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Blacks, Unions, & Organizing in the South, 1956-1996

A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY

Compiled by Rudolph Lewis

 

 

Pitiful Pleadings of Dedicated Organizer 

Ignored by AFL-CIO Bureaucracy:

THE JOHN WIGGS CASE

Mechanicsburg, Penna.

December 10, 1955

 

Mr. John Livingston

Organizational Director

718 Jackson Place, N.W.

Washington 6, D.C.

Dear Brother Livingston:

I tried very hard while in New York to have a talk with you but I know that you were a very busy man, however I did talk to John Riffe and Delmond Garst who is C.I.O. Regional Director in St. Louis and they both told me to write you a letter explaining to you in detail why I would like to if possible be transferred back as close to my home as possible.

You see Brother Livingston, I have a Son who is 16 years old that has a brain tumor and cannot be operated on for it is imbedded to deep in his brain, and he has gotten to the place now where he has no use of his legs and his eyes are about gone and he is in such shape that he requires special care and must be close to the Barnes Hospital in St. Louis so he can take xray and other treatments and it is hell to be 1300 miles away from him when he may pass away at any time.

I have never before ask any favors and I am not asking for any now, but I thought that if you were going to transfer any men to the midwest that maybe you would consider me since my home is in Hannibal, Missouri only 120 miles from St. Louis and I have been away from home since 1944.

I worked in the midwest and eastern shoe drive on the National C.I.O. payroll and then I was put in to the St. Louis regional Office as a service man for the L.I.U. Locals which consisted of Building Workers, Distillery Workers, and Refinery Workers. In addition to this I helped the steel Workers and Wood Workers in their organizing campaign in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. Then in 1946 I was sent to the six men under my direction. I stayed on the Southern drive National C.I.O. payroll until 1949 and the Southern drive was disbanded in Arkansas.

The United Shoe Workers ask me if I would stay in Arkansas as a service man for them. I stayed in Arkansas as a Service man and my work as service man consisted of, Contract Negotiations, Time studying for piece workers, Arbitrations, Labor Board hearings for elections, Unemployment Compensations cases, Workmen Compensations cases as well as organizing, writing and mimeographing all leaflets. And then in 1954 Walter Harris who I had been in three organizational drives with requested that I be placed back on National C.I.O. payroll and sent to work with him in the Pennsylvania Shoe drive and I am still in Penna.

I can't say that I am happy of the results in elections since I have been here.

I am sure that Delmond Garst would agree to take me if there is a chance of my being transferred, and if you get a chance I think Dick Leonard would gladly talk on my behalf because he knows of my circumstances. However brother Livingston I want you to know that where ever I am at I will give my best for the Labor Movement.

I am enclosing a copy of a letter of recommendation from my old Director Walter Harris.

Hoping you every success in your new assignment,

I am fraternally yours,

John Wiggs

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

[attached to letter above]

The bearer of this letter, Mr. John Wiggs, has worked with me in organizational work since the year 1940.

He formerly worked in a shoe factory in Hannibal, Mo. He has been associated with me in three drives of organization. Namely, the organization of the International and Brown Shoe Company's in the midwest and the state of New Hampshire, the Southern Drive in the state of Arkansas and the shoe drive in the state of Pennsylvania.

Because of his sincerity of purpose and his devotion to duty, plus his experience in organizational work, petitioning for elections, representing the union at hearings before the NLRB, setting up Local Unions, which included the timing of jobs, the establishment of piece rates and base hourly rates are qualifications which certainly place him in the category of a "finished organizer."

I would highly recommend him for a position with any International Union.

In view of the fact that I am retiring on September 19, 1955, and if any officer of the International Union desires to contact me relative to this recommendation, I can be reached at RD# 4, Tunkhanock, Pennsylvania - by mail.

Sincerely and fraternally yours,

Walter H. Harris

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

January 15, 1958

Mr. John Wiggs, Representative

American Federation of Labor and

Congress of Industrial organizations

P.O. Box 83

Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

 

Dear Sir and Brother:

As a result of decisions made recently by the AFL-CIO Executive Committee, the executive officers of the AFL-CIO find it necessary to reduce the size of the AFL-CIO staff to conform to the organization's current programs and financial position. This adjustment will take effect, February 1, 1958.

