University of Michigan-Flint
Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
INTERVIEW: SEPTEMBER 22, 1978
INTERVIEWERS: NEIL LEIGHTON, DAN KOGER, LARRY JONES, JOHN DEYONKER, KENNETH WEST, JACK PALMER
INTERVIEWEE: GENORA JOHNSON DOLLINGER
LEIGHTON: My name is Neil Leighton and this is an interview with Genora Johnson Dollinger. Genora, I wanted to talk a little bit about worker education in Flint preceding the strike and particularly if we could start a little bit with your own background in that. You grew up in Flint and we know a little bit about your background. But at what age did you really become conscious of the conditions of workers in Flint? Perhaps when you attended your first meeting. Do you remember anything about that?
DOLLINGER: Well, I became conscious of the condition of workers, I think, somewhere around the age of seventeen, probably sixteen and a half years old. And I came into contact with a man who was to be my future father-in-law by the name of Carl Johnson, who was a very unusual autoworker in Plant 4, Chevrolet. And this man had some ideas of socialism and he used to discuss them with me, plus religion, because I was very religious at the time. And I went to the library and got such books as Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives and Henderson's Road to Socialism. And in this book, as a young idealistic person, I read that nowhere in the Rocky Mountains of the United States nor in the great wealth of this nation was the name of Rockefeller nor Morgan inscribed. And all of this appealed to me greatly because I came from a family that was pretty well to do and with relatives who were pretty well to do. And I really didn't know that all people didn't live like I did in my family home until I met in high school a young man by the name of Kermit Johnson, whose father was a factory worker and who lived entirely different...lived like a factory worker's family lived.
LEIGHTON: What high school did you go to?
DOLLINGER: Central High.
LEIGHTON: Where did you live in the city?
DOLLINGER: I lived at 927 Detroit Street in a very large apartment. Not large, I mean it was a large home on the bottom. It was an apartment building built by my father who was a photographer here for forty years prior to his death.
LEIGHTON: Then you had come to Flint very early?
DOLLINGER: My parents. My father was from Flint. His family had been some of the early founders of this city and they were pioneers of Flint.
LEIGHTON: What was his last name?
DOLLINGER: Albro. Carpenter Road is named after the Carpenter branch of the family. There is Albro Court and Jarvis Street. And he was a captain in the Civil War and his name was inscribed in the old courthouse building before it burned down. So he was a well-established Flint family. And my mother came from southern Michigan... Three Rivers, Michigan. I was born in Kalamazoo only because women didn't go to the hospital then to have babies and she wanted to go home to her mother to have her first child. I was born in Kalamazoo and brought up here as a baby.
LEIGHTON: Were you still in high school when you first met Kermit and were exposed to socialist literature by your future father-in-law?
DOLLINGER: We both sort of discovered socialist literature together. I happened to be helping out a doctor next door to where my family lived on Detroit Street, a pediatrician. And one time a newspaper came in that was called the American Guardian by the Ameringer Brothers, out of one of the western states. The doctor said, "That damn Red literature!" He made such a fuss that naturally I was inquisitive and I picked it up and brought it home. Dad Johnson and I discussed it together and we subscribed and that became part of our literature too. We formed, together with others, the Flint Branch of the Socialist Party of America.
LEIGHTON: What year was that? Do you remember, just off hand?
DOLLINGER: Let's see, if I was about seventeen. Oh, I was so young. No, I don't know. We'll figure it out.
LEIGHTON: Was it before the 1930 strike?
DOLLINGER: No, it would be about 1931, because I wasn't conscious of the 1930 strike. At the time I would be just a kid and be still in school, ballet and drama classes.
LEIGHTON: After high school, then, you must have been about a junior or senior in high school when you became aware. After high school did you go on at all to further education?
DOLLINGER: No, I got married before. I didn't get my diploma. It was in the last year of the twelfth grade. I got married and, let's see, how did this happen now? I was exposed to tuberculosis in a very strange way. But that's another story in itself. And then, by the next year after I was married I had a son, a baby. And then followed a period of tuberculosis in Hurley Hospital and the Ingham County Sanitarium. And all this time I was reading, reading, reading.
LEIGHTON: Okay, that's what I wanted to get to. That during this period of time, even though you weren't working per se, you were studying.
DOLLINGER: And there was another question that engrossed my father-in-law. And Kermit, of course, was in on those discussions too. These questions really engrossed him because he had a very religious wife. It was the question of religion. And for me, you know, it was a very touchy question at the time. He was an agnostic. He didn't, at that time, call himself an atheist. And so while I was in the sanitarium, I studied. This doesn't have to do particularly with labor movement, but all the great religions of the world so that I could place Christianity in its proper context and then try to understand other forms of religious expression and belief and humanism and all of these things. I changed my ideas in that a great deal.
KOGER: This was sometime around 1931?
DOLLINGER: Yes, that would have been starting in that year.
KOGER: You said there was a group. Were there others in a kind of organization that you had or an informal discussion group? If so, about how many people do you recall?
DOLLINGER: Let's see. When we first started getting in the group, there must have been a younger brother of Kermit's came in and a couple of other people who called themselves old socialists. One of them was Fred Stevens, who was president of the bus workers who were on strike in 1937.
LEIGHTON: Okay, so this was as early as 1931 or 1932?
KOGER: Were you discussing socialist doctrine, ideas?
DOLLINGER: Yes, sometime in between '31 to '35 we began to be interested in the beginnings of labor movements in America. This is when Roy Reuther came in and I think probably he's right. It must have been around '35. Roy Reuther came in and taught classes under the Board of Education--Workers' Education classes in the Pengelly Building.
KOGER: Now, in these discussion groups you began by discussing socialist ideas and doctrine. But then did you find yourself figuring out ways to apply them to specific labor problems in Flint, issues that came up in the factories?
DOLLINGER: I think in the beginning we had so much to learn and we had nowhere else to go but learn in our own study groups. Also at this point we had gotten enough money together to rent one room in the Pengelly Building. Prior to the strike now we had a Socialist Party headquarters in the Pengelly Building. There was a Proletarian Party headquarters and there was a Socialist Party room. These were just rooms. All three of these were in the Pengelly Building. There was a man by the name of John Davies. He later became a recognized artist. John Davies was the teacher and he was recognized as a real leader of the Proletarian Party and he taught classes in Marxism and Das Kapital and so on. I went into some of those classes. We were so curious about so many things. I wasn't a student that went to all of his classes, because they were always discussing the very, very fine points, you know. And I think by nature I wanted to know how could we apply some of these things. In this period prior to the strike also, very young, we organized a Young People's Socialist League. And here we involved children of members that we had recruited into the Socialist Party. Emily Dean and her husband, who was a sit-downer. They had three children and they were old enough...two of them were...to participate in the Young People's Socialist group. There was Tom Klasey and Geraldine Klasey, Ted and Hester LaDuke, and Melvin and Marjorie Center in this Socalist Party at this time. Now there was a split and they went over to the Lovestonites, part of this group prior to the strike. There was a Buick worker by the name of (that will come to me later) and several people that played a role later on. As I said, Fred Stevens and his wife, Grover and Blanche English, that was the Buick worker, and he played a part in the strike. Okay, this was the Socialist Party as it was being built and developed and our discussion groups. We were all intensely interested and we affiliated with the state and national organization and sold The Socialist Call and there was a YPSL paper. I think it was The Challenge. We went from door to door selling these things.
KOGER: What kind of receptions did you run into in your door-to-door work and in the community to your discussion groups? Was there open hostility in the community or were you tolerated or received?
DOLLINGER: I think it was a very difficult and long road. But I think a lot of people showed a mild interest. When we had in this period the LID, the League for Industrial Democracy, that we organized in the Socialist Party group. We organized and received the speakers that came in from Brookwood Labor College and from the Socialist Party, Norman Thomas, Dr. Harry W. Ladler, Tucker P. Smith, Powers Hapgood and a number of influential and effective speakers, educators. We organized this League for Industrial Democracy in Flint and on some of the lectures we exceeded in attendance other spots of the nation, in Flint.
LEIGHTON: Okay. One of the things that I wanted to follow up on that then is what we're really getting a picture of, is in the real depths of the depression, the early years right after 1930, we are getting a lot of people coming in to Flint and a lot of interest generated in Flint. Were you aware at the time, that there were competing groups with the Socialist Party coming in as well, establishing papers, selling papers or bringing speakers? You mentioned the Proletarian Party. Were there others also competing for labor sentiment and labor support organizing drives?
DOLLINGER: I don't know what other groups that would have been so well known or sort of established. In the North End, there were Communists. The Communist Party had its group and its money and stability was based primarily on the Russian socialist families up there, the Evanoffs and I can't remember some of the names, because this was something that was still a little far off from us. We had no occasion to go up there. They didn't influence because of their ethnicity.
KOGER: These were fairly recently arrived immigrant groups, right? First and second generations?
KOGER: Eastern European or Russian?
DOLLINGER: Yes, first and second. It wasn't a large community, but I did know Mr. and Mrs. Evanoff, and they were very fine and intelligent people.
LEIGHTON: Were many of the people in the North End at the time in the plants and was there a special particular plant that most of them tended to be employed, since they'd be close to Buick?
DOLLINGER: Most of them were in Buick.
LEIGHTON: Did they also tend to go into other occupations, let's say small merchants, this type of thing?
DOLLINGER: The only one that I knew that would be in that category was affiliated more in the Jewish community, Morris Roome on Industrial Avenue. His mother had a department store. He was a teacher and was one of those victims when the teachers tried to organize at the time of the sit-down strikes.
LEIGHTON: When did you become involved regularly in the education classes offered in the Pengelly Building? Before the strike? Did you participate in any of those on a regular basis or did you teach any?
DOLLINGER: No, on a regular basis I was a builder, teacher and a worker in every way for the Socialist Party and the YPSL group. I was one of the leaders of the YPSL group. One time the Socialist Party got a notice that Walter Reuther was coming to speak on the Soviet Union after his return. He and Victor had been in the Soviet Union. And the Socialist Party of Flint, all of its members, were afraid to have him speak. They thought that this would be the death knell of the Socialist Party and that there might be all kinds of riots. There was fear.
KOGER: Who did they fear? Did they fear the police, the factory owners?
DOLLINGER: Yes, they feared public opinion. They feared the Journal. They feared their jobs. They knew. We had been studying enough of the economic situation relationships to know that General Motors controlled the paper. I mean this is common knowledge. It's just absorbed in your skin as you grow up in a community such as this. They controlled the radio. They controlled your job. They controlled everything and there was fear that this was just flaunting the powers that be in the city, the city fathers, too much by having them speak.
KOGER: Do you feel that up to a point your having study groups and meetings would be tolerated, but if you went too far, for example, bringing in one of the Reuther brothers, you would cause the unacceptable retaliation of the establishment?
DOLLINGER: This is the way some of the members, I think the older members in the SP, they felt it very strongly. A minority in these meetings were very curious as were a few others. And so was I. And we decided to take it over and sponsor it in the name of the YPSLS. So we made all of the arrangements and Walter Reuther did indeed come into Flint. We rented the Masonic Temple because, you see, we had been renting the Masonic Temple and the basement of the Court Street Methodist Church for these other LID meetings, which were large and well attended. This was an educational process, you know. We had some professionals attending those. We had Flint Junior College, a very small group in here.
LEIGHTON: That was the predecessor to the Mott Community College?
DOLLINGER: Yes, there was a director of a very tiny, a little art institute, and she used to come, and there were some YWCA people.
LEIGHTON: Did you notice, in these meetings, were there any high school students that ever came?
DOLLINGER: High school students ever came? I don't believe there ever was any high school students to my knowledge.
LEIGHTON: Was there ever any attempt by any of the parties at the time to recruit high school students or to at least carry on meetings?
DOLLINGER: No, Flint was remiss in that. I have heard about New York City and other student high school activities, but Flint never had that kind of thing. There was too much control of the high school and all of the schools here...far too much control for that. But we did some crazy things as all kids do in the YPSLS. One time we passed a motion that we were going to wear the blue workers' shirt and a red tie. I guess I was always for uniforms. The blue shirt with the red tie and the dark skirt or the dark pants if you were a boy. We thought that that would be dramatic enough. You know, it would appeal to a certain number of young people. We did recruit a few, maybe a half a dozen. I don't know. But it was always against the parents and the parents were so fearful of their jobs in General Motors. That was our biggest thing. And one time we even went to Atwood Stadium. And I can't remember the occasion. It was two baseball games, our local high school teams or something. And we went there and sat in a body hoping to be noticed by the young people, high school students. But that's the furthest we were ever able to go.
LEIGHTON: During this period of time did A. J. Muste ever come to Flint?
DOLLINGER: He didn't come under our auspices? I don't think he would have come for the SL or Proletarian Party, but it's possible. I know him.
LEIGHTON: I think during that period of time he might have been a Trotskyite.
DOLLINGER: No, he wasn't.
LEIGHTON: That was later.
DOLLINGER: I'm not going to dispute you even on that right now.
LEIGHTON: Okay. 1930 is the strike at Fisher Body and following the strike in that period from 1930 to, let's say, 1935, were there any attempts at establishing union locals in Flint at the plants or was union activity pretty well abandoned by the AFL during that time?
DOLLINGER: There was one Federated Auto Workers local in the Pengelly Building. That was under the AF of L and we had a paid pork chopper, well known. I think one of them was Hart and there was another one, I can't remember. And of course the LaFollette investigating committee found out later that probably two-thirds of the membership were company stooges. But my father-in-law and Kermit were members of that and my father-in-law was one of the most idealistic men that you could possibly ever come up against. He would go to meeting after meeting and try to persuade them. You know: "We need to get our message across. We need to get more of the mass production workers." The AF of L was never interested in these federated locals. It was a crime and a shame to see these bureaucrats walking around without ever helping these men who were sincere. The other craft unions, you know, had their headquarters, the plumbers, the carpenters, in the Pengelly Building. And this was prior to 1937.
LEIGHTON: Now we talked the other day about this. During this same period of time did you notice an influx into Flint, into the auto industry, of people as you mentioned before, not only from the South, but immigrants from rural Michigan, during the 1930's?
DOLLINGER: Yes, there were. They weren't a great number. They weren't in such great numbers. But many of them came from copper country and the iron country up north. And they had a popular term for them which they didn't resent so much, as the hillbilly was not such a complimentary term. But there were the hillbillies and the "stump jumpers."
LEIGHTON: And these were people that had been in logging and when the lumber paid out.
DOLLINGER: There were also some farmers whose sons began to move in. My father was born on a farm in Mt. Morris, Michigan.
LEIGHTON: Were any of these people, both the farmers and the people from the north country, had they had any ties, that you came across, with the IWW?
DOLLINGER: None of the farmers that I knew of. But yes, there were some from the iron range and the copper country.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any people specifically?
DOLLINGER: The IWW's now, these were very interesting people. They would float in and out of our discussions in the Proletarian Party discussions that would come to our meetings. We had open meetings in the Socialist Party. They would go to the SLP and they would discuss Daniel DeLeon, where he was right and where he was wrong on this point. They were men of very, very strong character but they never had an organization in Flint. There weren't that many of them and they were very independent of each other.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember were they primarily ethnically identifiable, Scandinavian, Finnish?
DOLLINGER: No, I don't remember that.
LEIGHTON: Or any of the names?
DOLLINGER: I don't remember. I know there were none of the Polish, Russian, Hungarian or any of the other ethnic groups in the North End that were IWW's that I knew of. They were primarily more from the Scandinavian countries. And then we had another class-conscious group that was not affiliated. They would have socialist leanings in our direction. These were some of the Scottish tool and die workers. The Scots came in here and they were excellent in tool and die and they would come to some of our socialist lectures, our LID lectures and things like that.
LEIGHTON: But the Scots would not take a leadership role, tool and die makers essentially?
DOLLINGER: No, they had their own craft unions.
LEIGHTON: Okay, they were relatively well off.
DOLLINGER: Yes, they brought their ideas from Scotland to the labor party and things like that.
KOGER: I was wondering, when we talk about the ethnic groups in the North End, did they have their own little organizations that maybe related to one another in their own languages so that you were out of touch on their level?
DOLLINGER: Yes, they had their Polish weddings, their Polish dances, their Russian groupings.
KOGER: Did they have their discussion groups and so forth, say the Polish ethnics in Polish, about socialism or even their communist...?
