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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Roy Lee and Mary Ruth Auton, February 28, 1980. Interview H-0108. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Standing up to the boss earns benefits for factory workers

Auton describes his working routine at Ridgeview, a hosiery mill. Part of his routine involved sneaking smoke breaks when he got ahead, and when he was caught by a supervisor, his bravado earned the entire factory chairs and ashtrays so they could take smoke breaks.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Roy Lee and Mary Ruth Auton, February 28, 1980. Interview H-0108. 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

What were working conditions like at Ridgeview?
Well, like normal, I guess. And the faster you work, the more money you can make while you are working. If you don't stop the machine off except when you make your changes, you can run a dozen in about forty minutes. After you run your warp, right at the top of the stocking it's about this wide after it's doubled? But it comes out single, about this far. And then you pick those bars up—they've got little hooks on them—and set it down with the needles like that and come up, and you push your stocking down, take your hand and run across there and knock it down on the needles. Then you turn your bar over like that and unhook it, and put a rod through there and hook the straps to it to keep it from stretching out.() And then you start the leg. Then you've got about fifteen minutes; you can ease off to the rest room to smoke a cigarette while it's knitting the leg. But you've got to know that the yarn's going to hold up that long. So if I got any yarn getting low while it was making that welt, I'd run back behind and tie one on. And if I run twelve dozen, I'd smoke twelve cigarettes. [Laughter] Every time I'd get it going through the leg where I didn't have anything to do, I'd go smoke. So after I come back from World War II, the assistant super come to the rest room and caught me smoking. I just had lit it up. He said, "I've got orders to fire anybody I catch smoking." I said, "You have?" He said, "Yes." And I said, "Well, that's the only thing I know you can do about it, because I learned to smoke before I learned to knit, and I figure I'll be smoking after I quit it." He said, "Did you smoke when you was here before?" I said, "Yes. If I run fifteen dozen, I smoke fifteen cigarettes." He walked out, and I wasn't fired. [Laughter] And it wasn't two weeks till they put a chair and an ashtray at every machine. So by not being afraid of him, I guess I helped everybody out.
You mean there were no chairs where you could sit down?
Oh, yes, we had a chair where we could sit down if we wanted to. See, you had a cabinet at the end of the machine where you'd lay your stockings on. You'd count them up and tie them up in dozens. And you wasn't supposed to smoke in there, because you know how ash off of a cigarette will just burn a hole in a stocking. But you get started in the leg like that… And he brought ash stands around to all of us. We could set down there, and we could look at the machine to see that it was still going all right. Set there and smoke, and then go and see.
Had other people been doing the same thing that you were doing?
Probably was, but they'd just give a puff or two and get rid of it and get back out as quick as they could. If I'm going to do anything, I want to enjoy it. If I'm going to smoke, I want to enjoy it. And I wasn't afraid when he caught me.