Fort Bragg Free of Union Shakedowns

Westbrook Pegler

Los Angeles Times/May 14, 1941

FT. BRAGG (Fayetteville, N.C.) March 13.—Well, sir, you just would be surprised to learn how simple this proposition is, whether you join a union as a preliminary to catching a job on a big government building operation in a community where the people aren’t a mind to join and pay. If they aren’t a mind to, they simply don’t, and the money which they otherwise would have paid to local unioneers and strangers sent in to shake them down is theirs to do with as they like.

The Army post at Ft. Bragg is one of the biggest in the country, and it has been an open-shop job from the beginning, except that in the plumbing and steamfitting contracts the unions were allowed to provide the help until they ran out of men. When all their members were at work and still more men were needed, nonunion men were hired.

Job Nearly Finished

Quarters and service buildings, such as hospitals, warehouses, and movie theaters, shops, sheds and laundries, have been building to accommodate a force of about 65,000 men. The work began last September and is now 87 per cent finished and it is safe to say that the shakedown union, which has been extorting money from the pick-and-shovel hands on most other jobs of the kind throughout the United States, didn’t pick up a $5 bill here.

The carpenters are almost all farmers living in a neighboring region embracing five counties, who had time on their hands, anyway, during the winter, and such skill as a man needs to keep his buildings mended and replace any that burn down.

No Man Barred

Altogether about 45,000 men have been hired and paid for more or less time at 65 different occupations having to do with the construction of buildings and roads, mains, sewers and all the other work that constitutes a big cantonment for soldiers, and while union men have been welcome, no man has been barred because he didn’t belong to a union or refused to do business with the collector.

The work is now in the final stages, so this is one big government defense job, at least, which has been an almost total loss to the carpetbagging unioneer.

In a way, however, they all had the benefit of collective bargaining because the pay was established by the United States Department of Labor. Carpenters have been drawing 90 cents an hour and working 48 hours a week, plumbers $1.25 an hour and laborers 30 cents an hour.

That is correct—30 cents an hour for laborers, mostly colored farm hands, or only $14.40 for a 48-hour week, and the bargaining agent on their behalf was the Department of Labor—a fact which apparently gives official support to the contention that living is cheap around here for Negroes, as it should be, considering the sort of living it is; but, anyway, this employment has been a windfall for almost all concerned who otherwise would have been earning, in round numbers, nothing during the months consumed on the fort.

Lucky Break for All

The job has been a lucky break for the whole section, and it has been moving along swiftly toward a day, soon to come, when the contractors can drag their clutter off the big military reservation and clear out, so that the soldiers may really settle down to prepare to finish that war.

The speed of the work undoubtedly has been the greater for the absence of union business agents on the prowl to catch men driving too many nails per hour and haggling over minute questions of jurisdiction, such as that in Dayton, where a whole job was shut down because the C.I.O. sent in four electricians of special skill to do a specific job, and they were protested by the job-trust in power.

Question in Simple Form

The North Carolina workers and a scattering drawn from a few other southern states just refused to have any truck with the unions, reducing the question to its simplest terms, which have been fogged out of sight by arguments in the last few years. No man’s right to join a union was contested, but most of the men stood on their right not to join, and their right, as American citizens, to work at their legitimate occupation, nevertheless.

They are mostly of Anglo-Saxon stock, and mostly native not only to the United States but to the region, and many undoubtedly have relatives and friends in uniform living in the barracks which already are turned over to the Army.

Patriotism is rife among them, and foreignism and sabotage of a defense work as a means of advancing the narrow interests of a union or the graft of a shakedown business agent would have been something on the order of treason, to their way of thinking. And every dollar they earned has been theirs.



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