University of Michigan-Flint
Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
INTERVIEWEE: Orvel Blake
INTERVIEWER: Kenneth B. West
KW: Well, I wonder if
I could start first by asking you if you are a native of
KW: Yes, where were you born?
OB: In Carrier Mills,
KW: In Carrier Mills,
KW: In 1900, so you
have been around a bit, then. When did
you come to
KW: 1927. So you had a work experience a bit, then,
before you came to
KW: In lead mines?
KW: I see. So you were just a kid, then?
KW: Had you had much schooling, then, before that?
KW: Then you had to work. Your dad was working in the coal mines too?
KW: Where was that,
KW: How long did you work, then, in the mines?
KW: That was in the coal mines?
KW: And then you got on the lead mines?
OB: And then I moved
from there to
KW: How was that? What kind of work was that compared to coal mining? Was it easy, or…?
KW: Working with lead, was that dangerous at all, the dust?
KW: Were you… In the coal mines, of course, that was organized. Was your dad part of the United Mine Workers, then, as a coal miner?
KW: Unionism was,
then, in a sense, in your blood before you came to
KW: Did you get into the United Mine Workers, then, too, when you were sixteen?
KW: Were the lead mines organized, then, did they have the union there?
KW: They didn't? Were wages pretty low, then?
KW: Oh, you wanted to farm, then?
KW: How did you come
to know of a job in
OB: Well, just hear talk, you know, and there was people that would come up here and was already working and making good money, you know, and I thought I could just save, you know.
KW: So you knew of people, then, who had been up here, the conversation was there.
KW: Were the companies advertising for men down there? Did they put up ads in papers and that?
KW: It was word of mouth, then?
KW: That was in 1927?
OB: I come to
KW: Did you have… There was no job waiting for you when you got here, then?
KW: Where did you hire in at, then?
KW: Chevrolet 6.
KW: You were married, then, at the time?
KW: But you did know somebody?
KW: No, housing was short.
KW: Oh, my. What year was that? When did you transfer to Fisher?
KW: You had just been here a year or so, then, at Chevy 6.
KW: You worked in the glue room. That was with wood, wasn't it, then?
KW: I see. What were the conditions like, then, in that shop? You mentioned the heat, the fumes from the glue?
KW: What was your job, then? What did you glue together?
KW: Did you use machines, then, to...?
KW: The bodies, a big proportion of the materials was wood. What kind of wood did they use?
KW: Now, as the bodies became more metal, than they were wood, that glue and the mill business began to disappear, didn't it?
KW: So how long did you stay, then, in the glue?
KW: And when was that?
KW: Was that after the Sit-Down Strike?
KW: I see. What work were you doing, then, on....? That was the work you were doing at the time of the strike? Final Assembly?
KW: Quarter motor. Can you describe that work for me?
KW: You had teams, then, of six.
KW: They would come down the line. Was it pretty fast?
KW: You were paid by the piece, were you?
KW: A dollar and a quarter at the time of the strike. That's not bad.
KW: Did you have to come up to a certain efficiency to, do a certain number of jobs, in order to make that dollar and a quarter an hour?
KW: But you had no difficulty keeping up with the job.
KW: Did any of the men have trouble?
KW: I was gonna ask you what your relationship was with your particular foreman.
KW: Did they time the job?
KW: Were you expected to do things for your foreman to keep in good with him? You know, doing favors for him. We've heard from some of the workers that that was expected.
KW: Did you have any run-ins with your foreman, then?
KW: Do you remember that incident?
KW: Did the company furnish the tools, then?
KW: They did.
KW: Did you get to know the men on the job pretty well? You mentioned there were teams.
KW: But you did get to know them pretty well at the time. Did you eat lunch together with them, then?
KW: Did you have a chance to talk to one another while you were working, or was the speed...
KW: Were the conditions on the job, then, aside from the speed-up, which you mentioned didn't hurt you particularly, was it clean or dirty, or...?
KW: No, go ahead. Be frank.
KW: Now, was there much union talk, then?
KW: You talked union, not in front of the foreman, but when the foreman wasn't around, you would talk, then?
KW: How did that go?
KW: What year was this? Do you remember when you were talking?
KW: '37 was that strike, but was that the strike you were talking about? There was an early strike in 1930.
KW: You had to go back in. Were you involved in that strike in 1930?
KW: Do you remember much?
KW: This is in '37, the strike you're referring to.
KW: Were you a member of the union at the time the strike was called?
KW: When did you join?
KW: Was that an AFL union, then?
KW: CIO. So that might have been even in late '35, some time along in '36.
KW: But, at any rate, it was before the strike. How did you join? Did someone talk to you about it?
KW: They talked to you about it. What did they say?
KW: No, I was going to ask you why, because you said the speed-up was not so intense, what it was that prompted people to join the union, then.
KW: Did you know some of the organizers of the union, then, Bob Travis, at all? Or Wyndham Mortimer?
KW: And in Fisher 1, Bud Simon.
KW: Well, Wolcott had a warrant for Simon.
