This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 7 No. 1, "Behind Closed Doors." Find more from that issue here.
“We’ve been taking on the whole damned city,” says a textile worker active in the unionizing drive at Greenville’s J. P. Stevens mills. “The newspapers, the TV, the businesses, the churches, the schools — we have to take them all on.”
Greenville, South Carolina, has a national reputation for virulent antiunionism. Recently, for example, The New York Times called it one of the “most relentlessly anti-union cities in the nation.” It is a reputation of which many in the Greenville business community are proud, a reputation they have self-consciously built and intend to maintain. Less than eight percent of the workers employed in the county belong to a union; and those who try to increase that rate or lessen the $2,830 wage gap between industrial workers here and the rest of the country find themselves very much in the minority.
“People come to Greenville to get away from unions,” says an executive from a major textile company. “They say, ‘I want to live again, I don’t want to be harassed all the time.’”
Greenville has changed over the years — drastically, some would say — but it remains a place where executives feel they can live again, a place to get away from union demands and government regulators. “It’s Good To Be Home in Greenville,” boasts the city’s Chamber of Commerce. In an era of runaway shops, conservative politics, and resurgent religion, it is also a place whose national significance far exceeds the size of its population — 62,000 in the city, 278,000 in Greenville County. Among other things, Greenville is the home of:
• Michelin Tire Corporation, the French-based multinational firm and pioneer of the radial tire. Michelin chose Greenville and neighboring Anderson and Spartanburg counties to locate its first plants in America because the area’s work force was both familiar with factory work and hostile to labor organizing. The United Rubber Workers, fearful that the presence of non-union plants in the US will weaken its bargaining position with the Big Four tire makers, has tried to organize Michelin’s new workers — with little success. Michelin, which is completely unionized in France, plans to build more plants in the South, adding to its present $350 million investment and work force of over 2,500.
• Robert T. Thompson, chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce’s labor relations committee, senior partner in one of the country’s top antiunion law firms, and chief strategist behind the massive lobbying campaign and filibuster that scuttled the Labor Law Reform Act of 1978. “I’ve been sort of a technical advisor to Chamber lobbyists,” Thompson says dryly. Defeating the bill, which would have strengthened the National Labor Relations Act, became Thompson’s number one obsession in 1978. His law firm — Thompson, Mann & Hutson — contributed over 100 amendments to weaken the bill; the firm’s clients include a score of the biggest companies and trade associations in the country, including Deering-Milliken, GE, Campbell Soup, and the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. “I happen to think that defeating this thing is in the best interest of the companies I represent,” Thompson concludes.
• Daniel International Corporation, the third largest industrial contractor in the nation. After World War II, founder Charles E. Daniel “sensed the tidal strength of the [Southern industrial development] movement and became its captain through his ability to offer sites, survey information, and good, fast, low-cost, and complete plant construction.”* Before his death in 1964, his company had built over 400 plants in the South — 250 in South Carolina alone — for companies like Celanese, J. P. Stevens and Dan River Mills. His nephew, Buck Mickel, follows in his footsteps, especially in his opposition to union labor. In 1977, Daniel International merged into the large, California-based Fluor Corporation, a move both firms believe will give them a stronger position in the burgeoning non-union construction field, particularly in Daniel’s current specialty — building nuclear and fossil fuel power plants for utilities.
• Clement Furman Haynsworth, Jr., segregationist judge from one of Greenville’s oldest families. (His great-grandfather, the Rev. Richard Furman, founded Furman University while serving as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention 152 years ago.) Richard Nixon appointed Haynsworth to the US Supreme Court, but the Senate eventually rejected his nomination. While Chief Justice of the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Haynsworth frequently wrote decisions upholding segregationist practices which the US Supreme Court regularly overturned on appeal. His nomination was part of a package of favors which Strom Thurmond won from Nixon in exchange for campaigning for him in the South in 1968 against George Wallace. The deal, worked out in an Atlanta hotel room meeting between Nixon and the South Carolina senator, resulted in protective tariffs for the textile industry, relaxation of the federal role in school desegregation, and the insertion of 20- odd friends and associates of Thurmond into key administration posts. According to writer Neal Peirce, “rarely in American history has a political debt been so handsomely, consistently paid off.”
