“They Went Out to Intimidate the People”
The Mayor, the police chief, the deputy, the businessmen, the president of the Chamber of Commerce—everybody was against us.1
They mobilized the towns against us. They controlled most of the churches in the towns. Even the black churches they sometimes controlled, too, with donations. They owned practically everything else. They controlled the educational apparatus. They controlled the police force, the deputy sheriffs and the county clerks. And they mobilized them. They did a real job, in most cases, of mobilizing them.2
When a textile plant or a lumber plant or any other kind of plant opened up, the local politicians told them, “You’re in the South here. You don’t need to worry about unions.” They were just told:
“We guarantee you won’t have a union.” That’s what the leadership of the community said.3
You had to be awful careful not to provide the company and the local law officials with anything they could arrest you for. I’ve been arrested for littering. And I didn’t throw the leaflet down! I handed it to a person there that was walking and they threw it down. But they weren’t arrested. I was the one arrested for littering. And, of course, the local sheriff was always on their side.4
Historians have long struggled with the challenge of defining the “peculiarity” and “uniqueness” of the American South. The paternalism and patriarchy visible in the region have been almost as widely noted as its distinctive racial customs. Southern society has been seen as more highly stratified, with less class mobility, than the rest of the nation. Sharp imbalances of power are highly visible—between blacks and whites, between men and women, and, as CIO proponents were always ready to assert, between workers and employers. A wide variety of evidence supports such conclusions. Department of Labor statistics verify the markedly lower wages that have historically prevailed throughout the region. A solid array of segregation laws demonstrate the stratification of society along racial lines. Cultural stereotypes describe the distinctive character of the region: the “good old boy,” the “Southern belle,” the “redneck.”
As hard social evidence, however, such generalizations are unsatisfying. They do not explain the failure of the CIO’s Operation Dixie. In the North, for example, an “imbalance” of power between management and labor also existed prior to the sensational CIO organizing drives of the 1930s. Patriarchy, in workers’ families as well as in the society as a whole, had long been a feature of life throughout the country, as had ethnic and racial tensions. And there were certainly “company towns” in the North as well. Yet the CIO’s organizing campaign of the 1930s overcame these impediments. Even in the South, Operation Dixie achieved enough local successes in 1946 to give pause to any observer who might name the South’s “peculiarities” as the easy explanation for labor’s postwar defeat in the region. The task at hand, then, is to attempt to look beneath such generalizations and locate those things in the substance of daily life in the South that, in 1946, affected the CIO drive in significant ways and help explain its ultimate failure.
The highly visible imbalances of power at that time should be noted as the outset. There was, for example, the matter of resources that could be expended in politics. The CIO’s Political Action Committee in Texas in 1946 managed a treasury of $3,500 to contend with a war chest of $3,400,000 mobilized by the Texas Manufacturers’ Association in the same year.5 Similarly, a TWUA official in Louisiana alerted the Atlanta SOC office to the “vicious nucleus” of “bag factory and fibre factory owners” who were financing a broadly gauged anti-union campaign in the state legislature.6
Owners of plants threatened by CIO organizers were by no means the only source of anti-union sentiment. Bankers in Georgia distributed a pamphlet entitled, “Preventative Medicine Against Unionism” to textile workers in Columbus.7 And in Andalusia, Alabama, 132 businessmen joined in a full-page advertisement warning “out-of-town and out-of-state organizers” of the troubles that awaited them. Local strikebreakers in a labor dispute were characterized as “loyal employees.” The president of the Commercial Bank in Andalusia told a striker, “I’m going to do all in my power to see the CIO run out of Andalusia.”8
But if the odds looked long as a result of business influence on the general public and on Southern state legislatures, there were, in every Southern legislature, at least some friendly faces—if only an embattled handful. However, such was not the case among local law enforcement officials and mayors in the towns and villages where the CIO attempted to organize textile workers.
In mill villages daily life had a fundamentally different shape. To assess these differences, it is necessary to note some clear distinctions between managerial prerogatives in a wholly company-owned mill village and those available to owners of small plants located in cities which supported other industries as well.
