Hugh Albert Harris
University of Michigan-Flint
Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
Albert ("Bert") Harris,
INTERVIEWER: Neil Leighton
DATE: Aug. 22, 1979
HH: The Federal local, in 1934, I may be a year off.
NL: Now, what was that? 18-3 or 5...?
HH: I don't remember
the number of the Federal local. We had
two charters in that period of time. One
of times the secretary, at least the money, in our treasury, which wasn't much,
disappeared, along with the treasurer. And then the next time we put on a ... charter, we had a rally up in
NL: Oh, now. Let me start at the beginning. Maybe we'll get some things... You were
talking about when you worked for Ford up here in the
HH: All the wood, all the Ford Model T's at that time was wood frames. Wood.
NL: Now, you left
Ford, and then you went to
HH: Went to
NL: What year? Do you remember what year that was?
HH: I was nineteen years old, and I'm 74 now.
NL: OK, we'll figure that out. Seventy-four, by 1905 and nineteen would have been '24, 1924.
HH: Yep. I was married in... I went to
NL: When you left the Wood Department, what year was that?
HH: That would be two years after.
NL: Two years. About '26, '27.
HH: About '26.
NL: Was there any union organizing attempts in those days?
HH: No. No.
NL: None at all.
HH: There was IWW, now, back when I was younger, much younger, but that wasn't in the automobile plants.
NL: Where was that?
HH: I was on...
NL: Was that up here?
HH: No, that was in the West. Better turn that off for this thing.
NL: Sure [turns off recording].
HH: My father wrote the first contract. He wrote the sixth contract, I think it was, for the Soo Line. They fired the first five groups. The sixth one they had the keys. They called it the "keys opened." They had a strike. That's when they received their contract.
NL: These were the station agents that struck, you mean?
HH: On the Soo Line Railroad. That's when I was... Of course, that's before my time. So I come up and the parents that was very socialistic minded.
NL: Yeah, I was going to ask you. A lot of autoworkers came from parents who'd either, some who'd been in the IWW, particularly Finns and Swedes from up here, or they'd been in, like the miners' union, you know. Was your father...?
HH: My father was in
the Army, where he got this unit in the Army, when Rockefeller, Morgan, and so
forth, owned the country, owned the Army, and he had worked himself up the
ranks to major, and they gave him an order to fire the trenches, where they was
on strike, fire the trenches with oil. And they refused the oil, and, of course, they broke him. He refused and they... He got broke three
times for refusing such orders, and of course that came down the line to
me. That's the way it came down. Not through work, through Soo Line work. He was a dedicated in the
company. However, the union was there
also. I said he negotiated the first contract
with them at the time. Now that was a
brush-off. There's no question. But whether I'd had that or not, conditions I
was forced to work under after I was hired, back into Fisher Body, it was
utterly unbearable. I went from Fisher from
the woodworking plant to Chevrolet at 39 cents an hour, and bonus, there wasn't
any bonus, and I brought to work at night, on the second shifts, my wife would
from that time until I got out of bed, she had to sit on the edge of the bed
and rub my arms. That was every night. I was hammering on the camshaft toe, what
they called it today, and I even had trouble with my shaver, of course. I was large, strong. There was no recourse. There was no relief. You would have no job. The plant was opened up in the press room,
opened up in Fisher Body, it was a new unit. I went over to Fisher Body and they had a man from
NL: Move over here.
HH: Anyway, is that thing hittin' this? You want that over there, too?
NL: OK. So you were in Fisher?
HH: Then I didn't
transfer. I quit Chevrolet. I hired into Chevrolet as "Bert
Harris," under the name of "Bert Harris." My name is really Hugh Harris, Hugh Albert
Harris. I worked for Fisher Body then in
the press room from that time, I would say, I put in one year at
Chevrolet. Went back
to Fisher's. There was a man
from, again from Ford's, in the employment office that I knew. Well, my record at Ford, by the way, was so
excellent that I was on speaking terms with the, well, management. I left there, however, the reason that I
actually left there, I was operated on and they couldn't stand that I was on
factory service, the easiest job they had, and they couldn't stand the
look. So I had to leave. I was forced to leave. See, I was just married. I moved to
NL: Now this was the press room at...
