Joe Jacobs Interview 1

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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HELFAND: Okay. All right. Before you spoke about, youve spoken about the spark in the revolution of hope, that what was the part of the Uprising of 34, you talked about a class consciousness and the citizenship, they were trying to get a voice.

JACOBS: Which is --

HELFAND: Can you talk about that as one of the things that came out of that, that was important?

JACOBS: Well, that was number one was, in large, a motivation. In other words, 00:01:00that the people wanted to have some say because, if you remember at that time, they were -- putting in new machinery. They were increasing workloads. They had no voice in anything that happened in the mill. And this was what they thought by getting into the union, it would help them have that voice or their say in what their life would be inside the mill. Because they had no say. It was whatever the superintendent or the, uh -- their supervisor told them they had to do. If it was five looms, if it was ten looms, if it was one spinning machine or ten spinning machines. And they thought that the union would give them part of that voice so that they could set their conditions. And that was combined, too, dont forget, that when they made these changes in the mill, it meant more work, no additional pay. They couldnt understand if were 00:02:00turning out more work, why shouldnt we have some right to say something. And they figured the union would be the one that would be the instrument for em.

HELFAND: Lets think about this as a -- as a legacy. We, you know, this place in the movie that this is gonna be coming?


HELFAND: Its almost a wrap-up. Its a reflective way of thinking about what happened.

JACOBS: Looking back.

HELFAND: Looking back and taking stock and saying, OK, what was, what did we learn from it? Before you just said that -- that it was a sac -- both a sacrifice and a contribution. And you could speak in some general terms. Could you, could you use that term and talk to me about it?

JACOBS: Well, the reason that it was a sacrifice was that they knew --

HELFAND: But you know what, I want you to almost say, Ill tell you something. I think it was a sacrifice.

JACOBS: Oh, I got you.


HELFAND: You know, I --

JACOBS: Well, I -- when we look back, it was two things. One was that it was a contribution to the changes that took place since that time. And number two, those who participated, some of em sacrificed and many of em sacrificed their jobs, their way of living. What happened? What happened was that people who had come off of the farms and had begun to work in these mills had never experienced being in this sort of situation before. They had a problem, they couldnt solve it as I look back. And that was they hoped to be solved through unions. They hoped to solve it through the strike. At the beginning everybody was enthusiastic and of course everybody was sure that they could win 00:04:00and accomplish it. Looking back, though, it had two net results. Number one, those who lost their jobs, and many did, sacrificed. It changed their lives, too. And the way that it changed their lives was because many of em, either went back to the farms where they came from, or else they came into the largest cities where they went to work, some of them on union jobs where they could be placed. Others had to find new careers completely. They made some sacrifices. Those who were on blacklists, for example.

HELFAND: Excuse me.

JAMIE STONEY: Lost the light?

M1: Lost light.

JAMIE STONEY: Cutting camera.

JACOBS: All right, listen.


JACOBS: Where you want to start at, honey?


HELFAND: All right, now lets, lets think about this. Ooh, one second. What about Joes microphone, I could see it?

JACOBS: Its on. Can you see it?

JAMIE STONEY: Yeah, we need to hide, hide the mic a little.

JAMIE STONEY: Just put it up your shirt.

M1: It looks like it slipped.

HELFAND: No, not just the -- the top part.

JAMIE STONEY: Cutting tape.

(break in audio)

HELFAND: Lets just regroup ourselves before you guys start.

HELFAND: Right, when you look back, you -- you think first of --

M1: Why dont you start again.


JACOBS: Of the drama --

HELFAND: OK, lets start when you look back.

