Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
DATE: February 29, 1980
INTERVIEWEE: Robert Evans
INTERVIEWER: Bill Meyer
MEYER: As I understand it, you didn't actually sit down in Plant 4 yourself?
EVANS: No, I didn't stay in there. I don't know. It's hard to tell. I don't know whether to tell this like a story or what.
MEYER: Oh, anyway, that...
EVANS: I was one of the young guys. I mean I didn't have any dependents.
MEYER: You were single, with no family?
EVANS: Yeah, I was probably about 22, I guess. Of course, I didn't know what was going on really, see. Hell, the thing that I was thinking about was getting out and going swimming or something like that. In fact, I was off work a lot of time. I would stay out. My attendance wasn't too good, see. I don't know why they didn't fire me, to tell you the truth. But when I was in there I could do good. If a guy was sick and they needed somebody on a strange machine like a milling machine or a production-type machinery, not as a tool maker or anything like that, but all them production machinery, you know, they are just one operation over and over and over.
MEYER: How long did you work for General Motors before the strike, how long of a period was that?
EVANS: Well, the first job I got with General Motors, it was so long ago. I have been trying to take notes here and trying to straighten it out in my own mind. But, the first job I got in General Motors, I think, was in the last part of 1933. I was 18. I got a job over in Buick in the drop forge. The older men that worked there, like the hammer men and that and heaters, they hired me for a heater, but I ended up running what they called a trim press. The hammer man runs the hammer and forges the forging and in this case it was steering knuckle for a front wheel. I would take it over to another press and lay it in there in the die and step on a throttle and this machine would trim off the excess metal off this forging. So that's what I was doing there. But these guys, the older men, they resented anybody coming in there, any new blood, a young guy especially, see.
MEYER: Did you experience that more as a problem at Buick than at Chevrolet?
EVANS: Well, I did, really. Another thing is that you didn't work. In fact, the first job I had I only worked three or four weeks and got laid off. I went in one night and the guy come over, the boss, and he wanted to know how come I made a whole bunch of scrapes. I said, "I didn't make no bunch of scrapes. I've made a few pieces of scrape now and then." He showed me a tub full of stuff. Where he got it I don't know, I didn't make it. It seems to me that these old guys were trying to frame up on a new man, trying to get rid of you.
MEYER: Why do you think they did that?
EVANS: They was old and there wasn't security. They could work there 25 years and didn't have no seniority.
MEYER: So they were afraid that the young guys would take their jobs away by working a little more efficiently or something?
EVANS: They were afraid of their jobs, except there was one guy. He was a younger man. His name was Otis Paulsen. Later on he got to be a superintendent there at Buick drop forge. He kind of was pretty nice. He wanted me to learn the hammer trade, you know, but I was too smart-alecky, I guess, and I didn't want to learn nothing. I was younger, and I didn't know what I wanted, and it was awful noisy and hot and dirty in there. So I didn't pay attention to him. So I got laid off there in three or four weeks. Let's see, how in the hell was that? Oh, after I got laid off at Buick, I went to Chevrolet. I must have been off a month or so, and I went to Chevrolet. Chevrolet was hiring. I got a job in Plant 5 of Chevrolet. Crankcases were over there, you know. That's part of the engine setup, I guess, but not the assembly. They just had the raw crankcases coming out of the boxcars, and you would start to machine those. Well, I didn't like that and I quit. I was on and then I got a job working for Yellow Cab Company. They had a baggage truck and I done that. I think they gave me $6 a week or something for that. It don't seem possible. I monkeyed around and wasn't even thinking nothing about Buick or anything else, so finally there one day, it must have been '35, I got a card from Buick, see, to come into work. So I went in and I hired on as a heater again and they put me in another department there where they had these upsetters instead of hammers. They didn't have hammers down there. These upsetters are a different kind of machine, I don't know if you know what an upsetter is or not?
MEYER: I'm not sure.
EVANS: Well, they stick a hot bar of iron in there, and there is two dies come and put a grip on it and then there is another ram that rams on the head of it and spreads the head of it out a little like an upset, that's what they call an upset. It has three or four different stations. They move from one station and lie down at the bottom and keep spreading this thing out on the end, and finally there is a place in there where it chops it off, see. What you end up with is a blank for a gear.
MEYER: This was back in Buick, you say?