HH: The old press room at Fisher Body. And I was adept at it, and in a very short time I was operating a toggle press. A toggle press presses out the outside of your car, the body, the body in pieces without the engine. You can see on the outside of a car and inside also. And I liked the job. Had a crew of men. We was on piecework, and I, my crew and I, always made good money, and good money wasn't out there. Now they had...well, it went along for awhile, and things got tough, and throughout the plant they put on what they called... You have to be there when the line went down or what have you. Well, my press would go down, the line would go down, and you would have to stay there with no pay. They would have to stay. There would be no pay. However, I wasn't included in that situation. I wouldn't have accepted it, anyway, but I wasn't included in it, because if the line went down on account of my press, I would have to work over. I didn't allow them, I wouldn't allow them. If they wouldn't have paid my crew, then I wouldn't work. So we got along under those conditions for as long as that situation lasted. But it went from bad to worse.
NL: Was this as the Depression set in?
HH: Well, the Depression didn't hurt me at all. Again, I suppose because I was able to do the particular job I had, the Depression didn't bother at all. Now, after the Depression, that was...well, it was going on, let's say, we carried 122 was carried with union dues, through the Federal unions, on through '34 on into '36.
NL: '34 was the big organizing drive of the AFL, right? '33-'34.
HH: That was the start, yes, but that was the start. That's when they had the Federal unions. That was the Federal union. When that stopped, that couldn't go any place, because of the breakups, the way the shops were made.
NL: Wasn't that when the AFL boss wouldn't support the workers on that one? Maybe I got it mixed up.
HH: I don't know. See, I wasn't in the top of that at all. I was only a member with my nose to the grindstone, and I was working every hour of the day practically. I had many days that I worked the clock around. Conditions were terrible, but I was able to make enough money during the Depression to get by on. However, we recognized, all of us, how terrible it was in the pressroom. It happened that all of the operators stayed together and had worked together in there for many years. There was only five of us.
NL: Oh, I see. So this group stayed together for a long time.
HH: Yes, When they put on
this extra shift, our helpers would be the operators on the extra shift. I mean we worked together like a basketball
team for many, many years, see. But the
fact is up until they had automation, the shops, this again without sounding
great, the shops was at the mercy of the tire presses. But we never had any trouble in tire
presses. So, I mean, I put that in so
you would know where we stood. We stood
on the basis that if we cause trouble, everyone else is out of work. Our money's... we were paid more. And our conditions was a little better than the other people's. I'm including the rest of the operators. That didn't set well with any of us. Whenever there was a plant disruption, even though we had nothing to do
with it, we were in the forefront more than anyone else was, because the wrongs
that we could see were just so much worse at the other end. Well, anyway, to carry a long story----you
could go on and on and on----prior to the strike, prior to the start of the
strike. So that what we're saying now
has never come out. It's never been
out. It's like the reason the strike was
called. We was negotiating in the... , had been, we'd trying to be recognized by the
company. Wait. I got ahead of my story. I had got fired, and I'd gone to
NL: Oh, you got fired.
HH: Oh, yes. I had been fired in 1934, or... See, the Depression was 1929. 1932. I got fired in 1932 and stayed blackballed, by the way. I got a job in Briggs in
NL: Did they fire you because of organizing?
HH: Yes. This is what they had on my quit slip. "Excellent, excellent." Everything was "excellent." "Excellent." That was down "the best." And then the words across, in longhand, "still talking."
NL: Meaning "union."
HH: Yes. Organizing. They never disputed it. There was no dispute of it. So Al Cook and myself----I suppose you've heard of Al Cook. He was the president of the union at the time.
NL: Ah, OK. This was in the Federal union.