• J. P. Stevens & Company, the nation’s second largest textile company, with 18 of its 85 plants in the Greenville area, as well as its manufacturing, personnel, and purchasing headquarters located in the Daniel Building, Greenville’s largest. The New York-based textile firm more than doubled its size in 1946 by merging with a network of Southern mill owners centered in Greenville. Stevens is now the city’s largest industrial employer. The target of a national union organizing campaign, the company moved its annual stockholders’ meeting from New York to Greenville’s Textile Hall in March, 1978, to avoid a recurrence of embarrassing demonstrations that met its owners in 1977. Stevens is so incensed by the continuous barrage of public attacks from New York politicians, labor leaders, editorial writers, and even Wall Street insiders, that it has threatened to abandon the Stevens Tower in midtown Manhattan, no doubt to consolidate its troops in Greenville.
• Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist training center for hundreds of missionaries and ministers that helped Greenville earn another of its favorite slogans, “Buckle of the Bible Belt.” Students are forbidden to smoke, drink, hold hands, dance, kiss or date without chaperones. Bob Jones III is the current university president, following the precedent of his grandfather, who founded the school in 1927, and his father, Bob Jones, Jr., who is now the chancellor. With 5,700 students and buildings worth over $40 million, Bob Jones University is the largest fundamentalist university in the world. It also operates an FM radio station, broadcasting classical music, religious sermons, and editorials by Ronald Reagan (sponsored by Roger Milliken) across three states.
• Roger Milliken, head of Deering- Milliken, the nation’s largest privately held textile company. Although he lives in Spartanburg, Milliken is a major influence in Greenville (where his Judson Mill employs 1,100), the rest of South Carolina and the country. Besides sponsoring the Ronald Reagan editorials on WMUU, he contributes heavily to a wide variety of ultraconservative causes, including the John Birch Society and National Right to Work Committee. He gives his executives free subscriptions to Bill Buckley’s National Review. He gave Richard Nixon $84,000 in 1972, some of it secretly, and was a key figure in what Jack Anderson called “a direct link between a campaign payoff to President Nixon and his efforts to restrict textile imports.” In labor circles, Milliken is known for “the Darlington case,” a 13-year battle which followed Milliken’s decision to close his Darlington mill after the textile workers union won an election in 1956. Even after the courts finally decided Milliken should compensate the employees for being fired illegally, Deering-Milliken attorneys kept the case on appeal for several more years, preventing any of the 550 affected workers from receiving a dime.
Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Piedmont, Greenville was originally a second-home community for wealthy Charlestonians seeking refuge from the heat of South Carolina’s Low Country. By the late 1880s, the town became the center for a new kind of plantation: the mill village. At first spurned by the Low Country cotton planters, industrialization soon impressed many of the post-Civil War elite as the only means for “resurgence.” Greenville, with the waterfalls of its Reedy River and its proximity to the impoverished white farmers in the hills, became the natural hub of the movement. New South advocates like Benjamin F. Perry urged local businessmen to “educate the masses, industrialize, work hard, and seek Northern capital to develop Southern resources.” Perry, who had argued against secession with men like Dr. James Furman, was not exactly a popular figure among the wealthy whites. But his new advice seemed to possess more merit.
In 1873, Vardry McBee and three Bostonians newly arrived in Greenville began the Vardry Mill, powered by the falls of the Reedy River. It was the town’s first textile factory. The next year, Colonel H. P. Hammett opened the Piedmont Manufacturing Co. on the Saluda River, following the lead of his father-in-law, William Bates, a Rhode Island native who had started Greenville County’s first cotton mill a half century earlier on the banks of the Enoree River. And in 1881, Captain Ellison Adger Smyth, grandson of a Charleston banker, joined F. J. Pelzer to organize the Pelzer Mill.
Newly created mill villages like Piedmont and Pelzer flourished, inviting other capitalists to open their own versions in or around Greenville. Whole towns, with company-owned houses, stores and churches, sprang up almost overnight. By 1882, Greenville County employed more “hands” (1250 workers, including children) in cotton mills than any other South Carolina county; the South’s total textile employment of 19,400 in 1880 and 44,800 in 1890, while gaining rapidly, was still dwarfed by New England’s 217,700 textile workers in 1880 and 259,500 in 1890.*
At this early point, labor organizing challenged the hegemony of mill owners. In October, 1886, while conducting a strike at cotton mills in Augusta, Georgia, the Knights of Labor came to the Greenville area. According to textile executive and amateur historian Malcolm Cross, the workers’ enthusiasm produced “a frantic correspondence among South Carolina textile leaders about the Knights and what to do about them.” The solution, then as now, seemed to hinge on firing the leaders and vigorously repressing the momentum for union organizing. When the Knights helped employees at the Pelzer and Piedmont mills, Cross says, “Capt. Smyth and Col. Hammett responded quickly and effectively, sought out and discharged the troublemakers and brought to a halt the abortive attempt to organize their workers.”
