Unionized textile workers, backed by AFL-CIO President George Meany, filed an antitrust suit yesterday accusing the huge J. P. Stevens textile firm of spearheading an illegal conspiracy against union organizing in the South.
The suit - the latest action in a 14-year drive by organized labor to bring the nation's second largest textile company to the bargaining table and thereby crack the South's first line of resistance to unions - was filed in U.S. District COurt in New York by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union.
At a news conference attended by Meany here, ACTWU officials described the suit as "probably the most far-reaching antitrust action ever brought by a trade union and perhaps the most revolutionary legal action we have undertaken against Stevens and its co-conspiration to date."
The union has filed hundreds of unfair labor practice charges against Stevens, and last year launched a massive consumer boycott against the firm which has incurred reduced profits but has refused to bow to ACTWU's demands. The union has yet to win a contract at any of Stevens' 85 plants, most of them in the South.
The union's charges drew a prompt response from Stevens, which characterized them as "frivolous and completely lacking in merit." The suit, coupled with other legal actions filed earlier by the union, demonstrate the "length to which the union is prepared to go to try to harass and injure this company," the firm charged.
"They underscore the unwillingness of the union to resolve our differences at the bargaining table or to put the union's claims to represent our employees to the test of a secret ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board," Stevens contended.
The suit accuses Stevens of acting in restraint of trade, in violation of both Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts, by plotting with a broad array of unnamed public officials, corporations financial institutions, trade associations and chambers of commerce to thwart unionization in the South. It also charges a conspiracy to violate civil rights laws.
The complaint includes charges of wage and benefit "fixing," blacklisting union sympathizers and their families, illegal firing and harassing of union activists, inducing banks and other businesses to discriminate against union supporters, conspiring to drive away unionized firms and "inciting and exploiting racial discord and tensions."
The suit seeks injunction to bar illegal activities and asks triple damages for the union and aggrieved workers.
ACTWU President Murray Finley, sensitive to charges that organized labor is out to crack the South, said the charges "by no means represent an attack against the South." Stevens, said Finley, is a "New York City-based carpet bagging corporation which has itself declared war on, and taken advantage of, the South."
Finley declined to name the alleged co-conspirators, but said they would be revealed in the litigation, which he said was designed to "expose and nulify" the whole pattern of anti-union activities in the South.
Meany, describing Stevens as the nation's "No. 1 lawbreaker," said the AFL-CIO is fully supporting its textile affiliate's activities. "This effort," said Meany, "is going to succeed."