JACOBS: When you look back, you think first of the dramatic incidents that happened. But when you think about it still further, so you remember. The little people, who came out of the farms, worked in the mills, first jobs they ever had. And here was their problem that they had on workloads, on conditions, on lint, on all the things that made work disagreeable. And they saw the union 00:06:00as a means of improving their lives in the mill where they made their living. And then the strike came along. And when the strike came along, they responded to it because they wanted a voice. And this was gonna be their voice. And for a while it was their voice. Some stayed with their ideas, with their philosophy of how they could improve themselves, and others tried to blank it out. If you look back, and you really want to gain something from what happened, so you see what changes took place in this country because of that strike, where when they went out they thought that it would guarantee a better life for them, and where 00:07:00it would guarantee an improvement for some, it might have. But for so many of em, it turned out that they were blacklisted. They then had to find a way of surviving. Many of them went back to the farms. Many of em came to towns like Atlanta or bigger towns. Some of em migrated even into the East and North, where there were unions which they knew would help them, protect them in work. In addition to that, it lent pressure on the movement to improve the laws that governed people who work. Out of that we got the 40 hour week, we got minimum wages, we got union -- protection to organize into unions. When you look 00:08:00back, it had a tremendous influence. Just like every large movement that involves a lot of people, and this was a lot of people, this was a half-million people or more prim -- primarily in the South where theyd had no experience with unions. And it made a change in the South. It never went back to the old South. It was a -- newer South. Now, with some people, though, because of the problems they had, they wanted to forget it. They didnt want to talk about it. Its I guess its like when the -- you think about the men who participated in the Vietnamese war, because of things that happened that they did not like, they didnt want to think about it or talk about it for a while. A lot of these people didnt. But because of what happened then, the seeds were planted and the organizing continued on a much greater pace. Where there 00:09:00were no real unions in the textile industry that had any strength where they could bargain on a basis that was good, it continues to improve. Setbacks, yes. Gains, yes. Slow, yes. But on the whole, a lot of difference. A lot of the things that are on the statute books today were caused because of the incidents that took place in that 34 and subsequent to it and in the complaints which they filed afterwards.

HELFAND: Good. Thats great. Im just gonna let your mother-in-law come upstairs.

JAMIE STONEY: Cutting tape.

HELFAND: OK. When Im done with a question, you know, OK. Are you --

JAMIE STONEY: Im rolling.


HELFAND: -- thinking about it? OK, were rolling in here.

M1: Yes.



JACOBS: When you have a situation like we had with a -- what I have always called a revolution that took place in the textile industry, people get different things out of it. Those who participated in it, those were part of it, some were good, some were bad. What it did as far as I was concerned was it happened at the inception of the time that I was just beginning to work with trade unions. I was not particularly politically active, either, at the time. But as a result of it, I became politically active. Not in running for offices, but in supporting what I call liberal causes and supporting things that helped to build trade unions in this country. Just like I say, for examle, that the same kind of revolution that we had in 34, but in a different way, occurred 00:11:00as a result of World War II in the 40s where people who had been used to their hometown environment, had been used to the small town environment in the South, particularly. Had been used to what the mores was in their community when they were in the army and they participated in and saw the differences that occurred while they were there, in race relations, for example. When they came back, it had a different view on life. That was the same way I felt. I had a newer view, a newer perception of what the problems were. And if anything, it increased my desire to help correct those problems. Just like when so many of 00:12:00em came back from the war, who had not been interested in education and it was set up so that the -- they could get a college education of any school. Tremendous amount of em. It helped to change the face of it. All of these sort of things become educational. This strike was educational to any number of people. Many of them abandoned the textile industry and got into other industries. And the first thing they did was get into unions because they saw it had power and could do things. With me, I devoted the rest of my life then in just representing labor unions so that my -- my work has been that from time go. Not only in representing labor unions, helping them set up educational classes. Taking groups of em when they had the Highlander Folk School, we took the first group that went up there. Garment workers, textile workers. Any -- we 00:13:00participated in the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. Any number of things. Those were the places that I got active. Why? Because it was my conviction based on what I saw. And based on my, what I believed in and still do, that only by improving the conditions of the people who work and giving em a voice could we make this the kind of a democracy it ought to be, and the kind of world that it ought to be. And thats why it was that I became active in the Democratic Party. I became active on the local scene. And went, well, as an example. When -- when there was any gathering or any meetings of trade union leaders, somehow I was always there. On the mailing list. Part of the 00:14:00reason for it was because it was just, it wasnt just a business relationship. It was a philosophical and a personal relationship. And it was the kind of a relationship that they knew that they could find a kindred soul and that our ideas ran, ran together. And what has amazed me time and again is right now, is I see what I call the, I guess, the new generation. Same aspirations. Same desires. Same wanting to have a better life, raise their families, have security, have a decent wage. Where when they work, theyre not below the poverty line, but that they make a living where they can send their kids to 00:15:00school. Same identical thing, only with additional strength based on the fact that they saw where they had come from out of the farms and how theyve tried to get somewhere in the textile mills, particularly. And found they couldnt do it, unless they got together and joined with other people in trying to get somewhere. And thats the reason why we have moved as I feel, particularly in the South where Ive been all my life, towards that kind of a goal. A lot of times it seems slow, but a lot of times it makes you smile.

