W. W. Williams Interview

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Transcript

W.W. WILLIAMS: The latest machinery we had out there copied everything they had and then they went back and improved on it, every time. And yeah, Ill tell you it made me kind of mad, cause I knew I was making my living in that place, at that time.

GEORGE STONEY: Youd be surprised at what they are doing now. Uh, we were talking to the assistant, the assistant manager, the uh vice president was working with us and he was saying that all the (inaudible) all the machinery is either Japanese or Belgian.

WILLIAMS: Well the last place I worked thats where it come from, the, the looms come from Belgium.

STONEY: (inaudible) how is the sound?

M1: It uh--I can improve it jus--

[break in video]

STONEY: Okay. Could you tell us how old you were when you started in the mills and all that stuff?

[break in video] M1: -- batteries.



M1: Sorry about that but at least it happened early.

STONEY: Ok tell me your story.

W.W. WILLIAMS: Well, I started in the mills when I was 14 years old. And back in those days they didn't do like they do today, where they pay you so much to learn, what we call it for somebody to teach you and that. But you just, ah, went in and you got permission to go in, you know. And after you got that permission, they'd put you with somebody, either some of your family, in which I was fortunate I had a older brother, and they put me with him. And sometime that's not a good idea when you're working with your brother. You know, if you do the least little thing wrong, well, you get -- sometime you get scolded pretty good. But, anyway, that's was the way I started and that was when I was just a boy.


STONEY: When was that and tell us what you did and what the conditions were like.

WILLIAMS: Well, back in those days -- I believe it was 19-and-29 when I went in to work. And back then, well, it was right before the big bang went on, you know? But, anyway, we made fairly good money back in those days. Well, you know, when you get about 14 years old, like I was, well -- and you begin to make a little more than I was delivering papers, well, you'd say, "Well, that's for me," you know, in a way because you don't realize the future -- what holds for you. But, anyway, the -- the people were very nice at that time. Now back in those days, when you lived on a mill village, they were your friends. If one of ye' got bad, sick or any of those things, they -- they helped one another. And 00:03:00they did the same in the plants, the same way. And you're going to always find a few, you know, that wouldn't -- wouldn't agree with everything, but generally it was -- it was pretty nice. And then when the stock market crash come along, well, then things begin to get a little rough. Most people didn't have no jobs. And, ah, but I got a job after I was about 16 in a plant. I believe I mentioned that before, about I had to draw straws for that job, do what we called -- we called it that, but it's two men had pencils -- you could walk in the plants back in those days, not like they are today, where they got fences around 'em and guards and things. And I went in right at this change of shifts. They didn't have but two shifts, but, anyway, I went in at that time and I happened to get that job, but I was sorry of it before that night was over because that was one of the hardest jobs I ever had in my life. But, anyway, that's when I started in -- in that, and I -- I got at another plant and I 00:04:00stayed with it for a good many years because they were good to you, just like family. In fact, if you needed a little money at this particular company that I worked for at that time on up I's about 17-18 years old -- if you happened to need it -- of course, at that time I wasn't married, I didn't need it, but if you did, you could go to 'em and, if it was a legitimate reason, why, they'd give you the money and take it off of your pay, you know, so much a week to pay it back. But, ah, some of ye' people got sick and had to go at the hospital. There wasn't no hospitalizations or anything like that back in those days. And sometime you would have to do that, you know, and you got in a bad bind. And so they would always look after you, especially the company I worked for. In fact, they were too lenient -- I'll have to say. After I got older and working at 00:05:00different places, I realized how -- how lenient they really were, because it was an independent company now. It wasn't a big outfit. But most of even the big outfits back in those days, they were -- they were good. And they called us "lintheads" and things that way, but most of us, we had -- we had a lot of fun, too, now. And then we had trials and troubles like everybody does, but I don't -- I don't regret it. I had a good life.

STONEY: Tell us about the fun you had.

WILLIAMS: Well, you take on the weekends and you get off from work, well, back then, when I first started, you know, you worked full -- well, I worked 12 hours. I'd go to work -- of course, I was younger and I newer. I'd have to go to work at 6 o'clock and work to 6 the next morning. And but now on the weekend, why, you'd go out and have your fun just like any young fellow would, you know? And -- and I enjoyed that -- go out, maybe sometime go out of town and things of that sort if you could find somebody that had a car. (laughs) But 00:06:00I enjoyed it back in the early '30s, I'm talking about, because the whole country was in a depression, as you know, at that particular time, but, ah, they'as always a way to have fun, but you had to usually make your own. It wasn't drive-ins that you went to like later they had and all these things that you -- you'd go to. But we had places that you could always go and have fun.

