The labor contract agreed to by J. P. Stevens, the country's second largest textile manufacturer, and the Amalgamated Textile and Clohting Workers Union of America brings an end to one of the longest and bitterest labor conflicts in US history. Whether the hard-fought victory for 10 percent of the Stevens workers will in fact trigger a wave of union organizing in other mills across the South remains to be seen. Certainly, after almost two decades of adamant -- at times unlawful -- resistance by J. P. Stevens to unoin organizing attempts, the long-over-due restoration of labor peace is welcome.
The issue was not primarily an economic one -- although wages and working conditions for textile workers across the South generally are not on a par with those of other industries. The basic question was whether unions should be accepted in plants after a majority of workers have voted for union representation. All but the most extreme anti-unions groups would agree that Stevens's repeated refusal to abide by court and National Labor Relations Board decisions exceeded the accepted bounds of management resistance.
The union agreed to drop its boycott of Stevens's goods. Stevens, for its part, will no longer penalize employess for union activities. In short, the foundation has been laid for a closer relationship between a major employer and workers in plants throughout the South. Now it will be up to both sides to put aside old animosities and work together in a new spirit of cooperation to bring mill operations back into a normal and productive period. This, after all, is what collective bargaining is supposed to be all about.