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Title: Oral History Interview with George Perkel, May 27, 1986. Interview H-0281. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Perkel, George, interviewee
Interview conducted by Raub, Patricia
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 92 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
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Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-05-21, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with George Perkel, May 27, 1986. Interview H-0281. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-0281)
Author: Patricia Raub
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with George Perkel, May 27, 1986. Interview H-0281. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-0281)
Author: George Perkel
Description: 119 Mb
Description: 32 p.
Note: Interview conducted on May 27, 1986, by Patricia Raub; recorded in Unknown.
Note: Transcribed by Patricia Raub.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series H. Piedmont Industrialization, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with George Perkel, May 27, 1986.
Interview H-0281. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Perkel, George, interviewee


Interview Participants

    GEORGE PERKEL, interviewee
    PATRICIA RAUB, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
PATRICIA RAUB:
I really haven't had a chance to talk to anyone who's been very closely involved with labor yet.
GEORGE PERKEL:
I see. Have you done some reading, though?
PATRICIA RAUB:
Yes, I've done some reading. I do know kind of general things, in terms of the fact that there's been a lot of jobs lost in the last ten years or so in the industry, and some of the people I've talked to haven't been as concerned about that as I think maybe workers are, since they see more productivity through automation. Their argument sort of is, well, it's better to have some work than none at all. Which, I suppose, is absolutely true. But it still seems like there's probably some people that are getting lost, with no job, in the meantime.
GEORGE PERKEL:
That's certainly true.
PATRICIA RAUB:
I wondered if you might start by telling me how you happened to start doing what you've been doing.

Page 2
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, I got into the labor field back in 1943. I was an economist in Washington, working for the Commerce Department. My interest in labor started as I grew up, as a youth, in the 1930s, concerned with the New Deal and the wave of organization that took place in the 30s. And, being a member of a family with a socialist background, I was interested in unionism as a means of social protest and social change.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Was your family from New York?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes—well, my parents came from Russia. They emigrated in the early part of the century, in 1910 or 20 period. In fact, before 1910. So, I was born in 1919, and unionism and socialism was a conversation topic as I grew up. And I naturally inclined toward unionism and socialism. So that's what moved me in that direction. My early employment, then, for the government was, as I say, as an economist, and I was interested in using my knowledge and abilities to promote organization of workers. So, the National War Labor Board was in its early stages of development at that time—a federal agency—and I got a job with them in 1943 as an analyst, analyzing the issues involved in labor disputes. The National War Labor Board was responsible for settling labor disputes to avoid interference with production for the war. And it also was concerned with what is known as a wage stabilization program, which was a government program related

Page 3
to the whole inflation-fighting and price-stabilization program to keep wages down and prices down—keep them from rising fast. So, my work as an economist for the War Labor Board, from '43 to '45 gave me a pretty broad acquaintanceship with unions and how they were operating in that period.
PATRICIA RAUB:
That must have been a fascinating job.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes, it was very interesting. It was very taxing, because there were these difficult problems presented of trying to find out, penetrate the enormous amount of material that was coming in from both unions and employers trying to defend their position, and, as a government employee, trying to analyze and see what the truth of the matter was. So, it was very interesting and informative and prepared me for work in the union field after the war. In 1947, I became an economist. I got a job with the Textile Workers Union of America, at their headquarters in New York, as an economist in their research department. So that gave me further opportunity to participate directly in the labor struggles of the '40s and thereafter.
PATRICIA RAUB:
So what that, then, what you were doing when you retired?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, I had one two-year period when I took another job

Page 4
working for a government agency in New York, but, other than that, from 1947 to 1979, through '79, I worked for the Union, which became the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in 1976. I retired at the end of 1979.
PATRICIA RAUB:
That's quite a long career in the Union.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes. Most of it was in the research department. I started as an economist, and then I became assistant director, and then director of the department. From '63 to '76, I was director of research for the Union. And then I became interested in occupational safety and health as an issue for the Union, and I became Director of Occupational Safety and Health from '76 to my retirement.
PATRICIA RAUB:
What kinds of things were you doing research on?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, two areas, primarily. One was collective bargaining, that is, supporting the union's efforts to get higher wages and benefits for textile workers in collective bargaining. And that involved economic research, financial analysis, industrial economics studies. So that's one broad area of economic analysis that was used for collective bargaining purposes.
PATRICIA RAUB:
You mean you were trying to figure out, maybe, how much you thought a company could afford to raise wages and things?