EVANS: Back in the drop forge at Buick. I worked there quite a long time, and then in '36 I was able to work better down there, because there was younger men down there, see. They didn't bother you too much. And then they was all getting used to the idea, anyway, that they were not gonna last forever, these old guys. So I worked for this guy down there, and he was younger. I stayed in there until it got hot weather in '36, ‘til it started warming up. Oh, man, it really got hot in that drop forge. I worked right in like a nest of furnaces and, hell, you could throw a bucket of water on the floor?they had brick floors, you know?and the damn water was sweating steam. Now I didn't like that. I thought that was too hot, so I went to the foreman's office and asked for a transfer to something else. So they put me over on Plant 25 at Buick, which is a maintenance plant. They maintain all the other plants, see. That summer they had a program where they was gonna put roof coating on all their own roofs instead of contracting it out to private roofers. They decided to do it theirself, because most of it they was gonna put a cold tar on there or a coating of some kind that didn't have to be hot, see. So I worked there the rest of that summer in '36, and I got laid off. Along in the fall, it must have been just before Christmas, Buick called me back. They wanted me to go to work in the foundry like that at all. I called in sick and I told them?well, I didn't tell them. I just called in sick. But in the meantime I heard that Chevrolet was hiring again, so I went over there. That's when I hired into Plant 4, sometime there in?it's hard to keep it all straight in your mind. It was so long ago. But anyway, I went over to Chevy...
MEYER: The Chevy 4, you think was just before Christmas, you say?
EVANS: Yeah, it was around December there sometime, because I had worked a couple weeks in the foundry, and then I told them that I was sick and went over and hired out in Chevrolet 4. One day I was to home and a man came up there and he said, "I'm from Buick factory." I thought, uh-oh, they caught up with me. He said, "Well, I know your sick and thought you might need this $50.” So that year, General Motors, I imagine, they give all the shops $50 bonus. They probably heard men talking about forming a union or something like that so I got the $50 bonus from Buick and I was working Chevrolet. So then...
MEYER: Did this guy encounter you while you were at Chevrolet
were working there, or what? How did you meet this guy?
EVANS: Which one was that?
MEYER: The guy from Buick that gave you the fifty-dollar bonus.
EVANS: They just sent him out. He was working out of Personnel.
MEYER: They sent him out to Chevrolet?
EVANS: No, they sent him to my house.
MEYER: Oh, your house, okay.
EVANS: Well, then, I went to Chevy. Why, then the men were talking, you know, when they could get you to one side. They couldn't openly recruit you into the union because, hell, at that time if they seen you with a union button on, they would fire you. They tried to get me by talking union and...
MEYER: Was that the first recollection you have of or the first encounter you had with union organizing was in Chevy 4?
MEYER: You don't recall if at Buick or previous work at other plants...
EVANS: No, the only thing that I can remember... I know when I worked at the foundry at Buick everyone had to fill out applications for a Social Security number, I can remember that. No, it was just men who would get you to one side and say, "Hey, you know, come on.” And then I would say, "Ah, buzz off!" or something like that, because I was a big kid. I wasn't no kid, really. I was about 21 or 22 years old. It would be the same thing with the boss. I was a smart-aleck kid. I didn't take much lip from any of them guys, see. So I must have been a puzzle to the union and the company, because the company and the foreman, they must have known that I was telling the union to bug off and then the union guys knew that I would just as soon tell the boss to bug off. I don't know how I stayed there, to tell you the truth. Well, sometime in there I went over to the personnel office, and I wanted to get on plant protection. I talked to 'em over there and they said, "Oh, we would never hire somebody else. Somebody has to die off before we would hire anybody in Plant Protection."
MEYER: Do you remember when that was that you wanted this job in plant protection?
EVANS: Not exactly, no, but it had to be right in there...
MEYER: While the strike was going on?
MEYER: Before the strike?
EVANS: Before that.
MEYER: Before the whole strike in Fisher?
MEYER: So this would be again in December?
EVANS: Around the last part of '36, so it had to be in December. I think I worked in the Buick until about December.
MEYER: So it must have been shortly after you went over to Chevy 4 that you expressed an interest in plant protection?
EVANS: It had to be, yeah.
MEYER: But they said they didn't have anything, huh?
EVANS: So I went back to work and, of course, there was arguing back and forth between the organizers and everybody else that wanted to argue. And then they got to saying, “Well look, if we go out here we are going to toss your butt in the river.” I said, “Well, any time you feel like it, I'm here.” That was my attitude. Well, then the strike came on. They called it. I don't know how they did. I've heard different stories and all that from where they come over from Plant 7, and then I know the women outside, the wives, smashed windows out of Plant 9, you know, to attract attention to divert the attention from Plant 4.
MEYER: You're talking about the beginning of the sit-down in 4 now?
EVANS: Yeah. Fisher Body had been picked. In fact, they had Sloan, you know, they had him hanging up over the street there in that overpass. They had a bunch of clothes stuffed with straw and then... Sloan was chairman of the board. It seemed like we would go back and forth to work, and Fisher was on strike, see. Finally they ordered everybody to go out, see, and I went out.
MEYER: You were at work when that happened?
MEYER: You were at work when that happened.