HH: Anyway, here is what happened then. It was a tossup between who was going back to work. The Wagner Board forced them to take me back to work. When it was all said and done, it was seniority. When it was all said and done, it was a tossup between the lesser of two evils, between myself and Al Cook, and I went back to work. Again, we weren't organized yet at that time to cause any great hullabaloo. Later on, we got Al Cook back to work, but it was seniority. I was the lesser of the two evils, they figured, because he was the president of the local union. This we think----of course we think, we have no proof of that, but, of course, it must be so. But I tried. When I was ordered back to work----now here's how bad it was----this is where we can get a little to the public. They put me working----Mrs. Harris would try to get me to quit----they knew that I was allergic to oil. They had to give me my same wages that I received operating the toggle press. They had a man in the job in the toggle press, even though it was costing millions and millions and millions of dollars to break them in, because when I went out they had to break in a lot of them, because the rest of them quit. They had me working oil, washing bolts, nuts, and so on and so forth, and I had sores clear to my elbows, well, past my elbows. I 'd come home, and it was terrible. But my wife would want me to quit. I wouldn't quit. Then the superintendent and the higher-ups would come and stand and make remarks in front of me, when I was so... Talk about how I liked my new job and on and on, sarcastic, in front of----understand that here's the people all out here that I've worked for me and with me---in front of them. Well, you can understand how that, as for myself, these men whether they would like a man or whether they didn't. It was beyond anybody of using, of anybody that kind of treatment. All I'll give you is firsthand what happened to me. All they would say is "smile," and I would say, "Well, I hope I'm here when you're gone." I'll get along. I never did quit. I had running sores on my arms for months, and I was still kept in the oil.
NL: Somebody mentioned somewhere that there were a number of people who had that problem, and they kept them in the conditions.
HH: Well, I could have gone elsewhere, but because I was the only one in Fisher Body. Now that likely could have happened in Chevrolet. It could likely, because they were conditioned for that. Or Buick. But our particular job would be the only one with that type of oil.
NL: I think one of the commissions at the time, you know, that came, like the LaFollette Commission, one of those reported that, that the conditions were so bad.
HH: See, when I went
to Briggs, my slip at Briggs was "excellent" in everything, but they
put on my quit slip that they fired me. Of course, they found out in
NL: You moved back up
HH: Oh, I was in
NL: You just drove
HH: Yes, I stayed with a relation of mine down there.
NL: Ah, I see. Le me ask this one quickie: Where did you live in
HH: When I first came
Elsie: We lived on Atherton Board, and I cooked in the boarding house.
HH: For her board and room, and I paid for mine. She cooked for the boarding house, made the pies, the whole business, and I had to pay my board. She had a little baby.
Elsie: We had sixteen boarders.
HH: She had sixteen boarders, and I had to pay for my board. We was happy.
NL: Did you stay there, or did you buy a house later on?
HH: No, we stayed there, and I was a very poor manager for so many years. Didn't have an ounce of brains in our heads. We didn't own anything until all at once we had better do something.
NL: And that was after the strike?
HH: It was after the strike, considerable after the strike.
NL: The reason I ask
the question, I'm trying to figure out when people first come to
HH: She had to
work. We had to work when we first came
NL: Was there a committee of people at Fisher who called in the Communist Party?
HH: Yes. We started out with the same basis of 122 people that had carried over with the Federal union. I think there was twelve of us at Fisher Body.
NL: Was Ed Geiger in Fisher, or was he at Buick?
HH: Ed Geiger was one, too. Now, we got in Bob Travis, which was exceptional, exceptional organizer. They went all out.
NL: Did you remember when Mortimer came to town, Wyndham Mortimer? He came before Bob Travis.
HH: Yes. Yes, he did, but, you see, even then, I couldn't stomach Mortimer as an associate, even then, because of his views, well, on rebellion. However, Travis wasn't that far along. George Addes was very good, because he was open. He said, "I'd rather be red than yellow any time." And that was his theory, and he was, he didn't use... But Mortimer was more, I guess I would have to say he was more of the sneak than the rest of the boys.
NL: Did the workers in Fisher take the initiative to call in the Communist Party, or was that...? I'm just curious how they got in. That's all.
HH: Let's leave it "we did." We did. Because we couldn't do it, we didn't know what we were doing. They came in with... No, we didn't call them. They came in, and we accepted them, and then we asked for the help. They came in as curiosity seekers, so to speak, and immediately we asked for help, and we got it wholeheartedly. More than we asked for.