Page 5
GEORGE PERKEL:
That was one way of looking at it. Usually, though, it was trying to give the workers and the Union leaders as much information and analysis as to what was going on in the industry that would affect the ability of industry to pay higher wages. And, also, once a decision had been made on how much of an increase to ask in bargaining, then supporting those proposals with economic analyses, to support the Union officials and to impress the employers on what we knew about their ability to pay and to try to get them to reach an agreement. And then, during some parts of that period, arbitrations were fairly common on wage issues, and so my work consisted of representing the Union at the arbitration hearings, presenting economic analyses in support of our position and arguing the case. So that's one broad area, collective bargaining.
The other broad area is organization of workers. The Union, throughout its history, was in an organizing stage, because, unlike most of the other major unions, we did not succeed, in an early period, in organizing the bulk of the industry. We never organized more than—well, in the North, we organized the bulk of the industry, fifty, sixty, seventy percent. But, during the period from the '20s to the '50s, there was a mass movement, from North to South, of the industry. And, so, by the 1950s, ninety percent of the industry was located in the South. So, while we were substantially organized in the North, that represented less

Page 6
than ten percent of the industry. And our efforts in the South were generally not successful. We organized, at best, between fifteen and twenty percent of the Southern textile workers, and usually a good deal less than that.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Why do you attribute such a low percentage?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, that's a long answer, and, if you like, I can spend several minutes discussing that.
PATRICIA RAUB:
I don't mind, if you don't mind.
GEORGE PERKEL:
OK. In order to appreciate our difficulties in organizing Southern textile workers, I think you have to concern yourself with the characteristics of the various people who played a part in that process. And, we'll start with the workers. First, in talking about worker characteristics, you have to understand something about the culture of mill towns. Most of the textile workers historically have lived in very small communities or rural areas, generally in mill villages, where the employer—until the '40s, at least—the employer owned the homes, he owned the utilities, he dominated the churches and schools and all the other local institutions. The predominant cultural milieu was one of strong paternalism on the part of the employer being the powerful, dominant interest, and the employees having a strong sense of inferiority, both to the

Page 7
employer and to the community at large. The people who lived in the mill villages were regarded as the bottom social stratum in the environment. The people in the towns nearby looked down on them and wouldn't socialize with them.
PATRICIA RAUB:
We've interviewed some people that really, I think, express that—
GEORGE PERKEL:
So you're familiar with that. I won't elaborate on it. By the way, Dale Newman wrote a good piece in Labor History in '78, which you may have seen.
PATRICIA RAUB:
No, I haven't.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, I recommend you look at it.
PATRICIA RAUB:
N-E-W-M-A-N?
GEORGE PERKEL:
N-E-W-M-A-N. Labor History in 1978.
PATRICIA RAUB:
OK, I'll take a look at it.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Which is a field study, including much interviewing, which I think you'll find interesting. It emphasizes the parochial nature of the communities, the attitudes that workers had, living in the rural isolation that they did. The traditional nature of their attitudes, their acceptance

Page 8
of the hierarchy above them, the importance of religion in developing attitudes toward acceptance of life as it is, rather than doing something about it. And, in general, creating a strongly dependant type of personality among the employees of textile mills. The relatively few people who were able to overcome all of these strong tendencies driving them into dependancy tended to leave rather than try to improve things where they were.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Well, certainly, there's lots of cases of times when workers did try to organize and just didn't get anywhere. So I guess some of that was kind of realistic on their part.
GEORGE PERKEL:
That's true, but the type of activities that historically textile workers engaged in tended to be the kind of explosion of hostility at their terrible plight rather than a sustained activity to establish a continuing organization.
PATRICIA RAUB:
That's an interesting distinction.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes, well, if you look at the various strikes that took place in the South in the '20s, you see that there tends to be strong protest feeling, strong and violent activity, that gets dissipated after a short time because the people lacked a sustained base or basis for sustained organization. They could get angry and explode, but that didn't generally lead