STONEY: Tell us about what happened when President Roosevelt got elected.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think everybody, especially down through here, was thrilled to death about that, because, you know --

STONEY: Lets start it off when Roosevelt got elected

WILLIAMS: When he e-- when he got elected --

STONEY: Sorry, say Roosevelt.

WILLIAMS: When Roosevelt got elected, well, ah, he -- he was a man that people had confidence in. You know, he said, "You have nothing to fear but fear itself." Well, people loved that and he'd have those "fireside chats," that they called it, and people, when they'd go and have one, well, naturally 00:07:00everybody, especially in the textiles, would sit in there by that radio listening to hear him make that speech. And, ah, everybody -- well, everything began to bloom, you know. The first thing they did was close the banks and, ah, some of 'em didn't open, but all at the same time. That, it straightened the country out to a certain extent and everybody was real pleased with --- with President Roosevelt.

STONEY: What about the -- how did that affect your -- your pay and your hours of work?

WILLIAMS: Oh, my goodness, big change, because back before the -- that, well, you could work for almost nothing. I worked myself for -- I maybe ought not say it because I really did, but I's just a boy -- but 12-and-a-half cent an hour back at that time on some jobs, you know. Of course, that was just a menial 00:08:00job. But after he come in and he started what they call -- I'm going back in history and you don't know all this, but, ah, the NRA. And then they started this 40-hour work. And they had to pay you 40 cent an hour, if I remember correctly, 40 cent an hour where, regardless of what, they had to pay you. Well, nat -- that -- now that hurt the manufacturers some. They said, oh, they'd go broke, they couldn't afford to do that, they couldn't afford to pay people 8 hours pay at -- at -- well, I believe -- what did it amount up to? About $40 a week and 40 hours and something? Anyway, I mean about $12 a week, something along in there. But, anyway, whatever it was, they said they couldn't do it. But after they found out in a while they got more production in the 8 hour and the 40-hour week than they from when we was working 50 and 55. So, ah, you did-- didn't hear too much about that then. And that's when the country 00:09:00started and it wasn't -- of course it was in '37, '38 and along in that, well, things begin to get a little rough again in the textile industry. And then -- but it straightened out some and everything got to going along pretty good. And the war come along then, you know. So then everybody had to work, in which that was a terrible thing to happen, but it did put people to work, you know.

STONEY: Could you tell us --

M1: George--


M1: Just a moment. Go ahead.

STONEY: I want you to tell me -- you were -- at that time you were -- tell us what you did in '33, '34, what kind of a job you had and then how that was affected when the -- they started getting more production out of you.

WILLIAMS: Well, it -- back then, it was -- I was a, a weaver and -- and, naturally, you got paid by your production work. And they didn't have all the 00:10:00things like they got today, like pick clocks, but that eventually come. But they paid you by the cut of cloth that you had. They'd have -- you'd be weaving and ever weaver, well, he'd have two red spots between on ever -- I don't know how many yards -- I can't remember now. But, anyway, you'd cut between those two red marks. You'd leave one on the roll when you'd roll it back up and you'd leave one on the cloth that went to the cloth room. And that was simply because to keep people maybe from cutting some off and taking some of the cloth. But, ah, you got paid so much by the cuts that you took off. But after that come along and they had it all filled out -- ah, figured out, I mean, about the way it was supposed to be and come out about the same. But now if you did not make the -- the -- the 40 cent an hour at the end of the week in your production -- 00:11:00of course, I were fortunate -- I believe I failed it one time -- but, ah, whenever you made over it, they'd take it back off of your pay. Say, the next week, you see, you'd maybe have more cuts of cloth to take off. And if you made way over the -- the allotted amount, well, they'd take back what you owed 'em from that. But that was really against the law. I don't know who -- who turned it in, but somebody at the plant that I worked at at that particular time, they undoubtedly turned it in and they sent a man down from the government to check it out. And he'd call each individual up to the office and he'd interview 'em. So some of 'em, oh, guys, had maybe took $10, maybe $12 off of 'em, over a period of time now. And, ah, so they took us one by one up there and -- but they had to make that good. They had to pay all that back because it'as against the law for 'em to do that.


STONEY: Do you remember the bee-do system?

