Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2018/Fall/Section 2/Joe Haskins
|Born||Circa 1897 |
Joe Haskins was a white, rig builder working during the Great Depression era. He was interviewed for the Oklahoma Federal Writer's Project May 16, 1939 by Daniel M. Garrison.
Haskins was born in 1897 in Pennsylvania. He had three brothers, allegedly all of whom were also named after his father: Joe. His father made moonshine and his mother managed a farm. After the third grade, Haskins dropped out of school to help on the farm and, despite his parent's belief that a public education was unnecessary, he had learned to read and write.
At a date unknown, Haskins moved to Oklahoma. Haskins and his wife (name unknown) had four kids: Joe, Leon (Greb), Ruby, and Tuffy. His son Joe attended college in Oklahoma City and his other son Greb worked as a ground man for a rig-building crew.
Haskins was proud of his job as a rig builder and expected good pay for his good work. Almost all his wages went towards his children, whom he cared for very much. He wanted to buy nice dresses for his daughter so that she did not feel left out or embarrassed with her upper class friends from school. There was no money left for such luxuries and, despite his son's additional income, Haskins' family often required government assistance to buy food. During World War I, his wages could be as high as $25 per day/365 days per year. Depression era wages were $6 per day with few opportunities to work. In 1939, Haskins was an active member of the Oil Workers' International Union, C.I.O. He claimed this organization raised his income to $11.
He experienced numerous challenges to his career. Despite rig building being labor intensive and prone to injury, workers were not medically cared for by their employers. Haskins sustained injuries, like ruptured veins, and was not provided compensation. There was also the threat of strikebreakers, also referred to as scabs, attempting to take his job. These threats made him glad to be a part of a union that emphasized loyalty. He did not usually vote, but he began the practice solely to pick the candidate running for a pro-labor agenda. He often ignored party affiliations for this reason, but felt that it was difficult to identify trustworthy politicians. His date of death is unknown.
The Foundation of Unionization in Politics
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 distinctly defined labor rights, such as the right to collective bargaining, and allowed unions to negotiate workers' pay. The working class was directly affected by this legislation because unions derived much of their power from collective bargaining, which allowed for changes in work hours, pay, and benefits.
This legislation resulted in increased political action. In the 1936 elections, unions favored Democratic candidates, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Union members voted Democratic representatives into office at every level of government. The working class made up a large percentage of voters, resulting in their ability to sway elections in their favor. Workers voted for the party they felt best represented their interests, making pro-labor policies more important to voters than party lines.
Unions became more politicized when open and closed shops developed. The term open shop meant that union and non-union workers were employed by a business. A closed shop business only employed union workers. The divisions between shops affected employer-employee relations. Businesses preferred open shops and the ability to hire workers not associated with unions. The strikes of open shop businesses were less successful than closed shops because not all of the workers would go on strike. Employees that were not a part of the union continued to work, keeping the employer in business. A closed shop strike would put the company out of business. Those that supported closed shops favored working class rights and open shop supporters preferred the success of businesses and the growth of the economy.
Tensions Between Union and Non-union Workers (Depression Era)
During the Great Depression, unions were used to ensure fair pay. After 1933, union workers made more money than non-union workers. There was little to no benefit in joining a union before this time, yet economic hardships brought on by the Depression resulted in an increased need to be organized. Unions were useful and protective. Their use of collective bargaining to affect wages was a primary motivator for workers to join unions. The necessity of a livable wage was especially apparent during this time, which is associated with poverty, strife, and an inability to support oneself.
In an effort to pay less for labor, employers often hired replacement workers, known as strikebreakers or scabs, when union workers went on strike. The success of strikes relied heavily on unions' ability to withdrawal in large groups, preventing successful business operations. Strikes were successful if they could prevent businesses access to skilled, cheap workers. Union workers disliked strikebreakers because they undermined their strikes. Non-union workers could be paid less than union workers, making them preferable to employers and creating competition between the two groups.
The Oil Workers' International Union, C.I.O Strikes
The Oil Workers' International Union, C.I.O. organized numerous strikes. One of the most notable strikes occurred in 1939, where 140 members of the union were indicted in Tulsa County, Oklahoma in connection to a strike at the Mid-Continent Petroleum Refinery. The large number of people demonstrates the large percentage of the population active in unions at the time. In 1910, before unions had reached their height, 88 percent of unionized workers, roughly 2.1 million people, "were concentrated in four key sectors: mining, building trades, transportation, and manufacturing." The Oil Workers' International Union could represent at least two of these factions because rigs must be built by rig builders to obtain oil and the product must be transported across the country for use. They built a large community of people with common career goals and a loyalty to one another.
This community was passionate about their demands. The 140 members indicted in the Tulsa County strike were charged with "directing a riot" as well as unlawful assembly. The oil union continued to build off of this sense of solidarity in 1945 by partnering with the National Maritime Union "to bring 65,000 workers in oil fields, refineries, and tanker fleets of the Standard Oil Company under C.I.O. closed shop agreements."The campaign was a statement of force that emphasized the resilience of unionization in the face of government and big business.
- Joe Haskins, interview by Daniel M. Garrison, Oklahoma Federal Writers’ Project, March 16, 1939.
- Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, National Labor Relations Act.
- John Bascom. "An Open versus a Closed Shop." The North American Review 180, no. 583 (1905): 912-13. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25105417.
- Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway, The Economics Effects of Labor Unions Revisited, 110.
- Ibid., 112.
- Kimeldorf, Worker Replacement Cost and Unionization, 1041.
- Oklahoma Jury Indicts (April 18, 1939).
- Kimeldorf, Worker Replacement Cost and Unionization, 1035.
- Oklahoma Jury Indicts (April 18, 1939).
- Raskin, Maritime Union Joins
Bascom, John. "An Open versus a Closed Shop." The North American Review 180, no. 583 (1905): 912-17. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25105417.
Foner, Eric and John A. Garraty, “National Labor Relations Act.” The Reader’s Companion to American History. (December 1, 1991): ProQuest. https://sks.sirs.com/webapp/article?artno=0000260134&type=ART.
Haskins, Joe. Interview by Daniel M. Garrison. “Rigbuilders Marry Women.” Oklahoma Federal Writers’ Project, March 16, 1939. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/1071/rec/1.
Kimeldorf, Howard, “Worker Replacement Costs and Unionization: Origins of the U.S Labor Movement.” American Sociological Review 78, no. 6 (November 25, 2013): 1033-1062. UNC University Library. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0003122413509627.
“Oklahoma Jury Indicts Union Men on a Strike.” The Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 1939. https://search.proquest.com/docview/515095318/fulltextPDF/99F74EFF1EBA4772PQ/1?accountid=14244.
Raskin, A.H. “Maritime Union Joins With Petroluem Workers in Drive Involving 65,000 Men.” The New York Times, July 10, 1941. https://search.proquest.com/docview/105584511?pq-origsite=summon.
Vedder, Richard, and Lowell Gallaway. “The Economic Effects of Labor Unions Revisited.” Journal of Labor Research 23 (April 2002). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12122-002-1021-7#citeas.