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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(20 June 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 43, 20 June 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

How George Dobbin Lost His Job

I am turning over this column to a guest conductor: George Dobbin, one of the Southern workers who tell their life stories in These Are Our Lives, an extremely interesting compilation made by the Federal Writers Project and published by the University of North Carolina Press. The story begin in the boom years of the War:

“Mills was beginnin’ to pay good,” George continued. “It wa’n’t long till I was makin’ $20 a week.”

“We done some good livin’ then,” Sally remarked. “It seemed like we never had to study and contrive so hard. I could buy all the milk my children needed.”

“Groceries kept agoin’ up,” George began again, “and they took up most of the wages, but then we did have enough to eat.”

“In 1919 we moved to Durham and first thing I knowed I was makin’ from 25 to 35 dollars a week. Times stayed good with us up to ’21. When I say times was good, I don’t meant we done no fancy livin’ atall but we sat down to the table three times a day and always found somethin’ on it.

“Then one day I went in the mill and seen a notice tellin’ of a twenty-five percent cut and a shortenin’ of time to three days a week. Hard times really ‘set in like always but groceries never come down accordin’ to the cut.”

“Them was miserable days for us,” Sally declared, “and many a time my little ones cried for milk.”

“And when it began to look like the livin’ wa’n’t worth the worry of gettin’ along I lost my job complete – left without ary little piece of a job.

“It was human kindness that caused me to lose it too. A body is hard put to it to understand how kindness can work against him sometimes but it sure happens. Word got out amongst the neighbors that we was havin’ a struggle gettin’ along with me one workin’ and seven children lookin’ to me for a livin’. First thing we knowed a woman come out and set to talk awhile with my wife. She asked her how we managed to live on what I made and the old lady answered we done the best we could. At different times three women come out and done just about such talk as the first one, and Sally, she answered ‘em all alike, but not ary times did she ever ask help of ‘em. But it wasn’t long till baskets of groceries started comin’ to us and it seemed just like manna from heaven. That’s been goin’ on a few weeks when my boss told me Mr. Wilder, the superintendent, wanted to see me.

“Soon as I could I went to Mr. Wilder’s office and told him Mr. Henry said he wanted to see me. He answered right quick, ‘Yes, Dobbin, I did. The comp’ny’s decided all who can’t live sumptuous on what they make at this mill is to be given ten-day notice. I’m givin’ you yores now.”

“‘But Mr. Wilder,’ I says, ‘I don’t understand what’s causin’ this. I have never raised one word of complaint against this mill.’

“‘Mr. Dobbin, it’s awful knockin’ on the mill,’ he says, ‘to have folks workin’ for this company that calls on the welfare and the Salvation Army for help. We don’t like to have the Salvation Army callin’ up this office and tellin’ us they’d like a contribution from us to help them take care of our hands.’

“I looked at Mr. Wilder settin’ there behind his desk and I knowed he couldn’t help feelin’ I was tellin’ the truth when I spoke. ‘Before God, Mr. Wilder,’ I said, ‘to my ricollection I’ve never spoke to a Salvation Army man or woman in my life and I’ve never been to no organization to ask for help.’

“‘But you’ve been agettin’ help, ain’t you?’ he asked.

“‘I’ve got help and I highly appreciate it,’ I said. ‘It’s kept my children from goin’ hungry.’

“‘You’ve got your notice,’ he answered me.”

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