A great many small plants were not “company towns” in the all-consuming cultural sense of the classic Southern “mill village.” The patterns of paternalism were thus not as securely in place. The owner of a small plant might be expected to be on friendly terms with the local political, religious, educational, and law enforcement establishment, but he would not “own” them in the exclusive manner that historically prevailed in mill villages. This is not to say that a small textile manufacturer could not count on general agreement between himself and the other sources of authority in a Southern city. But cooperation existed within broad limits—for example, the limits of legality. An anti-union campaign generated by the company could, within the circumference of certain rules, be expected to receive routine support from city officials and from religious and educational leaders who otherwise functioned as independent actors.
But in a mill village, the local mayor was not merely compliant within the constraints of his own self-respect and sense of autonomy; he was wholly subservient because he was either a dependent employee or a part of the management team itself. Similarly, the superintendent of the village schools and the police chief were, in effect, company employees, while local ministers, accustomed to company contributions as an important element of church budgets, were only slightly less dependent.9 In practical terms, these relationships meant that mill village owners enjoyed a relatively unrestricted range of options in combating a union organizing campaign. More than “cooperation” could be anticipated. Something approaching an intimately shared agenda could be counted upon. While Southern sheriffs could be expected to “enforce the law” and in so doing liberally interpret local ordinances against “distributing leaflets” or “unlawful assembly,” mill village sheriffs could go far beyond such limits. They could actively harass and imprison; they could “forcibly restrain.” They could intimidate.10 In mill towns, the will of the company blanketed the universe. “They owned the houses people lived in,” as one organizer put it. “They owned the store where they bought their groceries.”11 Elaborated another: “If they wanted to put pressure, they’d go up on the rent, or they’d go up on the water.”12 In mill villages, local merchants were routinely responsive to the mill. In the words of a veteran textile organizer,
They could put so much pressure on, where that wasn’t true of the other industries. If somebody in the mill wanted to join the union, then the first thing [the merchants] told them was, “You’re probably not going to be able to get any more credit, because I’m worried about your job.”13
Southern CIO organizers for industries other than textiles agreed that special conditions existed in mill villages. A representative of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, for example, stressed the differences in the organizing hazards faced in the garment industry as compared with textiles. She emphasized the extent of social control in mill villages.
If you didn’t have a job, you had to move out of that house and you couldn’t go to the commissary and buy groceries. That would make it much more difficult to organize in that field. Most of the clothing plants that came into town just opened up a little building, hired people, and they didn’t control your whole life.14
Southern workers tell of mill-owner power that reached far beyond the limits of social control normally associated with anti-union employers. Stories about children being taken out of school and put into the plants were common. A CIO organizer recalled one woman’s story:
The manager of the mill—they lived in the mill village—told her, “If your daughter don’t come to work in the mill, we’re gonna make you move out of the mill village house.” At eight years old!! Took her out of school! And they had a switch up there and when you didn’t mind them, they’d whip you! At the plant, workin’ on the job! The second-hand, the foreman, the loom-fixer or the doffer—anyone they had over the section could whip them.15
Another organizer told of being summoned, at age fourteen, to the school principal’s office:
He was all smiles and said, “How’re you doing, Lloyd?” And he went on, “Lloyd, you’re a big boy now. Have you thought about goin’ to work?” I said, “No, sir.” He says, “Has your mother talked to you about it?” (You see, my father had been dead about a year and a half, two years then.) I says, “No, sir.” But I already knew; my brothers had come along before me, you know. So I knew what he was talking about. He said, “Here, take this card, and carry it home and tell your mother to sign it.” That’s all he told me. I knew exactly what it meant. I carried it home at lunch, and I carried it back that afternoon. And if I remember right, it was Wednesday. And he said, “Now, next Monday morning you go to the plant. And you go to the weaving shop and tell them that I sent you; but they know you’re coming.” And they did; they knew I was coming. So they put me to work, filling batteries in the weaving shop.16
Such control triggered family arguments—anger alternating with fear, a sense of being exploited alongside a sense of needing the job. Said one woman, a survivor of a mill village who later became a textile organizer:
When I first started to join the union where I worked, times was bad and my sister told me, “You’re going to lose your job if you join the union!” And Mom said, “What has she lost, if she loses it? She’s eating and sleeping; she’ll eat and sleep somewhere. But someone in the family had to work in the mill. My dad would pick up a little job now and then; he was a carpenter. My brother-in-law was a plasterer. And they might get a little job now and then. I was the only one that had a weekly paycheck coming in that house. And how little it was!17
For many, time had transformed this experience into rage. According to some, mill owners wanted “large families who could populate the mills.”18 “The company expected ’em to raise ’em some more hands.”19 Companies “instructed” workers and “encouraged them to have gardens,” so the workers “wouldn’t realize how little they were making.”20 Mill owners were determined to “keep people from an education.”21 “No education and the lowest paid,” another escapee from a Southern mill village agreed. He added, in some bitterness, that the textile mills employed “the most ignorant people.”22
Southern mills workers knew they were held in contempt, knew the outside world regarded them as “lint-heads” and “rednecks.”23 They understood—more than did outside observers—the extent of social control in the mill village. The CIO’s immediate challenge was to find ways to avoid simply being overwhelmed in mill villages.