NL: We're on groups
at that time, like in the beginning, just before the strike. Where was the Socialist Party in all of
this? They had been around in
operate. They didn't operate at Fisher
Body. In those years, before the
strike----I can't talk about the other plants----just at Fisher is all I can
talk about. After that I can talk about
the other plants. We at Fisher Body,
actually the whole thing simmered down, positive in my mind, to the activities
of places at metal, that I was in. And
we didn't have any Communist Party members in either the pressed metal, the
largest part of the shop. The body shop
had several. Had
several. That's where Bud was,
see. The paint shop didn't have. That's where, you know, the other fellow that
was on the committee as a substitute, Harold Hubbard. Harold Hubbard. He was the only other one that didn't belong
to the Communist Party besides myself who was on the
strike committee, and he was a sub. The
rest of 'em all belonged. And how did we find this out? Course I'm getting ahead of it, I suppose,
but it was clear enough when you hear me talk this way. We raided----I said "we"----we
stole the membership cards out of the head Communist Party headquarters and
photographed 'em, so we had the names and addresses
of every Communist Party member in
NL: This was before the strike or after?
HH: This was during, because things was happening during that strike when they would have a bloodbath, when they would open it up so that we was going to get our people killed, be heroes, dead heroes. Something had to be done. We had to know where the hell, what we was doing.
NL: Did the Party
have a headquarters in
HH: The headquarters
itself was in
NL: What I'm trying to do is to get everything, you know, up to the strike kind of in line. Were there any other parties or groups? Somebody mentioned the Proletarian Party. These names don't mean much to me, but...
HH: Let's say we had
two groups. We had the management, which
I've been very open with since this time, talked to some of those boys. Their jobs was just
to follow me, period. That was their
job. Then the others was to follow other people, you see. But
that strictly the only job they had. In
fact, there's one of 'em that's where I am in
NL: Do you remember the name of it? Was that the Railway Agents? It was a police group.
HH: No, I took care of that. That or get me going or that thing. I took care of that the night of the strike, that group. The night I called the strike I took care of that group. I can't remember. There was no consequence. We had a large number of people, farmers, that didn't want to strike. They didn't want the conditions they were under. They just wanted to go home and leave things alone.
NL: You say
farmers. Were they from here in
HH: Originally they
came in from
NL: Sixty percent at the time of the strike, then, the first night of the strike.
HH: Organized all but
the metal press. Metal was organized one
hundred percent. I think there was two in the pressed metal out of the 800 that didn't
belong. Several of the foremen even
belonged. What happened, the talk of
strike was there for, and they hadn't made up their mind that they were going
to move the dies to
NL: A lot of things had happened, hadn't there, in the couple of months before the strike? There were two brothers that were fired, and they had to reinstate them? Do you remember that?
HH: That was a put-up job.
NL: Their names began with an "S" [sic, Perkins]. Not Simpson.
HH: I don't know who you mean.
NL: They were fired, and they had to send the police out to find them to bring them back to work? You say that was a put-up job? You know, again, the history books don't tell us.
HH: Actually I shouldn't have said that.
HH: On New Year's Day, on New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, there was twenty-four people is all that was in the Sit-Down Strike at Fisher Body. That's all the people that was in there. The company sent in their girls, that was all diseased. I found that to believe afterwards. I had to get them out. I was the only officer that was in there, the only one that was in. The Communist Party had moved out, because the strike was too broke, the committee officers to be there, do you understand? And we didn't have it. We didn't have it. So that was ... and slum quarters then, because I immediately, by New Year's Night, I had four hundred of the pressed-metal boys in there then. I maintained them in there between that paint, possibly from then on.
NL: So you got the women out. Was that it, you're saying?
HH: Yes. They was whores that they sent in there.
NL: OK, that we know. A lot of people have mentioned that.
HH: Thank God we didn't get messed up with 'em. Then there way too many we could watch if we was careful.
NL: So but there was only 24---
HH: That was all.
NL: ---in the entire plant on New Year's Day. And the plant had gone down, what? A day before?
HH: Two or three days before.
NL: Where had everybody gone?
NL: They had just gone home?
NL: OK. I've heard this from somebody else.
HH: You had to hear it from one of the few that was in there, because the rest was all too damned ashamed to talk about it.
NL: That's right. And then you had to get them, you just mentioned....
HH: Well, we got back through pressed metal and paint. Paint recognized 'em same as pressed metal did, because, you see, again, we're into something the world doesn't know. The strike committee was represented by five men. Four of them belonged to the Communist Party and me. And the only way that I could keep from being eliminated was to have the people know what was going on. So we had a whole ceiling for the strike committee room, and the painters, they go there twenty-four hours a day, listening to what was going on, so that anything that was going on that was going to be detrimental, it was taken care of before it started. See, the night that the fights broke out, you got some men at the [inaudible] the fight broke out at Chevrolet...