DOLLINGER: Yes, I think they had something like the old Bund groups used to be. It was the IWO. That was a big grouping that embraced all of the ethnic groups.
KOGER: What did that stand for?
DOLLINGER: International Workers Order. It was a fraternal insurance organization that was a radical, you know sort of a cooperative, thing from Europe. Now, what is the other one the socialists had set up here, because I belonged to that one? IWO and there was another one.
KOGER: But they related to one another in their native language?
DOLLINGER: Yes, primarily, the second generation didn't.
LEIGHTON: Does the Bulgarian-Macedonian Workers' Education mean anything to you?
DOLLINGER: No, I remember seeing it on some kind of hall or something.
KOGER: Did these ethnic groups with language ties have any kind of influence that you could determine, on events on social thinking?
DOLLINGER: I don't think on the general community.
KOGER: Were there very many of them?
DOLLINGER: It was a fairly tight knit group in the North End. They didn't spread out.
KOGER: They worked in the plants?
DOLLINGER: Mostly in Buick. Most of their activities, social activities and most everything that they did were in the North End. But again, you see, Flint had nothing but churches and beer gardens. There was no great cultural center where people could mix together. But they were rather isolated from my whole family tree and all the people that came from my father's set and the workers from the South.
KOGER: But you say that there was a kind of intellectual ferment of sorts, a discussion, a greening over, so to speak, of some of the causes of Eastern Europe.
DOLLINGER: Which did not touch the rest of the community.
KOGER: Jumping ahead a little bit, looking at those groups when the heat was on during those critical months in 1936 to 1937, where were these ethnic groups?
DOLLINGER: Well, Buick was never pulled.
KOGER: I realize that, but where were they in terms of support or non-support or apathy on this strike?
DOLLINGER: They didn't act as an organized faction in the strike, but I believe that those were some of the solid people that were on the picket lines and came out to support that strike because this has been my experience in running into any of these people. They were always right there at six o'clock picket duty, until you know, they were the longest ones.
KOGER: These were the ethnic groups?
DOLLINGER: Yes, a number of them. But we also had these Southerners that got educated very fast that were just as...and they were a minority now. Even then remember they were a small group in Flint. Your live segment were newly arrived people from the South, something like seventy percent of the population. And so that's why I'm saying there was no relationship between this group that came into Flint and the ethnic groups.
KOGER: These ethnic groups, now, whereas they weren't perhaps sitting down in the plants because they were by and large from Buick, they were there on the lines. They were supporting and they were providing, they and their families.
DOLLINGER: But there again they took no part in the union organization itself. They didn't get up on the floor and speak. They provided no leadership. I think they were just solid supporters.
KOGER: You knew they were there, though?
KOGER: That they were behind you even though...
DOLLINGER: Their numbers were small. I mean, the point of this is, that is a great influence. But yes, I agree that I have run into people who have spoken broken English and I could recognize it as Polish. The Russians I don't remember much. Polish seems to stick in my mind as having come into contact with a few of them.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any conscious attempts on the part of the Socialist Party or any other of the political parties at the time, in this period prior to the strike, making attempts at bridging language gaps, like coming in and perhaps holding classes in English?
LEIGHTON: No publications which came out distributed up there?
DOLLINGER: There was no publication to my knowledge, at any time, between these groups meeting in the Pengelly Building. And I mean I was in and out of the other groups and the North End movement. It was that isolated.
KOGER: They kept to themselves pretty much.
KOGER: Okay, so they supported the strike tacitly.
DOLLINGER: There was not one of them that ever came up as a leader, a secondary even. Maybe it was a language barrier. Probably it was.
KOGER: Neil, do you want to talk about the large group of Southerners that she mentioned or do you want to go on to some other...?
LEIGHTON: Where did most of the Southerners come from in the South?
DOLLINGER: A majority of them came from an area that's called the tri-state area around Kennett, Missouri. They were primarily from Campbell, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky, right in that area. That's the large number of them. And then we had some from Alabama, from the Deep South, middle South, not way down. Well, they considered themselves Southerners and we considered them Southerners. It wasn't middle or way down.
LEIGHTON: Where did they settle in Flint primarily at that time?
DOLLINGER: Well, the early ones settled in regular working class areas, Chevrolet Park and places like that. But those that came in later as the factories began to expand...
LEIGHTON: Expansion would have been what, the late twenties to '27, '28, '29? That might be a little too early.
DOLLINGER: I can't tell you that exactly.
LEIGHTON: They would have been here at any rate by the mid-thirties.
DOLLINGER: Yes, the Fenton Road area and that whole section of town. The whole south end was called Little Missouri. That was its nickname.
LARRY JONES: In the mid-twenties up until the Depression time almost, many of these Southerners, people that were called Southerners here at any rate...the people from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky...came here only during the production season. The automobile production season was only six or seven months long. Now they would come and work through the productive months and return to their native state when the production or when the inventory or layoff period came. Now at that time, back in those days, the periods for inventory and model change was during the dead of winter. It would probably begin in December and it would last from four to twelve weeks. Now under these conditions you see, these men, these Southerners that the corporation had recruited, would not bring their families here. They came alone. And Flint was a city or a town of boarding house citizens.
DOLLINGER: That's right.
JONES: And it was not until the relative stability at a later time in the thirties that those men actually brought their families up here and they became residents of this area. But for a period of fifteen years, perhaps that period when whether the men were married or single, they were only here for part of the time. And the rest of the time when they were laid off, back to their home state they went. There would be an exodus from Flint to these various southern places which would create, even for those days, a traffic jam in the inventory period, on their way back to Missouri.
KOGER: It would start right around Christmastime.
DOLLINGER: That accounted for the large number of beer gardens that we had in this area. These men had no place else to go. Weekends they would go into the beer garden because they were workers with a lot of problems and a lot of pressures from the conditions in the plants. We used to have a hell of a lot of fights break out Saturday nights in the beer gardens.
LEIGHTON: But this migrant thing, coming in and leaving. Do you think the Depression contributed to their settling? Am I right in indicating that by the mid-thirties either the cost of running back and forth, whatever, or they were unemployed and couldn't afford to go back, were the conditions which may have caused them to settle?
JONES: There was no doubt a combination of circumstances. But by the mid-thirties, before the strike, there was a semblance of stability which was not there before. So these people really became year-round residents and eventually permanent residents. It very likely began during the Depression. And very likely one of the reasons was they didn't have enough money to get back from one place to another. Some of them, out of necessity, stayed here.
LEIGHTON: Okay, so they begin to have a stake in the community now. Was there any indication that in the mid-thirties, even though the women as you mentioned earlier today, were not particularly organized into a social organization, the fact that there were men with families, families perhaps going to churches and that both men, and secondarily women, are attending and becoming part of some organizations which they have not, as long as they were more transient?
DOLLINGER: I don't remember their having any organizations, even any social clubs. And many of the Southerners that I knew, and I knew quite a few of them in the course of our trying to work among them, selling papers and recruit them for socialism before the union came in, did not go to church. They didn't have the clothes. They couldn't compete. They didn't have the shoes and stockings for the family.
LEIGHTON: What year did the first labor organizational meetings take place? In other words, the attempts to sit down with workers on the part of the Socialist Party, and begin to organize them, on the part of the party or on the part of, in 1935 let's say, the growing movement towards the CIO?
DOLLINGER: Oh dear, this was such a gradual process. Very often a man like Carl Johnson, for example, would try to get a worker in the shop in Plant 4 to come up to the Federation. Now the Federation was one of the...I sat in on a few of them...one of the dullest proceedings you could possibly imagine. We had some people in there that were paid disrupters, to come in and argue about some little item in the treasury report. And the whole meeting would be meaningless. We didn't realize what was happening. Carl Johson would say to these workers, "Well, perhaps we'll get enough people to make this mean something." And he would bring them down then into the Socialist Party and he would sit there in a room. And he would sit there and talk to them. Now it was not possible to talk in the shops about even federated... They didn't worry so much about it if you belonged to the AFL as later on, when the papers began to be filled with John L. Lewis and the miners and Amalgamated Garment Workers and so on, this Committee for Industrial Organization. This is when they became concerned and that's when they watched their workers like hawks. And yet, there was even some newspaper reports. And we got damn little of it in the Flint Journal, any interest being discussed in the shops. They had lip readers in there. Especially just prior to '37, period of '36, they had lip readers in there. We had a lot of meetings with men who couldn't shut up, a lot of them. Others had to meet by inviting people into their homes.
LEIGHTON: Okay, I wanted to get on that.
DOLLINGER: If they thought they were going to be spied on by their neighbors or somebody else, they would go in their basement and have a beer party, ostensibly. We had parties in our apartment house on Detroit Street. They were sort of poker parties ostensibly. But it was a very careful discussion because we were always worried about maybe somebody was coming along just to be a good guy and was reporting. You have to live through that period to know how you're always looking at a person, testing. And how far can I go?
KOGER: Was it at this point that you were making that jump from simply discussing ideas about socialism to actually developing strategies to apply those ideas to organizing the plants? Was this what you were doing in the cause of some of these concerns, that you were going to get at some specifics?
DOLLINGER: No, I think probably what we were doing was mapping. We really got interested in talking about action when plants began to sit down in different parts of the nation. Now the rubber workers, I think, were the first or was it the glass workers? I can't remember. The rubber workers was what turned us all on.
KOGER: When was that?
DOLLINGER: Thirty-six, I think.
JONES: The first part of '36.
DOLLINGER: And that's when we became electrified and we began then to meet clandestinely in different homes and began to discuss if they can do it, then why can't we? We may have to do it outside of this Federation local. Many of them hadn't even given up ever going up to those meetings by this time. And how can we do it?
LEIGHTON: Were there other people other than Caarl Johnson, who were, even before '36, taking people to the union meeting and attempting to get workers interested in organization?
DOLLINGER: The Carpenter brothers at Fisher 1 were probably the most dramatic from the period of 1930 and they had a lot to do with that strike out there (Fisher 1). All of those straight-through leaders were leaders of the Proletarian Party and they were dynamic guys. I was very close to one of them. Larry, I think, was quite close to one of them, Clayton Carpenter. He was a brilliant man and he had gone through a period with the IWW. He rode the rods. He was a bindle stiff and he used to regale me with stories. You know I always wished I were a man and could get out there and have all the experiences of the jungles and the discussions that they had in the jungles. And he had lost his religion and all of these things in the jungle. He was a colorful character, one who was accepted by all kinds of workers in spite of the fact that he would say such things as, "Look, do you know what I would do to Jimmy Jesus if he came here today?" I would say, "How the hell do you let mankind suffer in these plants?" He would make the most outrageous remarks and yet he was accepted because he had very strong convictions and workers were looking for somebody that they could trust with strong convictions.
KOGER: Any names of other people that you recall that were involved in trying to make this jump from discussing abstractions to specific strategies for the plants?
DOLLINGER: Well, the SLP was not so active in that because they had one pet phrase, the labor unions and their representatives were nothing but lieutenants of capitalism. They wanted to discuss the pure program of Daniel DeLeon so it wouldn't have come from there. No, I think that at the time, now the '30 strike was set from outside. I think a man by the name of Phil Raymond, who was supposed to have been associated with the Communist Party, came in and worked with some of the people. The Carpenter brothers were working with him and it was almost a valiant attempt that quickly subsided after that strike. They were clubbed. You know they were driven outside of the county and clubbed. Now I did not participate in that but Jack Palmer did. He took pictures. This is what I would like to bring up tonight, that they put women in the front of that line to go through the police. And I learned about that just a couple of years ago. He gave me a set of the pictures and then I went to Chicago and I talked with Hy Fish and I said, "Look what I have." The women actually went in the front of the picket line before and we knew nothing about it. And I got that paper that you're making, you're duplicating, the story of the Flint (police) officers clubbing the autoworkers.
LEIGHTON: Were there people by late '35 who were appearing in Flint that you can recall had organizational skills?
DOLLINGER: The LID people had organizational skills. They were the Brookwood Labor College people that were lecturing.
LEIGHTON: Were they coming in on a regular basis?
DOLLINGER: Oh, I see, to organize? No, not until there was the formation with John L. Lewis and Mortimer came into Flint. Now, Mortimer is a fine man and a genial man. Mortimer could have found his resource material if he had wanted to by going up and getting people in the Proletarian Party and in the Communist Party. But he decided he wanted to do it another way. Apparently he trusted people who were affiliated or associated with the Communist Party at the time. At the time, we didn't speak about these things because red-baiting began to grow up there very heavily, and we didn't speak about these things during the strike. We needed unity. But he made some mistakes that could have worked out otherwise.
LEIGHTON: Early in that period when Mortimer comes in, probably the first time in the summer of '36, was there any attempt by Mortimer and others, let's say within the Pengelly Building, and political parties to get together to work out a kind of unity strategy or did that just more or less shape itself? And if so, do you remember any people involved in that?
DOLLINGER: He felt that, because there had been a successful strike in the AutoLite Plant in Toledo. Isn't that where Travis came from? There were two men. One of them was in the SP, and Travis and his wife, Margaret.
LEIGHTON: Do you mean Joe Dietzel?
DOLLINGER: Joe Dietzel. Joe Dietzel was in the SP. He was our member in Toledo. They were the two men who led that strike down there. Mortimer, because of his political affiliation, preferred Travis over Joe Dietzel and was sent in to organize. He was sent in, and staff. That staff was of one political persuasion from New York and all over.
LEIGHTON: When was the first time you meet Wyndham Mortimer in Flint?
DOLLINGER: I think when they first opened the office.
LEIGHTON: I had asked when was the first time you meet Wyndham Mortimer face to face?
DOLLINGER: And that's hard for me. I think when the office was first
opened because we were practically living in that Pengelly Building by
this time and so the minute they opened the headquarters, the office...
LEIGHTON: You never bumped into him at one of these clandestine meetings or parties?
DOLLINGER: No, we were having our own crazy thing. I've heard Bob Travis say they were meeting in basements and so on and so forth. But I'm sure it must have been people like Bud Simons and Walt Moore and those people, because those groups never came together. To me it sounded so strange. Here you had people that had been functioning for so long, you see. And then the Carpenters went over to help Fisher 1, the strikers. The Fisher groups were meeting. They went over and they provided much of the brainwork because of their previous experience.
LEIGHTON: We talk about the unemployed councils of the Workers' Alliance.
DOLLINGER: That comes after.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any of it before? Was it the Workers' Alliance? It was formed before the Sit-Down Strike.
DOLLINGER: Yes, and it had sort of a social grouping, Saturday night dancing and so on.
LEIGHTON: In Flint?
DOLLINGER: Again, primarily up in the North End. But we were so busy with the unions that we never had any contact with them. We knew they were. They weren't able to do a whole lot in the situation as far as I can remember.
LEIGHTON: The unemployed councils?
DOLLINGER: It was the Workers' Alliance.
LEIGHTON: Okay, were they an offshoot of the Workers' Alliance? This is one thing I haven't ironed out. Did the Unemployed Councils give rise to the Workers' Alliance or vice versa?
DOLLINGER: I think the Unemployed Councils gave. I don't know. The Workers' Alliance was in existence right through '37, '38, one month in '39. When did we organize the UAW in Flint? I've got '41 down here, UAW Local 12, WPA Local.
JONES: That would have been around '39.
LEIGHTON: Let me jump back a little bit again. Do you remember how many people among Flint factory workers or any of those who played a prominent role later on during the strike who were WPA?
DOLLINGER: On WPA, of course I do. Sure, I remember people who were on WPA, especially the ones that were in the union that we organized, WPA and Unemployed Local No. 12, UAW-CIO. We felt that in an autoworker's town they should not separate WPA workers who were former autoworkers and hopefully would be autoworkers again. We did not think they should be separated over into a separate organization, the Workers' Alliance. And I was on the Executive Committee of that local. We formed it, we built it, we carried on some very good dramatic actions and we had a larger membership than Workers' Alliance even though it had been pre-established before us.
LEIGHTON: When did WPA come in, before the strike, after the strike?
DOLLINGER: After the strike.
JONES: Are you talking about the National WPA?
LEIGHTON: Yes, the National WPA.
JONES: That was before the strike. That was already in operation before the strike. That came in Roosevelt's first term.
KOGER: The question is when did they appear in Flint?
DOLLINGER: Did we have any projects?
JOHN DEYONKER: Mrs. Snyder, who I interviewed, she was working for the WPA prior to the strike.