Perhaps nothing illustrated the difficulty of this task more than the mundane, day-to-day details revealed by Lucy Randolph Mason in her reports back to the CIO’s Atlanta office. An August memorandum from the mill village of Liberty, South Carolina, was typical in tone and substantive detail of the reports from the front lines where the CIO’s graceful and Southern-born “ambassador” encountered the representatives of local officialdom in textile country. She found the mayor of Liberty at his gas station and auto parts store. The mayor was “very busy.” Denying any violation of civil rights by police, the major said “the truth was the people there did not like the CIO and did not want a union.” Mason then located the village’s police chief and “talked civil rights” with him. She told him she had heard reports about his driving a car around where organizers were visiting. Although the chief denied any intent “to spy on them,” he did admit knowing the “names of all who had joined the union.” In Anderson, South Carolina, Mason found a police chief, “obviously much against unions,” whose manner “indicated a readiness to help break strikes.” The chief seemed unconcerned about violations of civil rights, telling Mason, “I don’t hold with all that stuff.”24
But if Mason’s summary of power relationships in mill towns was stark, it soon became apparent that more sophisticated legal machinery in the South had also been mobilized for use against the CIO. Just as one of the first applications of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in the 1890s had been against unions, rather than against trusts, so anti-Klan measures passed during Reconstruction were dusted off and applied to CIO organizers in Nashville and elsewhere in the South. Such actions kept the CIO’s few lawyers in the South busy fighting defensive actions in courts rather than using their legal expertise more profitably to seek enforcement of NLRB guidelines.25
One of the many levers in the legal system that companies could exploit involved the use of law firms specializing in anti-union tactics. Such firms provided sophisticated tactical advice. The CIO’s Alabama state director Carey Haigler found himself without recourse in the face of one such labor relations consultant whom he confronted in numerous situations in southern Alabama and northern Florida. Petitions for elections were systematically delayed for prolonged periods through legal maneuverings. Haigler’s adversary was notorious for insisting on having an NLRB representative present at every certification hearing, “along with a whole lot of unnecessary trimmings.”26 Other key organizers in textiles confirmed the existence of concerted legal efforts to “delay the process wherever possible,” in an attempt to ensure that it was “very expensive to organize, and almost impractical.” Southern textile manufacturers tried to convince CIO organizers that “every legal ruse” would be employed in hopes the union “would tire and go away.”27 Long organizing campaigns that ended in victorious NLRB elections did not necessarily result in union recognition and contract negotiations, but rather in immediate company-sponsored court appeals for new NLRB elections. Meanwhile, company-worker relations remained as they were during the CIO campaign. Pro-union workers were harassed and fired, intimidating the remainder. Most CIO organizers felt the long NLRB appeals process uniformly worked to the benefit of employers so that, as one organizer put it, “by the time we won, we had no members.”28
The CIO’s only full-time lawyer in the South during the decisive months of Operation Dixie, Jerome Cooper, went to great lengths to describe his frustration in such strike cases. “We were fairly helpless,” he said.