The industry’s policy of racial segregation also took shape in these early days. Capt. Smyth, generally recognized as the ‘‘Dean of Southern Cotton Manufacturers,” organized rifle clubs with the single purpose of defending white rule from scalawags and carpetbaggers and keeping blacks in their place. When Wade Hampton won the governor’s office in 1876 with the help of roving bands of “Red Shirts” like Capt. Smyth’s men, Reconstruction ended; new rules rigidly segregating the races soon circumscribed every part of society.
From then on, mill owners could always point to the “white only” status of textile factories as visible evidence of their loyalty to their workers. Racism, in a state that was still 51 percent black in 1920, thus became the linchpin in a new form of Southern paternalism whose finer accoutrements included everything from free Christmas turkeys to garden plots, company-sponsored sports teams to scholarship funds.
Between the 1890s and World War I, Greenville experienced its “textile gold rush years.” Mills and mill villages sprang up through the Piedmont, especially in Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg counties. Greenville’s population jumped from 1,518 in 1860 to 8,607 in 1890 to 23,127 in 1920; meanwhile, employment in the county’s cotton mills rose from 1,800 in 1890 to 8,500 in 1920. Owners added more looms and spindles to old factories and opened new ones, borrowing capital from machinery manufacturers, the commission houses which sold the finished goods, the local banks which mill owners established, and from each other. Stores, hospitals, utilities, newspapers, schools, churches — all were organized and either owned outright by the mill men or tied to their fortunes through marriage and an elaborate network of middlemen (lawyers, realtors, financiers, contractors) and interlocking boards of directors. For example, James Orr, Jr., who married Col. H. P. Hammett’s daughter, is described by a biographer as
president of the Piedmont Manufacturing Company, Piedmont, S. C. He was organizer of the Orr Cotton Mills of Anderson, S. C., vice president of the American Company, the Mills Manufacturing Company, the Greenville News, the Paris Mountain Hotel Company and the Greenville Gas and Electric Company. He was a director of the First National Bank of Greenville, the American National Bank, and the People’s Bank of Greenville, also of the Easley Manufacturing Company and the Cox Manufacturing Company. He also served as trustee of the South Carolina Medical College of Charleston, of Converse Colege in Spartanburg and Clemson Agricultural College of Clemson.**
Such inbreeding and intricate interweaving of interests has long characterized the Piedmont, and has made Greenville the aristocratic center of upper South Carolina, as Charleston is for the Low Country. Capt. Smyth’s daughter married A. F. McKissick, who was president of Ninety-Six (the name of another mill town) Cotton Mills and later owner of Alice Manufacturing Company. Their grandsons, A. Foster and Ellison, still play an active role in Greenville textiles and banking. Similarly, the Stone, Earle, Haynesworth and Furman families — all among the most powerful in Greenville today — are interconnected through common ancestry as well as current business interests (see the Wheel of Fortune on page 98).
The actual consolidation of several mills under one corporation — rather than through interrelated, but independent stock owners — did not occur until Lewis W. Parker merged a group of 16 mills into the Parker Mills Co. in 1907. Fie organized the corporation to rescue mill owners who had suffered large losses in the financial panics of the early 1900s. But in 1914 his own company went into receivership when the bottom fell out of his investments in the cotton market.
The trend, however, had been established; larger and larger companies formed or expanded by buying Southern mills. Commission houses such as Milliken & Co., J. P. Stevens, Josiah Bailey and Iselin-Jefferson (later Dan River) moved into direct ownership of mills. By the end of World War I, when the market for textile products soared, these Northern interests joined Southern mill owners in capitalizing a host of factories. In 1920, Greenville County had 22 mills with 750,000 spindles, making it the largest textile center in the state, with neighboring Spartanburg County a close second. Only Gaston County, North Carolina, had more spindles in the South.
By 1930, with Northern investment flowing faster and faster into the region, the South finally surpassed New England in the number of spindles and looms in production. Newer equipment, cheaper labor, lower taxes, combined with the introduction of scientific management techniques (the speed-up and stretch-out), helped profits in Southern textiles leap past those in the North. But the industry’s commitment to maintaining the paternalism of the earlier generation of mill owners remained unchanged. When workers in Greenville County joined the national textile strike of 1934 (the country’s largest mass strike), their meetings were infiltrated by company spies, they were harassed by company “deputies,” and chased off picket lines by the national guard. On September 6, 1934, six strikers in nearby Honea Path were killed and 30 injured in a shootout between company men and strikers. Shootings also occurred at Judson Mills and other area plants. The national guard, on orders of the South Carolina governor, patrolled the mill villages until the strike was finally crushed in late September.***
By World War II, Greenville had firmly established itself as the ‘Textile Capital of the World.” And with a mixture of brute force and graceful paternalism, its leaders had taught both blacks and whites how to stay in their places. The well-disciplined work force and pro-business climate of the area attracted other employers in the post-war economic boom. The size of Greenville (58,000) and the area’s textile employment (21,000) grew little after 1950, but a plethora of non-textile plants opened on the outer edges of the city, especially along the 30-mile Interstate 85 corridor to Spartanburg.