Page 9
to a sustained organization.
Now another series of factors that affected worker characteristics, more or less in the same direction, of producing downtrodden, inactive people, was the nature of the work itself in the textile mill. Have you seen Blauner's Alienation and Freedom? [Robert Blauner, Alienation and Freedom: The Factory Worker and His Industry (Chicago: 1964)]
PATRICIA RAUB:
I've taken a look at it, yes.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, the chapter on the textile industry is very good, and it will give you details on how the work is organized and what effect it has on the psychology of the people who were engaged in it. The control of their lives by the machine, and the close supervision by the foremen, or what they called overseers, the routine nature of the work and its repetitive character, the lack of autonomy that people have on the job, where everything is controlled for them and they're told what to do, the insecurity that they felt because of the frequent layoffs, the ups and downs in the textile cycle, causing frequent layoffs of people and low wages, which resulted in a very low standard of living, an insecure standard of living. The occupational structure being very compressed—there are very few opportunities for advancement to more skilled jobs; there are very few skilled jobs in the textile mill. So, all of these conditions tended to

Page 10
reinforce the conditions in the cultural and social environment, to push people down, to give them no sense of their own capabilities. They were real cogs in a machine. So, all of these tended to create people who, while they did protest and revolt, on occasion, as I say, they lacked the feeling of their own power or potential power. They were so downbeaten, beaten down by their circumstances that they tended not to be able to sustain, or generate, leadership to lift themselves out of their terrible conditions.
Still another factor that has to be given consideration in dealing with workers in the textile industry is the unusually large proportion of the work force that is female. The type of work and the type of situation that prevails in textile communities is to take advantage of the availability of young women and employ them in routine, nonskilled tasks. And more than forty percent of the work force in textiles has historically been female. Females, for a number of historical reasons, have been harder to organize and have tended not to be as active in their own behalf as men, in the industrial situation. They tend to feel, or have tended to feel, that work was not their dominant concern, they were housekeepers, housewives, and mothers as well as workers and rather than devote themselves, as men might, who are concerned with their job as their main source of livelihood, women have tended not to be active in labor organizations.
Now, of course, all of these considerations that I've just been discussing have been changing over time.

Page 11
Particularly in the more recent period. Yet, still today, the dominant cultural and work-related characteristics in textiles are the ones that I've mentioned. There isn't quite the degree of social isolation that existed when the mills owned the homes. Now they've been sold to people. But, still, there is the strong sense of inferiority, compared to the people who live outside the towns, outside the mill towns. And the type of work, even with all the technological change that has occurred, the type of work still is predominantly semi-automatic, unskilled, where there's very little autonomy of the worker and the worker tends to be a slave of the machine.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Do you think that the textile companies continue to exert anywhere near the same kind of political power in a town or locality that they did, say, before World War Two? You no longer have the mill towns any more, but do you think they're still very strong politically?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes, I do. I think there has been a change. With few exceptions, they don't just run everything in the town, dictate everything. But they do have the predominance of power in most textile areas. The fact that textile mills are concentrated in certain areas makes the influence of the employer much greater than if they were spread out throughout the region. But the fact that they concentrated in certain areas gives them great political power in those areas.

Page 12
Well, that sort of brings me into the—I've been talking about worker characteristics—but, I think, in order to understand why we have so much difficulty organizing textile workers, we have to appreciate something about the characteristics of textile employers as well. And, as you probably are aware, historically, textile employers in the South have been regarded as public benefactors, rather than as simply employers. They're the people who brought jobs to the poorest agricultural South, and they were regarded by the community leaders and by people generally as benefactors. And they set up these one-industry towns or company-dominated areas and part of the benefits that they received from that was almost complete control of local government. The attitude, or mind-set that has resulted from that historical situation is a strong sense among textile employers, even those who may not have come from the South, that they are entitled to be the king-pin in the industrial and geographic area. Many of them still retain the paternalistic idea of being responsible for their people, their hands, as they call them, and there's an authoritarian, top-down communication system that has departed many non-textile industries but still is characteristic of the textile industry. The control of worker lives which had historically been a part of the mill village sociology still continues in the sense that the mill management feels that he has a right to know not only what his worker does on the job but outside of work, and he and his supervisors concern themselves with what happens