HELFAND: And what, what did you see? You talked about it in the extract. You said because of what I saw back then made me even have more convictions about 00:16:00economics, you know. Could you just be -- and you dont, and it doesnt have to be long, it could be -- it could, I mean, is it -- I want you to use that word citizenship, or I dont know, was it class consciousness, was it the first time the textile workers were able to sort of see through, was it paternalism or see through the --

JACOBS: Well, you -- you know, when you, when you look back, and we think of different aspects. One of the aspects that, that I think of right now. When we organized a plant, or when we got union organization in the smallest of the town, one of the first things that they did besides having a voice in the plant, they registered to vote. Never had done it before. They became candidates. 00:17:00They began to brag, well, our steward is gonna run for council or gonna run for sheriff, gonna run for some other post. This was part of their developing into what I call a first-class citizen. Where they not only were interested inside the plant but also in the community in which they lived. They took advantage of becoming members of the school boards to make sure that the schools were improved. The changes in the schools as I remember them didnt come about because the wheels wanted to do it, as I call em, because in those days, the schools were usually inside of the textile village which is in a sense disappeared. Thats another thing that has happened. Where before, they all lived right around the village in there because the company could take some tax advantages from it and also keep an eye on em. They began to move back out 00:18:00into the community and live in different other places. They became more what, of what you would say a first-class citizen, rather than a Amen citizen, where somebody else did their thinking for em and did their leading for em and did their work for em. And unions have meant that. And I smile when I think about it. And up in Tennessee, I can remember that whenever we, after we organized the plant and we improved the contract so we got a better benefit towards paying the health and welfare funds that we set up, the doctors liked it. Why? Because they could increase their (laughs), their bills. The hospitals, time after time, when we increased -- when we improved our situation, they raised, they raised the rates on em.

HELFAND: What about the ones, but there were people who were frightened.

JACOBS: Thats right.


HELFAND: I mean, there were people who -- I mean, there were people who --

JACOBS: Who lost their vim, vigor, soul and interest in it, and who was scared to death because theyd been blacklisted or because theyd lost their jobs, thats right. And those, I -- if you remember, I compared a little bit with the people in Vietnam.

HELFAND: OK, I dont want you to com -- I want you to -- I cut you off.


HELFAND: But what -- did those people say, do you think those people to, even if they were quiet and they didnt tell their children about it, but even if they got frightened, they had seen, maybe they saw something. I mean, Im trying to -- there were people who went out like Lucille Thornburgh and dedicated the rest of their lives, but there are those people who --

JACOBS: Who -- who had turned --

HELFAND: -- no, no, no, I say there are those that -- you cant start in the middle, like you said. There are those cotton mill workers, who went up against that had joined the union, who struck, you know, who -- who went back to the mill?

JACOBS: Who abandoned it.


JACOBS: Thats right.

HELFAND: But they, they might have seen something. I mean, so can you talk about that to me?


JACOBS: All right. As a result of the strike, there are those who became devoted and dedicated to continuing the fight for unions. There were those who because they lost their jobs, who went back. Some went back to the mill and were anti-union or were anti-anything and were saying Amen to anything in the plant. There were those who left the industry. But deep down, any of them who had the experience, well, got something out of it. What did they get out of it? One thing primarily, and that is that they saw that when they banded together, that they had an impact. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for a longer period, and sometimes not. When you talk to some of those people as I have, and 00:21:00the reason that I have is because there was any number of em that didnt come out to begin with. There were any number of em who because of blacklisting had to change their lives. So you -- when you begin to discuss what happened then, they will al admit one thing, it opened their eyes for the first time to a lot of things that they had never thought of it before. Their life was, before was, that they would work in the mill. Theyd go home. In those days there was (laughs) only radio, listened to the radio, go to church on Sunday. Period. Because of the experience they had, even those that were what I said against the union, did never feel like the so many of us did about it, 00:22:00learned that the union had certain strength. Not always as strong as it ought to be. Not always the kind they wanted. And some of em didnt like it all because, oh, I can take care of myself, I dont need anybody to care of me. But they learned something. Each -- type of episode like this is a learning experience. With some of em, it works out good. With others, it doesnt. But it laid the seeds, I believe, in many way for a continuation of organizing and improving the number of unions that were in the South and improving their thinking about being citizens of the community, of the country, of the village in which they lived. And I think the proof of it is the fact that despite a lot 00:23:00of the anti-union laws we have, despite depressions, despite a lot of other problems, unions continue to spread into areas where nobody dreamt that they would be. Where before we used to talk about unions only in the East and the North and in the big towns, now we seem them everywhere else. Let me give you an example of what Im talking about. In the state of Georgia, particularly, when you say union at one time, theyd say, Union, union, we dont have any unions here. Now, electrical workers union, all through the power systems, in the small towns, the big towns. Little towns like Elberton, Georgia, a handful people. Used to be the granite industry. Granite union, carpenters 00:24:00union, a blouse factory up there, all of them organized. There was textile mill organized there, too, until they moved it into South America on the basis of some of these laws that we have. Other small towns, equally alike. When I -- when I ride from here to Columbus, Georgia, for example, there used to be nothing. It was desert as far as unions are concerned. In Newnan, theres a union of some kind. In LaGrange, close by, there are some unions of some kind. Columbus where you used to not be able to say, well, weve got a union, there are people that belong to unions and they are respected in the community, too, because they know that these are people who have some kind of an idea of a better world and a better philosophy. And the same way, you can name town after town after town after town. But that doesnt mean its all good, because with the good theres also bad.