LEIGHTON: What I'm driving at is to what extent did workers perhaps achieve their first exposure to some kind of labor organization, under WPA? Or did some organizers get some experience working in WPA and other NRA public agencies that were set up, maybe the conservation, the CCC?
DOLLINGER: Of all the people that I knew, the active people who were coming up daily to the meetings, being signed out and being sent out on picket lines, and so forth, the secondary leadership never were competent enough to provide the secondary leadership as those who had experience with the mine workers, those who had come from the copper country and the iron range. And of course there were a few tool and die workers that dared to come out and say a few things to help us along in our mass meeting. But those were the same people that had some actual labor experience that gave us a lot of secondary leadership. These were the guys who would nail you after a mass meeting, you know, and start signing you up. Now look, this is the reason you've got to sign up now because they had been previously in organization and knew the effectiveness of united action.
KOGER: It sounds as if you're describing the community that was somehow almost isolated from a labor organization up until sometime in 1936, the mass population of Flint that worked in the auto plants. Because they had even some of the people that you say had emerged, had been leaders, were inexperienced. Somewhat it appears to me as if they were somehow out of touch with labor organization prior to the Sit-Down Strike.
DOLLINGER: Many of them kept their mouth shut. They wanted to stay in the plants.
KOGER: Was it a lack of knowledge though, or was it simply a survival mechanism?
DOLLINGER: On the part of those who were in unions before?
KOGER: Well, those in the unions before and the people who lived in Flint. What I'm looking at is the large majority of people, that great population which was not leadership in the strike. Were they naive, so to speak, as to what labor organization was all about? Were they out of touch with what was going on with the rest of the nation? Or were they simply keeping their mouths shut?
DOLLINGER: I think they were out of touch with what was going on. I think they were naive as far as unionism was concerned. Many of them came off from farms in the South. They felt that if there was any chance at all of hanging on to a job, even for part time working conditions. The big word among the whole population was fear, with a capital FEAR, and they were afraid. They would think a lot to themselves, but often they wouldn't even discuss it with their co-worker. And if they did, very often as the LaFollette Investigating Committee found out afterward, they got into trouble. They were kicked out of their jobs and they were beaten up or issued some other little warning, "Don't ever do this again."
KOGER: Were there sources of information in the community that would have been available on a relatively mass basis for people to find out what labor organizations were all about in other parts of the country?
KOGER: No magazines, no outside newspapers?
DOLLINGER: No, nothing like that. Even the American Guardian or some kind of class-conscious magazine didn't have any circulation in Flint.
KOGER: It was not available or it simply was not bought?
DOLLINGER: It was not bought. People didn't know of it. We tried to circulate that and other literature and there was fear again. People were afraid to have it in their hands or in their homes.
KOGER: And of course there was no network radio to speak of at that time.
KOGER: So you couldn't just switch on the dial and hear what was going on in the coalmines?
KOGER: And of course the Flint Journal.
DOLLINGER: Every story was slanted, yes.
KOGER: Did people read Detroit newspapers here?
DOLLINGER: No, not very many of them. A lot of them couldn't afford to read the Journal and a lot of them didn't read The Journal. We had quite a few people who didn't even read the paper.
JONES: No question about that.
DOLLINGER: They relied wholly on what the union bulletin said when they went up there. That was the word of God. They would go up to the mass meetings and whatever the union bulletin said about any situation...the glass workers are on strike or whatever's happening in any part of the labor movement...we had a little bulletin issued for a while. They would just swallow that and they'd repeat it to other workers.
KOGER: But this was the AFL organization, the company union that they had.
DOLLINGER: No, the company union did nothing.
KOGER: Who was putting out this labor bulletin?
GENORA: This was after we started organizing for the CIO.
JONES: I think what he's trying to get at is what sort of support was there available for the workers before the CIO became a force?
KOGER: What knowledge was there for these people to work with?
JONES: You see at this time the AFL was deliberately refusing to set up, for whatever reasons, to set up a viable union structure. They were in here in charge of it, would sign up members and then actually do nothing about them. As a matter of fact it is alleged by some sources that the AFL would reveal membership in the AFL union to the employer. So that when one became too rambunctious or too successful he was discharged by the company and the AFL bore no responsibility for that and had no means of redress of getting him back to work. This gradually became known, of course, and the confidence in the AFL structure sunk to practically nothing.
KOGER: Now given the information that Genora has given us, the relative isolation of Flint and the relative lack of knowledge on a mass basis by the population as to what labor organization is all about, these activities which you were talking about which would have created a great deal of suspicion about labor organization in general and would have left what, a paranoid mass population around the summer of 1936 and the end of December, 1936 that caused this kind of eruption of the Sit-Down Strike, where they went from fear to a good deal of courage?
LEIGHTON: Were there not some type of work stoppages, if not outright strikes, between June and November?
DOLLINGER: Yes, but they were not publicized. Even there where there was a department, I think out in Fisher Body they had...upholstery...Clayton Carpenter was...they had some attempts of stoppages out there for a while.
KOGER: Who originated these? Where did they come from? Did this happen on the line, these stoppages?
DOLLINGER: No! Clayton Carpenter was a real kingpin out there and he was always talking to people. He was a very aggressive and likeable guy. He would collar people from other departments. He would walk over, leave his job. And I don't know how in the hell he ever stayed on it. But he had a group of people that he had educated to a certain level out there. But if that happened, we would have to hear that from Clayton Carpenter. There was no way of disseminating the information. The radio wasn't going to broadcast it.
LEIGHTON: Was Clayton Carpenter working with somebody in the CIO at the time? Or were these just kind of basically unplanned things which he did pretty much on his own initiative, or was he attempting to coordinate them?
DOLLINGER: Victor VanEtten and Jay Green were part of his group. Victor VanEtten and Jay Green were later on the Strike Committee and when they pulled it down, were part of this group. They used to have their own little caucus meetings. They were not going to put up with this or something like that. And this just happened on the spur of the moment. To my knowledge...and I've had many discussions with him...he was not in touch with any outside organizer of the CIO or from Detroit or from Toledo or anywhere else at the time. This was just a native effort.
LEIGHTON: Who from the CIO came into Flint, in addition to Travis, in that summer and fall of 1936? We know Travis came and Mortimer. Is there anyone else?
DOLLINGER: When was this?
LEIGHTON: Let's say from June to November of 1936.
DOLLINGER: No, I don't believe so. Travis says that he was living alone, living in a hotel room and going to communicate with people, I think out in Fisher Body. We who had other people in groups and caucuses and Chevrolet did not know he was in there at the time.
LEIGHTON: Let me jump a little bit if I can on this. It hinges together. We now know the first plant to sit down was Fisher 2. It appears pretty clearly that the idea to pull Fisher 2 down did not come from Bob Travis, in fact he didn't know about it. He was surprised, as was John L. Lewis, a few hours later when he found out. Who chose to pull down Fisher 2 and why Fisher 2?
DOLLINGER: There again they had another little caucus group in there and I can only remember O'Rourke and Bill Connolly, Irishmen, men of strong character. In the case of Bill Connolly and O'Rourke, they would be people who would read, perhaps a Detroit newspaper, and would put two and two together. He had political discussions with us, Bill Connolly, and he would be a man who had a keen mind, a very good mind.
LEIGHTON: Were these fellows aware, at the time, that the CIO was planning a large move in January against GM in Flint? Was that fairly widely known?
DOLLINGER: No, not widely, it wasn't known.
LEIGHTON: But would these people have known that? Would they have been clued into that?
LEIGHTON: Did you know about it?
LEIGHTON: You knew that the CIO was definitely planning?
DOLLINGER: We had connections with the Socialist Party in Detroit and other areas...Cleveland and Toledo and all around. We got information which we disseminated by word of mouth from representatives. That was one advantage of belonging to a political group like that.
LEIGHTON: How did the communications spread?
DOLLINGER: It was a national socialist labor committee organized and Kermit Johnson was elected as chairman of that. I found that in the New York Library Archives. I had forgotten it.
LEIGHTON: Did you ever come across, at that time, the kind of link between Fisher 1 and Fisher 2 since it occurred relatively quickly? One occurs in the evening of the 29th of December and the other in the early morning hours of the shift change at Fisher 2.
DOLLINGER: No, I think they had been discussing the necessity for taking action out in Fisher 1 because Travis had been working with a group out there. That would have been much easier to take than any of the Chevrolet plants; and Fisher II would also have been much easier. I think they had been discussing it and I think that they were shocked that, you know, Fisher 2 went down before them. I don't think there was any link at that time. I don't think that the two of them knew what the groups were planning. It surely didn't come through any of my channels and we had a lot of connections.
KOGER: Looking at this period that we have established, June - November, 1936, what signs can you recall that you were seeing in the population in general, dissatisfaction, things that in hindsight can be read as indications along the trail that there was becoming a climate that would be receptive to the Sit-Down Strike...the community itself, among the auto workers and their families?
DOLLINGER: In the general community?
KOGER: Yes, specifically among the autoworkers, but throughout...the environment, the atmosphere, the population.
DOLLINGER: There was an awful lot of word of mouth and this is awfully hard to pin down...an awful lot of word of mouth passing of news. For instance, if a worker who was a little bit more advanced read something in the Detroit paper, he would tell somebody. He would be very careful about telling them in the plant. That would pass off to a neighbor some place, maybe out on Fenton Road and it would be generally all word of mouth. I don't know of any other means of notification the workers had.
KOGER: But there was a strong and active kind of grapevine system?
DOLLINGER: Yes, beer gardens, Saturday nights.
KOGER: So information was being exchanged. It wasn't a completely quiet situation.
LEIGHTON: Would most workers in Flint, at that time, have a telephone in their homes?
DOLLINGER: No, absolutely not. I tried to get ahold of one of the telephone books they had in that period. They were very small. Not workers. Would you agree with that?
LEIGHTON: Would you say even that in 1936, fifty percent of the work force had an automobile? Workers, now.
DOLLINGER: Possibly, because it was a crazy situation. They could almost put an automobile together. They would take parts. One automobile collapsed like a one-horse shay. They would take the parts and use them with another automobile. They could take those things and almost wire them together.
KOGER: But wasn't that a priority item in most families? People tried to get a car if they possibly could.
DOLLINGER: Yeah, and many of them when they went to get their families down South would have some kind of a little trailer or even loaded up on the car their little meager belongings and get the car to go get their family to bring them back up. And then they nursed that car and wired it up and fixed it up. I may be wrong, but would you say half of the workers would have had some kind of a little jalopy?
JONES: No, it would be much lower than that. They were still recovering from the Depression and despite the fact gasoline was seven and sometimes eight gallons for a dollar, many of these workers were still buying fifty cents worth of gas at the time.
DOLLINGER: That's right, because when the bus strike happened just before we shut down the plants in Flint, it affected us terribly bad. It affected workers getting to work, too.
LEIGHTON: Okay, I want to hit that. That appears to be a little more important than we once thought, that strike. You mentioned a man named Stevens.
DOLLINGER: He was the president of the bus drivers' union.
LEIGHTON: Was he in on any of the talks about the possibility of some type of strike action against him?
DOLLINGER: Sure, he was a conscious man. He was in our Socialist Party group. We got reports from Detroit. We attended conferences in Detroit. And people came up from Cleveland and so on...Toledo. Yes.
LEIGHTON: They went down before the strike, which meant then that large portions of the work force were on foot.
DOLLINGER: Yes, and they tried very hard to negotiate, to bring them back to work. But Fred Stevens again held out, because he knew it was helping the UAW.
KOGER: Did the population in general, again asking you to recall signs and indications, the population of the community, particularly the auto workers population support that thing in little ways, the bus drivers' strike, even though it was an inconvenience to them? Or were they hostile toward it, in your recollection, or were they just apathetic?
DOLLINGER: That's very hard for me to say. I can't remember. I know that Fred used to think that there could be much more support from the CIO for his transport worker strike.
KOGER: Any of the population, you know, the ones that had to live with this thing?
DOLLINGER: I believe though that the workers just tried to organize carpools to get in to work. I believe that they were sympathetic, but not demonstrably.
KOGER: Would you say that sympathy could have been manifested in the sense that they didn't violently oppose it, that they didn't order rallies for the workers to go back to the buses?
DOLLINGER: That's right.
KOGER: So that was a form of support.
DOLLINGER: Yes, it was. It was sort of passive support.
KOGER: Do you think that that event sensitized the public?
DOLLINGER: It was a sympathy. Any worker that went out on strike at that time, they had immediately the sympathy of the guy in the shop because he was oppressed.
KOGER: Then this was a clear case where the worker in the plant could kind of vote with his feet, literally, in the sense that he walked and kept his mouth shut and tolerated it rather than pushed to get the drivers back.
DOLLINGER: They weren't conscious enough yet to come and say we support labor without really risking their jobs by doing nothing?
LEIGHTON: In what way did Fred Stevens see the transport strike as a means to help the UAW and as a weapon against General Motors?
DOLLINGER: If you had a plant down and a great number of them had to use the streetcars to get to work. That's what there were...the streetcars to get to work, especially Fisher Body on Saginaw Street. It would help the solidarity of the strikers there to know that the transport workers were not going to try and support scabs to work.
LEIGHTON: Would it also have had some impact on the link between General Motors and City Hall?
DOLLINGER: In what way?
LEIGHTON: The transport union workers might have felt that, since I assume that transport was publicly owned at that time, correct. And they would have had to negotiate with somebody at city hall and that the tie-in between city hall and General Motors as perceived by the worker would have been...
DOLLINGER: Fred Stevens would have known that. He was a bright man and he was a strong leader. He was an older man.
LEIGHTON: Any indication that he kept or tried to keep the workers out until the strike was settled, although I realize that the transport workers' strike was not settled until March, I believe, wasn't it... March of '37, at least a month later?
DOLLINGER: He had his workers with him. Those transport workers were on picket lines. Fred Stevens was shot in the leg in the Battle of Bulls' Run, Fred Stevens, himself. And I saw him. He went to jump over...we had melting ice on the streets, and he went to jump over one of these damn things and we were tear-gassed. It was a very bloody thing. I saw him go to jump over and I was shocked because the water down there had turned red. I don't know how that blood spurted out so fast from his pant leg. But he went down and the water turned red. I actually saw him shot. And his transport workers, he had strong leaderhip...and he offered strong leadership and he had strong support.
KOGER: You've described an informal communication system among the workers and also talked about the southern workers who came up. Were they still migrating in those days, in '36, as they were earlier?
DOLLINGER: No, not the way they were earlier. They were beginning to settle. And those who were in very bad conditions, you know, they built those shantytowns, corrugated cardboard and corrugated tin. They were called Hoovervilles and I was describing them in the class. There was no inside plumbing. There were no telephones of course. They had wells. Women would carry the water. They had primitive heating inside of those homes.
KOGER: Were people discouraged? Were they angered by the kind of conditions that they had to live in in those places or did they just accept them as life's...?
DOLLINGER: Well, at first some of them said, "Well, we'll make it." But as time went on and men were sitting on the lawns, being called in one hour to work. They became very discouraged, and there was a lot of grumbling on the part of the men.
KOGER: You have grumbling in the areas. You have what you've described as an informal communication system that linked the plants, linked the workers. Then you've described the attitude of passive support by the large majority of the working population for this month's long transit strike. So would you say then that between June of 1936 and November of 1936 that this community was sensitized more and more to labor issues as a result of this?
DOLLINGER: Yes, it was a gradual process and I believe that General Motors was aware of that because this is when they began to hire more outside agents to come into the plants and to spy on the workers. I think they felt that too. They had their people making reports. And that's when more beatings occurred and the beatings became more severe.
KOGER: Were people finding out about these beatings through this same informal communication system?
KOGER: It wasn't possible for the company to beat a worker in isolation behind the plant somewhere and not have it get around?
DOLLINGER: No, most of the time if they beat the guy, sometimes he couldn't show up to work for a while and he would pass it around among his friends. "I don't know who did it," he would say. But everybody did know who did it. You didn't know who the individual was. This was awful. Most of it was professional beatings. And there's a difference between professional beatings and...
KOGER: Would you say there is like what you described as a mass awareness among the working population that this kind of thing was going on even though it wasn't printed as such?
DOLLINGER: Mass awareness? Among women there was a growing fear and it was like something gnawing at them that they couldn't quite understand. Women were affected by this more than the men. You know, the men could get out. They could get drunk. They could talk about a few things and cuss and swear. Women had a gnawing fear during this period. They didn't know what this terrible, terrible force was that was preventing their husbands from providing a living. And why some of the husbands were getting beaten up and getting in trouble and all they could think of was stay out of trouble; stay out of trouble, you know. And of course I was talking all this time. Talking to people, "We've got to do something."