They’d picket a plant, and then the company would start advertising for scabs. And scabs started coming in and taking these people’s jobs, knowing that whatever was won by the force of the strike would redound to the benefit of the non-strikers, too. Although it seemed to me immoral and wrong, I had on many occasions to tell the strikers, “You can’t stop those people from going in and taking your job. The law gives them the right to take your job, as long as you’re on an economic strike and not on an unfair labor practices strike.” Sometimes we could prove the employer had engaged in unfair labor practices and then we could get our jobs back through the Labor Board.29
Anti-union legal tactics were not restricted to federal laws; local ordinances, too, could be activated to impede CIO organizing efforts. In Canton, North Carolina, organizers found themselves up against an ancient city ordinance prohibiting distributing and soliciting on city property. Similar practices surfaced throughout the Carolina piedmont.30
While it could be argued—and was, in internal CIO discussions among organizers—that these same tactics had been unsuccessful in thwarting the CIO’s organizing drive in the 1930s, a deeper truth was that the basic social climate in the nation as a whole had changed drastically since the CIO had triumphed over General Motors in 1937. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was dead, as was the New Deal coalition’s congressional majority; no New Deal governors were to be found in Georgia or Mississippi in 1946, as had been the case in Michigan in 1937. Perhaps most important of all, American business had regained its footing and, after tallying record profits during the war years, was confident and determined in its postwar moves against organized labor.31
How did these shifts in national climate translate regionally, in the daily life of Operation Dixie? The Southern establishment was sufficiently confident of its status in the society that its first reactions to the appearance of CIO organizers were often relatively low-key. One example involved what might be called the politics of ridicule. When the CIO attempted to establish its presence in a community, some companies positioned large empty trash barrels at the plant gates, bearing prominently displayed signs: “Put CIO Trash Here.” One organizer recalled that sometimes “they’d have it on fire,” so that workers could conveniently “drop the leaflets in there and let ’em burn, see.”32 This sort of psychological warfare made life difficult for organizers. But more effective than ridicule was surveillance to persuade organizers to leave town or at least to demonstrate to workers the powerlessness of the CIO staff. Organizational meetings were routinely watched and interrupted, often followed by visits to organizers’ rooms and apartments. Organizers also reported attempts to “rabble-rouse you on the telephone.”33 Company supervisors also made a great display of taking down license numbers in parking lots outside union meetings. Organizers in Mississippi were kept under surveillance, while others had their telephones tapped in a number of towns in Georgia and South Carolina. “It all came down to making people afraid,” said one organizer who spent most of his organizing career in eastern Tennessee.34
Such tactics, demonstrating the vulnerability and relative weakness of the CIO, had the intended effect of making pro-union workers think twice before lining up on what appeared to be the “losing side.” In Sumter, South Carolina, the chief of police picked up a CIO organizer and “paraded him all over town in the police car.” Although no charges were filed and the organizer was released soon after, the incident so heightened existing fear among the workers there that the organizer reported he was subsequently unable to make any progress at all.35 One labor lawyer cited arrests over “the right to use pamphlets, loudspeakers, and even the right to use the streets—what Justice Douglas called the poor man’s newspaper.”36 Sometimes the police arrested organizers on “John Doe warrants,” wherein the official was not required to identify any particular individual beforehand and was thus free to use the warrant to arrest anyone he chose.37
