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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eva Hopkins, March 5, 1980. Interview H-0167. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Hopkins did not join other mill employees in unionizing and striking in the 1930s

Though employees in her mill had grievances, Hopkins and the others did not start a local union chapter. When a local mill had a strike, they did not break the line, but Hopkins and her husband did not follow her mother's lead in joining the union.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eva Hopkins, March 5, 1980. Interview H-0167. 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

LU ANN JONES:
You talked about your husband was a real fair-minded overseer. What's an example? Would workers come and complain to him. . . .
EVA HOPKINS:
Yes, they would come to say, "This hand over here is not doing his job. He's not working as hard as I am. He's getting paid the same amount of money an hour, and he's not doing nearly as much work as I am." That type of thing. He would go and try to straighten this out and find out why he wasn't doing it. Why the other one had to do so much more than the other one.
LU ANN JONES:
When you were going into the mill, do you ever remember speedups or stretch outs or. . . .
EVA HOPKINS:
Oh my goodness yes! They could speed those machines up, and they did.
LU ANN JONES:
What would happen when they did that? Would you all protest?
EVA HOPKINS:
You had to work harder. That's what would happen. You had to work so much harder to keep up the machine.
LU ANN JONES:
Did workers ever complain or. . . .
EVA HOPKINS:
Sure they complained.
LU ANN JONES:
How would they complain?
EVA HOPKINS:
They would go to the superintendent of the plant. They would go to their boss, if he couldn't do anything about it, then they would maybe go to the superintendent. But nothing ever came of it.
LU ANN JONES:
Why not?
EVA HOPKINS:
Well, that's why so many plants got unions. These plants that we worked in never had unions.
LU ANN JONES:
Was there ever an attempt to ever. . . .
EVA HOPKINS:
Oh yes, they tried to get a union at all of them, but people wouldn't vote for it.
LU ANN JONES:
Why not?
EVA HOPKINS:
I don't know.
LU ANN JONES:
Would you have been in favor of a union?
EVA HOPKINS:
If it would have bettered working conditions I would have, and raised wages.
LU ANN JONES:
When a union attempt was going on, what would it be like in the mill? Would one of the union people be coming in to. . . .
EVA HOPKINS:
Yes, and they would be at the gate handing out flyers.
LU ANN JONES:
Was this in the thirties?
EVA HOPKINS:
Yes, this has been ever since I've been working off and on. They had a big strike right after I went to work at Mercury Mill, a six week strike. All the mills struck. They had picket lines, and nobody crossed the picket line to go into work. They were striking for higher wages.
LU ANN JONES:
Was that in '34? I've heard about the general strike. What was it like then?
EVA HOPKINS:
work six weeks, and people that belonged to the union, they had a community house up here. They would take the union dues that you'd pay, and buy food like beans, and meat, flour, and meal-staples. The people that didn't have it, people with huge families-lot of them had big families-they would go up there, and they would allot them out so much. They would give it to them so they could have food to eat while they were on strike. My mother and I, we never did have to go up there because she bought our food.
LU ANN JONES:
So did you cooperate with the strike?
EVA HOPKINS:
Oh yes, we didn't go across the picket line. We didn't go in. In fact, my mother joined the union. Everybody just about joined it. But we didn't never go up there, we didn't participate in it. She just joined it. We just stayed at home.
LU ANN JONES:
Why do you think she joined?
EVA HOPKINS:
She's like everybody else. She thought that they weren't fair, they didn't pay enough. Just like raising those windows, that sort of thing. They wouldn't let you raise the window, and it was so hot. That's why we call them sweat factories, sweat shops. They wouldn't let you raise the windows, it was so hot, they didn't pay you enough. They'd make you what they call stretch out, put you on more work to do for the same amount of money, and that sort of thing.
LU ANN JONES:
Do you remember when she joined the union?
EVA HOPKINS:
No, it was during that strike though. But then, she didn't keep up her dues after the strike was over and we all went back to work. She never did go back to any of the union meetings or anything.
LU ANN JONES:
Did some people cross the picket line?
EVA HOPKINS:
Yes.
LU ANN JONES:
What did you think of those people?
EVA HOPKINS:
I thought they were taking their life in their hands for one thing. I thought some of them just wanted to show people that they would do it if they could do it. But they couldn't get enough in there to run any machines, so they had to come back out.
LU ANN JONES:
Did you ever walk the picket line? Did your mother?
EVA HOPKINS:
No, never!
LU ANN JONES:
In the late 20's and early 30's, there were strikes going on not only here, but all over in this area and Gastonia and up towards the mountains. Did you hear about these things or talk about them at work?
EVA HOPKINS:
We heard about them. We took newspapers, and we read about them. But it didn't concern me too much at that time because I was young, and I had my mind on parties, and pretty clothes and having a good time.
LU ANN JONES:
Did you ever join once you were older and working or try to help on the picket lines?
EVA HOPKINS:
No, they never got a union out there. After that strike was over, nobody ever fooled with it anymore. They didn't get enough people out there to get a union in that mill. They couldn't get enough people to sign up for it to get it.
LU ANN JONES:
What were the results of that strike?
EVA HOPKINS:
I don't tink that it helped any. I don't remember that it did. I had my mind too much on other things. I don't know. Paul might could told you what it did. I don't remember.
LU ANN JONES:
The people who did join the union, did they lose their jobs, or did the company ever harass them or anything?
EVA HOPKINS:
No, they didn't. I don't know of any. The ones that instigated, the instigators of it, they might have worked them out some other reason, but not for because of the union. See, they couldn't do that. They could fire them for some other reason. They would find something to fire them for other than that. I know one girl that worked where I did, she spooled. She went across and went in to work and all. They didn't fire her, but they kind of gave her a rough time for a while, but then nothing came of that. Some of them that were the leaders of it, they would find ways to work them out. They would find something to get rid of them for. Any kind of work that you do, any job anywhere, they can always find a way to get rid of you. They can find something wrong with your work, or some excuse to get rid of you, if they want to get rid of you bad enough.
LU ANN JONES:
So you didn't see that conditions improved any?
EVA HOPKINS:
I don't remember. It's been so many years, and at the time, it might have. But when you get so many years ago, I just don't remember that well about it.
LU ANN JONES:
Would your husband as an overseer, would he have been in an awkward position?
EVA HOPKINS:
He wasn't an overseer then. He was young then too, and we hadn't married then. I was single.
LU ANN JONES:
Do you know whether or not he joined the union or went out on strike?
EVA HOPKINS:
I don't think he did.