Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Frank Gilbert, Summer 1977. Interview H-0121. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Factory workers protest an unfair raise scheme

While there was never any union activity during Gilbert's tenure at Conover Chair, he recalls that workers did band together to try to enforce fairness at the factory. When its owner, a Mr. Brady, gave a small number of employees a special raise, other employees protested by refusing to work. Gilbert does not reveal whether this tactic worked. He also remembers that Mr. Brady unfairly fired him.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Frank Gilbert, Summer 1977. Interview H-0121. 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

PATTY DILLEY:
Why did you end up leaving Conover Furniture and go into Conover Chair?
FRANK GILBERT:
I didn't ever work for Conover Furniture over at that place. You wouldn't need to ask that question.
PATTY DILLEY:
You really didn't work for Conover Furniture?
FRANK GILBERT:
You just asked that. No, Conover Furniture wasn't called that until after Broyhill took it over. Well, really I don't mind it. I got fired. Brady fired me there.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did he really? Why did he do that?
FRANK GILBERT:
Well, it's kind of a long story. After the Depression, after it got a little bit better, you know, why… Of course, he was running under some kind of law, and the government was looking after anything that went bankrupt. The government checked into all that. So the first raise they got, there was four men; he give them two cents an hour raise. I come in the next bracket; they got a half-a-cent-an-hour raise. That's what started the trouble.
PATTY DILLEY:
The men got really angry over that?
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes, there was an awful to-do about it. He fired a good many of them, and a lot of them quit and went somewhere else.
PATTY DILLEY:
Was this the original Mr. Brady?
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes. He was the best man I ever seen, about, till that. Of course, you lose everything you had, any of us would get… The reason I got mad in there, I went to punch back in at dinnertime, and one of the men hollered, "Don't punch in, because we ain't going to work." I said, "How come?" They told me why. These four men wasn't a bit better than we was, I don't reckon. Give them two cents an hour, and then the rest of us half a cent, and then some of them down to a quarter of a cent.
PATTY DILLEY:
Were they just four men that were really favored above the rest?
FRANK GILBERT:
I figured that… What I wondered at, Mr. Jim Deal was one of them.
PATTY DILLEY:
Really?
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes, and he just favored them a little. They weren't any better workers than the rest of us. He just liked them, you know, I always thought. Now that's my… [Laughter] But the reason he fired me, I started down through the plant. We always loafed down at the boiler room. I was down there, and I heard the whistle blow. I was just coming out of the boiler room, and Mr. Brady come in there. And he said, "How come you blowed my whistle?" I said, "Mr. Brady, I didn't blow your whistle." He said, "You did. You just come out of the elevator. I saw you come out of there." "Did you see me blow the whistle?" "No, but," he says, "you're the man done it." I said, "I'm not." "Well, who did it, then?" "I couldn't tell you." I couldn't tell him. I didn't see them, but somebody did. I heard after who it was. He kept on saying I did, and I didn't take that too long, you know. I told him he could take it and stuff the boogy man with it. [Laughter]
PATTY DILLEY:
That doesn't seem fair at all. Gosh. I mean really. Was there any kind of an organized thing of the men at the plant?
FRANK GILBERT:
No. There wasn't no organized labor or nothing there. They just met, and didn't any of them go back to work after. Some of them checked their cards, you know, and seen what they done. Didn't anybody go back to work. They were off a week in there. I know some of them did go back. ( ) Maybe some of them go back several months later, but didn't half of them go back.