And so it was that reports on Operation Dixie in CIO newspapers began containing accounts of bizarre arrests, quick convictions, and harsh sentences. Organizers engaged in passing out leaflets in front of plant gates were arrested for trespassing and sentenced to “terms on the chain gang.” In response, CIO attorneys planned to make an appeal challenging the North Carolina law that prohibited jury service to nonowners of property “on the grounds that blacks were systematically excluded from jury service.”38 Similarly, seven striking laundry workers, picked up and charged with nuisance, assault, and resisting arrest, were sentenced “from 3 months to a year.” Some were sentenced to serve their time in jail, and others on road gangs.39
In Parsons, Tennessee, labor’s position became so tenuous that CIO lawyers asked the United States attorney general to investigate charges that a mob had driven union members out of town, that one union member had been threatened with death, and that an outdoor union meeting had been broken up when “Mayor William Long appeared at the head of a mob of 50 men and ordered the organizers to leave town.” An insight into what the mayor thought about the CIO was gained when one of the organizers asked him if he was the mayor. Long replied, “Hell, yes, and if you don’t believe it, just start something.”40
Dixie organizers came to understand that even appeals to federal authorities carried a certain risk. In Mississippi, one CIO staff member went to a local FBI office to complain about local law enforcement tactics. Shortly thereafter, he was picked up and interrogated by the local police officers and told that it “wouldn’t do him any good” to “run back over and cry on the FBI’s shoulders. They’re our friends.”41
But there was an entirely different level of opposition that could be mobilized against the CIO. Company reaction to the appearance of Dixie organizers could be both immediate and violent. The CIO office in downtown Gadsden, Alabama, was the scene of a direct assault. Persons under the employ of a company the CIO was trying to organize broke into the office and took typewriters, desks, and chairs and threw them out the upstairs window onto the sidewalk below.42 In addition to acts of intimidation against the CIO staff itself, roving squads threatened pro-union workers as well. A veteran organizer assigned to textiles during the Southern drive said: “If the company found that any workers were the least bit in favor of the union, visits were made to their homes. They threatened them in their homes!”43 In Bibb City, Georgia, the CIO staff made an initial visit to the gates of a textile plant only to find “a mess of goons” waiting. “They ran us away from the gate.” Though the organizers responded by increasing their numbers the next day, the initial mob action had been sufficient to undermine their efforts. The organizer conceded: “We really never made any progress.”44
Another common maneuver involved the transfer or firing of employees engaged in union activities, especially debilitating to a CIO campaign when those individuals constituted the nucleus of the CIO’s in-plant committee. One in-plant organizer, working in a dyeing and finishing plant near Linwood, North Carolina, had a job that took him to all the departments in the plant. Thus, he was able to make contact with a large number of his fellow workers, taking along membership books and signing up new union members while on his way through the plant. He was soon reassigned to a job that kept him in one place all day. It had the intended effect. He remembered workers coming up to him and saying, ‘“Well, you see! That’s why they did that! They’re gonna get me too if I mess with what you’re into!’” The only response the organizer could make was pithy, but something less than persuasive: “I’d say, ‘Well, that’s alright. We’ll eat crow for a while, but we’re gonna be eating chicken one of these days!’”45 An organizer reduced to such retorts had clearly lost in his contest with the company for credibility in the eyes of the workers.
The almost unrelenting abuse that descended upon CIO organizers throughout 1946 is recorded in legal depositions, staff appeals to the U.S. attorney general, Justice Department briefs filed in federal courts, and, rather vividly, in the oral testimony of participants in Operation Dixie. The ritual humiliation enshrouded in such evidence had an understandable effect on organizer morale. This circumstance helps account for another kind of evidence that is also properly a part of the history of the campaign. This evidence constitutes part of what might be called the “oral tradition” of Operation Dixie. It conveys the near heroic determination of certain legendary CIO organizers. That the tradition persists—forty years after Operation Dixie—has its own historical meaning insofar as it verifies the intensity of the struggle that took place in 1946. One such legend surrounds the activities of J. P. Mooney in Alabama.