KOGER: Now here you were, you and a few others. Would it be correct to describe it as roughly a few other people were taking an active kind of intellectual role? You were proposing ideas. You were discussing strategies in various offices and homes.
DOLLINGER: There were never any finished plans. Primarily those people that I was closest with at the time were Chevrolet workers, naturally, because that's where Kermit worked and his father worked there, and all of our friends were all Chevrolet workers. And that was a big complex. That was something that would be beyond your making any finished plans. And I don't remember any work stoppages in Chevrolet, if there were. Do you remember any, Larry?
JONES: Do you mean prior to February? No, not to any great extent, at any rate. They just didn't have any out there. There were other plants, in the Fisher 1 plant over the years from 1930 on through 1936 periodically, but not in Chevrolet.
KOGER: Genora, can you recall any instances in focusing on the period of June through November 1936 where this fear, especially by the wives, by the women of the workers particularly, but the workers themselves, of a hostility toward people like yourself who were trying to organize them, but hostility that was a result, in your estimation, of fear for their jobs rather than hostility toward what you were trying to do?
DOLLINGER: Yes, absolutely. Out of fear there was a lot of hostility and many of the women, even later on when the men were really becoming active, after the plants were struck and they were on the picket lines and so on, many of the women used to call the women in the auxiliary all kinds of things. Women are going down looking for a man and things like that.
KOGER: Overt hostility.
DOLLINGER: It was out of fear and these women didn't know how to handle it. They didn't know what the forces were against them. They only knew that they had crying babies, babies crying for food, and no money. They knew it was a damn cold winter and there were no warm clothes... not sufficient warm clothes, not sufficient coal or wood to burn.
KOGER: Under these circumstances would it have been possible for a person to look at Flint during that period and think, seeing these signs of hostility toward organizers and so forth, to somehow misread what was going on here? To think what they were seeing is apparent hostility toward labor organizers was really fear of labor organizers and not that they didn't sympathize with what you were trying to do but they were concerned about the fact that you were actually doing it and that it was threatening their jobs. Until that kind of tinderbox...
DOLLINGER: I think so. I think that where George Boysen had that whole group, the whole Workers' (Flint) Alliance group came from. I really believe that they felt that workers were afraid of what labor organizers were saying and they played on the fear. I believe that's what success he had in organizing the Workers' Alliance and it was...
LEIGHTON: You mean Flint Alliance?
DOLLINGER: Flint Alliance.
KOGER: So in other words, the company you are saying...the establishment, so to speak, were saying...
DOLLINGER: Now you've got to separate the city fathers who controlled the city from this sophisticated corporation, that had its headquarters in General Motors Building, Detroit and had its orders sent out from experience and from all kinds of data provided to them and information of their agents. You've got to separate this corporation from the city fathers. The city fathers were really at first almost immobilized because they didn't know quite what was happening but they knew that General Motors was the Godfather in Flint.
KOGER: They listened for directions...
DOLLINGER: They had to, yes. In the meantime, I think they understood because remember just the police force, when we stopped them from going into Plant 4, the police all had relatives that worked in those plants. They knew what they were in there. They had connections, even those elected to the city council. They had relatives in their families working in there.
KOGER: Were these people in the city itself caught then, at that period, in a conflict of loyalties, would you say, between their own people and doing right by the people in the community and following the world of General Motors?
DOLLINGER: Yes, because when the vote came, it came on the side of General Motors always.
KOGER: But they had to agonize some about this, would you say?
DOLLINGER: I believe so, I really do. I really believe they had to agonize some.
KOGER: Would you feel, from your recollections, that they would like to have supported the workers but felt they couldn't because of General Motors?
DOLLINGER: Now you're asking an awfully big question. What percentage of them would feel this way and how strongly, and so on. I can take my own father, for instance, who had a daughter and a son-in-law in the plant, a daughter active in the strike. And when the Citizens' Bank, you know when he used to walk in there...and he had all kinds of investments. He built homes. He had a citrus grove in Texas and things like this. And he had his property kind of...what do you say...mortgaged, and stock piled up. He had great faith in the system and when he walked into that bank it was always, "Yes, Mr. Albro," and "come right into the office." Ernest W. Potter, was the president of the bank...right into his office and he didn't have to wait in line. Boy, after that strike and my name came out in headlines and I became known, that I was living in his building, in my father's apartment building, they called him in. And first before they called him in, all of his accounts were frozen in that bank. All of his accounts were frozen and he went down to see Mr. Ernest W. Potter and he said, "As long as you are harboring and encouraging that radical daughter of yours, we are sorry." And his assets were frozen. Now he had a photograph shop. He had business transactions to make and this poor man, as much as his sympathies were on the side of the powers that be, because, you know, he was successful, he came home and he ordered me out of the house. He had to order me out of the house. I had ruined his life. I had tied up his businesses and so on. And he said, "I am serious about it. I want you to pick up and get out of this house because my assets are all frozen." And I remember telling him, "If you think I'm going to leave, you're crazy. I'll report you." No, he was going to turn off the water, the heat and the water, when I refused to move. I said, "I haven't got time." "I'm going to turn off the water." "If you do, I'll report you to the Health Department and I'll publicize it all over." And of course, I had to threaten my own father in order to remain there.
KOGER: Did you hear of other instances of this kind of thing?
DOLLINGER: No, I didn't. That's the only personal...other workers that I worked with didn't have fathers in that category.
KOGER: But again, a case of here is an example of a person whose loyalties were split, weren't they? I mean his concerns about his business interests and his economic future in the community.
DOLLINGER: But he still didn't sympathize with the strikers. He was a man of great prejudices as many of the native Flint people were, these farmers. And he used to say that the Southerners were sloppy and filthy and uneducated and the oppressed always migrate and they didn't have all the culture, high culture and traditions that we had here in this area. He had prejudices against this and it was the hillbillies who caused all this trouble.
KOGER: So he was seeing them as a specific group of people, not necessarily as labor agitators or sympathizers, but also as hillbillies.
DOLLINGER: Oh, yes.
KOGER: As people with certain living habits...
DOLLINGER: He was quite sure that the native Flint population was such a tiny little group. In Flint the native population would be more sensible than that. I'll tell you one that was torn right straight down the middle was my mother. Oh my God, it was a terrible thing. She, of course, cried her eyes out. She was not about to evict her daughter and her two grandchildren living upstairs. And I had to be gone so much of the time and the two children were a real problem. So she agreed to...every morning my two younger sisters could get up and go to school. I don't remember exactly their ages. I think they were eight and twelve. And she would...knowingly was conspiring with me to have breakfast for them and they would say "Good-bye, Mother and Dad." And out the door they would go. And one of the sisters would go upstairs and take care of my children. And then she would send up hot dishes of macaroni and cheese and food up there. Otherwise, I would not have been able to go on with my activities.
KOGER: Even in your own family there were divergent loyalties, so to speak.
DOLLINGER: Yes, my mother came from Three Rivers, a poor family. And she had, at that time, a status in the community. She had fur coats, diamonds and everything else. She was a very fine person. She had a love of humanity and no prejudices.
KOGER: Did she give you specific support at this time that helped you do things in spite of your father?
DOLLINGER: Yes, my father had no idea. There would have been violence in the family. I don't know of anybody that came from that category, that status that I came from. I was used to living, before I married into the working-class family and that's one of the reasons why. Did you hear me talk about having tuberculosis and having to have my lung collapsed and so on? I couldn't in good conscience, even when the doctor said, "This might be your death, you know," I couldn't stay from the strike and all of the activities...the tear gas, the cold and not having sufficient clothing or shoes or anything else. Because I felt that there was nobody else, no other women who could speak for women and also play a role for the strike in general. And because of my political background I understood more than probably ninety-five percent or maybe more percentage of the men. I had been trained and Walter Reuther's classes were part of that...workers' education. We went through the history of the Molly McGuires and the IWW and the Knights of Labor and the AFL formation. We studied and discussed. In all of these lectures, he got the message across. And believe me...
LEIGHTON: This was Roy or Walter?
DOLLINGER: This was Roy. I didn't say Walter, did I? And he got the message across. Those classes provided...everyone of those people that through those classes were very active and this was under the Board of Education. There is a way of teaching, you know. He just always left you the next step to make; and he had people prepared.
LEIGHTON: The Flint Board of Education never realized what he was doing?
DOLLINGER: No, and I don't even remember if he was here a year or...
LEIGHTON: Now this brings up one last question and I would like to wrap it up. The Board of Education, at the time these classes are taking place, I assume they are taking place at the Pengelly Building, even though he's receiving some kind of honorarium or something from the school board at that time. Had Charles Stewart Mott and Frank Manley, do you remember, put together the community education idea? And was Reuther and the course part of it?
DOLLINGER: I believe that was part of the community education project.
LEIGHTON: Kind of an extension and opening up the schools and taking the schools to the community and that type of thing?
DOLLINGER: I believe so.
KOGER: But did that, in turn, give you a sense of historical place in the process and all of that where you were part of the cutting edge?
DOLLINGER: Yes, he had two or three classes a week and I think one of them also was in parliamentary procedure. You see, these things are all preparatory and if you ever met Roy Reuther, he was the most personable of all the Reuther brothers. He was a genial redhead and had a big wide mouth full of teeth. And honestly, when he smiled, he just generated confidence in you. And in these classes there was a way he had of teaching that history goes on, you know. This is the way labor developed. And he told us about the organization of the skilled workers and there would be attempts at industrial workers, unskilled.
LEIGHTON: Were there other courses that you remember hearing about at the time, other types of things aimed at work, populations of workers, either in the plants or in the schools, perhaps? This was the only one?
DOLLINGER: No, outside of the Socialist lectures, the Socialist study groups, the Proletarian Party...
LEIGHTON: No, what I meant was the same type of thing that Reuther was doing by the Flint Board of Education.
DOLLINGER: No, not associated with anybody in the labor movement in the Pengelly Building or anybody that I know. He was the only one.
LEIGHTON: This thing on the Socialist Party. It was one of the things we kicked around, this idea that it built on this heritage of the earlier movements. The Communist Party had very serious problems, you know. It had kind of superior organization but it lacked kind of the language code. And so the idea, it appears anyway, in its appeal to build a mass labor movement, it had this very real problem of communicating with the rank and file.
DOLLINGER: Well, for one thing, the Communist Party always was oriented toward the Soviet Union and whatever organizational forms that they had there, you know, they talked in the same language as over here in this country. They talked about discipline in the ranks, centralized democracy or democratic centralism, I don't remember which, and about cells. They had cells in Russia and they had workers' councils. Whatever terminology, they just translated it in English and brought it over like that and always their tactics were devised in this country on how it was going to assist the defense and the building of the Soviet Union and they felt that Communism was going to be brought out from the Soviet Union as the bulwark of and the repository, I guess, of Leninism. And that was something that was quite alien to the American workers, I felt.
WEST: Was there not a change in the Communist Party strategy emanating from the top around '35 and '36, the so-called Popular Front strategy, in which the Communists who had hitherto held aloof from all the other left-wing groups were now going to make common cause with those groups? Would that not have made them more sensitive to the rank and file and to left-wing groups?
DOLLINGER: I wish I could say that, because we naturally were well acquainted with united fronts and their efforts in every field, to have a united front on the labor front, or even in certain political actions that were being carried on. And I wish I could say that made them more sensitive. But I found that in every case where I had any connection or heard of any connection in these united fronts that they still insisted it must be dominated and controlled, either surreptitiously, not openly. They didn't want it advertised, or by winning over by one means or another the people involved, the rest of the people. They never would relinquish control of these united fronts in one form or another. This is my experience.
LEIGHTON: I want to ask you, any of you, do you remember... We're on the topic of the Communist Party anyway, a couple of things. Do you remember the first time that they become involved in the labor struggle in Flint? We know '36, but were they here before? That anybody could really lead us into something where we might document it, in the thirties' strike, Jack.
PALMER: There was no question that they was here. Of course, at that time I was very naive. The papers was full of it. And I just done some more research on it and I come up with some names. Evanoff, Tom (Mike) Evanoff.
LEIGHTON: Was that the father of...?
DOLLINGER: That was the Evanoff family. I don't remember Tom.
PALMER: And they claimed that they come up and arrested, according to the Journal, and they arrested about five or six. Actually it made no sense to me at all.
DOLLINGER: Was that in the 1930 strike?
PALMER: Yeah, the 1930 strike.
LEIGHTON: Did you find you have a problem because anybody on the left or anybody who is attempting to form a union is getting labeled as a Communist?
PALMER: Oh right, right. Of course, I didn't believe it, you know.
LEIGHTON: I'm sure we want to know if they actually, if anybody knew of or remembered anybody coming in from outside, from the CP to attempt to create a strike organization and build the labor movement in Flint prior to '36.
DOLLINGER: I don't know. I wasn't conscious at the time, but I do remember Clayton Carpenter telling me later, and he cooperated with a man named Phil Raymond. He said this man wasn't afraid of anything, and he was supposed to have come in from Detroit, I think, at the time. And he brought in a couple of people with him. One was supposed to have been a woman to appeal to the women in the Fisher Body where Clayton Carpenter himself worked. But again, one of the key figures in that, Phil Raymond, couldn't come in as some messiah and call the workers out, had it not been for Clayton and Clarence Carpenter. They were an organized militant group, and he's the one I put on tape yesterday who was the Wobbly (IWW) in his past experiences.
PALMER: Phillip Raymond and Louise Morrison was arrested. I remember this, but I didn't know who they was, down on the corner of Industrial and Leith Street.
LEIGHTON: On Leith, right by Buick?
PALMER: Yes, they paraded down there to get the support of Buick workers. Now I got their names from the Journal.
LEIGHTON: Right, the article that Genora held up last night?
DOLLINGER: No, this was another one.
PALMER: This comes from the Journal. These names come from the Journal. But I remember this when they was arrested. We had a parade and went through downtown, over to Buick, to try to get their support.
DOLLINGER: He took the pictures. He actually took the pictures with the camera.
LEIGHTON: I remember you telling me. Were those the pictures that you sent down to Wayne?
PALMER: Yeah, I didn't get a picture. Well, I've got a picture of ...now Louise here, Louise Morrison wasn't arrested. It was Barker and Phillip Raymond, if I remember right. Her name was Barker. Do you ever remember anybody in the Communist Party by the name of Barker?
PALMER: They accused her of being a Communist. Let's put it that way.
DOLLINGER: Yeah, the papers always did that. But Clayton Carpenter did say that Phil Raymond was, and we were close friends. You know, I wouldn't repeat this to anybody as I've told him. I never saw anybody's party card in any organization. But Clayton Carpenter said, yes, that Phil Raymond was sent in by the Communist Party. This was in the period of their organizing red trade unions. You go back and there is a period in the Communist Party before the United Front...
WEST: Was that the Trade Union Unity League?
DOLLINGER: Yes, but it was popularly known as the Red Trade Unions and this was their tactic then. And of course, they could not have done it without a Flint leadership. They wouldn't have held any credibility with autoworkers otherwise.
LEIGHTON: Stay on the same thing. One of the things that fascinates me and I don't know how you bumped up against it. In Mortimer's book he mentions just briefly the idea, and I don't know if it was ever carried out in Flint, of creating either councils of working people or small groupings which paralleled the precinct levels of city hall. In other words, for each precinct within each ward of the city there would be a small group of workers and they would parallel this system and of course have nothing to do with city hall, because they couldn't be trusted by workers in any event. Do you know that that ever came off or whether it just remained an idea?
DOLLINGER: No. It must have...that would be the same thing as a Soviet, do you remember the Soviets were... No, it never came off and I don't think it was ever... Did you ever hear it generally discussed anywhere, even among politicals?
JONES: No, that was a theory and an excellent one if you could put it into practice. I'm sure no such plan ever went into effect.
LEIGHTON: Was there ever any kind of neighborhood organization that you remember, dominated either by the CP or by anybody...in other words, on a systematic basis on some kind of identifiable neighborhoods throughout Flint for mobilizing support whether it be clothes, or food, or pickets, or whatever, but again on a neighborhood basis?