EVANS: It seemed to me like most everybody went home. I don't know how many really stayed in there. That's another thing I would like... I'm curious about, how many really did stay in, and how many were plant 4 employees, and who came from the other plants and one thing or another.
MEYER: OK, that happened on February l, when Chevy 4 decided to call a sit-down strike, Do you recall exactly the moment when that happened? What you were doing? How you knew a strike was on?
EVANS: Well, everybody started to quit working and shut everything down and start milling around, and then we started going out, see.
MEYER: Were the leaders kind of directing people out or leading some of the people out? Somehow you got the message that it was time to leave.
EVANS: Well, they all started going. I didn't notice anybody in particular address us or anything like that until you got outside to the front gate. Then there was sound cars out there, you know, and guys talking. But I really didn't pay any attention to what they were saying, to tell you the truth. I went home and stayed, and then I heard about what was going on, the fighting and... I don't really know when the Battle of Bull Run took place.
MEYER: Yeah, that was before Chevy 4.
EVANS: It seems to me like it was.
MEYER: January 11.
EVANS: I remember...
MEYER: What do you remember about that? That would have been about two or three weeks before Chevy 4 went out.
EVANS: Yeah. It seems to me like when we would go home for work they would have a police car there lying on its side and one thing and another. That must have been before Plant 4 went out.
MEYER: Yes, that was before.
EVANS: That was 43 years ago.
MEYER: Yeah, it was a long time ago.
EVANS: Well, I went home and sat around listening on the radio (nobody had any TV then). So a guy came over from Chevrolet plant and wanted to know if I wanted to get on plant protection.
MEYER: He came over to your house?
EVANS: Yeah. I said, "How can I get on plant protection? Governor Murphy's got the National Guard surrounding the place and outposts here and there, you know." It was public knowledge and in the papers that no one was supposed to go in, you see. Anyone that wanted to go out, they could go out, but no one was to go in. So they told me to go down there on Cadillac where they had a poster on, you know, kind of like Third Avenue, and identify myself, and if I wanted to come in, I could come in.
MEYER: Was this connected with the plant or was it a separate...
EVANS: No, I...
MEYER: I have to orient myself a little bit here. What was its relationship to the plant? It was east to it.
EVANS: In fact, it was quite a ways from the plant. I can't understand now that I think back how come they had an outpost up there.
MEYER: Would they have an outpost there to be away from the National Guard?
EVANS: It don't seem like they would have things barricaded, because there is a lot of house up there where people lived. I can't remember that. That is another point that is kind of foggy. I went over and identified myself, and they told me to go down behind the main office. There was a building. You can see it now if you want to drive by there from the street.
MEYER: At Third and Cadillac, this is?
EVANS: No, that's where the National Guard post was, Third and Cadillac. But behind?see, this was all Chevrolet had then. There wasn't no Van Slyke or anything. That was their assembly plant, manufacturing plant, their body plant and everything. It was right down there in the holes. So the offices here was the main office. It is still there. Right behind that they had a garage that may have had ten or twelve stalls in it.
MEYER: Again, where was that located? I think I missed that, where the garage was?
EVANS: The garage was right directly behind the office.
MEYER: And where was the office?
EVANS: Down on Chevrolet. Well, I guess the office extended up as far as Bluff Street, between Bluff and the plant, the rest of the plant, you know, where the powerhouse was and everything.
MEYER: At Chevrolet between Bluff and the plant?
EVANS: Yeah. That's where it still is. The offices is still there. And this building behind it was a bunches of garages in the long building, stalls, where people used to come and pick their cars up. If they would buy a car in Omaha, Nebraska, or someplace and specify that they didn't want nobody to drive it or haul it on the railroad or something like that, they could come there and get the car, see. It made them a little trip and they may have a little fun to pick up their car, Well, they sent us down in there and there was a bunch of guys in there. I don't know how many, maybe 50 or 60 or to 100 or something like that. They had plans that they was gonna take these shop trucks and?I don't know if they planned on welding something on the front of them or not?there was all kind of talk in there. There is a railroad bridge inside the plant. It hasn't got nothing to do with the streets outside. It was strictly inside of the property. They figured on going across there and coming around and busting in, ramming the doors over there, I guess. There was big wooden doors on Plant 4.
MEYER: These tracks connected the garage to the plant, they were connected by these tracks?
EVANS: Yeah, it was a railroad bridge.
MEYER: So you could put these little cars on there and their idea was to possibly break in.
EVANS: They were like the shop trucks, you know, the mules and fork trucks. I don't know, I didn't see too many fork trucks in them days, I don't know. But they had little (I don't know what you call them) hi-los or something. They could run this thing underneath a metal tub and raise it up just a little bit. I don't recall seeing too many fork trucks then that could stack way up in the air. That was the talk. They was gonna go over there and attack plant 4, you know, run them guys out.