Page 13
outside of work. They're still important in the church community, the education community, and through them they still retain a great deal of control over the lives of textile workers. And certainly, control over what textile workers read in their local newspapers and what they learn in schools.
PATRICIA RAUB:
I've heard it said that companies really don't particularly want workers who have gotten much education, particularly a whole high school education. I think someone spoke with a mill owner down in South Carolina who said we'd just as soon have people who hadn't finished high school.
GEORGE PERKEL:
I think that's true. I think the nature of the work is such, being generally routine and repetitive, that employers think that people with higher education would not make good employees for these jobs, and so they do welcome uneducated people, and I think this is one reason why blacks have been so successful in getting into the industry in recent years. To the extent that blacks have low education levels and they interfere with their ability to get jobs that require higher skills and higher education. But that is not a problem in textiles.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Has that helped, though, in terms of trying to get workers to organize any? I think there have been some studies that have said that blacks have been more receptive.

Page 14
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes, blacks have been much more amenable to the call of the Union than whites in the textile industry. That certainly has been true, and the successful efforts in the case of J.P. Stevens Company certainly was largely due to the fact that a substantial proportion of the workforce in those mills were black.
One other factor that should be mentioned to understand employer attitudes towards organization and toward the whole process of organization is the strong hostility that predominates, even stronger than in non-textile employers, hostility toward government interference. The notion of anybody coming in and telling the boss what to do is generally unwelcome in industry, but, in textiles, it's anathema. It's a matter of pride and almost family feeling that the boss is in charge and nobody can tell him what he can do and what he can't do. And this, of course, affects the whole process of organization because main protection of the right to organize is afforded by the federal legislation on that. And the employer hostility toward government interference plays an important role, even aside from economic and other considerations, in engendering a very strong anti-union bias among employers in the industry.
Then I should mention some of the economic factors that affect employer attitudes toward unions. Textiles have been and still are a largely competitive industry, so that labor cost is extremely important to the employer, much more so

Page 15
than in many other industries where you have less competition.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
GEORGE PERKEL:
It's a sick industry. It's suffered from overcapacity, from wide fluctuations in prices, and so this has been another strong spur for employers to keep the unions out.
Ok. So, I've talked about the workers and the employers. Next I want to talk about the government's role. As I mentioned, the federal government has, since 1935, been responsible, supposedly, for guaranteeing the right of workers to exercise their organization proclivities, to bargain collectively. And that was a promise that was given in the Wagner Act and during the early days, in the '30s, and even into the '40s, that promise was fairly well fulfilled in that the government engaged in what I consider a highly unusual, effective administration of the law to compel employers to, to prevent employers from coercing workers and to prevent them from discouraging organization and so, in most mass-production industries, workers did take advantage of these opportunities afforded by the Wagner Act and succeed in getting organized.
PATRICIA RAUB:
That wasn't really true, though, of the textile industry, was it?

Page 16
GEORGE PERKEL:
No, it wasn't true in textiles and, as I say, I hope that what I've said about the characteristics of the workers and the employers might give you some introduction to why it wasn't true in textiles.
If we go past the first ten years of the Wagner Act, and we come to the postwar period, we have a new development affecting federal legislation, namely, the Taft-Hartley Act. Which was then followed a few years later by another act, whose name escapes me, that also amended the provisions of the Labor Management Act. Both of these acts tended to weaken the enforcement of the right to organize. Then the findings of the investigation of corruption in certain unions and the complaints about worker activity in organizing campaigns resulted in a reversal in the federal legislation really. It's not quite realized, but the enforcement of the right to organize pretty well became a dead letter in the postwar period. For one thing, the Taft-Hartley Act amendments started it. And, secondly, employers realized that there were no effective teeth in the Act. All that the Act does is make an investigation and if it finds that the Act has been violated, all it can do is tell the employers that they have to stop violating it, and if they've deprived anybody of their employment, they have to pay them back pay. This is hardly an incentive for employers to accept the law. Because back pay represents a miniscule proportion of the amount that they generally can save by keeping the union out. So, economically, it pays for them to violate the law, pay