In pursuance of this decision, we regretfully inform you that your services as an AFL-CIO field representative must be terminated on that date.

In the hope of placing with AFL-CIO international unions as many of our separated staff members as possible, we are providing all our affiliates with a resume of each staff member's experience and general union background.

During the first week in February, a check will be transmitted to you for vacation pay in lieu of 1958 vacation time.

In addition, if you have not succeeded in obtaining a suitable post by February 15, 1958, you will be given a severance payment representing two week's salary for each year of service, or major fraction thereof, to assist you during the period you are seeking other employment.

As soon as possible please advise Harold H. Jack, Accounting Department, where your rental automobile can be picked up by a representative of Transportation Vehicles, Inc. and please return to the Accounting Department, your gasoline credit cards.

You should also advise the Accounting Department of the method that you intend to use in reimbursing the AFL-CIO for the $200.00 travel advance granted you some months ago. The Accounting Department will accept your personal check in this amount or will deduct the $200.00 advance from your terminal payment.

We regret the necessity for this staff reduction and assure you that AFL-CIO will do all it can to assist terminated staff members obtain employment in the organizing field.

Please accept our sincere thanks for service you have rendered, and our best wishes for your future undertakings.

Sincerely and fraternally,

WIlliam F. Schnitzler

Secretary-Treasurer

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Mechanicsburg, Pa.

January 20, 1958

Mr. George Meany, Pres. A.F.L.C.I.O.

815 Sixteenth St. N.W.

Washington 6, D.C.

 

To All Executive Councilmen of A.F.L.C.I.O.:

The following is the record of John Wiggs. In 1938 John L. Lewis put me on the C.I.O. payroll as a part time organizer in Hannibal, Mo. at $10.00 per week. I worked on two shoe plants and a Rubber plant in Hannibal. At that time we had a Company and the Boot and Shoe workers Union in our plant. Both had signed the same contract and we wanted to get rid of them. When it was found out that I was working for C.I.O. I was beat up. This was in December 1938.

After I got over the beating John L. Lewis came to Springfield, Illinois and three of we workers out of the plant went to see him. This was Jan. 6, 1939. He told me to keep on organizing and I would get $50.00 a week as a part time organizer, and I was to try to organize three steel plants in Hannibal. I got cards signed in all three plants and a Lime kiln as well as the rubber plant and two shoe plants. Then a rubber workers Rep. by the name of Floyd Robertson came in to Hannibal to work with me on the rubber plant. He wrote to John L. Lewis and told him that I was needed full time because I had so many plants organizing. In 1940 we won the rubber plant in C.I.O. and I was put on the C.I.O. pay roll full time.

In 1940 we won the Lime kiln and the two steel plants for C.I.O. and also a glove plant in Louisiana, Mo. In the last part of 1940 the United Shoe workers and C.I.O. worked out an agreement to put on a drive in International and Brown shoe Company's with Walter Harris Dir. I was assigned to help in that drive but was told to work on any other plants that I could, and at that time Al Kojetinsky was acting Reg. Dir. for C.I.O.

In 1941 we won the other steel plant in Hannibal, Mo. and after an N.L.R.B. hearing that lasted 35 days the N.LR.B. ordered an election in the two shoe plants in Hannibal. One plant had 1,200 employees, the other 800. C.I.O. won both of them. Also I worked on and won a woodworking plant and the other glove plant in Louisiana, Mo. I also signed 350 and got initiation fees of $2.00 per member in Starks Nursery in Louisiana, Mo. We had to strike and at 12:00 o'clock one night I was taken from my hotel room and beat up. Al Kojetinsky sent Joe Dunoncourt who later became Re. Dir. in Oklahoma to take over the strike.

Then I worked on a glove plant in Clarksville, Mo. We won this plant. After this election I went back to help Walter Harris in shoe. We won 32 elections in Int. and Brown shoe and I was beat up in Pittsfield, Illinois and put in jail. A Doctor came to the jail and ordered me to the hospital. After x-rays were made of me it was found that I had 5 broken ribs, both jaw bones broken and one eye partly put out. After this Walter Harris was taken out of the shoe drive and Walter Smithers made Dir. After I came out of the hospital I was sent to Kirsville, Mo. to organize an Int shoe plant. There I was taken out of town and thrown in a lake and stones thrown at me.

