at the plant not to allow no smoking in the toilets. We tried to prevent it as much as we could but we wasn't too strick on it. We'd let them slip in there and take a draw or two on a cigarette. We'd know that any of them wouldn't go in with a supervisor because if they went in we'd have to do something about it. J.C. Cowen, he was general head of Burlington Industry. He come over there. Mr. Cowen was a kind, good-talking man and if he was trying to find out some news he could pick it out of you. He goes into the toilet and there's three or four in there and they had a regular smokehouse. He spoke to them politely and said, "Oh, you fellas smoking I see." They said, "Yes." He says, "Do they allow you to smoke in here?" And one loud mouth says, "Hell yes. They allow us. They don't give a damn what you do here." He was talking to the main man and he didn't know it. Cowen goes back to Greensboro and wrote a letter over there and told us to stop the smoking in the toilet or else he'd get somebody in there that would stop it. So it was up to us and we had to fire some of the best help we had on account of that. Well, the union was trying to organize at the same time. When we fired a good man, if he hadn't already joined the union, he'd go and join then and say that they were fired because they joined the union. So they had a big trial over there.
CLIFF KUHN:
When was this?
JAMES PHARIS:
Must have been in thirty-four, late thirty-four. They had a trial lasted a whole week. At that time, I was on the second hand but the supervisor let me have my way, let me do anything I wanted to do in the weave room. He wouldn't interfere with me. One thing the union couldn't understand, I gave a fella a set of looms he asked for without saying anything to the supervisor about it. So the supervisor was the one responsible in a way. This fella didn't like the set of looms and he just went from bad to worse on it. Finally, they caught him smoking and they had to fire him. He brought it out at the union that Carter, the supervisor, give him a set of looms because he knew they wasn't a good set of looms. He got a chance to fight because he joined the union. They put me on the stand over there and I told them the supervisor didn't know a thing about it. He didn't because he was interested in patents and working something out for advancements so he let me run the weave room. This fella had been on his set of looms nearly a whole week and one day he happened to pass there and he noticed it. He came to me and says, "Pharis, what's that hand cock doing down on that set of looms up there near the toilet?" I told him, "I give em to him a week ago." He said, "That's allright if he wanted them." He asked for them, I says. They put me on the stand.
CLIFF KUHN:
Was this in a court room.
JAMES PHARIS:
Yeah, in the court room.
CLIFF KUHN:
So the union sued the company?
JAMES PHARIS:
Yeah, the union was suing the company but they didn't win.
CLIFF KUHN:
What happened in the trial?
JAMES PHARIS:
That was the end of it. They never did organize the plant.
CLIFF KUHN:
That was after the flying squadrons had gone in other places?
JAMES PHARIS:
That was right after the flying squadrons. I know they used to have a personnel office here in Burlington that they would hire people for the Reidsville plant when we'd need any. We were starting a third shift up there and they give me the third shift, promoted me to supervisor. Burlington was supposed to send us employees. There was a gang of them in there. A fellow comes to me and says… I was putting them to work and trying to figure them out the best I could. I was about getting fellow there and one fellow comes to me and says, "Mr. Pharis, I don't know whether you know it or not but that fellow over there, he's the leader of that flying squadron." (Burlington had sent him up there.) I just caught it in time. I told that fellow, "We got all we can use tonight. We got all we can use. We can't use you. I'll let you know if we see where we can use you." And I come that nigh to putting him to work.
CLIFF KUHN:
Did you ever have any trouble because you had involved in this loom fixers union?
JAMES PHARIS:
Never did have any reaction about it one way or the other. Luther Hodges, the governor of North Carolina, he was general manager of that plant. then. He'd do anything in the world he could for me. They never did hold it against me. I know he told me after I went to Burlington Mill and I stopped there going from Reidsville to Covington (I'd been down there for some kind of business) and seen Luther Hodges in the yard of the office. I stopped to speak to him and he told me, "Pharis, how about going back with us? I'll see that you get the same position that you got with Burlington Mills but you don't want to go to work right now. You'll want to go to work at our mill that I got charge of and the first opening we got we'll give it to you." I told him that I study on it but I couldn't afford to do it. I was afraid they'd do me like they did before. Get me back.