of an interview, expressed and implied, conscious and unconscious, also
influence and shape the narrative itself. For a generation, social historians
worked to shift the focus of historical inquiry away from party politics
and public life towards an understanding of the everyday lives of ordinary
people. As a result, their interviews are often rich with detail about
work and family, neighborhood and church, but include little about the
workings of local power. Interviews are also often exercises in historical
resuscitation, efforts to revive popular memory about a subject precisely
at that moment when it is about to slip away-hence the enormous number
of interviews done in the 1960s and 1970s with pre-World War I immigrants.
Hence too the more recent spate of interviewing projects on World War
II, the holocaust, and the civil rights movement. These interviews often
have a valorizing quality-the passion to remember, the pleasure of remembering
serving as a filter to what is actually remembered, even as narrators
also confront loss, disappointment, and unmet goals. Community-based
oral history projects, often seeking to enhance feelings of local identity
and pride, tend to side step more difficult and controversial aspects
of a community's history, as interviewer and narrator collude to present
the community's best face. More practically, narrators whose interviews
are intended for web publication, with a potential audience of millions,
are perhaps more likely to exercise a greater degree of self-censorship
than those whose interviews will be placed in an archive, accessible
only to scholarly researchers. Personal motives too can color an interview.
An interviewer who admires the interviewee may well fail to ask challenging
questions out of deference and respect; a narrator seeking to enhance
a public reputation may well deflect an area of inquiry that threatens
to tarnish it.
passages are excerpts from two different interviews with Stella Nowicki
for different purposes. Ms. Nowicki organized workers in the meat packing
industry during the 1930s. Read each excerpt, then take the quiz below.
SN: Some woman was in the floor below, this was where they
made the hotdogs. She would have to push the meat in and
whatever and stuff, and she pushed something and the machine
was going, the chopper, and it took her fingers tips off,
you know. This friend of ours she said something, well how
could they do this, they should have safety guards, you
know, because we talked about safety also. Well the people
after this accident and they were horrified but they figured
they couldn't do anything. Well that night a bunch of us
got together and we wrote out a leaflet on this and came
out with certain demands. And asked the women not to operate
those machines until the company assured us that there would
be safeguards. The whole plant heard about it. Here's this
bunch of women actually organized and stuck together, you
know, and they went right up to the foreman and swore and
said, you know, in Polish, whatever, English, you know "We
don't work, you fix the machines, put safety guards on,
you know, something . . .
I was getting together with these other people, young folk.
By the way they were all young. And saying, well here the
CIO was taking, they're organizing, and the sit-down in
Flint. The steel workers are organizing, automobile workers
are organizing. We want to organize too.
At this time did you see yourself as a radical or a . .
Oh sure, sure, because I wasn't about to do housework or
anything else, because now I was convinced I became a dedicated
radical. You know, working with these friends whom I liked
and respected very much. It made a lot of sense, you know.
Do you think very many of the people who were involved then
in organizing the early CIO were also socialists?
Most of them were, I think. Most were dedicated or had sympathies
in that direction.
What would a socialist society mean to working people?
Well basically, a socialist society would mean that the
means of production would be owned by them and that the
fruits of their labor would be divided on a more equitable
basis than it was.
S.N. We started talking union. The thing that precipitated
it is that on the floor below they used to make hotdogs
and one of the women, in putting the meat into the chopper,
got her fingers caught. There were no safety guards. Her
fingers got into the hotdogs and they were chopped off.
It was horrible.
of us "colonizers" had a meeting during our break
and decided this was the time to have a stoppage and we
did. (Colonizers were people sent by the YCL [Young communist
League] or CP [Communist Party] into points of industrial
concentration that the CP had designated. These
included mass basic industries: steel, mining, packing,
and railroad. The colonizers were like red missionaries.
They were expected to do everything possible to keep jobs
and organize for many years.) All six floors went on strike.
We said, "Sit, stop." And we had a sit-down. We
just stopped working right inside the building, protesting
the speed and the unsafe conditions. We thought that people's
fingers shouldn't go into the machine, that it was an outrage.
The women got interested in the union. . .
remember one of the first big CP meetings when we had William
Foster come to talk. The hall wasn't big enough. Somebody
had gotten hold of a loudspeaker (they were very difficult
to get in those days) and we hooked that up so that people
could hear down the steps and into the street.
had a YCL/CP unit. (There weren't enough people in either
the YCL or the CP to meet separately and so we met together,
younger and older people.) We would have meetings and marches
and classes on Marxism and Leninism. We would write articles
on the history of Marxism and Leninism which we would then
discuss. These would go into The Yards' Worker. We
asked the old time friends of Bill Foster from the different
plants for news of what was going on.
have both answers right, click for an explanation.