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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Skinner Parker, March 7, 1976. Interview H-0278. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A strike brings hardship to mill workers

Parker remembers a World War II-era strike. While not all of the workers were union members, the strike shut down the mill. Parker recalls that the strike brought hardship to mill workers, some of whom left Coolemee to find work elsewhere, and all of whom suffered financially.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Skinner Parker, March 7, 1976. Interview H-0278. 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

W. WELDON HUSKE:
Well, tell me. When you got here the mill was not organized; there was no union.
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Wasn't organized. And another thing: they were in the process of putting in that big dynamo—you know, whereby they could operate on their own power if they had to.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Well, tell me what you know about the union, and how it came to be here.
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well now, in '34, that's when the National Guard was here. But that's because of these outsiders (and I'm almost positive they came from Gastonia) who came up here to try to organize this mill and to put up a picket line to keep the people from going in. And that's why they had the National Guard here.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
How did that come to be? Were there local people working with them?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
I don't know.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Well, what was it like? You worked here during the strike; weren't you working in the store?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well now, that wasn't a strike in '34.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Well, there was…
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Oh, the strike during the war; I was here then, yes. I think that was the biggest strike that they had: if I'm not sure, that lasted from about November to March.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Of what year?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, I don't know. It had to be in there between '42 and '45, because I know it was during the war when the boys were in the service.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
What was that strike like? Was the mill organized at that time?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
The mill was organized then, yes.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
And what was the union, do you remember?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
What is it, A.F. of L.-C.I.O., but I don't think the both of those were together at that time—maybe they were.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
OK. Well, what happened to cause that strike during the war?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, I imagine it may have been on account of contracts; maybe they couldn't get together on their contract.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Did almost all the workers go out on strike?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well see, all workers weren't union members; some weren't. And then, see, we had instances where women worked in the mill whose husbands were overseers. Well, of course those women didn't belong to the union. But they tried to keep the mill open.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Who did? The managers?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well yes, as long as they could; but I think they finally had to close the mill altogether. And then of course picket lines were up. But the office people, you see, management had to get in there.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Was there a lot of tension in the town?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Not that I remember.
MRS. ISAAC HALL HUSKE:
What year are we talking about?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
That one we had in the forties, you know, that lasted from November to March. I may be wrong; somebody else may give you a better date on that.
MRS. ISAAC HALL HUSKE:
That's when your father had… Well, he was an office worker, and they had a door from the office that went down through a sort of courtyard toward the mill. They'd send him down from the office with messages into the mill. And some of the people would stand out there where he had to come out and just taunt him, you know. Oh, I could have
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
But then, on the other hand, the store was on the fence.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
How do you mean that?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, you're working for management and dependent on the labor part of it for the benefit of the store, see. So you had to stay on neutral ground.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Did people continue to buy at the store?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Yes.
MRS. ISAAC HALL HUSKE:
Well, they couldn't go anywhere else; most people then didn't have cars.
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
And then the union had this place set up at North Cooleemee, in that brick building (I don't know whether they called it the Wall Building or what). But anyway, that's where they had to go every week to get whatever they were entitled to.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
And then they'd come spend union money in your store?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
They didn't get money.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
They didn't?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
They got food; they got the staples, the basic things like flour and cornmeal and, I guess, sugar, no doubt pinto beans—you know, that kind of thing. But we lost a lot of good people then.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
How so?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, see, there was no work here, so they went north. Like some of them went to Akron, Ohio and different places and got jobs; and some of them didn't come back. But I do think we lost some good people during that as far as Cooleemee was concerned.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Well, when it was over how did it come to be over? Was the contract dispute settled?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, they evidently came to an agreement.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
And did life just kind of resume as normal?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Any time they had a strike, the people never made up that money that they lost, really.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
So it really put hardship on most.
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Yes. They had to gain something by the new contract, but even that never offset. Just like that big strike there—to be out of work all those months.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Didn't you tell me one time you thought it seemed so funny to think about the boys being abroad fighting a war, and everybody sitting around in Cooleeme?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, it wasn't just Cooleemee, it was everyplace in the country. I mean, that's just a personal opinion. But, of course the store kept right on.