Page 17
the back pay. There isn't even any fine, and there's no criminal penalties. So there simply is no effective mechanism for enforcing law where the employer is willing to violate it for his purposes. There was a sustained effort in the 70s to amend the law, to provide sanctions that would be effective, but that failed. So, in effect, the federal labor law is a promise without any effective means of enforcing it. And, as a result, people who didn't get organized during the great days of the '30s, when everybody was taking advantage of what they thought was the law and who responded to the obvious appeal of unionism, if they didn't get organized in the 30s, by and large, they haven't gotten organized, because the law was discovered to be a paper tiger after the war and employers can pretty well flout it at will.
PATRICIA RAUB:
I guess this is a little off the subject, but for groups that have gotten organized, outside of the South, are they able to stay organized, even in the face of these changing laws?
GEORGE PERKEL:
By and large, they're able to stay organized, but their ability to bargain collectively in an effective manner is gradually and rapidly eroding because employers are—well, starting with the most celebrated case, in 1981, when President Reagan broke the air-traffic control strike, employers have come to realize that, if they're determined enough, and if they're willing to take a strike, they can

Page 18
generally win it. So, even though workers may retain their union, they have come to realize that, in the particular environment that they live, their unions don't have the power that they thought they had, and that they used to have. So, while some fourteen-fifteen million workers are still organized, in the basic industries, they have gradually lost effective power.
All right, now. Let's go on to the next factor that—part of the picture of explaining the difficulties of organizing, which we touched on earlier, namely, state and local governments. In the South, especially in textile areas, the local governments have been predominately dominated by textile interests. Sheriffs and other armed people have been used many times to put down worker efforts to organize. Even though it doesn't happen as often now as it used to, it's still something that the people who work in the mills are aware of. They know how the sheriff's department people feel and what the score is, so to speak, in their community, and they know how the community power people feel about unions. And this has an intimidating effect upon textile workers when they try to organize. Not just the knowledge but the fact that, every once in a while, the power of the community is exercised to put down their efforts. And the employers use these incidents effectively, through the media and education, to let everybody know where the power is, where it stands, and how it stands.
So, all of these factors contribute to the sense of

Page 19
powerlessness and dependancy that textile workers tend to feel. That brings us to the final actor in this drama, the Union. What have been the factors that influenced the Union's ability to succeed in organizing, aside from what we've been talking about, namely, the people involved. The Union, like any union, is dependant upon its ability to organize to exist as a force in the community. The money that it needs to pay its employees is garnered from its organized members. So it's kind of a vicious circle. If you can't organize, you can't have much money to hire organizers. The Federation—the AFL-CIO, and the Industrial Union Department, the national federations have done what they could to assist textile unions to organize. There've been a number of efforts stimulated by national programs—the Operation Dixie in the early postwar period, the J.P.Stevens campaign which was more than just the Textile Workers Union campaign, there was one other major one—well, in the '30s, the 1934 Textile Strike. They were all nationally-supported efforts to organize textile workers, and they all suffered from the fact that there's an inadequacy of resources on the part of organized labor to deal with the tremendous problems that exist among the unorganized workers of the country. The resources available to the Textile Union, and to the AFL-CIO, were very small, in comparison with the task involved. It's most graphically indicated by the 1934 Strike, I don't know if you have any familiarity with it.