The value added by manufacturing factories in Greenville County jumped sevenfold between 1947 and 1976, the population rose from 158,000 to 278,000 and the number of nonmanufacturing jobs (trade, finance, utilities, government, services) climbed from 15,800 to 51,800. In the 16-year period from 1960 to 1976, over $650 million in new industrial investment entered Greenville County, with much of that in the non-textile field. The number of jobs in these industries — chemicals, electrical equipment, rubber, apparel, even aerospace — doubled from 15,000 to 30,000 during those years; and the contribution which the textile mills made to the total value of products made in the county declined from more than one half in 1960 to less than one third in 1975 ($571 million out of $1.85 billion).
Other changes in the post-war era further complicated the plantation-style rule of the old mill men. The automobile helped render the mill-owned village obsolete; workers could be recruited from outside the county, and those in the mill houses possessed a new mobility. The new employers that arrived offered higher wages, pulling skilled loom fixers and others out of the mills and raising the expectations of other workers. Legislation to improve the pitiful educational levels of South Carolinians, while consistently opposed by the textile interests, gradually made headway. In 1960, the South Carolina attorney general, with the agreement of the mill owners, finally declared unconstitutional the state law effectively barring blacks from work in textile factories. But it took the civil rights movement and Civil Rights Act of 1964 to open the gates. Black employment in South Carolina mills rose from under five percent in the early ’60s to 17 percent in 1968 to 30 percent in 1976. Federal regulation of many other areas formerly considered the sole prerogative of management also stepped up in the ’60s and ’70s. No longer could a handful of men make decisions the way they had for a century.
“It used to be that a man could make a decision, put on his hat, and that would be the decision of the board of directors,” recalls a descendant of one of Greenville’s most prominent textile families. “It’s an awful nice way of doing business and we miss it now.”
“So many Yankees have come in,” rues a construction company executive, “the courthouse crowd just doesn’t have the power anymore.”
But some men recognized that there were ways to adapt to the changes. Alester Furman, Jr., like his father before him, is one of these. At 80, he has lived long enough to hear others call him “A Man of Great Vision” — and, indeed, he has led two generations of Greenville’s elite in making the transition from mill-owned schools, churches, homes, hospitals and clubs to independent, but friendly, enterprises.
Furman tells a story about a 1946 train ride he took with Robert Stevens, then chairman of the board of directors of J. P. Stevens. Stevens was touring the South, putting the final touches on the merger plan that would bring the modern J. P. Stevens into existence.
As they passed a mill village, Furman turned to Stevens. “Bob,” he asked, “when are you going to sell your houses?”
The very thought horrified Stevens. “Never, I’ll never do that,” he said emphatically. “We’d lose control of our workers.”
Furman smiled and shook his head. “We’ll manage,” he told Stevens confidently.
Indeed they have, though in ways much less obvious, though no less effective.
One of the principal tactics in maintaining control while expanding the circle of power involves letting in only your friends. For Greenville’s elite, this strategy has meant blocking the entrance of companies into the area that are not aggressively antiunion.
“There’s a long history of local interests, textile interests, encouraging or discouraging new industry,” recalls E. D. Sloan, Jr., a Greenville road construction magnate. “The mills that were here controlled the water commission. ... The water commission would say, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have enough water.’ It was the prerogative of the good ole boys in the courtroom.”
Many in Greenville remember a time in the ’30s, for example, when the Manhattan Clothing Shop tried to open a plant in Greenville. Manhattan had a “closed shop” contract and likely would have opened a unionized plant. The good ole boys in the courtroom quickly mobilized to keep it out altogether.
Recently, the most highly publicized example of screening a prospective business followed Philip Morris’ 1977 announcement that it had bought an option on land near Greenville as a possible site for a $100 million plant that would employ an estimated 2,500 workers. Several bankers were anxious to have Philip Morris, with its huge payroll and purchasing power, come into the area. But some of the biggest names in Greenville business, and in South Carolina politics, made known their opposition to Philip Morris on the basis of its contract with the Tobacco Workers Union in its North Carolina plants. The heavy guns came out blasting.