MEYER: Who were these 50 or 60 people? Were they mainly guys like you, or were they workers, were they...?
EVANS: This I don't know. They just looked like ordinary guys. There is one guy here that... I don't know their names. I can't remember names, I can remember all kinds of numbers but I wish I had these names. But some of them were like me. We were getting paid while we were in there, and they figured, why, hell with it, we will get paid, and if they tell us to go over there, we would say that we won't go over there and we will go home. But there were some of them, about half of them, were fanatic enough that they would have gone over there. If they had of gone over there, it really would have been a hell of a mess. It would have made that other battle look like a Sunday school picnic. You know, it was quite a thing when you stop and think back about these workers doing something that has never been done, defying General Motors, Jesus, General Motors, the big corporation. If they would have failed, there would have been a whole new crew in there, because in those days they were constantly telling the workers that if they wasn't producing, like they thought one of their favorite expressions was "Don't forget that line standing over there behind the employment office." That is what they kept holding up against us.
MEYER: What did you do after you saw all this, this little operation?
EVANS: Well, in the first place, before I went in I thought (it came to me), I realized how bad it was for them guys. Some of 'em had worked there 18-20 years and they had no security whatsoever. There was no such thing as seniority. There was no such thing as show-up time. When they lacked a bag of screws or something so they could have production, you waited until they got the bag of screws and you didn't get paid for it, things like that. There was nothing, there was no unemployment insurance. Of course that ain't got nothing to do with the union, but there was no security whatsoever, see, no seniority. That's the reason that I went in there more than anything else. I didn't go in there to be a strikebreaker. I went in there because of my sympathy turned toward the worker, and I went in there to see if I could find out what was going on. Why could they get men in there through these National Guard lines. Somebody must have got bribed or something, I don't know. I don't believe Murphy would have...
MEYER: Can you remember the National Guard being around?
EVANS: Oh, yeah.
MEYER: They were around and you were able to go through the lines?
EVANS: Right. I went right there and they had a tent there.
MEYER: They didn't raise any questions?
EVANS: They had my name there on a list.
MEYER: They had your name on a list?
EVANS: Yeah, where they got it I don't know. If it is from when I applied for plant protection or from somebody who turned them in that thought I might be sympathetic to the company from seeing me tell a union organizer, you know, in the shop to get lost and all that.
MEYER: When you approached the building, the National Guard were surrounding it, you came up and gave them your name and then they would let you in.
EVANS: Well, I went to the post there where they told me on Cadillac and Third Avenue. It's a good long block down the hill to Bluff Street. And then on Bluff Street there is one end of the main office, and then they had another plant there, Plant 3, which was parts and service for a long, long time. By going between those two buildings you could down to that garage. Well, anyway I got in there and I had an idea of what they were doing and I thought it would be a good idea if the union knew about it, see. There was no union really, but I mean the organizers. They had an office on, right straight across the street from the employment office, actually, at Kearsley and Asylum. That's where the employment office was then. And so I made an excuse to go home, and I went down around what is Grand Traverse now?they called it Smith Street then?and I went over to where these guys were all milling around. There didn't seem to be hardly anybody that was in charge or anything, but I went upstairs and there was a couple of what looked like kitchen tables with a couple of guys sitting there. I asked them if they knew what was going on over there about that. They said no, they didn't know that. I said, "Well, I've been in there. I know this." And the guy said if I would get back in there that I should go back in there and keep my eyes on things. So I went back in there. Of course this all happened in a couple of days, I mean the whole thing, me going home or supposed to have gone home and going back. So I went back in there. They let me back in. That would be the second time I went back in, and I made another excuse the next day when I went that my dad was sick or something. I don't know. Me and my dad bached together. I went back around there and made my report, and then I went back to go in that time, and they wouldn't let me in. See, my name was erased somehow. I don't know who told them.
MEYER: Was this the National Guard that didn't have your name anymore, or was it somebody, from the...
EVANS: They said, "Your name is taken off the list."
MEYER: Who said that, the National Guard said that?
EVANS: Yeah, of course, they wouldn't take it off unless somebody told them to. They might have seen me... They could have seen me. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they were observing the union or that local that they had there, their location. They probably had binoculars or a telescope or were maybe even taking photographs, I don't know. I don't know who blew the whistle on me about that, but I couldn't get back in again. So I just waited the strike out and fortunately when they did take Plant 4, you see they had a pretty good hold on General Motors then, because the backbone of General Motors was Chevrolet. That was their only engine plants for the whole country. Fisher 2 over there on Chevrolet Avenue could go on strike and that would only stop them from making cars in Flint, but as long as they could get these engines they could assemble cars in their other assembly plants. When they got a hold of Plant 4 and took it over, why, that kind of put the screws on 'em. Fortunately they settled the case without trying to go over there and attack Plant 4.
