WITH this obstacle conquered I went to school in the morning with new enthusiasm born of the knowledge that the eventual life of a reporter awaited me when papers were grade and sentences corrected and the last delinquents sent home to our honorable patrons. The fall afternoons and evenings flew by as time always did in Virginia when work was interesting. There was much to be done: I must be familiar with what the capitalists had to say for themselves and, even if it meant death to social standing, whatever that might be, I must know all about this Union that ha come South, as people in town were saying, to stir up trouble in the greatest cotton mills in the world.
Fortunately and unfortunately, President Harry Fitzgerald was my father’s golf companion and his daughter was my friend. After I got permission to report the labor dispute, Harriet and I went for a long walk through the autumn-colored woods along Stony Creek and it was then that we aired our views. I had no fear of talking frankly. Although Harriett’s natural devotion to her father might have kept her from looking at this quarrel with the same discernment and tolerance she had in most matters, she was too intelligent to close her mind entirely to the workers’ story. She was considerably more open-minded to the Union’s argument than were the majority of Danville citizens, many of whom could see no further than the issue of dividends and stocks.
We debated amicably as we walked along the moss-covered edges of the creek.
“We’ve got to look at this thing straight,” I said. “There are four thousand mill workers here and they’re going to call a strike. There’s no doubt about that. What we want to know is why they’re dissatisfied and who is right and who is wrong. They’re sore because their wages have been cut again and because of what they claim to be a terrible stretch-out. Then there’s the refusal of right to organize. All in all, they say their life is hell on earth.”
“You mean the paid organizers say so,” Harriet retorted. “If the workers have complaints to make, they have their Industrial Democracy to take care of their grievances. They elect their own representatives and Papa and the rest of the officers welcome their criticisms.”
“Yes, Harriet, that sounds fair enough. But the workers tell me that the overseers and lesser lights make it hot for them if they dare to criticize anything. I believe your father is fine in all his direct personal relations with the workers but—after all—”
With that I stopped short, realizing that candor with the best of us only goes so far. I did not intend to speak to Harriett of her father’s affliction—acute deafness and impediment of speech—which, according to many of his critics, was making it increasingly difficult for him to know what was h happening in the mills.
“These mills have been Papa’s lifework. The textile industry fascinates him more than anything in the world, just like painting fascinates me. And the labor angle has interested him most of all. He’s done everything possible to make living conditions decent in the village. Look at the Welfare work, the Y, the band concerts, the recreational facilities. What does the Union say about all these things?”
“They say the workers had rather have the money in their pay envelopes at the end of the week. They say it would be better to do away with all this Welfare business rather than cut wages again.”
“Of course they would say that. Now suppose I give you a few facts to keep in mind before you listen to Mr. Francis J. Gorman’s fine talk anymore.”
She proceeded to give me these facts as we returned to her automobile and drove homeward through the autumn dusk. Some of her statements in defense of the m ill policy were startling and I tried to listen with open mind, hoping that we might agree in the end. In my home town I did not have any good friends to spare and Harriett, especially, I did not wish to lose. And in truth I knew that her attitude toward this trouble, in spite of the fact that she was the mill president’s daughter, was remarkably impartial: it was really a pity, I thought, that she could not have displaces some of the salaried executives to whom all Union sympathizers were Communists in need of gallows.