Crystal Lee Sutton, whose life as a labor activist was depicted in the movie "Norma Rae," last night described the intimidation and difficulties she encountered while attempting to organize J.P. Stevens textile workers.
Sutton told more than 200 people in the Science Center that the movie depicted well the workers' reluctance to unionize and the company's black-listing, threats of firing, and other acts designed to discourage her and other laborers from organizing Stevens workers.
Keep 'Em Coming
The labor organizer, in a kick-off speech for a nation-wide tour to promote a boycott of Stevens products, reminded the audience of the National Labor Relations Board injunctions condemning Stevens' poor working conditions, low wages, and unfair labor practices.
James Higgins, professor of journalism at Boston University who introduced Sutton, said Stevens moved from Massachusetts to the South after World War II to take advantage of cheap labor, low taxes, and the scarcity of organized labor.
J.P. Stevens, Higgins said, "represents oppression, tyranny, intimidation, discrimination, and total control over the conditions of the lives of its workers."
Sutton, whose parents worked in J.P. Stevens mills, said she realized the benefits of unionization and the extent of Stevens' injustices when she saw the advantages provided by companies with unionized labor.
Stevens workers hampered efforts to unionize the mills because many feared the company would fire them if they advocated unionization, Sutton said.
In attempting to organize Stevens labor, Sutton said, "you never know whether you're going to be shot in the chest or bitten by dogs. You can't give up just because of threats on your life."