MEYER: How soon after the takeover of Plant 4, the sit-down in Plant 4, how soon after that did they come by to ask you about plant protection? Was that within a day or two or was it a few days, or what?
EVANS: Oh, I would say about within the first week.
MEYER: The first week. The sit-down lasted about 11 days in 4, so it was towards the end of the strike really.
EVANS: Now that 44 days----see, I shouldn't have to be asking this----is that from the time that Fisher went on strike until the contract was...?
MEYER: That was only the last...
EVANS: Plant 4 wasn't really out that long, then.
MEYER: That's right. That was only the last 11 days that 4 was done.
EVANS: It didn't take 'em long after they got Plant 4. They had to stop business. It was within a week. I don't remember how many days exactly that they wanted to put me on plant protection.
MEYER: Did you join the union after the strike?
EVANS: Oh, yeah.
MEYER: Right after or immediately after?
EVANS: I don't really, I can't say exactly, but you had to join it. It was pretty nearly a closed shop, I think.
MEYER: You never went into 4 after it was taken over, did you?
MEYER: Did you ever go back in?
EVANS: To work, yeah, but not to...
MEYER: I mean during the strike, you never went into it?
EVANS: No, but we went back to work, though.
MEYER: What was your job in 4?
EVANS: I was working on the... Now, see, there is something else I can remember. I can remember my old clock number down there. I can remember numbers pretty good. Somebody I haven't seen in about a year and a half I can't remember their names. I don't know what I'm gonna do. I just say "Hey you!” or something like that. But my clock number was 467. The “4” was the plant and “67” was the department, and then “282” was the clock numbers. I still remember that just like I was gonna go in and punch in today, tonight. This job that I had was down at the final assembly of the engines. The engines already had the silent test, what they called the silent test, where they hook them up to big electric motors and spin them around for a while and then they tear them down. They take the pans off and look at the rods, because then they had poured rods. They didn't have insert bearings like they do now. They would check the rods, and they could look down on the panels. The engine would be upside down. They could see all of the cam lobes if they were scored up a notch. Then they would put the pan back on 'em and run 'em for a while on their own power. They would adjust the values and then after they had done that, they would come over to where I was working, called the trim lines. They would put the cover on top for one thing, and then they would put the clutch in, and clutch forks, and the manifolds, and put the final trim on it. Then they would go off to the paint department and they would spray 'em with paint and put 'em in a boxcar. So that's where I was working at the time of the strike, on the trim line.
MEYER: Do you remember any of the main leaders of the strike or leaders of the union in general in Chevy 4? Do you recall any of those?
EVANS: No, I don't, not their names.
MEYER: People like Rose, Gib Rose?
EVANS: This is one thing that I would like to find out, if some of them guys remember me? I mean they may not remember my name.
MEYER: You were only in there a short time.
EVANS: I wasn't in there really too long. If some of them guys, like I say, I'm kind of easy to remember. I mean my looks, you know. The only guy I can remember his name, and I don't know why I remember, that is his name is Baumgardner, probably because it was an unusual name. He was probably a Swede or something.
MEYER: Were your parents originally from Flint or were you originally from Flint?
EVANS: No, I was... you might say that I was originally from Flint. I come here when I was about three months old from South Haven, Michigan.
MEYER: Your parents were from Michigan originally.
EVANS: Yeah. My dad was a cement contractor. I suppose in them days, you know, General Motors was booming. That was the place to go and still is, I guess. If you can get into the shop, then you got it made now, some terrific benefits now.
MEYER: Did your father work for General Motors?
MEYER: He never worked for 'em?
EVANS: At them times that was the bottom of the barrel, if you worked in the factories. That was about as low as you could get, because you would work and you would be laid off and you would work. Guys that had worked there a long time might not work six months a year. My dad always talked to me about not working in the shop. "Learn a trade, get in to be a barber and cut hair or something." And I seen how hard he was working in concrete. I know I learned that trade. In fact, I worked for him until the Depression. I was only 12 or 15 years old. That's probably what's the matter with my back today. He worked hard, you know. He worked for this Modern Housing Company that built these General Motors houses. I can remember a lot of times that he would go from one house to next door to next door to next door, putting in cellar bottoms and sidewalks. He made damn good money when he was doing that. They would just line up a row of houses and he would go down the row. A lot of the neighborhood kids worked for my dad, my older brother's buddies and that. I think he paid good money. I don't remember what he did pay, but it had to be better than the shops. I hired out in Plant 5, I think was in 1934 or something. I got 55 cents an hour and that was a nickel more than another guy I know who hired in in Plant 4. They figured the crankcase department was tougher than the crankshaft department.