HH: Yes. We we're having a----we knew nothing about this----we were having a strike committee meeting, and I was on the pan of being a stool pigeon, before the board, before the strike committee. Now Harold Hubbard was nowhere to be found. He wasn't in there. There was only five of us. There were six, because one of the substitutes was in. That's the strike committee.
NL: You're talking about the five. That was Bud Simons...
HH: Bud Simons, Moore, and...
NL: Jay Green?
HH: Jay Green, and there was another one.
NL: Was Bennett on it?
HH: Bennett, yeah.
NL: And yourself.
HH: Yeah. But Harold Hubbard. They were all in. Now that Harold Hubbard wasn't nowhere to be found. I found out afterwards that they sent him on an errand. While the painters upstairs listened to this...
[END OF SIDE 1]
HH: That actually had me in a state of mind that I was, while I was in there, I would have never stayed, but I was going to resign.
NL: From the strike committee.
HH: The state of mind, that I was going to resign from the strike committee, not for fear of being pronounced a stool pigeon, but for fear of knowing what they were trying to do to break the strike and, on the same base for the chaos that would be caused, or have the battle there, like they would have at Chevrolet (I find this out afterwards, it was caused). But Bob Travis came into the window, when the listening was going on with me, and we come in in a big bluster, and he said, "You know what's happened?" "No." "So the big fight's on at the Chevrolet." Well, Bud tried to tell 'em what was taking place with me, and he wouldn't listen. He said, "It's a whole new ballgame. We have to change our strategy entirely. Get ready for war." OK, and they needed me. Bang! But the boys upstairs had already sent out that when we broke that meeting up, there was more pressed metal and paint people in the shop than had ever been, that had ever been strike, sit-inners, in the shop. They had come in because the word carried that I was being branded a stool pigeon for taking a difference, et cetera, et cetera. It made it very handy, the way it operated, unconscious. Here we got, going to be attacked, and we have the shop full of men, ready to do anything. The men, the Party didn't know why these men were there. They think that they heard about the Chevrolet, but none of 'em had. And they came in on that basis. They thought that they were patriotic coming in, but that wasn't why. That wasn't the reason at all. They had made up their minds by this time that something had to be done with the leadership that had gone too far. There were too many lies going around. I refused to lie for any reason, any reason. And I don't know. But after the meeting, after every meeting, I called the boys together and laid it out, just exactly what happened.
NL: Do you think Bob Travis was in on this, or was he...?
HH: Well, he wasn't. You see, Bob Travis, there was a mix-up----thank God, now, thank God for the labor movement----it was a mix-up within their own ranks. They didn't know this fight was going to take place, you see, at Chevrolet. And he came in to get us ready, get us what he was all ready for, to get us all ready for war. Well, that's where I would step in good on that, because my position so hard had been kept down so long I'd do anything as far as getting even with the company was concerned.
NL: You don't think that Bob was in on any of the branding you as a stool pigeon, any of that?
HH: He had to be. See, the way they work, there was many of my friends that joined the Communist Party to work from within. I couldn't stomach it, so there was a number of us that stayed on the outside, apparently working with the Communist Party, to learn their operations, so, of course, so we could fight fire with fire. We had learned fast that the only way you could outdistance them if you used their owned tactics. That's the only way we could do it, the only way we could maintain a union and maintain a decent job to work in, because if we didn't, the shop was down all the time. They had it down on strike for one reason or other all the time. Chaos is the word of the day.
NL: Wildcat strikes.
HH: Yes. We didn't have any in the pressed metal, and we didn't have any in paint, but all the rest was pathetic. I set there----I had to leave the bargaining committee. I was the only one on the bargaining committee with the new manager. They had their orders to get along. They had strict orders to get along with us. And they were----regardless of how we had been treated, fairness is fair. And they had... They were bending over backwards as fast, everything as they possibly could, to satisfy them. But word got through Bud, who was chairman of the strike committee, started up that he give twenty-four hours to comply with our wishes. Then it cut down to twenty, and now to twelve, then it got down to as low as four hours. On big decisions you'd give four hours and the plant would be shut down.
