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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Perkel, May 27, 1986. Interview H-0281. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The need for federal aid to southern organization efforts

Perkel describes the role of southern state governments in attracting low-wage, non-union industries to the region. He believes that workers need to look to the federal government for help, but that they have little hope for help from Ronald Reagan.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Perkel, May 27, 1986. Interview H-0281. 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

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 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.
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 Democratic party might conceivably be willing to change the direction of government policy, but that's the only hope that I can see.