But I went back and organized this plant and won the election. Then I was sent to Quincy, Ill. to organize a shoe plant and a steel plant. While handing out leaflets at the shoe plant about 50 men came and got me and put a wire around my neck and hanged me off the Mississippi river bridge and an Illinois state police cut me down.

After working with Dir. Smithers for about 4 months three of we C.I.O. men were sent back to the Reg. office. Fred Otten went with steel, Henry Swartzot went to Kansas City and I stayed in St. Louis and worked with Dir Jim Ritchie until April 1946 I was called by Allen Haywood to come to Washington. Mr. Haywood told me that I was going in the Southern drive as an area Dir. in North-east Arkansas.

Walter Harris was State Dir. but later was made one of Van Birtners assistant Directors for 4 states. I had 4 men assigned to me in North-east Ark. I will attach a list of the plants that we won to this letter.

In June 1946 again I was beat up in Pocahontas, Ark. I was area Dir. in north-east Ark. until 1949 and was told that I was going back to the St. Louis Re. Office. Lee Tucker was Re. Dir. in Ark and the drive was over in Ark. James Mitchell, Sec. Treas. of the United Shoe wanted to put a shoe drive on in Tennessee. I was to be the Dir. with 5 men from shoe and 5 men from C.I.O. I went to Tennessee and rented an Office in Jackson, Tenn. and stayed for 30 days but the ex-board of the U.S.W.A. would not go along with James Mitchell so the drive in Tenn. was called off and I was to go to St. Louis Re. Office.

We had organized 4 shoe plants in Ark. and none of the shoe workers staff wanted to come to Ark. So James Mitchell again went to Mr. Haywood and asked for me to stay in Ark. to service the 4 plants. The shoe workers were to pay my salary and the C.I.O. my expense. The reason was that Dave Wilson who was with shoe was getting his salary from C.I.O. and his expense from shoe. Mr. Haywood said he could not have two men from his staff loaned to an Int. Union and pay both salaries, so Dave Wilson was paid one way and me the other, but Mr. Haywood told me that I would not lose my seniority by helping the show workers out.

I picked a man out of the Brown Shoe plant in Pocahontas, Ark. and kept him with me for 2 years teaching him to negotiate contracts and make time studies and service local unions. His name was Tom Anderson but when he was ready to take over he got in bad and was fired by the show workers. Again I was to stay in Ark. and pick another man to do the service work for shoe and by this time we had won 2 more shoe plants and a tub mill at Newport, Ark. and a glass plant. I picked a man by the name of John Spikes and stayed with him until 1954 with the understanding that I would go to the Reg. office in St. Louis.

But in July 1954 James Mitchell and Walter Harris wanted me to come in the shoe drive in Pa. I never refused to go any place that I was told to go in 17 years with C.I.O. and A.F.L.C.I.O. I worked with Walter Harris in the shoe drive in Pa. until he retired.

It is true no shoe elections were won in Pa. by Walter Harris and his staff in 3 years and 32 elections.

Since I have been in Pa. it is the first time I have been on the losing side and it has not made me feel good. I have always wanted to get back to the St. Louis Reg. office and during the C.I.O. convention in New York City in 1955 when A.F.L.C.I.O. were getting ready to merge I talked to John Riffe and Del Garst about getting back to St. Louis and they both said that they would talk to John Livingston. Del Garst said that he would like for me to work with him because I would be a great help to him because I know his territory so well.

At the first staff meeting after the merger I was in with John Livingston I asked him when I was going back to St. Louis and he told me to give him a little while, that he was going to put all his staff closer to home. After waiting for 4 months I wrote to del Garst and asked him to write John. I got a letter back from del Garst and he said he had talked to John Livingston about me and he was sure that if I give John a little more time I would be back in St. Louis.

I waited 9 more months and in the meantime I was paying $120.00 a month rent. After 9 more months I wrote to John Livingston again and told him I would like to know if I was going back home in St. Louis or going to stay in Pa. as I did not like to pay all I made out for rent and if I was going to stay in Pa. I was going to buy a home.