Mooney was an organizer for the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union, an institution with a long radical heritage dating back to the days of IWW militance in the West. Mooney seems to have been a rather appropriate representative of this tradition, for his encounter with textile company police in Avondale, Alabama, had an apocalyptic flair out of which legends are, indeed, made. As the tradition goes, on Mooney’s “first day” at the plant,
The company cops beat him up in front of the workers. He came back the next day all bruised, beat up, black eyes, distributing his leaflets. This time they not only beat him, they stomped him almost to death. They kicked his viscera loose from his spine. He was in the hospital for six weeks. While he was in the hospital, the head of the company police came to see him and said, “J. P. Mooney, you are a very brave man. But look, if you come back again with your leaflets, we’re going to kill you. Now, we’re giving you notice: you’re dead if you come back.” The day after he got out of the hospital, by himself he was back at the plant gate with his leaflets. And the next day, he signed every bloody worker in that plant. And two weeks later he had negotiated a contract. And, he put a black man on the board of that textile union, because Mooney had come out of that Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers [tradition]. You see, he had guts.46
The story possessed the essential ingredients of myth. Beyond the fact that the story was essentially true was the fact that it addressed a general truth: to be successful in Operation Dixie, organizers had to find ways to overcome workers’ fear.
It was in this realm—the anxiety of Southern workers that had been nurtured by generations of poverty and defeat on the land—that the ultimate contest between the CIO and Southern management was waged. And it was in this realm that elements of the Southern past could effectively be harnessed to defeat the prospect of a unionized present. To overcome fear, workers had to gain from their association with the CIO some sense of security. Anything that made the CIO appear weak undermined this possibility. Harassment by local sheriffs or company police, organized beatings, varied tactics of public ridicule—all served to emphasize the CIO’s relative powerlessness. It thus heightened rank-and-file apprehensions that there was no real prospect for any kind of relationship with the company other than the one they had always known.
Another method of undermining the CIO’s cultural credibility involved efforts to portray organizers as aliens in the region. The importance of this tactic was evidenced by the amount of time and resources invested by Southern management in painting the CIO as a conspiracy of “outsiders.” Perhaps no participants in Operation Dixie were more aware of the impact of this anti-union tactic than Southern-born members of the CIO’s organizing team. Among potential management weapons, the “outsider” label was, Mississippi organizers felt, “the biggest thing they had.”47 It was “played to the hilt” in Alabama.48 And it was used “constantly” in the Carolinas.49 Mill owners made much of the “foreign” names of CIO leaders—Baldanzi and Bittner in Atlanta, and Rieve of the Textile Workers. In Mississippi, a photograph of Jacob Potofsky, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, was tacked on a bulletin board inside the plant and illuminated with a floodlight. Next to it was a sign: “Does this man look like he’s interested in your welfare?” Though an organizer characterized the tactic as “pathetic,” the more relevant fact was that the plant remained unorganized.50
More provocative tactics could also serve as effective means of winning the cultural battle over the CIO’s legitimacy. Few company maneuvers could be as shocking and as effective as a sudden lockout or its extension—outright firing of the work force. In Jasper, Alabama, an effective CIO organizing drive in a small company had signed up a majority of the thirty employees. The company promptly fired all the active CIO supporters. As a result the workers struck on August 30, 1946, and the strike continued until September 6, when the company shut the plant down and ceased operations entirely. The CIO filed charges with the NLRB, both on the discharge of particular individuals and on the lockout, but the union was still awaiting a hearing as Operation Dixie ground slowly to a halt at the end of the year. As organizers themselves saw it, the message sent to all Alabama workers in the vicinity was that the CIO was helpless against corporate power.51 Such events became so commonplace that organizers learned to anticipate them. “I don’t believe we should go on with the election at present. If Korn [Company] should have a lockout it would be just that much more Hell on our hands. It is bad enough with Sumter Casket Company.”52 Attempts to organize furniture plants around Sumter, South Carolina, met with similar opposition that proved so effective that the internal correspondence of the CIO was filled with complaints. The tone of this correspondence revealed clearly enough the extent to which CIO leadership had to fight against a sense of helplessness. One despairing CIO staff director summarized the situation in one embattled textile town in his state: “They have discharged several of our leading people; they have closed up one mill and undoubtedly will close another mill if I file a petition. There have been threats of violence and Earp finds it extremely difficult to carry on any normal work.”53 Such events led the South Carolina state director to a conclusion in July that many other CIO people would reach before the end of 1946: “I think [organizers’] efforts will be better spent in other situations until the excitement and hysteria die down in Sumter.”54