HELFAND: OK, do you want to take a sip of water?

JACOBS: Its OK. Ill let you sip. (laughs)

HELFAND: Do you -- do you hear the background noise as much -- you told me that at the time, even, you know, say, you know, mention again what you were doing, you know, as a -- as a lawyer a little bit. But at the time, even those of you who were working in the movement were surprised that the Southerners had done, had -- had responded to the organizing effort and then to strike in the way that they did. And its that you said that it was the first time that, you know, that the textile industry was not a concentrated industry, but it was all over.

JACOBS: Thats right.

HELFAND: And that it was in tiny, little towns where it was the only game in town, but that it was the first time the textile workers have ever united. And that we cant lose sight of that, that thats something important. And that 00:26:00even you, who were here, was surprised by that. And thats something that we need to think about. What, you know, why we were able to, why that was able to happen or that thats something that we could take faith in. Could you?


HELFAND: Im just saying what you told me this morning.

JACOBS: Well --

HELFAND: You could start --

JACOBS: When you look back --

HELFAND: OK, um, Im sorry, I over -- I just remembered that you have to remember that the textile industry was spread out everywhere.

JACOBS: Thats right.

HELFAND: OK, tell me that and then go on.

JACOBS: In the textile industry, unlike other industries where theyre highly concentrated because the raw materials are there, like in Birmingham, Alabama where the coal and the iron is or Pittsburgh where the coal and iron is, or Detroit where the automobile industry is. The textile industry in the South was scattered and isolated. When the mills first were opened down here, so many of 00:27:00em opened in small communities that had never had any industry whatsoever. And they got all kinds of tax benefits and all kinds of free taxes and free water and light and bond issues and that sort of thing. So the people were by and large separated from one another by miles and miles and miles. And when the strike took place, it happened faster than some of the -- than the trade unions anticipated, and particularly the textile union. Because they had no idea that the flame was burning that bright with the changes that were taking place in the industry. And when the strike took place overnight, overnight it was -- it was a 00:28:00rush just like a migration of people who suddenly had seen a new idea or a new light, and out they came. It amazed everybody. Not only trade union leaders, it amazed the mill owners cause they had no idea that they felt like they did. There were, many of them I know that Ive talked to in time since where they, those that had been organized and those who havent, who said they just couldnt believe their eyes when they saw their people walk -- their people walking out striking against them. These were the same people, you know, that they had walked through the mill two days before and said, Good mornin, Mary, good mornin, Suzy, hi, Joanne, hi, Sha-this. They thought the old paternalistic pattern that existed at that time was still in effect. And these were the people who were not only walking out, but in many instances, leading 00:29:00them out. Leading them out. It amazed them. It amazed those of us who were in the trade union movement. I dont mind telling you that it amazed me. We, because of the work that I was doing at that time, some of the news-gatherers were trying to reach people who had contact with the strikers. And I was one of the ones that they reached out to. They sent correspondence down. New York, from Pittsburgh, Detroit, from all the way over to the West Coast. They wanted to know what was happening down here. I remember going with -- with a representative of one of the newspapers down to Griffin, Georgia. He said he wanted to see what -- what the picket lines looked like. And I said, Sure, lets go down. And we go down there and theres this long line of people, 00:30:00in line. When we get to the head of the line there, these crates of the -- that they carried oranges in, two crates laying vertical, one horizontal. And a man standing there signing receipts for one dollar, theyre joining the union. And you walk a little bit further down the road, and this is not a paved road, a little further and there is this group of people, some 50 or 60 carrying the American flag (chuckles) going around the mill singing, We shall not be moved. As they go around, people walking out of the mill, twos, threes, fives, joining them, walking round singing. And you can hear the clatter of the machinery. And we stayed there, it musta been for about an hour. And from the time we got there when the clatter of the machinery told us that the mill was working, it finally went down and then they began to close the windows in the mill. And these people were the ones who were joining the strike. Something 00:31:00motivated them to do it. And what motivated them to do it was that they wanted a voice. They wanted a say. They wanted to improve their conditions. And that was what then spread. That was the -- what helped them to spread to what they called a flying squadrons, too, where they went from one mill to another, to another. Did the same thing. Did the same thin. And the amazing part about it is, most of the, what I call uprisings or changes in it that, that take place in a community, are usually accompanied in the South by violence of some kind. Its either because they get into a fight about the church or a fight about race, or the Ku Klux Klan comes in or something of that kind. This was a real 00:32:00peaceful thing. The only things that ever occurred was when the local owners of the mills tried to get the sheriffs and the police to help them in their fight. They were trying to imitate what had transpired just a short while earlier up in the North Carolina area and a couple of places when it was not necessarily the owners of the thing, but political forces that created some of the problems up there. We had relative little violence. Very little. For the number of people involved, amazingly.