KW: But Wolcott didn't know him by sight, then.
KW: What sort of a person was Bud Simon? Did you get to know him at all?
KW: Can you be specific about what...?
KW: Was that before the strike?
KW: Oh, so there was what you might call sabotage, then.
KW: How could you go about doing that? What did they do particularly?
KW: Did you think that was encouraged, then, by some of the people in the leadership?
KW: But, getting back to the period just before the strike, did you have a premonition that a strike was coming?
KW: You knew it. How far in advance did you know?
KW: Two weeks. How did you know?
KW: Oh. What did they say, then, that you were going to do?
KW: They told you to go to the kitchen. And that was before the strike.
KW: You mentioned the "older" ones. Now, you weren't terribly old at the time, were you?
KW: They notified the leadership, then, Bud Simon and others...?
KW: How did they announce it, particular? Do you remember the precise way it happened?
KW: They went out quickly, but you knew what was happening.
KW: How did they decide to hold a sit-down strike, because before that time, most of the men had gone out and they'd had picket lines and that sort of thing.
KW: Flying squadrons?
KW: What did they do?
KW: How were they picked for that flying squadron?
KW: Were things pretty well organized, then? What did you do, then? Did they hold mass meetings in the plant, then, after the sit-down?
KW: Did numbers get pretty low at times? Did the numbers of men sitting down get pretty low sometimes and just had a few in the plants?
KW: I wanted to get into that. You stayed in for forty-three, did you say, days?
KW: Forty-two days out of the forty-four.
KW: Forty-three. So you did go home, then, once.
KW: Right. Well, I wanted to mention it, because you
were married and you were living on
KW: How many children did you have?
KW: Were they in the school-age?
KW: How were things for them, because you weren't bringing in any money then.
KW: Were you paying on your house, then?
KW: You were renting. Could you make the payments?
KW: That was when you were on the strike.
KW: Did you have a car, then?
KW: No car. It would have been tough making payments.
KW: Did your wife support you during the strike, or was she a little concerned that you were in and wouldn't come out?
KW: Bud Simon?
KW: Militia. National Guard.
KW: Was he just a guard?
KW: Well, we heard, in fact, that some of the Guardsmen were sons of workers, you know, or had been workers themselves in automobile plants, so they may not have been hostile to...
KW: Did you have a radio, then, did you, in the plant? And how did you get news of what was going on?
KW: Did you hear news, then, of the battle that they had at Fisher 2 with the police there? The Running Bulls?
KW: Oh, your son-in-law was in that.
KW: Did anyone from Fisher 1 go to help at Fisher 2, do you know?
KW: Did you get frightened, then, after hearing news of the battle there that the folks...
KW: Did you have fire hoses there?
KW: They did at Fisher 2.
KW: You mean some of them... Was there any damage done to the machinery, to the cars in the...
KW: You mentioned that some of them were "hare-brained."
OB: Well, I mean... I don't know. Like, I don't know. Trying to work things out, you know. I mean, "Are we gonna do this?," or "Are we gonna do that?" or "Are we gonna do this?" or "Are we gonna do that?" But there was just one thing that I knew of. And I had a family. And I knew I didn't want to hurt my buddy, and I didn't want to be hurt. But I knew if we didn't win, we didn't have nothing. I stuck it out. I decided to stay there, and that's all. And I think, well, most of the older guys that I could accept was, not older, but I mean we're, you know, ....
KW: Now, what was your particular job in the plant? Were you assigned a particular duty then?
KW: In the plant, during the strike, when you were sitting down. What was that?
KW: This was in the cafeteria that you prepared the food.
KW: Yeah. Where did you get the food, then?
KW: Somebody brought the goods.
KW: But your job was to prepare breakfast, particularly. Did they have other people, then, assigned to prepare lunch or dinner?
KW: Was that all organized, then, beforehand? You knew what your job was going to be?
KW: Who came around to tell you that, then? How was that decided that you were going to do that?
KW: And you're sure this was before the strike.
KW: Did they approach you on the job, or where did you talk about that?
KW: Now, there were others with Simon. There was Joe Devitt, and Walt Moore, some of those others, I don't know if you knew...
KW: When the strike had just started? Well, he didn't stay in, did he, for long?
KW: I'm interested in this matter, though, of their asking you to serve breakfast. Had you had any experience, then, as a cook? Did they know that you had done this kind of thing before? Had you done that sort of thing before?
KW: I just wondered why they picked on you to do that particular job.
KW: Was there plenty of food, then?
KW: Did you have a card then that was issued to you that would be punched when you did your duty?
KW: I wanted to get into that, your experiences with Standard. When was that?
KW: Oh, you were brewing coffee, then, to be taken over to...
KW: The watchmen?
KW: So he gave you the keys and you opened the gate, and the coffee went through. Did they try to shut the gates after that, again?
KW: Do you think they did that just to...
KW: Sure, but as soon as you objected...
KW: So he let you out then. Well, that's interesting. Did you have any other jobs in the plant? That was your job, making breakfast.