DOLLINGER: During the strike? No, the Communist Party was rumored to have met in cells. You know, the North End and the East End and Chevrolet, so on and so forth. That I don't know. I never participated in one. But any relief activity in the nature of clothes or anything else came out of the union itself, and why would they want to operate through cells when they had control of the apparatus at the Pengelly Building? By the way, Larry says that anything that we write or talk about or anything else, we should explain to future generations that the Pengelly Building was located at the site of Harrison and Third in Flint. Because the students, say you called to the Pengelly Building for reinforcements way over to Chevrolet or Fisher Body, the students would think, well, all they had to do was come a couple of blocks or something without knowing the location of the union headquarters... quite a distance from Chevrolet, Buick and Fisher 1 and 2. You know, for us it was quite a distance then, our little chugging automobiles. No bus transportation at the time.
PALMER: The Pengelly Building did have a system of calling people. I don't know who done the calling but that's the way I used to get the message, from the Pengelly Building. And I had to contact the fellow that I rode with. His name was Lowe, from up in Pinconning. He worked over here at Buick. And we always went to Fisher Body. They always sent us to Fisher Body for reinforcement or a show of strength. And I happened to have a telephone.
DOLLINGER: Yeah, that's a very important point.
LEIGHTON: We talked a little bit about that yesterday. You had a telephone and that would have put you in the minority, didn't it?
PALMER: Yes, I was taking in boarders and roomers at the time and it was a necessity that I have a phone.
WEST: It was not common to have cars either, was it?
PALMER: No, I didn't have a car.
WEST: Did many of the workers?
DOLLINGER: No, not the majority of them. They were more common in Flint because it was an auto town and they could wire old cars together more than in other communities. Larry and I again were talking about that. It wasn't a common thing, and you never saw one worker, one person in, riding in a car usually, you know. Somebody was going downtown or going anywhere, he'd pick up other people. It wasn't uncommon to pick up people all the time.
LEIGHTON: Jack, when you would get a call for reinforcements, what would you do?
PALMER: I would contact my neighbor. Actually I lived in a duplex and he lived next door. Now we were the only two people on the block that belonged to the union and they trusted us. We'd get in his car and go out to Fisher Body. Now we both worked the day shift. Of course they never called us unless it was Saturday or something like that. And they would call after two-thirty or three o'clock. I don't remember what time it was.
LEIGHTON: And this was to go where?
PALMER: Always go to Fisher, always. Now I don't know...at the time of the Battle of Bulls' Run...my brother went with me. Now I can't remember whether I heard it over the radio or whether I got a call.
DOLLINGER: Everybody heard it over the radio.
PALMER: I remember walking and Larry straightened me out on that. I couldn't figure out why I was walking, but there was a bus strike.
LEIGHTON: That's right. We've run into that a number of times. We'll talk to people and they'll say I did such and such and got a call and walked all the way over to Chevrolet. Ten minutes later we'll talk on and he'll say, "Why in the hell was I walking?" They forget all about it but they don't realize how crucial that transport strike was. On your block, Jack or Larry, if there were just the two of you as union members, did you ever get a chance to spend any time at all even before the strike? There obviously were other workers on your block, weren't there? Other people that worked in the plants. Did you ever try to get them to sign up for the union?
PALMER: Not in that particular block. Most of these people at my place...there was two fellows that board and roomed there. They worked over to Buick and were very reactionary people, and never discussed anything. And we was all afraid of stool pigeons.
LEIGHTON: Right. I just wanted to get to the extent that organizing would have taken place up to the time of the strike outside.
PALMER: We signed up more people in beer gardens and places like that than any place else.
LEIGHTON: How would you find out that somebody was a ripe candidate to be a union member? Obviously the fear of stool pigeons and company cops and that was very high. Genora brought that out yesterday. Was it true that before you go up to a guy you wanted to know a little bit about him? Was that the case, I mean, even in the beer gardens?
PALMER: Well, most generally you'd wait for a reaction from the individual after talking to you. He might go into a beer garden and sit down at a table with four or five workers and get to talking and they would start expressing themselves. Maybe you'd have to wait a little later to get him by himself. Maybe you could only pinpoint one.
DOLLINGER: I noticed one method, now that I'm thinking about it, that was quite common in recruitment in the very early days when it was dangerous. These people who came in from the South very often would go right back and tell relatives to come up with their families and so a guy would bring a brother-in-law along or a brother, cousin or an uncle. And it would be somebody that they would have known for a long time, would have trusted completely. And I just happened to think, there were an awful lot of cases, "this is my uncle, this is my cousin" or something like that.
LEIGHTON: So it was really a family network?
DOLLINGER: To begin with, I think this was the way they got some of those people up there, in the beginning.
LEIGHTON: Well Jack, when you were organizing or even in that period before the strike, organizing (by that I mean just talking to one guy to get him to sign up in the union), you obviously were committed very early in the game, 1930. You had seen what had happened to the unorganized workers. Did you have anybody that you, in turn, that you got some guys to sign up, you passed the name along up the line?
PALMER: Well, our main stem in plant three was Jack Little. We got a lot of information from him. He was a real militant. He done a real job in his day. We needed him. He was a goon type. And most of it we turned in...in the plant, him and Lynn Gohn...fellow by the name of Lynn Gohn. Lynn Gohn was an alternate committeeman and this was where we turned most of it in.
LEIGHTON: And this was still during the period of the Federation?
PALMER: Oh no, this was in '36 and '37. I don't remember Jack Little being active there when we was organizing the AFL. That was easy. We was really disillusioned of that group. I was suspicious myself. We had a tough time organizing the CIO after that.
LEIGHTON: In the days of the AFL though, and getting people to sign up for that, you didn't have much opposition, did you?
LEIGHTON: From the company?
PALMER: I think we had our plant almost one hundred percent.
LEIGHTON: Then you must have known something was wrong.
PALMER: As I remember, there was only three or four firings.
DOLLINGER: Plant 3 was a separate and distinct plant from the rest of them. It's a parts and service plant. You don't have production and...
LEIGHTON: This was at the Chevy complex?
DOLLINGER: Yeah. You don't have the whip over your back all the time and that was sort of the royalty of the Chevrolet workers, wasn't it?
PALMER: Yeah, it was more like a supermarket. You went out and picked orders and brought it back.
DOLLINGER: They were independent, boy. Those guys over there were more like Buick workers.
LEIGHTON: I want to, if I can come back to this, the Communist Party now. Obviously in '36 you must have noticed an increase, let's say, of outside people coming, the speakers...whether they were SP, SWP, or whatever... The organizers that come in from the Communist Party, were they very visible at first, or was it just one of these things that you woke up one day and there was somebody new, with perhaps organization and money behind them?
DOLLINGER: They came in fairly...it looked like it had been a decision and when they came in and set up the office there was one woman, Lou Scott. And they absolutely would let nobody see the books. There was absolutely no access to any information whatsoever. It was a locked and barred office that they operated out of.
LEIGHTON: And this was when they were setting up the UAW office. Is that what you mean, UAW-CIO?
WEST: Lou Scott. Was she Travis's secretary?
DOLLINGER: Yeah, uh-huh.
LEIGHTON: Was she a local woman?
DOLLINGER: No, she was brought in from outside, wasn't she? I don't know where she came from. She was not anybody that anybody in Flint ever knew. They didn't know one of the secretaries working there. The whole office complex was controlled completely without any. They said they didn't trust anybody else. They were...you know, everybody was suspect. But people that had been around there for a long time got no information whatsoever, even to assist organizational activities, if they didn't want to give it to you.
PALMER: What did Lucy Ann do there?
DOLLINGER: Lucy Ann. I don't remember what Lucy Ann did?
LEIGHTON: Lucy Ann?
DOLLINGER: Lucy Ann Poutier.
LEIGHTON: She was a secretary or organizer?
PALMER: I don't know. She worked in the Pengelly Building; I know that.
DOLLINGER: I'll tell you what kind of setup it was. They set up everything. They wanted a press clipping bureau. And so when I went up and asked what could I do, they first said, "Well, we're setting up a press clipping bureau. We want you to mobilize this whole room." You know, organize this room. The papers came in. We want you to review all of the papers and cut out everything pertaining to the autoworkers' strike or the CIO-related, but primarily the autoworkers in all the other plants. I was doing that for two days and then I decided to find out. This was supposed to be for Robert Travis. Roy hadn't been called back into Flint at that point.
LEIGHTON: He was back in Detroit?
DOLLINGER: Roy Reuther. He hadn't been called in yet. This was supposed to be for Robert Travis. And so I think on the end of the second day of going through all of these papers and cutting out and clipping and mounting, penciling, you know, the very important sections and so on, I noticed that Dorothy Kraus. Now this is something that I know from personal experience. They had a director in here and they had a commissar in here that was directing the whole operation, and that was Henry Kraus, the editor of the paper. There's no question about it. And Dorothy Kraus was going through all the work that I was, and she was selecting only what she thought Travis should see and letting that go and throwing the rest in the basket. And things that I may have thought were important and I thought he should have seen were not for him to see. I just gave up. I didn't have an argument with them, then. I just said, "Any monkey with a pair of shears can do this job. This could be censorship. In this department we'll let anybody cut these things out." And I just walked off. And then I noticed that they needed somebody to set up a picket sign painting setup. And so I did that. I bought all the paints, the poster boards. And I had the guys go out and get the stems for it and do the nailing and so on. And I started painting the picket signs. That's why they are all so damn uniform. And that children's picket parade...all of those signs had the same lettering. And I wasn't very original but I was painting signs for every occasion, wherever I could. And then at the same time I got the idea of getting more national publicity. And I knew children were very, very good for that purpose; and I organized this children's picket line. And there again I told you they're mainly kids of the Socialist Party. These were the parents I knew, that I could grab right off the bat. And any other stray ones that were out there with mothers, I would talk to them. And we got national publicity. We got the first page of the New York Times on that. And that was very effective. We didn't try to keep any children's organizations going. Naturally we just couldn't. And then shortly after that, a friend of mine came up as so many people dropped in from all walks of life to see if they could help the union. And his name was Bruce Sloan. Bruce Sloan was, right at that time, too, becoming interested. And he joined the Socialist Party. And he said, "Genora what are you doing up here in the sign painting department?" And I said, "Bruce, God knows, when you're the sign painter. Here, you're going to take this over." And he did. He did that and he helped put out the Daily Bulletin, too. I have a tape of Bruce Sloan from California because I went up to Mendocino, California to talk with him. So Bruce Sloan put out some more professional looking signs. From that time on he had charge of the sign painting department. And then I was out again, now in the picket lines realizing that it was necessary to talk to women, to get with them and march with them in a picket line. Very few of them when the Battle of Bulls Run came about. And then, you know I decided we had to have an auxiliary.
LEIGHTON: I want to stop and back up a little bit on the communication because some of the stuff about the strike is pretty well known and I don't want to cover the same ground that we've got. On the communication, Bruce Sloan puts out a Daily Bulletin. What is the Daily Bulletin to somebody like me who wasn't there?
DOLLINGER: This is something that we gave to women and other strike duty people to pass out on all picket lines, up at the Pengelly Building, down on street corners, everywhere else. Because, remember, we didn't have access to the radio. We didn't have access to the Journal. We only had the sound car and the Daily Bulletins. Those were our only methods of communication.
LEIGHTON: Bruce Sloan had sole responsibility for the Bulletin, or did someone oversee him?
DOLLINGER: No, Bruce Sloan, and I believe Willard Martinson who was a New American or some political group from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Willard Martinson and Bruce Sloan.
LEIGHTON: Were these the students that came up from Ann Arbor to help out? Some of them helped with the (Flint) Auto Worker and some with The Bulletin.
LEIGHTON: Oh, were these the students that came up from Ann Arbor to help out?
LEIGHTON: Okay, they kind of provided the literary skills, I suppose, that would be needed.
DOLLINGER: Yes, and by the way in these bulletins there is more about Kermit Johnson than you will find in the Flint Auto Worker, which was Henry Kraus's department.
LEIGHTON: Okay, that's what I'm leading up to. The Daily Bulletin goes out and what is it exactly? What does it contain, an average one?
DOLLINGER: It's an eight-and-a-half by eleven mimeographed sheet and a little paragraph like this I just remember. "Kermit Johnson has organized a union chorus. They will be meeting." You know, he would get men that came up for mass meetings and if there wasn't an assignment for them right at the time, he would get these men trained to sing "Solidarity" and the union songs so that in the mass meetings when we either opened or ended with songs, everybody would know the words, you know. We didn't have time to print song books, but this chorus would lead the way and then very often they would have some mimeographed sheets hanging around that would have words on them.
WEST: Was there anywhere available a file with these bulletins?
DOLLINGER: I have some of them and I got them from the Wayne State Archives.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Jack, do you remember, on the picket lines, when you would be called to go down, would you be given a stack of these bulletins and then any people that came around the picket lines?
PALMER: I never distributed it, but I can remember receiving it.
LEIGHTON: Okay, so not only people on the picket line, but let's say if a small group of non-workers came by or wives or kids or something like that, you would hand them out too. Kind of what we are driving at is that in the Sit-Down Strike, another reason that's very important in American labor history, which sometimes is lost even on people who participated in it, that from the outside, it is probably the first strike where all the elements of modern communication come in. And where in the past there might have been a bulletin, there might have been this, but you have the printing and distribution of a paper, the Flint Auto Worker, of the Daily Bulletin, of sound cars, of people like yourself devising children's picket lines to capture the media, the high ground, okay, the communications high ground with some knowledge of how to do that----in a sense, a kind of pioneer in publications. Now, of course it's very common, the news release I showed you from (Douglas) Fraser the other day. Call Solidarity House and it's pumped out. But in 1936 it wouldn't have been done that way, you see. But it was beginning. One of the things that comes out is the sound car. The sound car is really innovative because it takes the technology that Flint is producing called a car and this other thing. It's the way to short circuit the control over the media that the establishment had. How do you stop it? Well, you know you can arrest them, but they keep pouring them in. They keep bringing them in from Detroit. Now, I wanted to go from the Bulletin to the sound car for a second and then to the Auto Worker. The sound car. People must have spoken a message over the loudspeaker system. Where was that written up? Does anybody remember where it came from?
DOLLINGER: Well, in the first place, people like Victor Reuther didn't need anything written up. We all went through labor union history and we had made notes, things like that. And I don't remember anybody being given any written script unless it would be notice of a special meeting, everybody attend or going out to picket lines and giving them special information, the date and time and place may have been given to somebody to announce.
LEIGHTON: It was a mobile PA system, then. How many people were in the sound car at any given time?
DOLLINGER: Well, it depended if we were going out to one of the plants that was not really involved greatly, like AC. You would have two people usually up in front handling the mike and two people in back and maybe two people on each side of the car hanging on to guard it. That was a very valuable voice to us. And at all times that thing had to be protected. Everybody just instinctively knew that no matter what happened, guard the sound car first. That was our voice.
LEIGHTON: Would it be fair to say that not anybody could get into the sound car (I mean among workers) to use the system? It pretty well... who was to ride in the sound car?
JONES: On the sound car (I know this very well, because unless it was a very routine thing when the sound car went out), aside from those very routine things, there was always a car went along behind the sound car.
DOLLINGER: And sometimes in front.
JONES: With a guard squad in it. My brother was one of those who was assigned to the sound car all the time when it went out. I remember this very well, too. They would get six people, six guards. I remember it so well, because these guys were selected because of their size. And six guys in a car, about a 1934 or 1935 model which they had, really filled those things up. It looked like it was full of bananas or something. But whenever the sound car went out, these guards, the squad went around with it. And the night of the Battle of the Running Bulls, of course, the six guards around the sound car had to be increased. They must have had thirty or forty guards who were constantly protecting the sound car at that time because there was a threat to its safety, definitely, at that time. But I think that's an important note to remember, though, that when that sound car went out, there was always another car went along with it to guard.
DOLLINGER: I forgot to mention that.
WEST: Were these guards armed, in a sense, with guns? Nowadays one would get the impression that whenever you have guards you have guns, because guns are so very present.
JONES: As I said, my brother was one of the guards on that and I never did see him carry any side arms of any kind.