HELFAND: So, what is it that you feel we can, that you are most proud of that you feel that, that sense of citizenship. Is that something that youd want younger people to hold onto when they think about the 1934, what is it?


JACOBS: Well, the thing that, that I want the young, what I call the oncoming generation whether theyre younger or not quite so young, is to realize that these things that happened before lead the way and tell them how they can improve their lives, too. And not only that, but it takes a certain amount of effort on their part to see that these improvements take place. You cant just become what I call, is it a potato couch? Where you sit and watch television every night? Youve got to use the brain that God gave ya. Youve got to do some of your own thinking. You cant expect to have a society where you dont work and all you do is rake in the money. And dont have to worry about working to do it, where you can speculate or play the stock 00:34:00market and that way we can have the kind of society we want. That isnt the one that youre gonna have. The one that youre gonna have is gonna be meaningful, is one where you contribute to the society. Where you do your part, where youre a good citizen. And thats what Ive worked for all my life. Thats a part of the reason that Ive helped to register so many thousand people to vote. Because I want em to participate in the progress. Thats the reason why Ive talked to so many people who have been leaders in trade unions that they ought to run for offices in order to influence the direction of the legislation that we have. I want the young people to have the energy to not only want to think about how they improve their lives, and want to improve their lives, and want to do things, but do it. And the way you do it in my book is by participating in your trade union, by joining unions, by combining with other 00:35:00people for specific objectives. And thats the only way weve ever made progress, in my view, in this country of ours.

HELFAND: Some people look upon the strike of 1934, that whole organizing effort, as a failure.

JACOBS: (laughs) Ive heard that so many times.

HELFAND: Youve heard what?

JACOBS: That people look --

HELFAND: No, Ill cut you off.


HELFAND: Youve got to leave it, laugh --


HELFAND: -- and say Ive heard that. Im gonna tell you again, but repeat my --

JACOBS: All right.

HELFAND: Ive -- people have said that it was a failure. People got killed. The union movement seemed like it might have been crushed. People got frightened.

JACOBS: And -- and --

HELFAND: So, they called it a failure. Respond to that.

JACOBS: There is no failure of any strike. Even if its lost. Now, that may seem like a -- an anomaly. But it isnt. Because out of every situation like 00:36:00that, theres a learning experience. Theres something you can take away. What can you take away from the strike of 34? Very quickly and very easily, it shows that people, if they want to improve their conditions, can do something about it. They may not succeed entirely. They may take one step forward and two steps back further, two steps forward and one step backward. But from it, they learn and experience how you can improve the society in which we live. How they can improve their lives. Thats why I say when people tell me that not only that strike was a failure but the other strikes were failure. Theyre not really failures. It addressed, for example, the grievances of the textile workers. It showed that they were living not in a society where they had a fair deal, but one where they were peons. One where they were very little better 00:37:00than when they worked on the farm and didnt have any cash or were tenant farmers and didnt have any kind of a livelihood where they could wear a decent pair of clothes, where they only had one good going-to-church suit on Sunday and one good dress going-to-church on Sunday, and the rest of the time that they wore rags. And the other strikes that weve had, and I can name any number of em where they said, Oh, that was a lost strike. That was a failure. Some good comes out of it. Part of the good that came out of the textile strike, a lot of the legislation that took place came from that textile strike in -- on the -- which improved labor conditions. Part of what came out of that was the double-cross by the textile barons of Roosevelt, who they had promised that they would return the people to work and would not discriminate against em or blacklist. And they turned around and double-crossed em on 00:38:00it. As a result of it, instead of it being a voluntary labor relations set-up in this country, he pushed for the National Labor Relations Act and other labor laws that came along later. Not only he, but other presidents, too. Because voluntarism didnt work on labor relations. And if you permit me to bring it up to date, it wont work on the health bill, either. (laughs) Making it voluntary on the part of those who have to pay or have to see that its done, will -- will -- will not make for the kind of a world on health reform that we want any more than it did on labor relations. But thats what comes out of every strike. Theres some good. And I could name you one after another after another after another which have opened doors for it. If it had not been for that strike, for example, I say that we would not have had wage and hour. We would not have had the time-and-a-half for overtime. We would not have had 00:39:00the -- the dissolution of the textile village where they lived in a compact group under the eye of the owners of the -- of the villages. We would not have had a lot of the laws that we have that deal with the environment where they had to do better in the terms of how these people lived and where they lived and what their circumstances were.

