Southern Textile Situation From the Standpoint of an Outside Observer

(From CHURCH AND SOCIETY, The Dept. of Social Relations Congregational Educational Society, 14 Beacon Street, Boston.  December 1929.  Other comments were by the Rev. W. A. Newell, Methodist pastor from Gastonia, N.C., Roger Baldwin, executive of A.C.L.U.; Eli Keller, Sec’y., National Textile Workers;  Thomas McMahon, President, National Textile Workers, and  unidentified employer’s viewpoint.  A section named WHAT CAN BE DONE has reports by Norman Thomas of the Emergency Strike Committee;  A.J. Muste of the Brookwood Labor College and James Myers of the Federal Council of Churches.  It seems that, over-all, James Myers was coordinating much of the Church’s response to the textile situation.  At end of the report, there was a call for emergency relief funds for the hurting strikers; a plea for readers to write their senators to support Sen. Burton Wheeler’s (D. Mt.) resolution asking for a thorough inquiry into southern textile conditions and, finally, a 20-book bibliography.  It appears that these are a summary of the testimony which the persons named gave to the U.S. Senate Committee. –Bill Jr.)


Bill Sr.:

       I was in North Carolina hardly more than a week.  I was in Marion just prior to the shooting.  We were able in the short time to gather a few facts throwing light on this particular situation. I also want to say something about the church situation as I see it.

            The conditions in Marion, according to the manufacturers with whom we talked, are about as follows:  The houses that they gave the people were good.  These manufacturers did not want to talk much about wages and hours.  Mr. R.W. Baldwin of the Marion Manufacturing Company said that the whole trouble was due to outside agitation.  he could not say bad enough things about outside agitation.  ‘We give people houses to live in, we pay an average wage of $14 a week.  No one works longer than 50 hours a week, at least with the company’s knowledge.

            The situation was described quite differently by the workers themselves.  They said that they went to work early in the morning, they worked until six and often at night.  The temperature in the mill was kept at between 90 and 100 degrees in order to meet the needs of the technical processes of the mill.  Some have time off at noon for lunch;  others do not.  Sometimes the workers take turns doubling up on the work so that lunch may be eaten.  The houses are shacks.  There is no running water and the water is secured from pumps which are supplied for every three or four houses.  There are no sanitary provisions whatsoever.  There are only ;poor outside toilets and the pumps are often below them.  On a rainy day one cannot go through the streets with a car.  The people are paying too much for the houses as they are, even though that price seems very low. (I am speaking only of the houses in Marion.)  We saw better houses in some places.  But the houses in Marion were not fit for human beings.  They were built on piles driven into the ground and have some two or three rooms.

            Manufacturers say that the strike there last summer was due to outside agitation.  The workers say that it was due to the fact that conditions were unbearable.  Some of them held secret meetings in the woods.  These leaders among the workers are a rather keen lot of Americans, and i was proud to find that we had that sort of worker in this country.  These few men met to talk over their grievances.  They finally took up a collection to send one of their number to Elizabethtown for an organizer and a man came to talk with them.  They knew they wanted to be affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.  I say this because in Marion you have the United Textile Workers which is as conservative as any union in the United States.  These workers, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, received more mistreatment than any others.  There was no red agitation in Marion, even though the manufacturers may say that there was.

            The strike was broken and a settlement reached.  Militia had come and the strikers felt they were licked and the union organizers felt that things could not go on, so an agreement was reached.  It was agreed that no one would be discriminated against except fourteen people named by Mr. Baldwin whom he did not agree to take back.  It was agreed that there would be shop committees and that there should be a reduction of hours without any cut in wages. 

            Very soon after the mills opened, the workers went back.  But they soon felt that the management was not living up to the agreement.  They felt that some were being discriminated against.  Mr. Baldwin’s own statement to us made us sure that this was true.  He said: ‘I was clever … [note: one line is missing at this point in the printing]… are not discriminating against any worker ‘simply’ because he belongs to any union.  If someone is sassy to the boss we do not want him.”  So various workers have been left out…those most active in the union.  

            There was a walk out on the night of October 2nd.  There was going to be a strike anyway.  An incident brought it a little sooner. A boy stayed longer in the washroom than the overseer thought was necessary and he was told that he might go.  The boy went among the workers telling them of the incident, and they left the shop.  In the morning the sheriff and his deputies shot and killed six and wounded twenty more.  This is just as cold-blooded murder as it is to shoot a policeman!  The fact of the matter is, if a person shoots a ;policeman he gets thirty years.  But a sheriff can shoot masses of workers, in the back even, and probably not be punished at all.  The state and the mills are synonymous in the minds of many people.  Many facts bear this out.  I am satisfied that the agreement was broken, that conditions in Marion are intolerable.  A strong labor organization is the only way to remedy the situation.  The only sensible thing for people of goodwill to do, is to support a union.  Some of the church people are doing this.  But pretty much everything said about the church by the radicals is true.  The church is owned and controlled by the mill management.  The superintendent of one of the churches in Charlotte told us this.  if the minister meets with the approval of the mill owner he is placed in a particular pulpit;  if not, he is not called top that parish.  A pastor cannot be free to speak his mind under that sort of system.  One illustration:  An excellent man, a college man, was offered to a mill owner for a particular situation.  But the superintendent said, “We do not want any college men preaching to our peo0ple.   They all have crazy socialistic ideas.”  If a pastor takes any interest at all in the working conditions of people he would be considered socialistic.  The real role of the pastor is to be a sort of moral policeman for the people, to see that they do not shoot craps and drink moonshine.

            I do not want to give the impression that the whole church situation is the same.  Some individuals are interested in the working man and are opposed to the system and alive to the problem.  The church as a whole, however, is not alive to the problem.”