During a campaign at the large Milliken Mills in South Carolina, company management found the threat of a complete shutdown to be their ultimate weapon, one that went beyond identifying and firing individual workers to a strategy that threatened the entire labor force. During the course of the CIO’s campaign, the plant’s owner, Roger Milliken, arrived at the plant to deliver a speech to the employees, with the local press in attendance. Later, the press reported that Milliken had advised his employees: “If you people want your job you’d better not vote for a union, because I’ve already closed two plants down where they voted the union in. And they were not put back to work.”55
Sometimes, selected heavy layoffs could send the same signal as would a threat to fire the entire work force. The United Packinghouse Workers lost an election in Kansas City, where “there was a very small vote due to the tremendous lay-offs.”56 In Black Mountain, North Carolina, the Grove Stone and Sand Company laid off the entire second shift, and also fired a truck driver on its first shift who had been active in the organizing campaign.57
In such a climate of hostility, it is understandable that the oral tradition surrounding Operation Dixie goes beyond the J. P. Mooney legend and similar stores of individual courage to include literally scores of stories of unexpected confrontations with mobs organized by management. In Florence, South Carolina, an organizer opened his door one Friday night to find a mob of over twenty “second-hands and bosses,” who informed him that if he was not out of town by Saturday night, he would be ‘“tarred and feathered and taken back to Georgia.”58 In Brucetin, Tennessee, two women organizers who were renting a room from a Methodist minister and his wife awoke one morning to a mob of 150 men approaching, one of whom yelled to the minister, “You better git them women outta there!” So confident of the outcome were the mob leaders that they had called some newspapermen from Memphis the night before to alert them to a story of CIO organizers being run out of town. The newspapermen duly arrived and asked the organizers if they intended to leave, to which one replied, “No, we don’t run.” One of the newspapermen persisted, however, and asked the women for a picture of them with their suitcases. The CIO organizers declined to cooperate in this bit of anti-union journalism and the newspapermen remained until they were later able to get a photograph of the two women coming out of a restaurant where they had just eaten breakfast. The photo duly appeared in the next edition.59
Aside from scores of incidents that like these two, ended peacefully, the labor press reported that some seventeen organizers and union members had been severely assaulted in the South during the first five months of Operation Dixie, including at least one case in which a law enforcement officer had been directly responsible for the assault.60 When not involved directly in assaults, police often looked the other way when mobs harassed organizers or drove them out of town.61 Bittner expressed labor’s outrage at such treatment: “One of the worst things about this situation is that the law enforcement officers in some towns are working in close collusion with employers or have become suddenly blind to the beating of organizers and union members.”62 A labor attorney summarized: “We had towns where organizers were beaten up, primarily by the textile companies or by the local police at the insistence of the textile companies. We couldn’t get any help from the police.”63
It is not surprising, then, that many of the organizers’ early meetings turned into strategy sessions that revolved around what kind of trouble to anticipate and what to do in certain situations. Here was a stark test of the CIO’s internal cohesiveness, the caliber of its organizers, and the range of their inventiveness. Organizers discussed ways in which they should attempt to protect themselves—both physically and also from “the mental things that happened.”64 The importance of “the mental things” cannot be underestimated; a certain level of morale had to be maintained in order for organizers to keep going in the presence of intense and often brutal opposition. This was not easily done. A Tennessee organizer summarized the dynamics with remarkable understatement: “Employers limit your appeal, once they know you’re coming.”65 However described, whether with understatement or anger, the product of effective employer opposition was to stir an aura of resignation among organizers.
“Paternalism,” then, was a word that described an entire range of elaborate and specific methods of social control, from artful conciliation to unrelenting pressure. The degrees of pressure, in turn, ranged from threats of dismissal to mob violence. Whatever its sundry guises, Southern paternalism was grounded in the employer’s ready access to the formal instruments of social authority—the courts, the police, the state legislatures, the churches, and the media. Southern industrialists possessed such access. The CIO did not. In this sense, Southern paternalism was as much a product of past struggles as it was an instrument of winning the particular struggle of 1946.
The CIO was forced to accept a contest on grossly unequal grounds. It never found a way to redress the balance.