“It would be like inviting the devil into the dining room,” says Sloan. “I told one of those bankers, ‘Let’s run those bastards off; somebody else will come.’”
“It was going to be a large plant,” anti-union lawyer Robert Thompson recalls. “My objection was that they were coming here and not giving employees a free choice. The industrial climate of South Carolina is based on non-unionization. If Philip Morris were here with unionized workers and families, this would no longer be a nonunion community.”
“No way that plant should ever have come here,” Buck Mickel declares. Mickel is generally considered “the single most powerful man in Greenville.” His uncle, Charles Daniel, founder of Daniel Construction Co., is still revered as the patron saint of Greenville’s business community. “Philip Morris would have brought in a union,” Mickel says in explaining his opposition to its proposed move. “It’s a corporation that takes and never gives. I know, I’ve worked for them.”
Most textile companies shun publicity, but Bob Coleman, chairman of Riegel Textile, admits he is “very opposed to organized labor;” and another Riegel executive went on record during the Philip Morris debate expressing “concern ... about Philip Morris’ union status. It’s very difficult to believe they’re going to have the will to preserve our open shop environment.”****
Even Michelin Tire, a newcomer to Greenville, publicly said it had “reservations” about the new tobacco factory. Ironically, when Michelin first located in Greenville in 1974, it encountered the same kind of scrutiny and resistance. Local businessmen were afraid its higher pay scale and better package of benefits would disrupt the prevailing rates for Greenville workers. They also feared Michelin would not strenuously oppose organizing by the United Rubber Workers Union. Its new plants would be susceptible to unionization, mill owner Eugene Stone III complained to the newspaper in 1973. And that would be “just like a cancer; once they get a foothold, it tends to spread.”
Michelin has since established itself as a strong advocate of anti-unionism. It took the unusual step of naming as plant manager not an experienced production supervisor, but an expert in “personnel management.” It regularly sends representatives to the anti-union courses offered by the Chamber of Commerce and area schools. And it has established personal ties to Greenville’s old-line elite; the Michelin family has become close friends of the Furmans.
Orienting new businesses like Michelin to the Greenville way of doing things is one of the roles of the local Chamber of Commerce. With a fulltime staff of 24 professionals and an annual budget of $650,000, the Chamber operates an extensive program of lobbying, management training and public education (see article by Mike Russell). It is most sophisticated and best organized at what it considers most important: the effort to keep unions out. Plenty of people, it seems, remain unpersuaded about the dangers of unions. A Lou Harris poll of South Carolinians in 1971 found that most citizens thought the lack of labor organization hurt their standard of living. In answer to the question, “Industry is just running away from labor unions by moving South — we should unionize here too,” 44 percent agreed and only 30 percent disagreed.
While unions like ACTWU eagerly organize a newly responsive workforce, the Chamber has its own programs to preserve the status quo. A Communications Action Program is “directed toward the general public stressing its stake in maintaining a climate free from union organization and collective bargaining.” A Communication Network Task Force monitors “labor activity in its formative stages.” A Business-Industrial Relations Committee serves as trouble-shooter to combat “third party intervention” (the Chamber’s term for union representatives). Significantly, the Committee’s guiding light is GE vice president Stephen Dolny, another indication of how “diversification” has actually provided the Greenville business community with some of its most aggressive antiunion leaders.
The Chamber’s Leadership Greenville program most clearly reflects the changing methods of control exercised by the Greenville business community. As the old-line leaders died or moved out of the limelight, others in Greenville, and at the Chamber in particular, feared “a crisis of leadership.” Leadership Greenville is designed to meet this crisis by training 40 to 50 young professionals a year in a variety of subjects — "labor. . . leadership .. . economy . . . education ... media . .. the arts.” The goal is ‘‘developing a core of informed, committed and qualified individuals,” a core of individuals who will share the Chamber’s perspective in their leadership of Greenville.
Training this core of leadership has proven crucial to fulfilling the primary goal in the business control of Greenville: the prevention of independent sources of opposition or criticism to corporate policies. When Alester Furman, Jr., and other established leaders relaxed their personal control of key institutions in the community and guided the transition to “independent” enterprises, they needed to make sure these new entities were headed by friendly, pro-management people. Independent-minded newspapers, churches, universities, professional and civic associations,! and social service agencies could play a vital role in challenging the status quo and creating an atmosphere conducive to critical thinking and dynamic interchange. Significantly, such free-spirited institutions are not allowed to thrive in Greenville.