MEYER: Over the phone you mentioned a couple names that were, I think you referred to them as stewards of Homer Martin?
MEYER: How do you remember those people? Were they people you knew at the time?
EVANS: I knew these guys before they had the union. These guys were Golden Glovers. There were three of 'em. One of 'em died. One guy was Arnold Pillen. He lives out here by Otisville. I got this wrote down here for you know.
MEYER: I can jot it down if you want to just read it or what?
EVANS: Maybe you ought to put it on the tape.
MEYER: I can just jot down the...
EVANS: You can have this paper if you want. This other guy here at the bottom, now this guy is actually a brother to this guy, but they ain't nothing alike. He was ... I think that he also went when I went in, through the National Guard picket line, but whether he will admit it or not, I don't know. This is another thing that puzzles me is why nobody knows about this. I never heard mentioned in any article.
MEYER: No, I haven't either.
EVANS: Is it because guys don't want their buddies to know that actually they were strikebreakers? If they admit that they went in there, they are strikebreakers. I don't know if that's what they are afraid of or not. You see, it don't matter to me. I don't care if they know that I went in, because I know why I went in. I didn't go in there to break no strike, I went in there to find out what the hell was going on, and I don't care who knows. In fact, I'm kind of proud of it, to tell you the truth. That's one thing, why somebody don't mention this?
MEYER: Yeah, that is interesting. There were so many other people in there. How did you know these other guys, Pillen and Gauthier? Were they just other workers that worked with you?
EVANS: No, I've known these Gauthiers all my life and this Arnold Pillen I know him from when he used to box. He used to hang around the Martin School up there, and I probably know him the least. Then Al Adams, I went to school with him. He was a boxer too, but he enlisted in the service and he got in a truck accident that killed him.
MEYER: How did they get to be bodyguards for Homer Martin? What do you know about that aspect?
EVANS: Well, I'll tell you. I don't really know all the details on it, but I got most of my information from Chink (Gauthier). In fact, it was a few years after that the strike that I found out that they even did it.
MEYER: They told you that that's what they did?
EVANS: Yeah, I'm surprised to know that. I've talked to Chink and he tells about how they would bring bags of money over from Buick. You know, guys from Buick would throw in money for the strike and that, and they would count it, and they was kind of guarding this Homer Martin. But you can have that if you want it. I don't like to get Royal's name in there, but, hell, he can either tell the truth or say, "I don't want to talk about it."
MEYER: He doesn't have to talk to anybody. Yeah, sure, absolutely.
EVANS: It don't matter whether you tell him that I told you or not.
MEYER: What do you remember about how things changed at work after the strike, as a result of the strike? Were things different, do you remember?
EVANS: Well, I went back to work, and we didn't work too damn long before we got laid off. I remember the foreman. They had one foreman there that was kind of young. I don't know what his name was but he was gonna make himself a name or some damn thing. There would be things that he was always at to put the efficiency up and all that stuff. They had this engine line where the engines would come along upside down, you know, after they pulled the pans, and they were dripping oil and one thing, and maybe this line was 200-300 feet long anyway. They got underneath the conveyor parts. There is a pan like that is the full length of the line that was like a trough, see. Guys are dropping nuts and bolts, and they get oil drippings down there and one thing and another. They used to have a janitor in there or a sweeper or something that would come along and he would pick all these bolts and stuff up. This young guy got the idea, which was really a good idea, that he would get I think it was two of those lines. But, anyway, he got the idea that each line would have a squeegee assigned to it. Now they stationed the guys if they got a second, if they wasn't doing nothing, they would start the squeegee up at one end and he would rake this over to the next guy, and the next guy, when he got a chance, he would rake it down to the next guy, and by the time they got done all these nuts and bolts and drippings would be all down at the end. It really wasn't hurting nothing, I mean it wasn't that much extra work involved. So the guy that was supposed to be the steward or the committee man he would stand over there, you know, shaking his head, “Don't do it, don't do it.” So the boss come along and told me what he wanted, and I said, "I don't have time to do this." So five minutes later I look around, and here is the old steward (I keep saying “steward,” like if I was in the AF of L or something)?the committeeman. He's over there squeegeeing like hell after I told the boss I wasn't gonna do it. So that's what became the practice then to do that. But here's the guy telling me not to do it, and he turns around and does it. When they got ready to lay off, of course they had to go by your hiring date. That's the first time I every remember a guy coming around and saying, "Well, you hired on this date." They laid off according to the hiring date. It was kind of quiet after that. There wasn't too much going on in '38.
MEYER: Were the relations with your supervisors and foremen any better after the strike?