DOLLINGER: They were forbidden. Absolutely that's something that was forbidden. You could not bring guns around the Pengelly Building. Now Larry and I, in connection with this, were discussing again last night. Larry said Prohibition was up until 1933. So in the city of Flint when I kept remembering so much drunkenness as a young person, I said, "Larry, tell me, what were there then before in Flint?" He said there were rum parlors where guys went to play rum, these migrant workers, single men. That was their recreation. I said, "More than that." I said, "They were always drinking." Then we remembered blind pigs. There were a lot of blind pigs in Flint. And these workers, you know, filled with frustrations and the conditions in that shop, on weekends they would go in and play cards and bet and fighting...there were more fights...and get in fights over their bets. Or they would go into blind pigs and they would get drunk and release their frustrations. And there was more fist fighting by men. It seemed like a hallmark of this city. Then after they had the beer gardens, the same thing prevailed. And Larry said that he noticed, being one of the workers in the plant constantly, that after the union was in, that the fights, (and I did too, of course) that the number of fist fights were reduced. He said that in the plant itself there would be hostility. There would be frustrations built up and the guys knew it meant their jobs if they made any move, you know, inside the plant. But he said right outside the gates the guys would haul off and they would beat each other, get into a real fight and they would black each other's eyes and knock their teeth out and all of these kind of things just because of the frustrations. And after the union was in you didn't see these things anymore.
LEIGHTON: One last thing on the sound car and we'll leave it. Was it safe to say that the sound car, in addition to the guards, would have always had some type of organizer with it?
LEIGHTON: And would that organizer in the sound car have been chosen pretty much by Travis?
DOLLINGER: Yes. On the organizational questions, yes.
JONES: I don't think there is any question about it. That sound car was valuable equipment, you understand.
JONES: And it couldn't just be given to anybody. It definitely was under the very close supervision of Travis.
LEIGHTON: We spoke to one driver of the sound car who said, oh, yes. We asked him, "Did you know Travis?" Well, a guy at that level would not normally have done so. But yes he did know him because he used to ride in the sound car with him on occasion. The Flint Auto Worker. Obviously communications played a very prime role in this strike. The Flint Auto Worker is what? From its conception it's the creation of Henry Kraus. Is that a correct statement, or am I wrong?
DOLLINGER: Yes, he was brought in and he set that up.
LEIGHTON: Henry Kraus comes to Flint when? To me he's kind of an enigma. I don't know much about him. I've seen one picture of him. He's a man who comes in and sets up a journal, writes a book and leaves. That's probably very wrong.
DOLLINGER: Oh, he was the power behind Travis. There is no question about it, Henry and Dorothy Kraus. My god, it seemed like he came in at the time Travis was sent in. I believe Mortimer selected them both. Both of them were selected by Mortimer and Lou (Louise) Scott.
LEIGHTON: Mortimer names Travis. There's no question of that in regards to Travis. Mortimer says he made this deal with Homer Martin and that if he were to be taken out, Travis would have been the person. But he never mentions Henry Kraus.
DOLLINGER: See, now Joe Ditzel was the other leader with Travis down there (Toledo) but Joe Ditzel was not selected for Flint, because he was a member of the Socialist Party.
LEIGHTON: And Joe Ditzel comes in during the strike to bring in the people from Toledo.
DOLLINGER: Oh sure, reinforcements, yes, of course. And he was around on a number of occasions, even when the troops weren't with him.
LEIGHTON: He plays a very key role in that convention in '64, is it, in recognizing Travis?
DOLLINGER: Yes, they built up a friendship following that.
LEIGHTON: And he considers the treatment given to Travis by Reuther shabby.
DOLLINGER: Walter Reuther?
LEIGHTON: Walter Reuther's treatment of Travis at that meeting. I'm sorry...Mortimer.
DOLLINGER: Oh, Mortimer.
JONES: Didn't you say that Mortimer didn't mention Kraus?
LEIGHTON: He does not mention...Mortimer does not mention that he, Wyndham Mortimer, chose Kraus to come in. But he's very clear about...
JONES: Not in that particular thing, but he shows his regard for Travis by practically dedicating the book to Travis and Kraus.
LEIGHTON: But he doesn't tell us how. That's why I say it's an enigma to me. How does Henry Kraus get here?
WEST: In terms of chronology they seem to begin operating around the same time, don't they?
WEST: Around October of '36.
DOLLINGER: When I first met Travis, Henry Kraus and Dorothy Kraus were right there at the same time, maybe a day later or so. I don't know, but they all came in together. And Lou Scott came in and the whole office crew came in. It was as if...and we understood that Travis was sent in from the International. And at first you get the idea, well, the International must have sent these other people in to help. But to us politicals it became very evident right away, you know, how they came in there and for what purpose.
LEIGHTON: Henry Kraus starts publication of the Auto Worker when? Around October (of 1936)? Does he have a network of people writing stories for him or are the people in the plants sending information out? Do you have any idea how the copy was sent?
DOLLINGER: I think a number of these young people that came in that were around them. I think they probably were the interviewers of workers and they did a lot of it.
JONES: In addition he had some people in the plant. Floyd Miller, for example, worked very closely with him.
DOLLINGER: Yes, Larry, that's right.
JONES: And he contributed. I don't know whether Kraus accepted all that Miller handed in to him. But Miller did work with him for all the while Kraus was here. Let me say while I have this now. Kraus this summer told me that as far as...I mean Travis told me this summer (1978) that Mortimer is the one who personally selected him to come into Flint. There is no question about it.
LEIGHTON: Selected Travis?
JONES: Selected Travis.
LEIGHTON: Yes, that's very clear.
JONES: But he did not elaborate on Kraus although he said he and Kraus came into Flint about the same time.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Kraus is a mystery to me, I must confess. He's a different person. He comes in; he's got definite skills.
DOLLINGER: Oh, yes.
LEIGHTON: About how old a man was he?
DOLLINGER: Oh dear, if I was twenty-three he must have been in his early thirties.
DOLLINGER: And his wife, too.
JONES: He was approximately the same age as Roy Reuther and Travis.
DOLLINGER: I'm sixty-five.
LEIGHTON: But you don't look it. My wife said when I said that you were sixty-five, (and she saw you go by) my wife said, "She's telling you a line; she is no more than forty-five."
DOLLINGER: Oh come on, you know I'll work with you. You don't have to tell me that.
WEST: Looking through the files of the (Flint) Auto Worker, one thing that struck me and made me feel it more important in fact that they'd given emphasis to, is the role of Standard Cotton Products people. They seemed to have more of a role in the Flint Auto Worker itself, people like Carl Thrasher and some others. Were you aware of the role that Standard Cotton Products people may have played in the strike?
DOLLINGER: They weren't able to help the autoworkers. They had their own problems. We had to send people out to help them all the time. And they sat down before we sat down, before Fisher 2 sat down. And then Fisher 1. And this became sort of a matter of pride for us. The police would have liked to have broken that in order to sort of discourage the autoworkers. And it became sort of a contest and we had to protect that plant. In fact, I think we would have had more manpower for other areas if it had not been for Standard Cotton. But it meant so much to us.
LEIGHTON: Did Henry Kraus and the Flint Auto Worker ever report what was going on at Standard Cotton, or the transport thing? Do you remember that?
DOLLINGER: I don't think that they ever really built up the transport workers because they took...well, both Thrasher was an SP. Both the Thrasher brothers and Fred Stevens were members of the SP group. And it was a very distinct policy. They wanted control of that thing, with their people and not to build up anybody outside if they could help it. Is that what you were getting at?
LEIGHTON: Yeah, I just wondered whether they were making any effort. Was Kraus making any effort to cover those strikes to any extent as a means of internal communication within the UAW itself. In other words, here are these other strikes going on in town. Here are workers of ours in plants sitting down, isolated from the outside to some extent and people around the Pengelly Building and on picket duty and other things, so busy. And here are other workers who are supportive of what you're doing and vice versa. You know, that would be the function of the Auto Worker. I just wondered whether they did that. We can check that.
DOLLINGER: His brother (Carl's) who worked in Fisher Body, I think concentrated. Don't you think John concentrated on helping Carl over at Standard Cotton?
DOLLINGER: And one of them was a writer, himself.
DOLLINGER: Carl, yeah, Carl was the writer. I think he provided a lot of the information for the Auto Worker for Standard Cotton. Now what you must remember is that one of the problems that we had, you know, when we organized (Local) 156, we had everybody coming up and joining. Milkmen and everybody and it just became...we didn't even care who they were after a while, because we knew we couldn't handle their problems at the time. The (J. C.) Penney girls sat down on the window when we had to go to send reinforcements to help them at Redmond's. We had to send reinforcements to protect that all the time. But some of them, like the milk drivers, they couldn't possibly take action at the time. But they wanted to join and they wanted to be on the picket duty, picket line, after their day of work was over. And I can't tell you how many people came just to sign up. And of course the teachers were members of 156. And I was a member of 156. You know women came. They joined the union, 156. And they joined the Women's Auxiliary. And then of course we formed the Brigade. Everybody in Flint that wanted to help that strike, make Flint a union town, joined the union. We called it the auto workers union but...
LEIGHTON: Now prior to October or so, there were several other locals, weren't there, the federated locals?
LEIGHTON: Who consolidated those locals? What I meant was didn't you have other auto worker locals under the federation in which... Didn't membership decline as the strike came closer and closer throughout '36?
LEIGHTON: The number of people willing to affiliate with, in the auto industry now, willing to affiliate even with the old federated thing just drops. And the (Local) 156 is created new, is it not?
LEIGHTON: Who creates it? Where did the decision come from to create 156?
DOLLINGER: Well, that was a decision made out of Detroit with the CIO, the Committee for Industrial Organization, to send an organizer in here and to give it a local number and call it the United Automobile Workers, AF of L...no just CIO, no AF of L then. CIO. Everything, the receipts were printed 156 right from the beginning.
JONES: Well, you gotta remember there was a very good reason for making it that broad, that wide, because in any individual plant there were not enough members to be effective if they had to act on their own. Therefore they had to...the thinking as I interpret it at that time, as I look back and I think surely it must be correct, was that only by combining all of these various plants and the membership of those plants would there be enough to make any meaningful show in a crisis.
DOLLINGER: Oh, is that what you meant the Chevrolet and the Buick and the Chevrolet separated federated locals?
DOLLINGER: Oh, I see. All right, that came from Detroit and once CIO came, well, they all joined the 156, yeah.
DOLLINGER: And they forgot about the others in the main.
LEIGHTON: Right. Did they continue, the other federated locals?
DOLLINGER: They weren't able to. I don't think they even continued to meet, did they?
DOLLINGER: They weren't able to. Everybody just flocked to the new organization. They were terribly discredited by that time.
WEST: Travis said, didn't he, when he came in there were only a hundred and twenty-two people in those old locals and that he wouldn't trust many of them.
DOLLINGER: That's true.
WEST: And we get the impression, at least he gives the impression, and Kraus does too, that you had to build anew because there was just nothing.
DOLLINGER: Absolutely. But that decision was not made by Travis. That was made by the committee that sent him in. Oh, we knew we had to get out from underneath that yoke of keeping us all separate. I used to go up to union meetings. Jack, did you go with Carl Johnson and Kermit on occasion, to the Chevrolet local meetings? And there would be ten people sitting around. And we never understood. Carl Johnson had a lot of the patience. But they would argue about little piddling sums in the treasury and they would use the whole meeting time up on some extraneous matter that had nothing to do with your life in the shop. And they did this deliberately, we found out from the LaFollette Investigating Report, to discourage people from coming or discourage them from trying to transact any kind of meaningful activity. But I used to go up there time after time representing all the workers in Chevrolet plants and see ten, twelve, fourteen guys sitting around in a room, a dark filthy little room with a wooden floor and wooden chairs. My, that was an experience!
LEIGHTON: Genora, I want to go back a little bit and just polish off this Flint Auto Worker. Some of the things that are not left, you know, obviously the issues that are left behind and we can read that. But the question of its distribution. It (The Flint Auto Worker) comes out what, once a week or twice a week?
DOLLINGER: You'll have to check on that. I think it was erratic. I think it was special issues.
JONES: That's the way it was. They didn't have any special...
WEST: I have looked at files of the Auto Worker and it did come out erratically.
LEIGHTON: How does it get out? How is it distributed? Because that's part of the communications thing. How do you get the thing printed? Was it printed here in Flint, do you remember?
DOLLINGER: I believe it was.
JONES: Weekly Review.
DOLLINGER: Weekly Review. And they brought big bundles.
JONES: Weekly Review was the official publisher of all of the AFL here. So when the publishers, the owners of the Weekly Review were very sympathetic with what was going on among the autoworkers. They were not hostile.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember anybody up there?
JONES: Mike Burke was the publisher and the owner. And he had gotten it from his father-in-law.
DOLLINGER: That's right.
JONES: He inherited it from his father-in-law...was it, well whatever. Mike was the publisher for a long, long time. And so when the UAW began to formulate here, he was very sympathetic. He offered the facilities of the Weekly Review to this fledgling paper. Kraus and those who were helping him used the facilities of the Weekly Review.
DOLLINGER: And then the guys would go over with cars and they would bring back big bundles of the Flint Auto Worker, up at the Pengelly Building. They would take them out to the Fisher end in the cafeteria where the main picket lines were always being maintained and they'd go over into the big restaurant. And they were being distributed at that end. And then men and women from the Pengelly Building would take the papers out and go out on other corners wherever our activities were. Standard Cotton picket line, everybody in Flint, you know, tried to get it circulated all around.
LEIGHTON: Oh, you see, that's what I wanted, because there is a spreading among workers, not just auto workers.
JONES: Let me inject this now. Sometimes when they would print up X numbers of copies of the Flint Auto Worker and not enough people came to the Pengelly Building to pick them up, then there would be some of 'em standin' out on the corner of Saginaw and Kearsley Streets passin' them out. Not too often did they have surplus copies, but when they did, that's the way they did it.
LEIGHTON: That's what I wanted to know, whether non-union families also got copies.
JONES: Oh, yes.
DOLLINGER: For the city.
LEIGHTON: Right. Was there an attempt to get those papers into the hands of families of workers as well? In other words, if a guy was in the plant, did somebody run by the house with a copy or was it just for the most part along the picket lines and inside the plants?
PALMER: Well, they got it into homes because I remember one real humorous remark I got from Andy Michelson. He got one and he said, "I took it home and I had to go up to the bathroom to read it."
DOLLINGER: But in some areas men would be down on duty and bring it home, if it was a close-knit area, you know. It would go to the wife, the family of his wife or somebody else. And that's the way it got in some areas. Much of the news was passed by word of mouth in areas and communities where they didn't want to be caught with a paper.
LEIGHTON: Right. That's what I wanted to know. Because of your activities would the Auto Worker have helped in terms of sensitizing women to what their husbands were doing in the plant or was it largely not effective?
DOLLINGER: Not effective as far as women were concerned.
LEIGHTON: Okay, it didn't have any column or article about women or devoted to women??
DOLLINGER: No. They weren't even conscious of the need for women, except in the kitchen. I don't know. You must have found...I know women are needed in the kitchen. You must have found something. I would like to look over those issues again myself. And they played up the kitchen. You would have thought that that kitchen was...even in Henry Kraus's book, you know. That was put up on a level with the activities of all these other things that we were doing for political reasons. When I organized the Women's Auxiliary...and first of all, would you like to know who headed up the Auxiliary?
DOLLINGER: I organized it. I called the women together and we had by this time a split from the Socialist Party and we had a Lovestonite group with some very active women in it--Geraldine Klasey, Hester LaDuke, Marjorie Center. This came out of our ranks just recently. And whenever there's a split there's a bitterness, you know. They wanted to prove themselves as capable as you in every respect. So we had the Lovestonites and we had the Communist Party, the Proletarian Party and the SLP had no active women in it. Those were men's organizations. And when we called these women together for elections, we said no, we're going to meet here again. We're going into the main assembly and tell the men to send their wives down here and we're going to hold elections. And so immediately the caucusing began and I knew very well what was going to happen, that I would be uncontested for the presidency of the Auxiliary and then they would put in one of their vice-presidents and I would have a hell of a time. That was the feeling, you know, between us.
LEIGHTON: Okay, that's the Lovestonites who would put in someone for the V. P.?
DOLLINGER: Or the CP. I don't know. It would depend on who they would pick out, who would be best known at the time. And you know, this was a very short time for women to even get acquainted with each other. And there was a very fine woman and she was able to say a few things. I mean she was able to get up and speak...a very attractive and responsible-looking woman. And so I asked her, because I knew that I could work with her and through her, and I never particularly wanted to be in the limelight. You may not believe that, but that was the truth. I asked her if she would run for president and she agreed. And I said, "All right, I'll run for vice-president." I thought I'm going to knock this opposition and I don't want to be fighting them while we're fighting the corporation trying to organize. That's the way it happened. She was elected president; I was elected vice-president. I thought, oh boy, that's a big relief. Now at least we'll have decisions made without having a big factional fight inside. Do you know that woman was so overwhelmed and frightened she never showed up again and we never saw her again. We never had time for elections, so I was the acting president of the Auxiliary too. I'm telling you things happened so fast and the pressures were so great, and so, of course, when it came to setting up the Brigade, this military organization, there was nobody else who could handle that, nobody else who had the ideal or anything else. And I was always anti-war, was always a pacifist, you know. And I hated the idea of having any big titles but I knew I had a concept. Sort of a paramilitary group where there would be no democracy.