KW: That would have been about '44, would it?
KW: Now, the strike, then, was ended in February. Did you notice changes on the job? How did conditions change?
KW: After the strike, did you work for the union at all?
KW: As a steward, or...?
KW: Did you help recruit other people into the union afterward? 'Cause I imagine after the strike was over and you had won, large numbers of people would join.
KW: The check-off system. That came a bit later, didn't it? During the Second World War.
KW: Then I guess you did have the closed shop, too, where you had to be a member of the union to join.
KW: Did some of the people that you worked with hold out against joining the union?
KW: The union people would.
(END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B)
KW: He joined the union, then, after that.
KW: Did you take part in efforts to organize any other plants after the strike?
KW: Some went down to, I guess, to Pontiac and South End.
KW: He didn't get paid, then, by the union.
KW: Going back to the period when you were on strike and your family was getting by, as you say, the best they could, did the family get harassed at all by any of the neighbors because you were in the plant and they felt that wasn't a proper thing to do?
KW: Must have made it hard on you, then,...
KW: Were most of the fellows who sat down as long as you did (you know, you stuck it out for almost the whole time, except for one day), were most of those fellows in the plant married, or were a lot of them single? Could you generalize on that?
KW: So a lot of them were family men, then, who stayed in. The single men would leave.
KW: Did your kids, a couple of them were going to school... Did they ever talk about how they'd get harassed at school, you know? Anybody talk about them?
KW: No, this will be confidential.
KW: You mentioned that you were working at Standard Cotton. That must have been well after the strike.
KW: But Standard Cotton isn't in operation anymore, of course. When did it close down? Do you remember?
KW: About '68. Now, I didn't push you on that so much, because you didn't work there in the period before the strike, but did any of the people that you talked with later on talk about how things were in the period in Standard Cotton before the strike?
KW: Now, was Standard Cotton still a rough place to work, then, after the strike?
KW: In what way?
KW: Well... [tape shuts off]. That's it.
KW: Did you know any, when you worked in Standard Cotton, boys by the name of Thrasher, Carl and John Thrasher? Apparently they worked at Standard Cotton and they were organized leaders of the Sit-Down Strike.
KW: I don't know. They were working there at the time of the strike, and I know they were helping to organize.
KW: Well, they were I know during the strike, but that would have been years before you came on. Are there any of those people who worked at Standard Cotton still alive, that you know?
KW: Well, that's all
right. That's interesting. When you lived at Norton, south of, well,
around Fisher 1, were there a lot of people from
KW: Were most of your
friends from the South, then? From
KW: Oh, yeah, Poles and Hungarians, I guess. Can you form any judgment as to how easy it was to organize Southerners, people from South? Did they join the union fairly easily, most of...?
KW: Were there many blacks working in the union?
KW: I see. Was that the union that wanted that, or pushed for that? Or the government?
KW: But at the time of the Sit-Down Strike, in Fisher 1, there weren't many.
KW: Oh, one other thing that I'd like to get into. At the time of the strike, now, in '37, the accusation was made in the Flint Journal and everywhere that guys who were organizing the strike were a lot of Communists, radicals, and that sort of thing. Was there any truth to that, that you know of? Do you think that any of these people were Communists, Socialists?
KW: Yeah, what did they say particularly? Can you remember what these...?
KW: Well, they did have meetings then.
KW: Did they talk about changing this whole system, then? Doing away the capitalist system and substitute a new system?
KW: Did any of them talk to you about joining the Party or anything like that, you know?
KW: Oh? Ku Klux Klan.
KW: Yeah, it was strong in parts of the South I know. When was that, that you were approached to join the Ku Klux Klan?
KW: After the strike. You sure, because I know they were active during and before the strike, in the '20s and '30s.
KW: Were there many in the plants, who worked there, that were Klansmen?
KW: Was this man who approached you about joining the Klan, was he a union man?
KW: He was a union man. Interesting.
KW: Now, in the period after the strike (we just got into that)...
KW: Did you know of a
KW: Well, that would have been just before the strike, about '36 and '35, '36, perhaps, on into '37.
KW: In the plants, people talking about it?
KW: Klansmen in robes and that. That must have been before you...
KW: Were they dressed up in robes and that?
KW: Who were they, then, particularly?
KW: Klansmen, but they were neighbors of yours, then?
KW: After the strike, I understand, in '37, there was a wave of wildcat strikes and slowdowns and that in the plants, some in Fisher 1, too. Do you remember any of those?
KW: But there were slowdowns then. What caused those?
KW: You didn't support those wildcats, then.
KW: Well, they gave you a bonus, didn't they, just before the strike, too, didn't they? Christmas in '36?
KW: No, I thought it was a bonus, cash. Some of the guy's I've talked to said that they thought that was because the company wanted to stop the men from joining the union, thought if they gave a bonus, they might persuade them not to join.
KW: Did you ever involve yourself in politics after the strike?
KW: You know, city politics. You know, the union would try to defeat maybe the city manager or people who would not...