HELFAND: So, if you had to look in the face of some of the textile workers who you tried to get them their jobs back and you couldnt, and please repeat. Im just setting up --


HELFAND: -- a scenario for you.

JACOBS: All right.

HELFAND: What would you tell them now? What would you say to that same worker? I mean, I know that must have caused you a great deal of pain, did it?

JACOBS: Well, when -- when I think back about the number of people that, uh, lost jobs and we tried to get em back, and we -- and those who were blacklisted, we tried to get off the blacklist and work elsewhere. Sure, it 00:40:00caused a lot of pain. But, and for me particularly because we -- we were helping them fix up affidavits, we were helping them fix up statements, we were sending em in. And they had a board that was supposed to give em justice that didnt give em any kind of justice at all. And I can remember then saying it and I would say it again now, and that is that there is no progress without a certain number of people suffering for it, but learning that because they did what they did that they have improved the society in which they live. And if not for themselves, for their children. For example, there were any number of em we couldnt get back on their jobs. We had to move them away from the community. We filed all kinds of charges and pleadings and, uh, contests and everything that w could do within the law. And we were able to 00:41:00help them change their lives, most of them for the better, and thats why when I would talk to some of those who say, well, I lost my house, I lost my job, and I didnt -- and I didnt go anywhere. They did, for the most part. Some of em maybe we didnt do it in the first generation, but the second generation, it was beginning to see the results of it. When I say the second generation, it was their children. Whyd I say that? Because if we helped them move, for example, from a little community where there was only one mill, and if you couldnt work there, you couldnt make a living. And wed move them into another town or we helped them get into another town and get into another trade where they could do better for themselves. They did better. They did better. Course, Ill agree, theres some who may not. But by and large, when I look back at it, the people who participated in it either learned 00:42:00something that helped improve their lives or else were put into an environment which helped them improve it for their children. And for themselves, to some extent. And it also did one other thing. And that was it opened their eyes, so that they could see that if you want to improve your lot, you cant do it by thinking about it, but you have to do it by doing something about it. And in my book, that doing something about it, joining a union. Working together with other groups of people through trade unions that help you to do better for yourself and improve your life. And I think in this country, that when we compare what we have done here with what theyve done in other countries, that whenever we have a movement like we had in 34, that we take big steps 00:43:00forward. And then over a period of time when they get whittled away, then it builds up the same kind of feeling that it built up in 34. And then they take another big step forward, both in legislation and in improvement and conditions. And then it gradually gets whittled away either by court decisions or by bad laws or by governments that weve had the way they think that the less government, the better and that sort of thing. I think were in that same kind of a status right now. I think today, with the changes that took place after the Nixon-Reagan era, that what we have begun to do is to swing the pendulum again. And part of the proof of it is whats going on right now, health reform and crime and some of these other things, where every one of the 00:44:00same forces that try to prevent the little person from going anywhere are doing the same identical thing today. And they wont succeed. And were going to make some progress. It may not be one step fast enough or two steps fast enough, but its going to continue to be done. And the more people participate in what I call the process of improving their lives, the sooner were gonna get it done. And thats why Ive worked with unions all this time.

HELFAND: Great. You know, some people, though, I mean, its -- I dont know if -- Ive met a lot of people, who just put it behind them. They just, they never told their children about it. They never talked about it. They were ashamed of it. They said the union did nothing for me. And you know, they 00:45:00just, the reprisals against them, the animosity that they have suffered was just too great. And that seems to have colored a great deal of the way that this history has been presented. Its just its not, I think some people did not have that experience that -- that youre talking about. And in turn, theyve never really been able to talk about this and take anything from it.