Greenville. Greenville’s two newspapers — the News and the Piedmont — are both owned by Multimedia and both consistently run pro-management editorials.***** A top textile executive calls Jim McKinney, editor of the News’ editorial page, “a good ole boy you can count on.” McKinney himself proudly tells visitors that his friends are among the top businessmen in Greenville and his brother-in-law is a former Burlington Industries executive.
Neither paper seems very interested in investigative reporting, or in asking Greenville’s leaders any embarrassing questions. “The basic policy is ‘Keep Your Eyes Closed,”’ says one of the papers’ reporters. “It’s not an explicit policy, but it’s implicit.” Even a reporter from The Daily News Record, the textile industry trade newspaper, calls the papers’ coverage “miserable.” J. Kelly Sisk, chairman of the board of Multimedia, has a different opinion:
We recognize that the textile industry is extremely important. . . . In the newspaper business, you have to think about people — advertisers, merchants, stores where newspapers are bought and sold. It’s our purpose to give good, solid coverage of the textile industry. That’s our avowed purpose. . .. We’re respected for it. ”
Sisk’s curious sense of his newspapers’ constituency — advertisers, merchants and store owners — reveals much about the independence of the News and the Piedmont. So does Multimedia’s extensive involvement in running its personnel through the Leadership Greenville seminars; and so do the numerous corporate interlocks between Sisk, other Multimedia executives and the Greenville business establishment (see chart p. 98). The cordial relationship Multimedia’s local television station, WFBC, maintains with the city’s elite is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the station recently had two women broadcasters change their surnames to two of the most important in the city — Furman and Daniel. “It was no coincidence.” says WFBC News Director John Poston. “Furman and Daniel are familiar and easy names in Greenville.”
The academic institutions of Greenville — Bob Jones, Clemson, Furman and Greenville Tech — also fail to examine critically, much less challenge, the claims and prerogatives of corporate power. Sermons at Bob Jones regularly condemn interest in unions or reliance on government-supported welfare programs as “un-Christian” — a true Christian would await the welfare of Christ.
Furman University projects a more liberal image, but in many ways it is just as hostile to “interference with business.” Two years ago, for example, the School of Continuing Education offered a seminar on “Practical Collective Bargaining,” taught by arbitrators with the National Labor Relations Board. It was hoped that both union and management would participate. But the very concept of “practical collective bargaining” is so repugnant to Greenville executives that few companies sent representatives.
In fact, the idea that Furman sanctioned a seminar promoting the notion of feasible unionism raised the dander of some of the university trustees.
“We caught a little flak from Mr. Furman about doing it,” recalls Dr. Louis Phillips, Furman’s Dean of Continuing Education. “We felt that, as a liberal arts institution, we were justified . . . but it turned out to be so heavily union that we decided not to do it again.”
Phillips learned his lesson well. Last year, the School of Continuing Education offered a seminar in “Maintaining Non-Union Status.”
The atmosphere at Clemson, a state university, is no more free of corporate influence. The school’s president since 1959, Robert C. Edwards, is a former treasurer of Deeri ng-Mi 11i ken and now serves as a director of Dan River Mills and Duke Power. The school’s curriculum features an extensive textile management program to train future mill executives. “You wouldn’t believe the pressure around here about unions,” says one young history professor. “If you don’t mind unions, and if you like your job, you learn to shut up. And if you hate unions, letting people know about it is a good way to advance your career.”
While Clemson and Furman teach the management, Greenville Technical Education College trains their employees. It can hardly be expected to rankle the employers who will provide jobs for its students. Actually, Greenville’s textile leaders were among the strongest opponents to Governor Ernest Hollings’ plan to begin a statewide network of technical schools in the early 1960s. But today they are proud to claim Greenville TEC as evidence of their vision and concern for the advancement of their workers. As Senator Hollings recently explained, the textile industry for decades operated on a cyclical pattern of employment following the market demand for various materials. It would go from peaks of six-day weeks around the clock to valleys of a single shift one day a week. “At the peak,” Hollings said,
they wanted to reach out and get all those employees. They didn’t want anyone competing and certainly not training them to higher skills and going off to higher pay. So we had quite a struggle in actually instituting our technical and industrial arts program. Every textile and chamber of commerce man in South Carolina now is proud of our industrial training. But they were the ones who resisted it at first.
Greenville’s elite have made a habit of keeping the city in the dark — and then claiming credit when a ray of sunshine breaks through. From the creation of public schools — originally opposed because they would take the children out of the mills — to the technical colleges, all social advances are projected as gifts from the benevolent owners concerned for the welfare of their beloved workers. The same self-serving distortions allow business leaders to claim credit for opening mills to black workers and for providing higher-paying non-textile jobs with national corporations which have located in Greenville — even though both changes were vigorously resisted for years. Adopting these changes as their own is one of the ways Greenville’s corporate power structure maintains its control: rather than fight to the death on an issue, it absorbs the inevitable into its own framework and thus keeps the upper hand. Graceful, but thorough, control.