Page 20
PATRICIA RAUB:
Yes, I do.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, if you've studied that at all, you know it was sort of like the United States in Grenada—we were the Grenadians. So you had a situation where several hundred thousand workers had gotten the message that they needed a strike and they went out on strike and you had an organization like the Grenadian government trying to run the strike against the state of Georgia, and the militia, and the textile employers. So the disparity in resources was ludicrous and, certainly, the results were inevitable. Similarly, in every major struggle to organize textile workers, it's a David-Goliath proposition.
Obviously, I've given you my own point of view and I try to look at things from more than one side and I've always been somewhat critical of the Textile Union in its efforts to organize. It's always seemed to me that we must be doing something wrong to be so unsuccessful. And I think there's some truth in that, in that it's possible, certainly possible, that if we had sized up the problem differently, if we had done things differently, we might have had more success. But I do think, in retrospect, that—speaking as objectively as I can—that the overwhelming objective situation was so much on the side of defeat, calling for defeat, that even if we were many times as smart as we were, many times as more dedicated, and even had many more times as much money as we had, we couldn't have won. The odds against

Page 21
us were so great, in terms of the nature of the people involved, the nature of the opposition involved, the lack of support from the government, that it was an impossible situation. So I hope that helps you to understand why unions have been so unsuccessful in organizing Southern textile workers.
PATRICIA RAUB:
It certainly does. I know some of these broad trends, but I haven't heard them in this kind of detail that you're giving me.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Let me also throw in a few other thoughts on the Union's performance. The Textile Union has been an unusually high-performance organization, in the sense that, even though we were never one of the major unions, because of the nature of the task that we faced, of organizing one of the most down-trodden groups of workers in the country, it was a natural magnet and attraction to people who were devoted to that task and who were interested in that task to come to us and join with us. So we had an unusually well-motivated and effective group of people trying to organize. And, not only did we have that, but we were constantly seeking new approaches. Unlike many organizations who don't succeed, we didn't settle back and say, well, we can't do it. It's impossible. We were constantly trying new approaches to organizing. We were one of the first to use opinion polling to try to find out more systematically and scientifically what our problems

Page 22
were, how people were feeling, what their attitudes were, what they were worried about, what they were afraid about, and what we could do to offset these obstacles.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Do you have the results of those kinds of polls still available?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes, they're in our archives, sure. I'll give you the name of the person who would be familiar with it—his name is Kier Jorgansen. We made some opinion polls in the Fieldcrest mills back in the '40s. I think those were probably the first ones ever attempted in organizing situations. And we've had a number since then. We've constantly been testing ourselves, examining ourselves, to see what we're doing wrong, what we could be doing that we weren't doing, how we could recruit better people, among the organizers, how we could train them better—we've had very strenuous efforts to train organizers much before organizer training ever had any currency in other unions. We really have worked hard at it, and so I think, if there anything to be said about the nature of the Union as contributing to the failure, I'm sure it can be said, but it was not for lack of trying different things that we didn't find the answer.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Was there anything about it that you felt you'd actually accomplished—I don't know if this is an embarrassing question. It seems like such a long time of so much failure.

Page 23
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, there was a sense of satisfaction, even in the face of failures, because fairly early in the Union's history, people saw that it was going to be a tough job and, in order to accomplish anything, they would have to apply leverage as much as possible to augment the little power that they had. This was done primarily through trying to work through the federal government, to achieve more than we could simply on our own. The Fair Labor Standards Act was the first of the laws that were used. Well, even before that, the National Recovery Act, the activities of the NRA committees, were used to try to build worker protection more effectively than we could through our own efforts. The War Labor Board was a government agency that we used to accomplish more than we could by ourselves. The Fair Labor Standards Act, the Minimum Wage hearings and commissions that were set up periodically afterwards were all used to achieve higher wages for textile workers, more security for textile workers, and, most recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was used pretty effectively to gain important protections for textile workers in the health field. The whole problem of byssinosis, the cotton dust desease, was something that the Union, being a minority union, couldn't deal with on its own and had to leverage its power by using the government to establish standards and to enforce standards to protect textile workers from disease. So, much of the satisfaction that we feel—at least, I feel—

Page 24
over the efforts that I've expended, is that we were able to use the government quite effectively in improving the lot of textile workers, in the ways that I've just mentioned.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Well, given the situation you were working against, that certainly does seem like that's something to be proud of.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes, I am proud of that. That has given me a great deal of satisfaction.
PATRICIA RAUB:
There's also the role of the state, too, isn't there, in sort of really encouraging non-unionized, low-wage industries into the South, and discouraging industries that already have unions from entering the area?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes, the state has certainly been an ally in the South to the textile employers. You probably have seen the studies that were done eight or ten years ago on the fact that the higher-wage industries are not encouraged to locate in North Carolina, but the low-wage industries are. As a deliberate response to the textile employers' fears that higher-wage industries would endanger the protective status of the labor market.
PATRICIA RAUB:
That does seem to be softening some recently.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes, well, I suspect—I haven't studied it recently, but