LEIGHTON: Where did you get that idea? Do you remember? Not the idea, but had you ever read something or come across it somewhere else? Do you ever recall or ever sat down, thought how you got that idea?
DOLLINGER: Possibly Briggs, Local 212 had been very militant in '35 and '36. Possibly through the Socialist Party channels I may have heard then, and I do know that Emil Mazey sent his flying squadrons of men in to help Flint. He was the Detroit leader that helped us with bodies, more than Walter Reuther, more than anybody else down there. Emil Mazey was a very big asset to us with his flying squadrons and you know, captain of the flying squad was a very respected position. Possibly that may have influenced me; I don't know. But I knew that we needed to call it. It was the first time in labor history that we didn't use the word "ladies' auxiliary" like all of the other unions, and we gave our reasons for that. So we called ourselves the Women's Emergency Brigade as a part of the Women's Auxiliary. It had to be an emergency brigade. I couldn't have it on a...it had to be for emergencies only, this organization. So I don't really know. And I knew that generals and brigadiers and all these titles, I hated so much. But I had to have one title so I took the title of the captain. And then lieutenants, I understood, were underneath the captain. I really don't know. Everything had to be done so fast. We didn't have time to stop and think about it. We really didn't. And it appealed to some of the women who had already been functioning, appealed to them greatly because by this time their consciousness was being awakened and elevated so fast! It was a great experience for me to see these women come out of their isolated homes not knowing anything, believe me, not knowing anything. And then coming into our meetings and we would get them all the facts and the reasons why their presence, their help, what they were doing it for, their kids and their kids' future and to see them come alive and come awake. And believe me at that first night, the papers will tell you, two hundred signed up in that Brigade, the first night. And if I only had that thing I wrote up and read off to them, that statement, you know, what qualifications they must have. It was an awfully bloody thing. It was born at the moment. I couldn't ever devise anything like that again. It would scare the hair off of anybody today.
LEIGHTON: At the same time that you put the Women's Emergency Brigade together and were creating the Auxiliary, you mention Dorothy Kraus and the money and the food. Obviously that had a big role in kitchens. Was she putting together some kind of organization paralleled, not particularly to the Brigade, but to the Auxiliary, which would have utilized women in kitchens and would have coordinated what these kitchens were doing, purchasing of food, this type of thing?
DOLLINGER: I don't get your question.
LEIGHTON: Okay, at the same time that you're mobilizing...
DOLLINGER: She was organizing her own little caucus of women, if that's what you meant.
LEIGHTON: She was not active in the Auxiliary, in the organization?
DOLLINGER: Oh yes, she came in on the floor and spoke.
LEIGHTON: Did she help you organize?
DOLLINGER: Oh, god no, of course not. She tried to get them out into the kitchen. This was the important thing for women. This was the important thing for her.
LEIGHTON: Did she create an organization around those kitchens of women? In other words, did she have...
LEIGHTON: Did she have women who were in charge of kitchen A and one in charge of B and one in charge of C?
DOLLINGER: How many kitchens do you think we had?
LEIGHTON: I don't know.
DOLLINGER: We had one great big main kitchen at Fisher Body and then they had sort of a small kitchen up in the Pengelly Building for just emergency things, you know. But that was a very small operation.
LEIGHTON: But were there some in homes, where women would cook things and then add those to a larger...?
DOLLINGER: Well, yes, but that was mainly under Hazel Simon and Donna Devitt out there. Oh yes, that was mainly Simons and Devitt and they had charge of that. But all those foods were brought into the kitchen out at Fisher Body. Now, remember, anybody that went on picket duty at any time, they had a strike card. All they had to do was go out and show the strike card and eat at the main kitchen. And then of course if they were up at the Pengelly Building and they needed a quick snack, bologna sandwiches, they could get that and coffee all hours of the day and night up there.
LEIGHTON: So Dorothy Kraus was essentially in charge of the Fisher groups?
DOLLINGER: Yeah, the kitchen operation. We'll put it that way.
LEIGHTON: Right. And does she attempt or does she in fact build any kind of women's organization around the functioning of that kitchen that has any standing throughout the strike?
DOLLINGER: They all joined the Auxiliary. Every one of those women joined the Auxiliary, you see. And what she attempted to, yes, she dealt with them out there in the kitchen women. She would be better known to the kitchen women, probably than I would, unless those that came into the meeting. Let me see; I don't know. Yes, she would be. And on occasion she brought them in. She would bring in Simons and Devitt and all of these people. It was her caucus. And she would attempt to make decisions for our Auxiliary. But our women who were operating out of that damn place day by day by day, you know, every day they were up there. We didn't mind because they weren't able to...they just had a handful. They couldn't do anything. We made our own decisions. And we had full control. The women that were running it from our operation, first-aid kitchen, the childrens' center, the public speaking and the distribution center for the women that would distribute the bulletins and things like that, we dispatched our troops on our own. By the way, the men had nothing to do with any of our directions, where we sent our people, what directions we gave them, what instructions we gave them, nor whatever we organized for publicity purposes. They were too busy. They couldn't possibly have taken on this project too, so that all the decisions were made independently by our group.
LEIGHTON: And the Auxiliary ran as well the first-aid station and all those things you mentioned. That was totally a womens' organization.
PALMER: I got a question here, Genora. How much influence did Dorothy's caucus have on the Auxiliary? Now she used a caucus as you pointed out a minute ago.
DOLLINGER: Yes, she had her group of distinctive...
PALMER: How much influence did that have?
DOLLINGER: It really didn't worry us, because they were never able to carry anything in the Auxiliary. Then the next method that she used, she went in and got a letter signed by Bob Travis, making her an international representative in charge of the Women's Auxiliary and the Women's Brigade. And she came in and she slapped that down on the desk. And then she demanded that she was in sole charge now of this whole operation. And she demanded a right to make her report, I think, at the beginning of the meeting or something like that. And I was chairing the meeting and I read it. And I said it seems very strange that Bob Travis would take such an action without consulting us. I knew nothing about this whatsoever, without consulting us. And perhaps we should take this up for consideration. And it was voted down. Somebody just made a motion. Look, if Bob Travis wants to have an international representative he will consult with us who that's going to be. And then somebody else made it a motion, made an amendment. However, we'll give Dorothy Kraus the floor in this organization any time she asks for it, just as any other member. So that was a tactic that failed completely, which meant that you had no influence on the operation. And this always was a matter of great chagrin to her. Then she went in from another angle and she got women who were not in the kitchen. Now she knew that I had tuberculosis. In fact, at one point she told me that she thought my health was very important and I should get out of the whole thing. And I said, "You know that I can't do that now." "Well," she said, "if you want to die, then you'll just have to die." Now she recognized my condition, right. She knew that I had playing cards and some shoes that were very, very thin, little dress shoes, really. She knew I had no money and even when I spoke I had a hole in the sleeve of my sweater. That absolutely soured me completely of ever trying to cooperate. You know, I sort of had to ignore little things because the job was too big. I had control. What did I have to worry about? I mean I had cooperation. I wasn't trying to control; I was too busy. We worked out things together. And I had nothing to worry about up until that point. And she said, "You know what's wrong with you. You're a Trotskyite." And, so help me god, that's the first I ever heard that word. That's the first time. And then I got called that by a couple of people that were around her. You know, sticking it in like she's a Trotskyite in disguise. And, you know, I made up my mind I was gonna find out what the hell that was just as soon as I had time. And I did, I did. I never knew. It sounded like some kind of bad disease at the time. I really didn't know. I didn't know anything about the history of the Russian Revolution. We were so damn busy with American labor history and the case for socialism and Norman Thomas's literature.
WEST: You didn't then interpret this sort of difference within the ladies' group as an SP/CP split or motivated by ideological considerations?
DOLLINGER: The differences between the SP and the CP?
WEST: Yes, as playing a significant role.
DOLLINGER: It played a very significant role.
WEST: This split between you and Dorothy.
DOLLINGER: Absolutely, that was the whole reason. That was the whole reason. But see, we got along fine on the surface. Never would I attack any of those leaders. Never did they dare to attack me openly, you know, these differences, because we had a much bigger job and a much bigger enemy. And my god, these autoworkers would never understand what the hell you were talking about if you tried to explain the differences between our approaches to these questions. And on the surface we were united and we were united against red baiting. We were united against anybody pointing a finger at any, and who got the biggest protection out of this, you know. When we united our ranks it was the very people who we knew were in control of that whole thing out there. And we absolutely gave them protection because we knew that red baiting was the instrument used across the country to bust up unions.
LEIGHTON: During the course of the strike itself, the forty-four days, was Kraus very much in evidence, Henry Kraus? Or was he just pretty well tied up?
DOLLINGER: He was usually up in his office and in Bob Travis's office. And he would go out very often into some of the plants.
LEIGHTON: To pick up stories?
DOLLINGER: Stories, yes, uh-huh. He was very much in evidence. Oh yes, I remember his little white curly hair. To the auto workers, he and Dorothy were just a little bit alien at first. I'm not saying this now prejudiced, because he had a New York accent. And they were a little bit afraid. The Journal kept screaming about outside agitators and outside reds. And so they did not relate to them warmly. They accepted anybody that came in to help them on their side. They accepted them, but they never felt close to Henry Kraus and Dorothy Kraus unless they were around or in the CP.
LEIGHTON: Henry Kraus would have been pretty much what we would characterize as kind of the intellectual approach or in character.
DOLLINGER: And he was a bright man, very bright. Yeah, very energetic, a nervous type of energy, you know. A man who blinked his eyes and wanted to do things just so, very fast. And he was always in conference with Travis. That wouldn't be apparent to the general masses of workers going in the meetings and talking and exchanging ideas.
LEIGHTON: On the eleventh of February, the agreement is signed and there is all this energy stored up. I mean not stored up...adrenalin, I suppose, is just driving people like crazy. And, as you say, there is kind of a united effort, whatever factionalism there is is just below the surface. I don't think anybody's written anything on what happens in those few days afterwards. Did the thing start to come apart at the seams right in the beginning or does the euphoria of the victory carry over for a while? You said yourself earlier this afternoon that you went off not long after that on a speaking tour.
DOLLINGER: Yes, a matter of a few days.
LEIGHTON: Just a few days.
DOLLINGER: I think I had...I know I did. I had time to call a meeting of the Auxiliary, to hold elections. And I recommended that Teckla Roy be the president and I was the vice-president, because I knew I was gonna be gone. And then after the speaking tour I came back to one more meeting before I collapsed.
LEIGHTON: So the immediate post-strike thing, you really weren't here?
DOLLINGER: No, I was not here.
WEST: It seems apparent, looking through the papers, that the leadership of the UAW, upon their victory in February, were looking toward utilizing that victory as a way of unionizing Flint a hundred percent and carrying on that victory that was given to them by converting Flint into a union town. And also it would seem apparent, getting involved in elections. There was a school board election in April and some UAW-sponsored candidates.
DOLLINGER: Oh no, we didn't get in that soon, did we, Larry?
JONES: No, ten years later.
WEST: No, I'm thinking now, (Dr.) Probert was one. Herrlich was a candidate for the school board and...
DOLLINGER: Probert and Herrlich.
WEST: Who was the UAW member now who was elected, nominated also to stand for the school board? That was in April of '37.
DOLLINGER: I'd have to look it up.
WEST: At any rate, I wondered, you were not active at all?
DOLLINGER: No, but I do remember now vaguely that Dr. Probert and the druggist ran.
WEST: Was there an effort to recall the police chief, Wills, who had been the police chief at that time?
DOLLINGER: That I can't tell you too much about. Now, Larry, Jack, when was that huge Kearsley Park demonstration held? I think I was then either in the sanitorium or on a speaking tour, where Kermit and Bruce Sloan and Roy Reuther organized the biggest demonstration Flint had ever seen.
PALMER: Homer Martin.
JONES: That was the split.
DOLLINGER: No, Larry, it wasn't. It was right after the strike. I don't remember the date, but that was the biggest demonstration Flint had ever had. And I think Travis was out of here by then.
PALMER: I remember Homer Martin being there.
DOLLINGER: Well, yes, Homer Martin came in as the speaker, I think. He was the president of the UAW at that time.
LEIGHTON: Never got here during the strike?
PALMER: Never had a meeting like that during the split.
DOLLINGER: Yes, he came in a couple of times during the strike.
LEIGHTON: Did he?
DOLLINGER: Sure he did. I was quite impressed with him. He had a magnetic personality. He was a minister.
JONES: Rabble-rousing speaker.
DOLLINGER: Oh, he was a speaker.
PALMER: Like a revival meeting.
DOLLINGER: Listen, Walter Reuther could never... There was nobody on the International Board could speak like him.
LEIGHTON: All I meant by that was if he actually physically showed up.
DOLLINGER: Yes, he physically came into Flint. But they were having troubles with him, because he was a very weak man otherwise. And he was making secret deals or conferences.
JONES: He had a mind about that deep.
DOLLINGER: No, I think he had a good mind, but I think his willpower was very very flabby, about this deep.
WEST: Did you come back, Genora, to Flint later on in the spring/summer of '37? Because my impression is that things got rather hot in Flint with a series of strikes that broke out around that time. The Durant Hotel, the Mary Lee Candy Store and there's quite a lot in which UAW people were active. And I think they mention, too the Women's Emergency Brigade women being active in picket duties in some of these areas.
DOLLINGER: I have to see if I can get some dates on exactly that period. I'm very hazy on it.
JONES: Work stoppages all the time. They didn't call 'em strikes, though. These were all identified as sit-downs. That was the term that was used.
DOLLINGER: Shortly after the strike, you know, when we organized the Women's Emergency Brigade in Flint with the Red Berets, in Detroit the CP was very instrumental in organizing Women's Auxiliary. They had a smaller GM situation there. Ford and Chrysler weren't on strike, just GM. And so they organized a Brigade there, the Green Berets. And in Lansing, Lansing had blue and Pontiac had orange. But they really didn't play any role. It was just a nice support. And when they came up to Flint with these berets it made it look like a wonderful underpinning of support if they were needed at any time. It's too bad you don't have color photographs of that period, you know. You would see that none of these green or blue berets were ever in any of the dangerous activities. They did come on a parade and a dance and so on. But right after the strike there was a conference, oh god, and you can find this in pages of either the Socialist Call, I believe, or somewhere, because it was written up there, never anywhere else, not in the public press. The conference called under the aegis of the CP women in Detroit and I think the conference itself was in Detroit. We were sent down there on a delegate basis. And they were going to take over the whole area. They were going to take over control. Now Dorothy Kraus, who came out of Flint as an Auxiliary member, and I think she even donned a red beret. I don't know. Yes, I guess she did. She may have signed up. She came as a delegate from Cleveland in order to gain control. And the thing was damned obvious. And I got up and made a motion, I believe, that other areas had not been notified. I don't remember exactly. Anyway, I wanted it a more representative group than setting up a hard and fast organization at the time. And the thing really broke up. They broke up because I got up and spoke and I began to take over some of the people they had brought from their area over to our position, Flint's position. And, oh, my god, this one woman who got up and said that her mother...she was the daughter...his mother. The man got up and said his mother-in-law was Mary Wing. Mary Wing was a little...now you asked me about ethnic groups, now remember she was Polish. She had a Polish accent. Mary Wing was about this big and kind of stocky, you know. And she was one of those Europeans who just idolize an American leader. And she idolized me and you know you get this in a situation like that. And I'm telling you she walked up to that wall. She ripped off the banner of Flint Auxiliary or Brigade. I don't know which banner it was up there. And she said, "You will not dishonor this banner. You will not dishonor the Flint women." And she said (and I was supposed to be the leader), "Come on, we're walking out!" And this is one time she took over the leadership. And I said, "Mary, you're right, no use." And out we went. That just came to me, Mary Wing walking up and tearing that banner off the wall and she actually took over the leadership. "You will not dishonor this banner; you will not dishonor the Flint women. Come on, we're walking out."