There are still a few realities that Greenville’s rulers have not faced, much less accepted as consequences of their backward policies and hegemonic control. Most significantly, Greenville suffers from chronic poverty. People who work hard remain poor. For Buck Mickel, chairman of Daniel International, Greenville “is just a nice place to live.” He and his family are among the 200 families that made more than $50,000 in 1970. But for fully one-third of Greenville’s families, their year’s income failed to top $6,000.
“Poverty is not a real big problem,” says Dr. Larry McCalla, chairman of the county council, from his spacious home in a secluded suburban neighborhood. “There’s no place you could pick out as a real deep poverty situation.”
State Senator Charles Garrett also doesn’t think the problem is all that bad. His attitude is perhaps best expressed by a sign in his office in Dan River Mills: “Stamp Out Poverty — Get Rich Quick.”
Men like McCalla and Garrett and Mickel are likely to tell you that poverty is on the decline in Greenville, that wages are going up. They’ll cite statistics to back that up — the estimate that, by 1980, four times as many local families will have annual incomes exceeding $50,000. But they might not mention estimates that, in 1980, a third of Greenville’s families will still be getting by on less than $10,000 a year. Or that South Carolina ranks 46th in per capita personal income ($5126 compared to the national figure of $6441 in 1976).
Nor are the annual income figures the only evidence of serious and unmet social needs in Greenville. In 1970, for example, Greenville had the third highest murder rate in the country. Greenville also continues to spend relatively little on its public schools even though it has more money available than the rest of the state. The Greenville County Planning Commission put it succinctly: "outlays per pupil in Greenville County are approximately the same as those in the state of South Carolina as a whole, even though income per capita in the county is 15 percent greater.” The illiteracy rate in the state is the second highest in America, yet teacher pay and per-pupil school expenditures are the second lowest. In the early 1970s, the South Carolina Education Association grew so disturbed by these inadequacies that it threatened to impose sanctions if the legislature did not grant a sizeable increase in teachers’ pay. Until a $500 increase was granted in 1973, the average teacher earned $1,400 below the Southeastern average.
These continuing needs — the poverty, the crime, the schools — have not moved Greenville’s leaders to tax its corporations or its wealthy citizens more heavily. A study in 1970 revealed that the state could collect $165 million more a year in property taxes and $31 million more in personal income taxes without exceeding the national average tax rates. The same study showed that South Carolina reaps $36 million more from its sales taxes (which fall most heavily on the poor) than the national average. But instead of taxing the rich, Greenville and South Carolina continue to make those least able to pay support the costs of government services. After all, low taxes are one of the preconditions for a healthy business climate. Even the so-called "leading progressives” accept this assumption without question. "Our schools are better than some people might think,” says Max Heller, who served as the city’s reform-minded mayor from January, 1971 to January, 1979; "if our taxes were higher, we would have less development.”
Ironically, Heller takes his liberal credentials as "a man who serves the people’s interests” to his new post as head of South Carolina’s industrial development office. Part of his job involves continuing — albeit under state sponsorship — the paternalistic tradition of convincing workers/voters that their best interests are served by granting more concessions to industry. But the facts suggest that the principle of "business first, the people’s welfare second” has had an overall stifling effect on the social conditions of Greenville and South Carolina. Because Greenville is the most industrialized part of the state, its low corporate and property taxes have left South Carolina poor and helped lead the state to the bottom of the stack in many areas: South Carolina ranks 43rd among the states in percentage of families with income less than $3,000; 42nd in number of hospital beds per one thousand persons; 48th in average student-teacher ratio; 49th in the percentage of the work force unionized; 47th in average industrial wage; and 47th in per capita welfare assistance payments.
As long as the interests of Greenville’s corporate elite take precedence over the interests of the majority of its citizens, such backwardness can be expected to continue. A reversal of those interests — especially through the organization of Greenville’s workers — poses a direct threat to men like attorney Robert Thompson, builder Buck Mickel, realtor Alester Furman and textile man Robert Coleman. The circle of power is not large enough to let the unions in — not without a fight anyway.
"You can develop an industrial community, as we have, where there’s no place for a union,” says Robert Thompson, almost as an article of faith. "You can live forever without them.”