John Livingston wrote and said I was going to stay in Pa. permanently and he advised me to buy a home in Pa. So I took the $2,000.00 I had in the bank besides borrowing $750.00 from the A.F.L.C.I.O. credit Union and paid it down on a home in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

I guess many of you will wonder why I have not saved any more in all these years. Well I have a Son who is now 18 years old who has a brain tumor and has had it since 1950. I have had dim to many different hospitals and Doctors and it has cost me almost all the money I have made, besides the Hospital and medical insurance I have. He is now in a wheel chair and the Doctors say he will never be out an I may lose him any time now. I also have a little girl with bad heart and a wife who is sick, and I have been in and out of the Hospital since 1947 with a very bad heart and I also have ulcers of the stomach. I am still under the Doctors care because of the last heart attack in November of last year, but I have been working with this bad heart when the Doctors have told me not to. I have always put my Union above every thing else because I believed I was doing the next best thing in this world, putting people in my Union and making a better life for them while they live.

Now I find out after all these years and I am too old and sick to get another job that I am out and don't have anything to look forward to and I don't even have $100.00 in the bank. All the money I have is put in a home that I will lose because I have no job to make the payments on it. I am 1,000 miles away from home. I have always believed in security, it was one of the greatest selling points in organizing. Now I find out that it did not mean me. Job security I have told workers is worth all you pay in dues. Now I find out that I have no job seniority.

Gentlemen when you read this letter I want you to remember that you are in office because the organizer worked night and day and organized workers to elect you to office and made you look good.

I see that one and one-half million dollars is going to be spent in the next year for an educational program. Why not give this to the organizer. Give him the job of going from one local union to another and different organizations and teach what our Union stands for. He will do a better job than all the letters you can print in your educational dep't.

Am I mad at my Union? No sir, I am not. I will do anything I can to help the workers come in my Union. I believe in it with all my heart but I will also fight for my rights and my right in my seniority, and to be laid off according to seniority. That is what I have preached for 17 years and this is what I believe in. Attached is a list of plants that I have helped win for my union, and I know that I can put many more workers in my Union if I am given the chance.

I am sending copies of this letter to every executive Council man in the A.F.L.C.I.O. in hopes they will read it.

Thank you,

Fraternally yours,

John Wiggs.

*   *   *   *   *   *   * 

AFL-CIO National Headquarters

815 Sixteenth Street

Washington 6, D.C.

January 24, 1958

 

Mr. John Wiggs

P.O. Box 83

Mechanicsburg, Pa.

 

Dear Brother Wiggs:

This is written in response to your letter of January 17, 1958 discussing the question of your credited service record.

I have examined personally the pertinent records in the possession of the Secretary-Treasurer's office and in the Organization Department to determine if there is documentary evidence in support of your claim of uninterrupted service since 1941.

Not only is there no such evidence available, the fact is that the materials on hand seems to establish beyond a doubt that your service was interrupted by an interval of at least five years.

The records show that you were placed on the CIO payroll first in February, 1942, and removed in August 1945. Some time subsequent to that date you became associated with the CIO's Southern Drive until 1949 when the State of Arkansas was eliminated from the Southern Drive area.

You received a new appointment to the CIO July 1, 1954 after a break in employment, either with National CIO or the Southern Drive of CIO, of approximately five years.

Under terms of the pension program, employment prior to the time of interrupted service can not be included when computing the AFL-CIO credited service if the period of interruption is greater than twenty-four consecutive months.

That the period of your interrupted service is in excess of that is established by the evidence on hand including a letter over your signature to CIO Secretary Treasurer James B. Carey date November 25, 1954 which states that you were on the United Shoeworkers payroll from 1949 until July 1, 1954.

Your credited service for AFL-CIO retirement purposes dates, accordingly, from your appointment in 1954.

Final decision on credited service rests, as you know, outside this Department, but we would take every step possible to support your position if there were anything concrete on which to base a recommendation.

I regret that there is nothing further I can do in this matter.

With all good wishes, I am

Fraternally,

John W. Livingston

*   *   *   *   *   *   * 

Mechanicsburg, Pa.

January 24, 1958

Mr. George Meany, Pres. A.F.L.C.I.O.

815 Sixteenth St. N.W.

Dear George:

I am at a loss to understand what is happening to me after organizing workers in to our great Union for the last 18 years. And I am sure that you will not agree with the answers I have gotten in trying to take up my case in the Organizational Dep't in Washington, D.C.

I have written to John Livingston and James Carey asking them to let me bring my records in to show that I have 17 years seniority with the organizing staff of former C.I.O. The only answer that I have gotten was a call from one of John Livingston's assistants telling me that I had lost my seniority when I was loaned to an International Union in the Southern Drive.