Page 25
I suspect that it's just like something being inundated by bigger development, the whole industrial development process being such that there's only so long that you can hold technology back through such means as encouraging particular employers to come in. It's the same thing we face as union representatives. We know that textile workers might, in the short run, be benefitted if we were to prevent employers from bringing in new machinery that operates faster and displaces workers. And so there has been some tendency, certainly in earlier years, to fight employer speed-ups and new machinery. But we learned early on that the long run doesn't take so long to happen, and that if you keep trying to fight progress, you're going to pay a heavy price. You can't really protect yourself that way. So you do have to move with the times.
PATRICIA RAUB:
How do you protect yourself in that kind of situation?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, there is no good answer to that question. Ultimately, it comes to you have to move on a national basis to move politically to improve the government's economic role. You can't keep people from becoming unemployed because of new technology. But you can have government programs to stimulate new jobs and to train people and, if necessary, provide temporary employment for people.
PATRICIA RAUB:
That's an idea which may not come any time soon.

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GEORGE PERKEL:
No, the time period is one of retrogression. We're in a period where there are no answers in terms of the short run because the people who control the government are not receptive. They're doing all right, and it doesn't bother them that a lot of people aren't doing all right. President Reagan probably believes that people who don't have enough food are ignorant of how they can get it. He may believe it, or if he doesn't believe it, it's still acceptable to him and to the people who are dominant in our times. They feel that it's the basic proposition of Adam Smith and the free market will take care of everything. So, to talk of what the government now will do is sort of wasteful because the government now will do nothing. The only hope is to change the people who are in the government.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Well, I agree with you. Do you think that there may, even in the somewhat near future, be any more programs to try to help displaced workers, just in terms of retraining programs? I don't think that's probably going to be the answer, but it might help some.
GEORGE PERKEL:
I don't see any immediate prospect for government intervention in the economic process as needed to protect those who are injured by the economic process. I don't see any immediate prospect. Of course, a person like Mario Cuomo or a member of the more liberal sector of the national

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Democratic party might conceivably be willing to change the direction of government policy, but that's the only hope that I can see.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Yes, I agree with you. What kind of impact do you think all the talk about the influx of imports is having on textile workers themselves? Just, more jobs being lost?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, the problem of imports is really one of the most intractable in our society that I know of, and textile workers have been losing jobs, as a result of increasing imports, for many years. And I think they will continue to. I'm not aware of any real solution to that problem. It's one of a long-range, continuing problem that can only be solved in the long range by people being rehabilitated, reeducated, retrained, so that they do become eligible for other work. The textile industry has been shrinking for thirty or forty years, and I believe it will continue to do so, partly as a result of increasing imports. So, workers who are displaced really don't have a future in the textile industry. It's a tragedy, but they have to face it and try to find other livelihoods.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
GEORGE PERKEL:
Either jobs become available through expansion locally, or people find jobs where they are expanding, not locally.

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Unfortunately, the more typical way is for people to have to move to where the jobs are, rather than jobs being created locally.
PATRICIA RAUB:
I gather that's likely to have a pretty bad impact also on agriculture in North Carolina, since there are so many farmers and farm wives who have managed to keep their farms going through part-time work in factories, or even full-time work in factories.
GEORGE PERKEL:
Yes, they will really suffer.
PATRICIA RAUB:
I can't think of anything else specifically that I wanted to ask you. Can you think of anything else you'd like to tell me?
GEORGE PERKEL:
Well, we touched briefly in the fact that the changing composition of the textile workforce, particularly the big increase in the black population, has had an important effect on the ability to organize textile workers, and I think that probably will continue to be a factor, and so that, over time, the probability is that a larger proportion of the textile workforce will be organized. So much for that point.
Another point is I've always had in the back of my mind a feeling that something is wrong about the way in which the whole process of workers' getting organized operates in the United States. The structure of organizing was pretty well

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set by the Wagner Act, which set forth certain rules as to how workers get recognized or unions get recognized and how they bargain. This is really largely a matter of happenstance, in that, nobody tried to figure out what would be the best system. It was really, how can be respond to the exigencies of the day, how can we solve this immediate problem. As a result, it was decided that majority rule should be the dominant principle. If a majority of the workers votes for a union, in a free election, then the workers in that plant would be represented by a union. That has a lot of sense going for it. It sounds very good—democratic and all that sort of thing. But, in actual practice, it turns out to be a lot less than ideal, especially in the textile industry where, in any given plant, you have a certain number of workers who have a strong feeling that they want to be represented by a union, you have another group of workers who say they want to be represented by the union when a union representative comes over to them and asks them, and they might even sign a card. And this is a point I should have mentioned earlier, it's important, I think, that in any textile plant, even with the nature of the workforce, the nature of the environment, the employer, there's a substantial portion of the workers who are pro-union, who want a union. That may vary from twenty to forty percent. And there is another substantial body, probably of similar size, who, while not strongly pro-union, are very ready to sign up. And they will respond favorably when

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asked. So you have substantial groups of workers in any textile plant—anywhere from fifty to seventy percent, say—who say they are willing to join a union and want the union to represent them for collective bargaining. And yet, because of the processes, under the law, the union generally gets less than fifty percent of the votes. There's something obviously wrong here. The first thing that's wrong is that the swing voters tend to be dissuaded from voting yes largly through employer coercion.
PATRICIA RAUB:
Does the employer know who's voting for and who's voting against?
GEORGE PERKEL:
No, it's a secret ballot, but the employer and his agents try to find out—and generally do find out—how the workers feel, how each worker feels. So, even though it's supposed to be a secret ballot, in a democratic process, the will of the majority is effectively frustrated by employer coercion, even though the law prohibits employer coercion. The fact is, that that's the prevailing practice. So that, obviously, is something drastically wrong. But the second thing that's drastically wrong is, even if you assume that the people who voted in response to coercion, even if you assume they don't want a union, therefore, there is a majority that doesn't want a union, what about the minority, what about the rights of the minority? It seems to me if thirty, forty, whatever percent of the workforce wants a

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union to represent them, it would make much more sense to have the union represent them, than to follow the Wagner Act's requirements. But this of course is impossible under the Wagner Act. So that's another problem that needs to be corrected now. I don't have the solution, but it would have to be in terms eventually of legislation altering our system of labor-management relations. There have been proposals, that never got anywhere, that employees could designate representatives, whether they represented a majority or not, and that these representatives would bargain on their behalf. In fact, this is the procedure in many European countries, in fact, I think, most, where you have multiple representation of workers in a plant. Those who want one union, have that union; another who want other unions, have that union; those who don't want any, don't have any. To me, that makes a lot more sense than our system and would be much more democratic.
I think that exhausts my thoughts for today.
PATRICIA RAUB:
I thought of one other question, if you don't mind. What kind of reception have union organizers got? I know it probably varies, and it's been fairly hostile from place to place, but could you be any more specific on that?
GEORGE PERKEL:
From whom?
PATRICIA RAUB:
From the textile companies.

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GEORGE PERKEL:
Oh, the textile companies? I would say textile companies have been over on the extreme end of the antiunion, hostile companies. As I said earlier, managers, and people generally, feel that unions are something they don't want right now, but textile employers feel much more rabidly about it. They not only don't want it but they are willing to fight to their last dollar to keep it out. And they're willing to close plants more readily than most other industries. It's a matter of pride, it's a matter of personal dignity, almost, to keep the union out. So there is a variety of approaches that employers have taken. Some, of course, have used naked violence. Many have. But others have developed very sophisticated techniques for keeping the union out. Do you want me to dwell on that further?
PATRICIA RAUB:
No. I just was wondering. I appreciate you talking to me at such length.
END OF INTERVIEW