WILLIAMS: No, sir. No, sire.

STONEY: That was just one of the ways -- they used the term "stretch out." Does that mean anything to you?

WILLAIMS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. (crosstalk) Well now, ah --

STONEY: Using that term.

WILLIAMS: All right. In a stretch out -- what you'd call a stretch out would be -- well, I said I was a weaver. All right. Say I'm running -- back there I worked at that particular time I was on what was running ginghams. It had four shuttles in that loom. It made -- you'd put four different colors in it and your warp -- your woof was colored, too, you know, had the stripes in it. Well, you'd mix it in and match it up. And, ah, oh, we usually run about 12, maybe -- looms. Well, they come along and said, "No. We're going to have to give you more because things are getting rough," and when you call it "stretching out," they're saying plus they're giving you 12, you're going to have to run two more looms, say, 14 or either 15, but you wouldn't make any more money. And 00:13:00sometimes you wouldn't make quite as much because you'd have so much on you, you couldn't get to 'em as quick and start 'em up and get 'em back into production again. And, ah, that's what -- that's what the stretch out was, is where they just add more work to you for the same pay, or maybe less pay.

STONEY: How did you feel about that?

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think any of us liked it (laughs) about that, because, you know, naturally it made you work harder and more pressure on you and all these things. But -- but now, to get back to, if I can, in these times at this particular time, you know, most of us lived in what you call a company house. Well, the rent wasn't much, but here's what most of the people that worked in there had to think about. If you worked for that company and you quit or either 00:14:00you got fired, you had to leave that house. They'd give you so many days and if you didn't move, they'd put you out. So you -- it was kinda put you in a bind, you know. And naturally more or less it'd motivate you to make you do more than what you'as really sometime capable of doing if you -- most -- some people was. And most of the time when they'd have what we called "efficiency men" to come through -- of course, they didn't have too many of those back in those days, thank the Lord for that, but they always -- the efficiency man, he'd want to pick out the very best -- and this was after I got to be supervising in the plants -- they'd want to pick out the very best in that kind of job that you had, want the very best. Well, naturally, he -- he made it look easy or she would make it look easy. And you go to comparing maybe you had about 12 or 15 00:15:00people doing the same kind of work, they couldn't compare with-- with that fellah or that lady, because they -- it just fell natural to them. And -- and that made it hard, too, because they'd figure your production from that very good one, the very best you had. And that made it a little hard, too, and that's part of the stretching out, too, system, you know.

STONEY: Now there was a big strike all over the -- all over the country in textiles in '34. Do you think that had -- the stretch out had anything to do with it?

WILLIAMS: I feel sure that it did have something to do, because --

STONEY: Just say, I was sure the stretch out--

WILLIAMS: Mmm-hmm. The stretch out, I feel sure that that did have something to do with it. Of course, that wasn't all of it. You know, it was a lot money involved in it, too, but I feel sure that's what it was. It was wanting to cut down on the workload and -- and still make more money. Well, you know, that's a hard thing to come by. So we had a lot of troubles in that in about -- well, 00:16:00I'll not say troubles, but we had some plants that they refused to talk to the help. And they'as come back to the situation I's telling about living in these company houses. And one in particular here in this town, well, they -- they even had the National Guard to come out to where you could not -- they had them posters said, "This is private property." You absolutely are not going to go in there. Back during that strike, people would go to these plants and try to get -- they'd march, so to speak, be maybe hundreds in that group and march down there and try to get 'em. Well, when you'd come to some of 'em where they'd have these -- well, they's National Guards on some of 'em -- they called 'em out to come out where you could guard the roads to where they wouldn't let 00:17:00you down in there. And that caused a lot of of hard feelings back during those days because some of the people that -- that was working, well, they couldn't hardly leave the village where they were at because if they did, you know, they'as afraid somebody may hurt 'em. But I -- I wasn't in anything like that, but I've heard some of the people talk that were -- worked in this -- in these places at that time. You know, naturally they called 'em "scabs" and this, that and the other, but -- but these people that worked in there said most of the time the company would furnish them with whatever they needed, you know, mostly to keep 'em happy because they knew they couldn't get out to do no good. They could get out and they probably -- I don't know whether they had to have a pass or anything to get back in, but as far as a group marching in down in some of the places, you couldn't do it.

STONEY: Now you told me that you joined the union. Could you talk about that, why you did and how yu felt about it.

WILLIAMS: Well, ah, I did join it at one time.


STONEY: Just start, I did join the union.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I did join the union at one time, but it was for a very short time. -- I don't think I even paid a due -- simply because you want me to mention what I told you about, about one time --


WILLIAMS: Well, this place struck, and I wasn't in favor of it because I didn't -- this place I's telling you about a while ago, they'as so good to the people, they really were. And, anyway, we did. I walked out with 'em. Well, the next day I go fishing. Well, when I come in that evening late at night, rather, there's some men standing there and they wanted to know if I would be on the committee. And I said, ah, "Well, I'm a young man." And I said, "You need a 00:19:00older man on that job. I don't believe I want to do that. I don't want to do that." They said, "Well, we had a meeting today and you were the one that said they wanted you on the committee because the people had confidence in ye'." And I said, "Well, I appreciate that, but I think you need a older and a wiser man, because I'm young." I believe at that time I wasn't but about 22, maybe somewhere along there. And they said, "No." And I said, "Well, if it'll satisfy you, I'll try." Well, I did. So we went up and we had a meeting. And they brought the books out. They laid 'em out there on the table. They didn't -- they didn't try to hide anything. I'll have to say that and be honest with the company now. I took a look at them papers and, with no more education than I got, I know them people wasn't making no money. And I said, "I don't know." I said, "These people can't afford to do nothing." Well, you know, when you 00:20:00turn and go back and tell the people in the meetings, "Oh, I don't know. They can't do that. They said that according to the books they just haven't got the money to do it." Well, the people don't much want to believe that. So, anyway, that drags on. The strike drags on. And, well, we'd have another meeting, and what made me fall out with the union, we went back up there to this place and, ah, it was in the hot summertime, and there wasn't no air conditioners and things like they got today, and it was a nice office, big old conference table there, and we sit around the table. And -- and the man that owned the plant, he said, "Well" -- there was a store right up above there just a few hundred yards. He said, "I'm going to send up there and get us something cold to drink." And he did. He bought all a Coca-Cola. (laughs) And, naturally, it tasted good to 00:21:00me, it really did. One of those little ol' teeny Cokes, you know, back in them days. It didn't cost but, I believe, about 6 cents, something like that. But, anyway, first thing I heard when I come out the door from the meeting, you know, how they gathered around out there, say, "Well, what's going on?" and find out what's going on when you come out. "Well, they bought you off with a Coca-Cola." I said, "Oh, my goodness, (laughs) I'm in the wrong business." Well, I'm not one that wants to quit right off, you know, but, ah, I said, "Man, what's the matter with you people?" That was just one individual telling me that, but I -- I figured, by them others listening, some of 'em probably maybe thought the same thing, you know. But I know they didn't all think that. But, anyway, we stuck that thing out for several weeks, maybe a mon-- coupla months. I can't remember how long, but, anyway, everybody was going in debt, you know. They didn't have no unemployment. Well, you couldn't get it if you's on strike 00:22:00anyway, but they didn't have all that kind of things back in those days. But I's fortunate. I had a place that whatever I needed, this man always supplied with my groceries and all that thing, but I had to pay it back when I went back to work. I's in debt. But, ah, anyway, you go to thinking back about the union, 'at fixed me up. After we got that settled, they got a man from the state to finally come down, from the state board of labor, and he come and he looked and he come out and he told us the same thing. He said, "Man, they 'about broke! They can't -- they can't pay you nothing." But we finally got cut-- what we finally got was we got cut down from -- from the loom -- I believe we'as running 15 and they cut us down to 13. So we got -- got that much off of it, you know, but that fixed me up with the union. I never did have nothing else to do with the union. Now I've got a lot of people -- the union's helped 00:23:00us in one way. I'll have to say that, because, you know, I imagine even if we didn't finally join the union and all of that, keep up with the dues and things, when the others got a raise, well, naturally, they had to come along and take care of that, too.

STONEY: Now could you repeat again just the story that you never paid any dues. How could you have been a member of the union for that long and not pay dues?

WILLIAMS: Well, see, I was just a foreman, one. I wasn't a member really. I can't say that I was a member. I can't say that I was a member because, ah, I might have got a card or something -- I believe I did -- but I never paid no money. You know, you join but you had to go to work before you could pay. So I never did pay.

STONEY: The reason I'm asking that is we were in Columbus and the woman was saying that they formed the union and everybody paid money, and then the fellah ran off with the money.