This is not true because an agreement was reached between Allen Haywood, James Mitchell, Sec't. of U.S.W.A. and myself and if I am given the chance to meet with you, James Carey and Walter Reuther I am sure that I can prove that I am entitled to my seniority rights.

Besides this Mr. Meany my home is Hannibal, Mo. and I worked out of the St. Louis Regional Office. During the first staff meeting after John Livingston was made organizational Director I talked to him about going back to the St. Louis Region and at that time he told me that he was going to move all of his organizers as close to home as possible. And if I would give him a little time he thought that I would be going back to St. Louis. However, after about 9 months I wrote to him again about it and told him that I was paying such high rent in Pa. that if I was going to be kept here it would be better for me to buy a home.

I received an answer from John telling me that I was assigned in Pa. permanently and not to worry about my job and go ahead and buy a home. I taken all the money I had in the bank and borrowed $600.00 from the Credit Union and put it on my home. Now I find out by a very short notice that I am no longer needed on the staff.

I also find out that there is no job on any Int. Union for me and the $200.00 that was advanced for organizational expenses about a year ago will be deducted from my last check.

Although I have spent a great deal more than the $200.00 out of my own pocket paying for parking, hotel bills over the $6.50 and for meals for people I was trying to organize. I called Harold Jack and ask him if I could pay back the $200.00 in payments starting in March and he informed me that I could not.

Mr. Meany I have a Son who has a brain tumor that is very serious and I need all the money that I can possibly get hold of to try and save his life, but it seems that no consideration can be given me because of certain rulings of the executive council.

Mr. Meany I have been beat up 4 different times with about every bone in my body broken and one eye party put out working for my Union preaching security. Now I find out that I am an old man who can't get a job any where else and without security.

Mr. Meany would you and Walter Reuther please give me an appointment so that I can bring my records to you.

Thanking you in advance for your consideration,

Fraternally yours,

John Wiggs

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

February 20, 1958

Mr. John W. Wiggs, Sr.

214 South High Street

Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Dear Sir and Brother:

In our letter to you of January 15, 1958, in which we notified you of the termination of your employment effective February 1, 1958, you were advised that you had not succeeded in obtaining a suitable position by February 15, 1958, you would be given a severance payment representing two weeks salary for each year of service or major fraction thereof to assist you during the period you are seeking other employment.

To date we have not been advised that you have been able to obtain such a position, and we are therefore, enclosing our check representing eight weeks severance pay.

We are continuing in force, your group life insurance and medical coverage for the number of weeks noted above for which you are receiving severance pay.

Within thirty-one (31) days from the date your group life insurance coverage is terminated, there is a conversion privilege to a regular life insurance policy without a physical examination.

Notification should be given the Union labor Life Insurance Company, 200 East 70th Street, New York 21, N.Y. before the end of this thirty-one (31) day conversion period. With your notification, you should advise them of your date of birth.

With very best wishes, I am

Fraternally yours,

William Schnitzler

Secretary-Treasurer

AFL-CIO

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   

January 5, 1960

Mr. Henry McFarland, Director

Region III, AFL-CIO

Bankers securities Building

Philadelphia 7, Pennsylvania

 

Dear Hank:

This is to acknowledge your letter of December 17 and the enclosed communication addressed to you by John Wiggs.

In reference to your statement, "It seems a pity that we in the Labor Movement, while doing everything we can for our membership, seem to forget those who contributed to the welfare and safety of the rank and file members", you may not be aware of the generous allowance granted Brother Wiggs shortly after he was laid off in 1958, which was over and above his regular severance pay.

Having noted in one of his letters that he had applied for Social Security in February 1959, which obviously would have to come under the total and permanent disability provision of the Act, AFL-CIO Social Security Director Nelson Cruickshank was asked to seek a speedy decision on the matter.

Brother Wiggs and his wife have written to many people about their situation. The director of his international union in his territory, Russell Taylor, has written to all local unions and organizers asking that they make a donation or collection for John Wiggs.

Of course, I am sure you are aware that anyone wishing to do so may make a financial contribution to the Wiggs family.

Sincerely and fraternally,

John W. Livingston

Director of Organization

*   *   *   *   *

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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