The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

By Nannie M. Tilley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Labor Strife

Labor disturbances among the employees of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company during the 1940s stemmed from years of neglect of economic and social problems in Winston-Salem, a temporary scarcity of labor, failure of the company to develop an adequate personnel department, installation of labor-saving machinery, and possible inequities in wages. Also a factor was the rise in prices that accompanied the relaxation of war controls after World War II. Troubled too in this decade by war scarcities and regulations as well as important legal proceedings, the company had the misfortune to produce a cigarette that proved to be a complete failure. Military requirements also affected the labor supply as well as surprisingly high levels of management. The R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, however, was not alone with these problems. According to Foster Rhea Dulles, the postwar struggle of American labor to maintain a wartime level of takehome pay in actual purchasing power was no less grim than in 1919. 1

The continuous labor disturbances at Reynolds from 1943 to the early 1950s may be divided into six phases: early discontent among employees as the decade began, unionization of the company during 1941-44, changes and troubles in union leadership in the mid--1940s, the Communist exposé in 1947, the slow decline of the union in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the aftermath of labor strife in the company.


The Seeds of Discontent

Even before 1940, widespread resentment was directed against the leadership of Winston-Salem and against the concentration of that leadership in the hands of a very few men "from an even smaller number of tightly interlocked families" who ran the city "just as surely . . . as they ran their

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