WILLIAMS: Well, that happened. It happened right here in this place.

STONEY: Could you tell about that?

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't know all about it, but I just heard about it and read 00:24:00about it. Can't even remember who the fellahs were, but, ah, there was that happened, what they told me, the people in the union. Well, you know, to me that hurts. Ah, they -- the men that had the treasury and had he money, well, and the places they supposed to be takin' up for the working people, they left with the money! And it's hard -- the Southern people -- I love 'em -- I'm a Southerner myself and, man, I'm proud of it, but I want to tell you one thing. Each one of us is an individual. If we don't agree with you, they'll tell you right off, and I think you know that. And so, ah, that's what happened a lot of times in that, is where we just couldn't stick together! (laughs) Each man'd be a little independent, you know. Might not have nothing, but you can -- you'd have independent. I've knowed 'em and I've had people in later years that 00:25:00worked with me and I know that they didn't have nothing on 'em but what little check'd come in, because I lived around 'em and I'd -- would give 'em their check. And, man, if they'd get mad at you, they'd quit that quick. That didn't bother them a bit. That's how independent most people -- now it might not be that way today. But even back then during the hard times you didn't press too much on the job, because that's one right. They'd say, "I got a right to quit any time I want to." And you have. You might suffer for it, but you can quit.

STONEY: Now tell about how you got to be a supervisor.

WILLIAMS: Well, I worked --- worked at it some. I'll tell you, when I's weaving and if I -- if I got caught up, you know --

STONEY: Sorry, lets start with saying how much education you have and then--

WILLIAMS: Oh, I just had -- I didn't go no farther than the seventh grade. I 00:26:00went through the seventh grade. That's as far as I went. I wish I'd have went farther. My mother cried when I told her I wasn't going to go back, but the reason why is back during that depression. And, ah, so they didn't have the money. You know, back then you had to buy all your books. You had to pay a fee when you went in and all that. Well, I knew they didn't have that money. They really didn't. I had a paper route now and I was delivering papers. And a lot of times I couldn't make -- I couldn't make 25 or 50 cent in a week because the people didn't have -- they wanted the paper, but they couldn't pay for it. (inaudible) a paper boy, you'd buy the papers from the company and you'reresponsible for the money. Well, if you collect enough, you got to pay your paper bill and what's left is yours. If you didn't have but 15-20 cent, that was what -- you worked that week for that. That was it. But, ah, when I -- to get back to telling you about me becoming a supervisor, I would try when I's 00:27:00weaving, I'd watch the loom fixer when he'd fix a loom and I'd -- naturally you're around all these hours, well, you're going to learn something about it if you're interested in it at all. And then I got to where I'd try to fix my own, you know, if -- some little something -- I'm talking about some small, where it wouldn't take you but a few minutes to fix and when I got the rest of my looms running and maybe the loom fixer'd be slow getting there. Well, you know, when you're looms are not running you're not making any money either. And I'd go to 'em and I'd say, "Give me a wrench to do this or do that," you know. "I want to put this. I want to put that." If I needed some little something like a picker or something, I was, "Give me one and I'll put in on right quick." Well, they would. And, well, I'd do that and I reckon maybe the boss got to noticing about me being a little wanting to get ahead, I reckon. And so I just kept moving up from that, because ever job I ever went on I'd try to improve on it, because I felt thisaway: if I'm going to have to stay in this place for 8 hours, or 00:28:00whatever the hours may be, I want the highest paying job that's in this department. All I got to sell is my services and I'm trying to sell my services and I want all I can get for my services. And that's the way I looked at it. And I worked up through that and people took a notice of that, I reckon, by me maybe -- I didn't rush right out a lot of time the time I would get through with a certain thing on my job like most of the people that worked in there. They'd watch the clock and they'd watch the lights -- back then they'd flash lights for the change in shift or something like that. They finally got to where they'd blow a horn, but it was hard to hear in a weaving room. But, ah, anyway, that's the way I got in there, by just taking a little more time and letting 'em know that I cared. And so I think most people took a notice of that and one day 00:29:00there's a job come open and I told this fellah -- I can remember his name well. His name was Lamar Leichtsic. I asked Mr. Leichtsic, I said, "I can do that job if you can see fit to let me try." He says, "Well, I think about it." Well, he come back later and he told me to try it. And that's the way I got started. That's exactly --

STONEY: How long were you a supervisor?

M1: I got to reload.

STONEY: Ok just a minute.