Learning to Win: Sports, Education, and Social Change in Twentieth-Century North Carolina

By Pamela Grundy | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FOUR
The Relationships of Life
White Men, Competition, and the
Structure of Society, 1919–1936

On August 9, 1919, Charlotte streetcar driver Roland McCachren walked off the job. That evening, 150 newly unionized drivers locked the city's streetcars in their night storage barn and announced that they would not resume work until they reached a settlement with their employer, the Southern Public Utilities Company. Running the bustling city's public transportation system was a steady job, and it carried far more prestige than work in the cotton mills that ringed the city and provided much of its wage employment. But the hours were long, and as driver Jesse Ashe later recalled, they “didn't have no money much.” When requests for shorter hours, better pay, and union recognition fell on deaf ears, drivers turned to the kind of confrontation that directly contradicted the visions of competitive harmony put forth by the state's industrial leaders. 1

Like many such disputes, the drivers' strike highlighted the divisions in North Carolina society, defining the interests of workers in direct conflict with those of their employers. Southern Public Utilities, a division of James B. Duke's powerful Southern Power Company, sought to downplay any such clash, casting itself as an institution that, when left to its own devices, promoted order, efficiency, and fairness for all. “The company has done everything possible to make working conditions as pleasant as possible, just as it has maintained the scale of pay at the highest notch possible,” company president Z. V. Taylor informed the Charlotte public. “In our attitude toward the car men we have had in mind not only to give them a square deal always but to promote and maintain that sort of [personnel] and that degree of morale that makes for the most efficient and satisfactory service to the public.” Still, this apparent interest in social harmony did not stop the company from acting forcefully in its own interest. On August 25, company officials used strikebreakers to put the cars

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