EVANS: I don't know. They didn't seem to be much different to me. Of course, nobody bothered me too much anyway. If they would have been all like me, there wouldn't have had to be any union. Let's see, I think that I worked on the WPA after that. I think that it was in 1938 that they started paying unemployment insurance, which I was eligible for that. All the guys that were on WPA that were eligible for unemployment, they told them to get off WPA and go draw their unemployment, which was $16 for 16 weeks. They figured it out that it was half of the average paycheck, so the average paycheck then was only $32 a week straight time. So I drew that. You had to go down and report and then they mailed you the checks. The old mailmen used to catch hell, I'll tell you. "Where is my check today, how come you didn't bring my check?" They really kept track of the mailboxes, I'll tell you. That wasn't too bad. Sixteen dollars was quite a bit.
MEYER: So after the strike you actually didn't work for General Motors?
EVANS: Not very long. No, they had layoffs.
MEYER: Did you ever work for them again?
EVANS: Yeah. I don't know, there in '38 and '39 I worked for the general foundry. I went there off Hemphill Road and did different jobs. I did mechanic work and drove trucks and there for a while I was working for Bancroft Trucking. I couldn't stand him. Around in '40 I got a job hauling cars for the Motor Car Transport. I hauled Buicks. And then that slowed down, and I went to work for Anchor Motor Freight. They hauled Chevrolet. They got slowed down, and I went to work for Complete Auto Transit. And then of course the war came along.
MEYER: During the Sit-Down Strike itself were you living with your family still?
EVANS: Well, me and my dad, yeah.
MEYER: You and your father.
EVANS: We had a little house up in the North End.
MEYER: Did you own a car at all during the strike?
EVANS: Yeah, I had a car. See, I bought a car when I was working there that summer there on the Buick. I had a '31 Oldsmobile, and then I traded that for another '31 that was a four-door. There was some time in there while I was working around the Chevrolet that I got stupid and I went and traded it in on a new Ford, a '37 Ford, which I lost because I got laid off. So they grabbed that. I don't know what they did with it, but they still wanted to collect for it, which wasn't too uncommon back in those days. They would grab stuff and then they would sell it for practically nothing and you would owe the balance.
MEYER: When did they repossess that? In the fall?
EVANS: When did they get that? It was after I got laid off there, probably some time there in '37.
MEYER: About '37.
EVANS: I went back to work after the strike for a while and...
MEYER: They didn't repossess it during the strike?
EVANS: No, no. In fact, I may not have bought it until after the strike was over. So there was some pretty tough things. It wasn't no utopia right after the union got in. There was a lot of lean years there that the people were laid off. In fact, in '40, if you went out and mowed the foreman's grass you would probably keep on working all summer while somebody else got laid off.
MEYER: You went over to the union building to report on what you seen. Do you remember any of the people who you talked to there?
EVANS: Not by their names. There was guys out on the sidewalk and down and around. I know you went up a stairs from the Asylum Street side. There was guys up in there where the labor hall is.
MEYER: Aside from this one incident, you ...
EVANS: I don't even remember who I talked with, to tell you the truth. I don't even know who I talked to over there.
MEYER: Aside from that, though, you remained home while a lot of the sit-down was going on at Chevy.
EVANS: Yeah, when I went home first I stayed home for a while, and then after I got barred out of there I stayed home mostly. I didn't go down to the hall very much. See, I kind of quit the shops. I got away from 'em, so I don't get none of the good benefits that the union got. But I did work in some of 'em afterwards. I worked at Fisher Body for four or five years, in about 1950-1956. That was kind of a goofy deal there. In fact, I was recording secretary for the local over there that they had. But this deal of working at Fisher Body driving truck?we was working in Plant 1, you know, and we were hauling bodies for the Buick and they had quite a lot of road work too between Lansing, Flint and Detroit, Fleetwood, Grand Rapids. The outfit that had charge of this trucking was called Flint Forties, which located its headquarters in Detroit. The local that took care of Plant 40 was Number 720, with the main office in Detroit, the main branch or something, I don't know. It was kind of a funny deal. They had just like an outside company, almost as bad as hiring Interstate or somebody to haul the bodies. They had to make reports of everything you did, and if you went and hauled a load of trash out to the dump, you had to make a report on it and account for a11 your claims. They done away with Plant 40. They decided to do away with Plant 40. They got to thinking one time... Every year, pretty near, they would take a strike vote, Local 720, and they would all vote to strike if necessary, but them old truck drivers you couldn't have gotten them to strike no ways. But still you had to say that you would strike and they would vote to strike. But as far as striking, man there would have to be something bad to make them strike, see. Originally, I guess when they started out Plant 40, why, the supervision on Plant 40 knew all the drivers. They all come out of the same puddle to start with. Some of 'em got to be bosses and the others were kept on to be drivers. Of course, the old-timers knew?the old-time supervision knew?that that strike vote was just a show. And then they started getting younger guys in there on supervision and they got to thinking, "Damn, if they have trouble down here in Flint hauling Buick bodies and something, if they go on strike, that means that the whole thing is on strike.” Fleetwood would go on strike in Detroit. See, that would tie up Flint and Detroit both and Lansing. So somebody come up with the idea that they was gonna do away with Plant 40. And they done away with all of the highway trucking and everything, hiring common carriers to haul it. And then the old guys that had the good jobs, they had to come in and take what jobs were left. Then finally, I guess, in Flint at least, that Plant 1 out there just absorbed the body haulers and everything else. There was a lot of arguing around about if the plant 40 guys could come in to plant 1 and take their seniority, so I just quit the damn place. I didn't have that much seniority anyway. Them old guys, hell, I had five years and that was like nothing. All them old guys had 30 years at least. Probably when they got 30 and out they probably went out, see, which I didn't know that was coming up, see.
