If we were going to quit, they’d quit, too

Posted by | March 12, 2014

“We didn’t even know what a union was. We’d never heard tell of a union. But we just decided that we wasn’t going to work for this wage. We just wasn’t going to work for $10.08 a week. But as it happened, there was a carpenter and a union man, John Penix. He called someone that he knew in the labor movement, and they came here and organized, and it was just one big mess, and they just panicked. [Everyone else in the plant was] getting the same wages, and I imagine that they decided that if we were going to quit, they’d quit, too.

“At that time they paid a flat scale. You started out at $8.96 a week; $10.08; $11.20. I don’t know whether you got past $11.20 or not. I never did hear any man say how much they made, but I don’t think they paid them more. If they did, they didn’t pay them much more. [The supervisors] were American, most of the people from up close by, the close counties. A lot of people worked there from Johnson City and way back up in Pogey. One time, I think we went to Pogey. There wasn’t a thing on earth but just mountains with rocks sticking out. And people worked from up in Butler. Oh, just all around.

North American Rayon Plant, Elizabethton, TN“Fifty-six hours [a week], they didn’t seem to pay any attention to it. People had never been nowhere, and they’d never done anything. Maybe go to a movie on Saturday night. So I don’t guess the hours made that much difference. I don’t remember, except I know you’d get awfully tired.

“I went to the washroom when I wanted to. I went by my own rules, if you needed to go to the washroom. Oh, you worked so hard, you didn’t fudge on them any. They didn’t take any breaks. They were just supposed to go to the washroom and back.

“I don’t remember who did the talking. You see, they selected the one to do the talking, and they passed the word around they was going to ask for a raise. Said, ‘If they don’t give us that raise, we’ll just quit work.’ And that was it.

“It just got in a bigger and a bigger and a bigger mess. Other people kept joining us, first from North American and then Bemberg, because everybody wanted a raise anyway, until that John Penix got in touch with somebody in labor, and an organizer came here and organized.

“There was five thousand people out. And we had asked for an $11.20 raise! We were arrested twice, on those picket lines. It was over here on the old State Line Road. They brought out the National Guard. In the meantime, my daddy cooked down there at the plant during that time. Some of them stayed in there, I reckon, to take care of the machinery and things that had to be looked after, and he cooked for them.”

Christine Galliher
Interview August 8, 1979
Discusses plant strike at North American Rayon Corp.
In Johnson City, TN on March 12, 1929
Southern Oral History Program Collection

http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/H-314/H-314.html

Related posts: “The stretch-out and the strike”

Christine+Galliher North+American+Rayon American+Bemberg labor+strike Johnson+City+TN appalachia appalachia+history appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

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