JACOBS: Well, you know, the -- you cant expect everybody to have the same experience that came out of the strike that I had. On the other hand, though, there are some people who wont ever change their ideas, who wont ever open their eyes, as I call it, and who think that, well, somebodys gonna do it for me. And that somebody aint gonna do it for em. Youve got to do it for 00:46:00yourself. Those are the ones who are the ones who in my opinion moved into the trade union movement and saw that it had -- had the answer to their problems. Thats why it is that when they tell me, and some of em have told me, Oh, I -- Im not gonna come close to a union, Im not gonna do this. Im not convinced that they really believe what they say. I think what they are saying really is that Im a-scared to open my eyes. Im a-scared to help solve my own problem. Im gonna sorta rely on the Almighty is gonna come down and do it for me. Somebody else gonna do it, but I dont have to do anything about it. All I gotta do is just sit tight, and if it dont get any better, well, thats the way its supposed to be. I dont think thats 00:47:00good citizenship. I dont think thats what built this country. I dont think thats whats gonna make progress. And I dont think thats what gonna solve our problems, either. Because if we continue to think that way, and when I say we, Im talking about those who dont want to remember it, who said the union didnt do this or we didnt success in that, and all the stories that Ive heard about how bad things were then and how bad theyve been, maybe they contributed to em being that bad, because they didnt do a damn thing. Maybe they contributed to it because they didnt do anything. Maybe they contributed to it because they did not sit down and figure out how can we find the answer to some of these problems. How can I find the answer to making a better living.


HELFAND: But they were frightened. Theyre the -- the mill owners had them around -- over a barrel.

JACOBS: (laughs) You know, if -- if the people who helped to settle this country had stayed in England and stayed frightened, wed a never been here. It was those who were not happy with what was happening to em in England with being peons, with being serfs, with being not second-class citizens, but the kind of a society where if you owed a debt you went to jail. And when you went to jail, you couldnt pay your debt off, or if you believed different than the church said to believe that you were not a decent person. They decided that wasnt the kind of a world they wanted. So what did they do? Did they just say, well, its not running right. Its not going the way I want. I cant live, I 00:49:00cant take care of my family or anything. No, they didnt say any of that. They decided they were gonna come over and find a new world where they could improve their lot, improve their situation. Thats part of what joining unions is. Youre looking for a new world where you can improve yourself and that lot of your family, too.

HELFAND: OK, now relate that, looking for a new world, just to 1933. And just thats, is that what we can pull out of this?

JACOBS: And thats what happened in 1934 and 33. They were looking for a new -- world, if it was not designated new, it was a world in which they had a say. A world in which they had some control of their destiny. A world in which they could say something about how they lived, what their pay was, what their conditions were, and whether or not lint would continue to float all over the 00:50:00mill there and continue to be called lint heads, as we were in those days. They didnt that kind of world. And you know, when you think about it, lint isnt floating around in those mills. And part of the reason that its not still floating around in those mills, its not necessarily because the mill owners decided that they ought to eliminate it, but because of the seeds that were sown in 34 and subsequent to that, that they ought to improve the health conditions in the mill. That they ought to make it so that we were not lint heads. They ought to make it so we wouldnt have brown lung. They ought to make it so that the conditions were decent there. And strangely enough, what else did the mill owners find out? That when you eliminated the lint, that they turned out as good or a better product besides making their people healthier. 00:51:00Besides having their workers in better condition. And thats part of when you say what didwe gain? Thats part of what we gained. You know, when I look back and think about it, I can remember in those days, all the windows used to be open. And you had big fans blowing, and exhaust fans pulling it out and lint coming across everywhere. And I can remember when we used to walk into the mill and those that we had organized, and we were going to take a look at where the work was to see how to -- what the grievance was that the person had and whether it was a good one or not. You walked in with a suit, you came out, it was white. If it was a blue serge suit which is what they used to be in those days, theyd turn completely white because of the conditions in there. And if you dont look around carefully and see the changes that have taking place and the reason for the changes, you dont know. But if you do, you start to think 00:52:00about it, then you do see that there are changes for the better. And there are changes which have helped to improve the lives of those of us who have worked in mills. And thats why when these people start saying, Well, I -- I lost because of it. I lost my job and I hate it and I -- and that it affected me adversely. Ill make you a bet that if they look at it carefully, theyll find more than one thing that it worked out to their advantage and better for them, if they keep their eyes open or if they open their eyes a little wider than they do.