MEYER: Let me ask just a couple more questions about the strike itself. When the workers sat-in at Chevy 4, did that come as a surprise to you? When the strike broke out at Chevy 4, was that surprising? Was it anticipated that that would probably happen? Was there a lot of talk about it?
EVANS: It was kind of a surprise. Like I say, I wasn't paying no attention to the thing. I didn't know what the issues were or anything. In fact, I didn't even know that we had the option of staying in. I thought everybody was going home.
MEYER: You weren't even sure that it was gonna be a sit-down.
EVANS: Nobody really confided in me that you could stay in or that they intended to stay in. I don't know why they didn't.
MEYER: Well, this has been very helpful.
EVANS: Anyway in 1963, after being away from there for so long, I got an invitation to go to this 26th anniversary banquet. I don't know where they got my name or anything about it. Of course, I must have been on membership list over there at one time. But I have moved around, didn't stay in one place, I'm like a rolling stone, you know, going here and there, working for this and that. Of course, I got a lot of experiences that... that they remembered me and somebody did, I don't know who. So I wrote this poem and I call it “A Tribute to Walter Reuther.” I expected... he was supposed to have been to the benefit, but he didn't show up. I wanted to give it to him in person, but he wasn't there, so the president of the local read it at the banquet. Everybody liked it pretty good and I sent?I lost the original to this. This is about as close as I can come to remembering it. They published it in that paper that the local has over there. What do they call it? The Searchlight or the Headlight? I called them here not too long ago asking if they kept them old copies, and she didn't know. They were supposed to call me back, because I wanted to get it, you know, like the original. I still don't know if they got it. So I sent Reuther a copy of that and the poem. Here is how it goes:
Tribute to Walter Reuther
Now is the time for a backward look
To see what it was that made Flint cook.
Buick, Fisher and Chevrolet,
Well, they all helped in a sort of way.
But we never really did get started.
We were all downtrodden and broken-hearted.
Then '37 rolled around,
And the UAW came to town.
By God, I'll tell you things did hum,
The worker became more than a bum.
Chins raised up, we felt free,
Walter Reuther gave us some dignity.
Show-up time, cost of livin’,
Things GM never would have given.
Other things that I must mention
Are SUB and retirement pension.
Back to the subject why Flint's so great,
It's because the autoworkers can negotiate.
They are the best paid workers in the USA,
With money for living and some for play.
In closing I would like to say
Who's the greatest American living today?
Hard to tell actually who's the one,
But Walter P. Reuther is second to none.
EVANS: At the same time I know Homer Martin was actually the first and stuff, but mainly it has been Walter Reuther. So I wrote that and made sure that he got a copy of it. Then he wrote an answer. The answer was?I'm reading my priceless letter, you know, one of my most, priceless possessions. I don't know if I would tell Royal Gauthier about it. He will get mad at me. It says:
Thank you for your kind letter of recent date and your thoughtfulness in sending me a copy of the poem that you did for the Sit-Down Strike celebration. One of the most rewarding things about being associated with the leadership of the UAW is to earn the friendship and good wishes of so many wonderful people in the ranks of the UAW and to have the satisfaction of knowing that you, along with many others, have made a contribution toward the achievement of a fuller measure of social justice and human dignity for hundreds of thousands of wage earners. I very much enjoyed your poem and if there is any criticism about the grammar, I suggest that you tell your friends that the thing that counts is the spirit, and that you have in abundance. Again thank you for your good wishes and I send you mine.
EVANS: See, he is the kind of a guy that would answer a letter. So, I really hang on to that. Well, that's about it, I guess.
MEYER: That was in 1963 when you did that?
EVANS: Yeah. Of course, he was living when I wrote that
poem. Back in those days, before this SUB, you know, sub pay, they
out talking about what they called the GAW, which was a guarantee
wage. Now it is pert near something of the same thing. So that's what I
know about it.