A NOTE ON SOURCES
Sources for this article include dozens of interviews conducted by the authors; newspaper articles and unpublished papers in the Greenville Public Library’s South Carolina Room, including Malcolm Cross’s speech, ‘Textile Pioneers of Greenville” and such articles as “Alester Furman Called ‘Man of Great Vision,’” Greenville News, Nov. 12, 1961, and “South Has Come Long Way Since Day When Mills Family Owned,” by Alester Furman and Ted Shelton, Greenville News, Oct. 14, 1962; books include Broadus Mitchell, Rise of Cotton Mills in the South (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1921), Guy A. Gullick, Greenville County: Economic and Social Conditions (Columbia, SC: University of SC, 1929), James M. Richardson, History of Greenville (Atlanta: A.H.Cawston Co., 1930), George S. Mitchell, Textile Unionism in the South (Chapel Hill, UNC Press, 1931), William P. Jacobs, The Pioneers (Clinton, SC: Jacobs & Co. Press, 1935), William H. Simpson, Southem Textile Communities (Charlotte: The Dowd Press, 1948), Kenneth & Blanche Marsh, The New South: Greenville, South Carolina (Columbia: R. L. Bryan & Co., 1965), George Tindall, Emergence of the New South (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1967), Melton McLaurin, Paternalism and Protest (Westpoint, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971), Jack Bass, Porgy Comes Home (Columbia: R.L. Bryan & Co., 1972), Neal R. Peirce, Deep South States in America (NY: W.W. Norton, 1974); data from Census sources, including Census of Manufactures, City & County Data Book, County Business Patterns; and materials from Greenville City, County and Chamber of Commerce offices, South Carolina State Development Board, South Carolina Appalachian Council of Governments, and other government agencies. For other articles on textiles in Southern Exposure, including a complete bibliography, see Vol. I, No. 34; III, 4; IV, 1-2; VI, 1.
* Georgia and North Carolina had more textile workers than South Carolina in these decades. The region as a whole depended on child labor: 24 percent of Southern cotton millhands were boys under 16 or girls under 15 in 1890, in contrast to only seven percent in New England. By World War I, South Carolina’s mill employment surpassed Georgia’s, ranking third behind Massachusetts and North Carolina. f From William P. Jacobs, The Pioneers (Clinton, SC: Jacobs & Co. Press, 1935).
** Greenville was not immune to other labor protests throughout these years. In 1915, the IWW shocked the entire region by marching through downtown Greenville with a red flag. The wave of textile strikes in 1929 also rippled through the town’s mills, though not with the violent consequences of a Gastonia or Elizabethton. Several walkouts in Greenville brought concessions from the mill owners in their use of the stretch-out and speed-up (making fewer people do more work).
*** The Chamber of Commerce ultimately wrote the company a lukewarm letter saying it would be welcome; but most observers consider the gesture only a formality to obscure behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Some even believe that Senator Strom Thurmond and Governor James Edwards contacted the tobacco firm and discouraged the move. Both men deny the charges, but one prominent businessman’s doubts reflect a widespread attitude: “You take the fact that Roger Milliken and some of those other guys who were opposed to Philip Morris are some of the biggest Republican contributors in the state, and it’s not hard seeing Thurmond and Edwards getting involved on their behalf.”
**** The failure of the professional community to achieve independence from the business interests it often represents is best illustrated by Greenville doctors. Not a single one is willing to diagnose a case of byssinosis, or brown lung, the disease mill workers may get from breathing cotton dust. Medically certified diagnoses are required before a mill worker can collect disability compensation payments from the state. Consequently, the Carolina Brown Lung Association says it has been forced to take disabled Greenville workers to other parts of the state for fair medical treatment — though they still run into resistance from many doctors. The head of the SC Lung Association’s task force to instruct doctors how to diagnose byssinosis is a consultant for a textile firm, M. Lowenstein & Co., and for Liberty Mutual, the textile industry’s largest insurer and chief opponent to paying brown lung claims.
***** One editorial in the Sunday, July 13, 1976, News-Piedmont condemned the consumer boycott of J. P. Stevens undertaken by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) as “evil... deplorable ... tyrannical.” Two days later, an editorial in the Piedmont claimed that if ACTWU’s attempt to organize Stevens workers in Greenville succeeds, “individual workers’ rights would be trampled in a mindless union. ... We hope Stevens workers, who for so many years have played such an important part in this community’s smooth development, will not fall for the false siren song of union rocks and shoals waiting as sharks to snare unwary travelers.”
Cliff Sloan, a student in Cambridge, Mass., conducted research on Greenville, J.P. Stevens, and related matters for his senior thesis with the support of a Summer Research Award from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics. (1979)
Bob Hall is the founding editor of Southern Exposure, a longtime editor of the magazine, and the former executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies.