[Gulf Coast Pulpwood Association meeting]

roll-1-sojourner-truth-mississippi-gulf-pulp-woodcutter

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A meeting of Gulf Coast Pulpwood Association in Chicago, trying to solicit help for suffering woodcutters in Mississippi.

00:00Copy video clip URL Static

00:05Copy video clip URL A man from Gulf Coast Pulpwood Association is in mid-sentence at a microphone addressing a group in a basement of a community hall or church. He is saying the group has speakers every Saturday, whether you’re for or against, it doesn’t matter., people tell us what they think. It’s non political. We’ll listen to anybody. Donation: 50 cents. It’s a non profit organization. Mrs. Iona Robinson will lead us in Lift Every Voice, the Negro National Anthem.

00:55Copy video clip URL Everyone in the stands and sings.

02:25Copy video clip URL The song ends. A young woman offers a prayer. Everyone sits.

02:42Copy video clip URL Video cuts. A man in mid-sentence is addressing the group. He is saying that the group supports anyone saying anything they want as long as they can back it up. He tells the story of Clements Allen in Gary, Indiana, who had the guts to say what he thought, but he lost in court. “If we had 10 more like him this town would get cleaned up.” He introduces Noel Ignaten. Noel speaks. “When I first heard of it was when my personal fortune was as low as it had been. I lost my job at the mill. A couple of us got together to form support for the unemployed. It didn’t work out. I was frustrated. Then I heard of a group of woodcutters in Mississippi whose situation was worse than mine. They organized and took on big paper companies down there. People say the poor and lowly can’t get together, and here was an instance of that happening.” He introduces Mr. James Simmons, President of Gulf Coast Pulpwood Association.

05:08Copy video clip URL Simmons says he is from the woodcutters in the deep South. The wood is distributed to paper mills. It’s big business. Paper mills in the south are bigger than steel mill factories in the north. People are getting rich. “We started this organization in 1967 on behalf of woodcutters. We weren’t making enough money, we organized, got a lawyer who said it wasn’t legal for us to unionize under the current system. They had us classified as agricultural workers. We had more coloreds than whites, we had to get everyone together. No one who helped start this thing did not use any racism. We got poor response from blacks. In ’68 we started getting more support from them. They came in, participated. In three weeks we won, got a small raise. In ’69 we had more black members than white. Now it’s 90 percent black. You still have people split though because people play on the racism issue. In 1970 cutters in Mississippi came to us to help them get organized too.” Simmons helped them organize.

09:22Copy video clip URL Video cuts. Simmons is still speaking, later in his speech. The context is missing, but he is saying workers were asking his group for help. They had received a pay cut and couldn’t make a living as a result. The organization told them they had to work together, black and white. “We began to hit the wood yards in South Mississippi, we stuck it out, worked out the issues. A mayor, running for governor, came down and spoke to the group. It was rough trying to get the workers to organize, some turned scabs. We was a wildcat group, but we got the job done.”

12:04Copy video clip URL Video cuts, Simmons finishes his speech. A woman named Martha comes up to the microphone and addresses the group. She talks about Mr. Thomas–she worked for him last month. He is in bad condition, lying in bed. His wife is unable to work. His salary is 75 dollars a month. “Pitiful. We worked for 4 days. We got him water, now he’s able to take a hot water bath.” She says she hopes she’ll be able to come back here to Chicago to come to this meeting again. Simmons explains Martha was the one who got the well-diggers to come over and get water for Mr. Thomas. He says these are the kind of things we’re trying to do, instead of getting involved in strikes. He notes also that in the south among farmers, the crops are individually owned but the machinery is cooperatively owned. This creates a problem. Most people can’t afford to buy machinery. They’re hoping to supplement the income of woodcutters. It will give them far more food. They’ll plant vegetables.

14:12Copy video clip URL Video cuts. Simmons is in mid-sentence later in his talk. He is trying to get people to come down south to help out in these efforts. They’ll show you their housing, living conditions, how the companies are taking over the lands. “This Saturday we’ll have a field trip around to see the crops, living conditions. In the evening we’ll have a barbecue. Some might want to spend the night with the woodcutters. If you prefer Holiday Inn that’s your own expense.” Simmons introduces Charlie Helsin, a longtime woodcutter.

15:25Copy video clip URL Charlie speaks. “I’ve been cutting wood for some 12 or 15 years. I don’t do well in it, I don’t have anyone to help. I’m not able to hire any labor. Martha is the only help I have to cut wood. I go out in the morning, cut with a saw, about a load, I get Martha and she helps me load the truck. It has a 75 foot cable. She uses two hydraulic leavers. I hook the wood, she draws it in. We have a farm of 40 acres. We work the farm. The GPA’s gonna help us. That’s what brought us north, to get a tractor. We’ll plant soy beans, sweet potatoes.”

17:15Copy video clip URL Video cuts Charlie in mid-speech. Audience claps. Simmons introduces Mary Hubbard, the wife of a woodcutter. Hubbard says she’s too tired to say much. “I want to thank you for the privilege to speak in your presence, to let you know about our situation. My husband and I have been farmers, as a woodcutter he doesn’t work that much. He can’t afford to make repairs. We have a farm to help bring in money for a better living. We need assistance to help out and we kindly appreciate it.”

19:05Copy video clip URL Another speaker asks the audience if they have questions for the speakers. One asks the dates of the Open House: Sunday, July 8 to July 15. July 14 will be the main day of it. Video stops/re-starts, Simmons answers more questions. His answers cut in mid-sentence. They’re trying to state “we’re not selling our goods, we’re selling our labor. We don’t want to timber.” An audience member says “they” are breaking a federal law by preventing you from unionizing. Simmons starts to answer, but is cut off when the video cuts.

20:38Copy video clip URL Simmons in mid-sentence answering another question. He is saying that their opposition is trying to get a legal fight they’ve waged thrown out of court. He told the lawyers, “I hate that I’m on this case because it’s one H– of a case.”

21:20Copy video clip URL Another speaker says many of the problems of woodcutters is the same as problems of cotton sharecroppers. They are furnished in some equipment by the dealer, that’s the loop hole in the law.

21:52Copy video clip URL An audience member in mid-sentence is asking a question: how long would it take to eliminate all the timber from 40 acres of land and then replenish it. Simmons says it depends on how many trees are on the property and how big the woodcutters are. Some can cut 40 acres in one day, others take two years. To have the timber ready to cut again is approximately 12-15 years. He continues more on the issues woodcutters face. Woodcutters need their homes repaired, they can’t afford it on what they make.

24:18Copy video clip URL Video cuts Simmons off in mid-sentence. When a new shot appears, a woman is in mid-sentence asking a question. She says you have to know how to apply to the federal government for assistance. Simmons says as far as he knows there’s no assistance planned for next year’s crops. Nixon has abolished these things, just about completely. Another speaker asks the audience for donations. “They’re fighting a good fight and we should help any way we can.” A collection plate is handed out. He adds, “many whites have found that when they try to stand together with blacks you open yourself to social pressures.” He asks Simmons: “What kind of pressures have you felt, and how do you respond to that?” Simmons says, “first, your friends don’t have anything to do to you. You go into debt.” He tells a story of his bank suddenly sending him a note demanding full payment for a loan. He told the bank he didn’t have the money. The bank said, “you have enough money to help people in Mississippi, you ought to have enough to give us some.” “I said it’s not my money we’re giving away. I talked them into the notion of waiting a month. Friends got money for me, I paid off a good lump of the loan and they renewed it. That’s one of the worst things I’ve had happen to me personally. You get a cold shoulder from people.”

28:02Copy video clip URL An audience member asks an inaudible question. Simmons says: “We weren’t interested in the poultry workers. They branched off…we fought but not directly through our organizations.” Many woodcutters wives are working in poultry business.

28:51Copy video clip URL The collection plate is passed around, donations made. Simmons writes down an address of the Gulf group’s headquarters in Alabama for people to send personal checks for support. Simmons tells the audience various ways woodcutters jerry-rig broken gear.

31:30Copy video clip URL A question is asked: “Could some of us form a committee to approach the steelworkers union, to form an ally?” “If you’re interested in doing that you should get together to figure out how.” Another question: “Do woodcutters hire labor?” Yes.

32:38Copy video clip URL END

 

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