LEIGHTON: This conference was where?
DOLLINGER: I think it was in Detroit.
LEIGHTON: And it was following the strike in the spring of '37?
DOLLINGER: Yes, by this time this had an awful appeal among women. After the strike was over, I think, it had been growing by leaps and bounds, the prestige of women organized. Because it was a long, slow process in the beginning. From California, trying to locate women, I made a call to a couple of names that called in and said they were active during the strike. And I called long distance from California to these two names. And one of them said, "You're who?" And I said, "I used to be Genora Johnson." "Oh, you were the leader of those devil women." Now she worked in the kitchen all the time. And some women didn't want to be associated with going out with clubs. Two of those girls that were there last night, Jay Green's daughters, can tell you the story (they joined the Brigade; they were Brigade members) about taking these two by two and having to carve out a smaller grasp for women, you know. We had to carve them out to fit our hands. They were up there with knives carving them out. Now they can tell you that.
LEIGHTON: Do you know what we failed to do last night? With everything else that went on it was just impossible. We should have had a little book out in the lobby. There were some people there again who were literally coming out of the woodwork, a majority of the people who have not surfaced before. And I was just totally out of it. We should have had a guest book and asked those with relatives to just put their name and address and most of them would have done it, too.
DOLLINGER: And I think Nellie will know how to get hold of Blankenship, but I don't know what Louise's last name is. You see this is a disadvantage we women have.
LEIGHTON: Mrs. Blankenship? Got her name. She came up. She would like to see the film, The Great Sit-Down, because her husband Monroe was in it. He never lived to see it, so she wants to go down to see it.
DOLLINGER: Now I haven't seen them for all these forty years. I just haven't seen them anytime I've come into Flint. And I took one look at them through the eyes and I recognized these two sisters.
LEIGHTON: They don't look alike except through the eyes.
DOLLINGER: Yeah, but I remembered that the eyes of Louise are the same as they were in the eyes of Geraldine, the same as when they were young, you know.
WEST: How long after the Sit-Down Strike did the Flint Women's Emergency Brigade remain active on the labor front? After the Sit-Down strike was over, did it immediately dissolve?
DOLLINGER: Yeah, it dissolved and we attempted then to bring them back into a functioning auxiliary with all kinds of functions. We wanted it to be an organization that was going to have classes in elementary economics so women could understand how the economy would affect their homes and their tables. We wanted to have a class in public speaking so women wouldn't be afraid to get up and express their ideas. And these were all of our plans. And we published a couple of bulletins and you'll see Teckla Roy's name as president and she was elected in a couple of papers. And in there we had the great tribute of the role of women from Bob Travis and from Roy Reuther, right in the front of that, and some other little articles. And we had planned on parliamentary procedure so that women would get in and know how to operate in meetings. We had a number of things. The Brigade was disbanded. It was an emergency brigade and we wanted them then to become a permanent arm or a permanent part of the union movement. Now we never projected splitting up into various locals because we knew that would decimate the number of women who would participate too greatly. I mean an economic organization based on your job situation is one thing. But the wives coming out of homes is another. We wouldn't have wanted that. But unfortunately it wasn't possible. Teckla did the best she could, but I guess it just dissolved. And I went into the sanitorium and I was gone for six months.
PALMER: I think the split had a lot to do with it too, don't you?
DOLLINGER: Oh yes, this was beyond the ken of women, you know. Brother against brother.
WEST: The reason I ask is that there were these strikes or sit-ins that did occur in Flint later. There seemed to have been a period of quiescence and then a period of activity again around April and May in various small establishments in town. And the Flint Journal identifies, on at least one occasion, where some dry cleaning establishments in the Flint area were being picketed.
DOLLINGER: Hy Fish was the organizer of that.
WEST: The Journal identifies the women pickets as Emergency Brigade. I don't think they say they wore red berets but they identified those women as Emergency Brigade people as if that organization continued to be active in the sense of picketing and conducting strikes.
DOLLINGER: They may have been the same women that were known as active women.
JONES: I think I can shed a little light on that.
DOLLINGER: I'm going to Chicago. I can get some information on that.
JONES: My aunt was involved in the cleaning strike when they had it here in 1937, and she didn't know the first thing about unionism. She had never been associated with it or the political aspects which seemed to be so prevalent then. It was simply an economic thing as far as the people working in the cleaning plants were concerned. There was no connection between the old UAW, Emergency Brigade and the picket lines they put up. But this was a very noteworthy thing. These people who worked in the cleaning plants, as in other commercial establishments too, were so swept up by the enthusiasm which had developed and generated by the successful sit-down in UAW that, despite the fact they didn't know a single solitary thing about unionism, they practiced the same things that they had seen work so successfully. And they put their picket lines out there and even went to the trouble of learning the words in "Solidarity Forever." And for their trouble some of them were picked up by the police department, put in the old Black Maria, and taken down to jail. And my aunt was one of them. This was a horrifying thing, you know, a very modest woman like her being thrown in jail. But it didn't diminish their enthusiasm one bit. But they were not connected with UAW Women's Emergency Brigade.
DOLLINGER: Larry, I'm thinking...
JONES: But they practiced the same things, practically.
DOLLINGER: Larry, I am thinking that I will ask when I go to Chicago. The organizer of that dry cleaner strike, you know, was Hy Fish.
JONES: Oh, I think the organizer...
DOLLINGER: ...was Hy Fish. He was the Socialist Party organizer.
JONES: Yeah, that could very well be.
DOLLINGER: And it's very possible that in order to help him out that Teckla Roy and Wilma McCartney and several people from the Socialist Party contingents that were also in the Brigade may have gone down to help out.
JONES: That's very possible. They might have given some direction.
DOLLINGER: And they might have been spotted.
JONES: But the Emergency Brigade as an organization was not involved.
DOLLINGER: No, that was disbanded.
LEIGHTON: We brought up another topic in the course of this and I wanted to ask all three of you this, because I ran into this in the literature. But then I ran into it through one of the descendents. During the course of the strike we talked about food. We talked about who was involved in that kitchen and the Auxiliary and the Emergency Brigade. But somewhere, somebody had to go get the food. And somebody had to supply the food. And of course there has been some stuff written about how merchants in Flint...some helped out the Sit-Down Strike. Apparently Hamady Brothers.
DOLLINGER: Yes, to some extent they did. They had workers for customers.
LEIGHTON: Right, that's very understandable.
DOLLINGER: Yeah, a lot of small merchants did, too. Go ahead.
LEIGHTON: Do any of the names pop to mind?
JONES: Who went and collected the food? Or the merchants?
LEIGHTON: First the merchants. Don't forget who collected it. Did the merchants bring it in? Who would be the merchants that you remember?
JONES: I'm not familiar with part of it because I was not involved in it. I know this, that some of the enthusiastic union members from Buick were not involved in the strike. You're talking about during the very period of the Sit-Down, who were not involved and maybe wished they were, wanted to make some contribution, did assume this responsibility.
LEIGHTON: Norm Bully was from Buick?
JONES: Norm Bully worked at the Buick Manufacturing, which did not go down on strike. But he was an active union member, probably for a long time before '37. At least his sympathies lay in that. How he got this obligation, whether he assumed it himself or it was assigned to him by others, I'm not sure. But I've heard Norm tell many times about going out among the farmers and picking up potatoes and onions and the like and soliciting some of the merchants and taking it down to the strike kitchen.
LEIGHTON: On this supplying food, I wanted to ask you, Jack, because you had early on one time raised this question on the question of the farmers.
PALMER: As I remember this gathering food, they had a committee and they called it the Scavengers' Committee.
JONES: Or Sponging Committee.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember anything about the farmers?
PALMER: Well, they went to the farmers, the Scavenger Committee.
LEIGHTON: Well, but I mean the farmers themselves.
DOLLINGER: There were some farmers from outlying districts, some areas that were not even...some of our autoworkers were also farmers, lived next to farmers. But there were some farmers not connected with the auto industry in any way. And they would suddenly drive in with a load of carrots or a load of potatoes, or cabbage or something like that and just pull up in front of the strike kitchen and say, "Here, we want to give our support to you." That's about all that I know about the food situation.
LEIGHTON: Jack, do you remember any more? You got me started, hooked on this, when you said that during 1930 you went down...the only place you could meet was when a farmer, who was an old Wobbly, let you use his farm. You got me into all of this but it's fascinating because it is important.
PALMER: Well, I remember during the '36 and '37 was this Scavenger Committee. And I think they got quite a lot of meat from the farmers, too, pork and beef. It wasn't so high-priced then.
LEIGHTON: Would Norm Bully be the only one or...?
JONES: No doubt there were others, but I imagine that Norm would be able to direct you to others who were involved in that. I just didn't happen to be involved in that.
DOLLINGER: Is Hazel Simon still alive? I think she is. I talked to Bud about a year and a half ago on his position in this General Motors dinner. Yes, he did say Hazel is still alive. If you get a chance, Hazel Simon would know how a lot of that stuff came into the kitchens.
LEIGHTON: What I'm interested in is that linkage, Jack, when he says he met on the farm of an old Wobbly. These movements don't just come about. They have links with the past, and even the Sit-Down Strike. And I still cannot remember the woman in 1904 of the first meeting of the IWW where she lays out the type of strategy that's going to be necessary to take over plants. And she never uses the term Sit-Down or Sit-In, but that's what it is. The Wobblies are also important for future people to look at in the role of women in the Wobblies. What is amazing, of course, is that the university student today, women university students, have never heard of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who addressed her first public rally at the age of sixteen. A classic example of an organizer.
DOLLINGER: She's an example of a woman's courageousness, too.
LEIGHTON: Right, but in labor. You can't read labor history without coming across her somewhere. I wonder how many of the farmers might have been involved in Wobblies, that might have been some of the other earlier Midwest movements. Grangers, Greenback, even coming out of the Populists. We're talking about forty years after the demise of the Populist movement, about forty-five years. It ends really by '96. And it did reach Michigan. It wasn't perhaps it's biggest, but that's a whole thing in itself. Why would a farmer come in and drop off vegetables? He on the surface does not have anything in common. People are going to eat anyway.
DOLLINGER: But you must remember that these farmers usually had sons that were in those plants or relatives in those plants. Those farmers were not divorced from these great big monsters of General Motors here. And its influence was felt in every area. It was a company town. It didn't control stores like they did in the steel mill areas and coalmines. But it was a company town. They controlled it lock, stock and barrel. The Board of Education, everything, every official, the judges, the courts. There was nowhere that you could be free of General Motors if you lived here. My father is a photographer. You know his bank assets were frozen. That was General Motors. And my uncle, my father's half-sister, was Stella Albro, was married to Charles W. Wetherall, who was a vice-president of General Motors in charge of Chevrolet production nationwide.
JONES: While you're searching for an answer for the farmer's involvement, you want to remember this. In this area at least, farmers, particularly the dairy farmers, and there were a great many of them around here, because that would more or less be a small operation and you could... The dairy farmers were having their own problems with very, very low prices on their milk. This thing was festering in the minds of the farmers all along. And it finally erupted into very violent strike action on the part of the farmers themselves to the dairies here, no later than probably 1938 or 1939. They began dumping their milk and blocking off the roads of farmers who were taking their dairy milk. Now the dairies themselves would send out more trucks, and farmers would block the roads, stop the trucks, dump the milk out on the roadside. So you see, the involvement of the farmer could very likely have been because of their resentment of their mistreatment.
WEST: You had in Iowa at that time, the Farm Holiday Movement...in
the Midwest predominately agricultural states.
JONES: Right. So there was an association between the farmer and these industrial workers that maybe fifty years ago hadn't been there. But it had slowly developed to the point where they could empathize with the struggles of the industrial workers. I'm not saying that that is the reason, but it very likely could have contributed to their sympathy.
PALMER: There was a very small percentage of the factory workers too that also farmed. You see this was their only hope of getting out of the shop, to start a farm or a little chicken farm. No dream of pensions or anything like this. And so there was quite a few in the factory, farming themselves.
LEIGHTON: In the absence of a pension type of thing, then the push to go back. I wanted to ask Larry and Jack. Genora and I talked about this the other day a little bit. Do you remember, and Jack particularly, because you were involved in the '30 strike, whether many people in the Fisher Body came down from the Upper Peninsula?
PALMER: Yes, from the copper country. They were Finlanders.
LEIGHTON: Right. Were any of these Wobblies?
PALMER: Not to my knowledge. You see, I was quite naive then, just a kid.
LEIGHTON: In those years between '30 and the strike, '36-'37, these people obviously were still coming in the Depression. Any of them come to take leading roles or kind of militant positions in the strike activity? Any of them that you know would have had some experience in organization?
PALMER: No, I had one fellow by the name of Emmett Murphy out to Fisher Body. But he come from my hometown. He was on the Negotiating Committee.
LEIGHTON: But you didn't notice the Finns or Scandinavians who might have been miners?
PALMER: Now this is very possible. Actually the leader of the strike was Cecil Comstock. That rung a bell when I read the Journal. Now I don't know anything about his background, where he come from or what. But anyway he come up missing about the sixth day. Even the Journal carries that story that he was missing.
LEIGHTON: And they never found him?
PALMER: No. We went out to this farm in Oakland County. That's out here four or five miles south of Grand Blanc, the county line. I don't know how far we went over the county line but that should be able to be traced.
WEST: In connection with the whole general problem of food, how does Max Gazan come into the picture? Max Gazan was head of the Culinary Workers Union here. Does that ring a bell?
DOLLINGER: That was Betty Simpson who got all the publicity on the culinary workers.
JONES: Yeah, Betty Simpson was a bartender, was a waitress.
DOLLINGER: I was always being confused with her.
JONES: Betty Simpson was sort of a glamorous young lady and very forward and had the courage of her convictions. She's the one that got the headlines here in that particular thing.
DOLLINGER: I do just vaguely remember that name associated with her afterwards.
JONES: Now with respect to the culinary workers, the head man in the strike kitchen out here at Fisher Body was a chef from Detroit, one of the larger restaurants over there, I think. And he contributed his services to the strike kitchen. The strike workers here, they probably ate food prepared better than most strikers had ever been in any other strike.
WEST: It couldn't be Max Gazan, who was the man you're talking about, the chef? The reason I ask is that I'm thinking of a connection later on again after the strike when Gazan was the head of the Culinary Workers it seems in this reason and perhaps in a broader context as well, and was interested in organizing restaurant, hotel workers in the Durant Hotel and other places. He apparently had considerable UAW support in his efforts to organize.
JONES: Oh, they did. We had a member of Local 659 who was killed out there at the Durant Hotel.
DOLLINGER: Yes, Samuel Waters.
JONES: And he was supporting the strike of the kitchen workers and this man by the name of Sam Waters was assigned to help direct these kitchen workers at the Durant Hotel. He was assigned this job by the regional office in the UAW. The UAW contributed whatever they could in the way of manpower, advice, finances in any strike any place...dime store, kitchen workers, whatever. This was sort of a contagious thing. Really the sit-downers then didn't need any encouragement to sit down. The biggest job that the UAW had, in so many cases, was to get these people to go back to work so they could begin to negotiate with the companies.
LEIGHTON: You really see how the strike tapped a nerve, don't you?
DOLLINGER: Oh yes.
LEIGHTON: It was like a hundred years of hostility pent up from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution before the Civil War, and not having had one really major victory.
JONES: This is one of the things, you see, that caused all these fights that they used to have before the union, at the automobile plant. The minute the day's work was over, every day...I don't believe there was a day go by that I didn't see a fight out on the sidewalk in front of the plant. Because there was this hostility and this dissatisfaction that was building up and built up in 'em every day. And there was no way for 'em to release it. After the formation of the union, when some of their frustrations were relieved by using this resentment against the boss instead of their fellow workers, the fights, to a great extent, stopped. I just can't remember a fight after the union became of any influence at all. I don't remember any fights outside.
DOLLINGER: You know it was the insecurity too, as much as anything else. The work was terrible. But that insecurity of never knowing if the boss is gonna take a dislike to you because you part your hair the wrong way and push you out. Or because some young eighteen-year-old or seventeen-year-old in high school or off the farm needed a job and maybe you were hitting forty. If you got to be forty, you were filled with fear. Just filled with fear because this young kid could come in and outdo you, you know, outlast you. And I think that was one of the worst things that they had to put up with, never knowing if they were gonna put bread in their kids' mouths from one week to the other.