HELFAND: Let me take one moment to just think.

JACOBS: Think.

HELFAND: You think, too.



JACOBS: Go back to the strike.


JACOBS: And how did you feel through what youve just been through.

JAMIE STONEY: Can you lean back to about where you were?


JACOBS: Yeah. Well, lets us discuss a little what shes driving at.


JACOBS: And the reason I say that is --

HELFAND: You could -- well roll while you think about this. Its OK.



JACOBS: All right. When the strike was over, part of what we understood the settlement of the strike was, was no discrimination against anybody. Return the people to work as quickly as they could start the mills up. And we had all kinds of varying figures about it would take a week to get the -- the machinery ready and to get the machines going and to get the mills ready and that sort of thing. And then, if we did not return em fast enough or we didnt return em to their jobs, there was a procedure that you could turn around and file your grievances and it went through the machinery. And then they would see to it that nobody was discriminated against, everybody got their job back, and to the extent that it was possible to relieve suffering of people who were not 00:54:00working, they -- they would be put to work as fast as they could be and possibly sooner than that. It didnt turn out that way. Thats why I have said time and again, that it was the double-cross of the feudal barons who owned the mills in not putting the people back and blacklisting em. And stretching it out. Because they found out right at the inception of the return to work that the people just as they had anticipated, had one weeks pay. What I mean by one weeks pay? They earned their pay, they paid their bills, but they didnt have anything put aside for any kind of a rainy day cause they didnt make that kind of money. And those people were the ones who did not have food to eat. And those are the people who had to borrow from their friends. Now, when we first settled it, we thought it, their agreement was fantastic. It meant 00:55:00recognition of unions. It meant doing business with unions. It meant we had the right to organize. It meant we had the right to set up unions, to hold our meetings. We were holding meetings in churches that were subsidized by the companies. One of the first things that they did was get ahold of the preacher and make sure that we couldnt meet there anymore. Make sure that they took away the -- part of the instruments that we had. And what they tried to do was to turn a revolution that was succeeding, was succeeding, not only in calling their attention to the -- contrary to the workers plight, but also that would have meant substantial and great organization in the textile industry. They turned around and made it, to the extent that they could, a defeat by the stretch-out of returning em to work, by the blacklist, by taking every means 00:56:00they could to take their instruments away. When we first settled it, we all were -- were singing joy and praises and -- and every leader had participated in it. Why, we put a halo around his head and a cloud. It was only after the delays and the delays and the use of -- and I put the lawyers right in there, use of lawyers, to stretch the thing out, to prevent them, the agreement from becoming real, that we realized that what was happening was that since the mill owners could not defeat the organization of workers on a strike, they had figured out, lets make the settlement, lets get em back. Before we get through with em, they will be sorry that they ever struck because well wreak havoc on it. We will get retribution on em. We will take care of 00:57:00those who were in the leadership. And thats why when you say what was my feeling? First, fantastic. We celebrated all over the place. Frank Gorman was the greatest leader that we had had at that time, just like John Lewis later on with his mine workers was the kind of leader and Walter Ruth and the others who were great leaders. But they turned, in my belief, what was a victory that we were winning into whatever they could to defeat us and take away the gains that we might have had. They didnt take em all away, though. And thats why when people say that they lost, they didnt lose, there were gains that were made, if they take a look at it, that stayed with us and have continued to stay with us. And which their children have taken benefit of and which they have felt. So when I look back and I think, well, how did I feel? It turned from a 00:58:00tremendous victory. And if you look at the newspapers, if you look at the newspapers even then, they were crediting the trade unions of doing something and particularly the textile union doing something never been done in that industry. But then as it ground and ground and ground, they sought to grind us down, just like theyve done every piece of what I call good, social legislation. We make big steps forward, and then here we go, grind it down. Grind it down. Grind it down. And I dont have to go very far and take a look at the health bill. Tremendous amount of progress forward, and theyre trying before they even pass it now, to grind the thing down.

HELFAND: So when you were -- but personally, what did it -- I mean, youve answered this before, so I guess Ill let it go. But when you were looking into the -- I mean, you were a lawyer.


HELFAND: You could leave. You didnt live in the mill village.



HELFAND: You could walk away. So, I just wonder, I mean, was it, were you put in a very painful position? Did you -- how did you -- I mean, you --

JACOBS: (laughs)

JAMIE STONEY: We need to change the tape.

HELFAND: OK, we need to change tapes. Thisll take just one second to change the tape.