NL: This was after the strike.
HH: This is after the strike's over. And I can't go with this, see. We can't go with 'em. We can't go with them. There was no way. So when we had the election, we run Heinie Wilson. It was impossible to get Bud Simons off. Good God, he was on the forefront on everything, even though they knew what he was, but he was an idol. But, even with that, we put the weakest man we had to run against him, which was Heinie Wilson, and he beat him readily. We had a complete change of officers, a complete change of officers. So then, this sounds...this is the way it is, so I give a damn what it sounds like. Then they couldn't keep control of the unions. This didn't only happen in Fisher 1. This happened throughout the country, more or less. So then the fight went on then, immediately, against the International. I had no----I was branded as being as one of Martin's men and so on and so forth. I was only a union man, and Homer Martin was what we had. He was sincere, as far as I was concerned. He couldn't come into our local union without being invited. But, to cut a long story short, the fight had to continue, so they started to fight amongst themselves, between the AFL and the CIO. That continued on, and----this sounds funny coming from me----the fact remains, though, that the company suffered. They would have to suffer, because of the fight between the guys in the CIO and the AFL. Well, then they had their change. Reuther joined the Communist Party, as a number of them had, and they got out of the Communist Party. They took one route; I took another. They took the route to destroy from within, and I took the route of learning all to destroy from without. So consequently we couldn't even work together. You could understand that. However, when it was all said and done, Reuther got hit----well, they got shot for doing it; they all got killed for doing it, where there was a few of us lived, see. But through this thing I don't suppose I got six inches off my body that isn't cut for a bullet hole or something. There isn't too many of us, but that's what happened with so many of those fellows that joined the Party and got out. For some reason or another, they was liquidated. But you take people like Bud and those boys that didn't get out... Maybe they let it slide; maybe they got to talking, so they just carried on. But they never would come back ever, come back in power. But what glooms me----for the public, not for me---it burns me that all the country knows, and all you read is about those people that were involved in the detriment----in the good part, but in the final analysis, of the detriment----to the industry, the final ending. If it hadn't have been, again for a large group of us, we'd have the revolution in 1937. There is no question that the revolution would have been here. It was all set up and the government knows it. The government, hell, they know it, the FBI knows. The revolution was here. But it wasn't the government that stopped it. It was the people that was working in the shops that was level-headed enough to know what was going on. But it got so bad for me then, that's about the end of it for me. It got so bad I went out and I went to millwright work. I got millwright work.
NL: When did you do that, after '37?
HH: Yeah, '39. See, I was organizing after '37. I went out in the field and break up local unions, taking the Communist Party out, rebuilding the union, in the East.
NL: Were you still with the UAW then?
HH: Yes, it was all intact. And, then, when I came back----this is something----we had two unions then. When I came back to my shop, we had two unions. I walked out and I don't get this. I had drawn the more votes than any other person in the shop for an officer.
NL: This was back at Fisher 1?
HH: Yeah. I think it was for vice-president. And then when I come back from the East----I hadn't been there, so I hadn't done any wrong, I hadn't been there----damn if they didn't have two union halls. And I walked down to the CIO union hall, and they dropped a plant down, pretty near hit me in the head and killed me, and mustard and what have you. The origin of that period of time that ever draw, these people that would have undermined such a matter, they couldn't have taken over with the people, so they undermined it and so on, kept at it, kept at it. We, that had been shipped out of the country to build the union, and, while we were gone, a lot of us, while we were gone, they, I think, made a flip-flop. I'm not----I don't want anything understood that I'm not for the worker being in the CIO. That's where they belong. But the handling of it is something else.
NL: When you went out
NL: And Martin was president then up till 1939?
NL: That's when he was pushed out.
NL: Who was the International Board, then, the executive board, when you were...? Were there some people that...?
HH: A fellow by the
name of Madden. I worked for a fellow by the name of Madden. And he was in
NL: Oh, R. J. Reynolds.
Elsie: Carey, wasn't it?
NL: No, the president was Reynolds. Was it Reynolds?
HH: Carey. He was a very good friend. I didn't agree, I couldn't agree. I can't remember his first name. I know his name was Carey. Yeah, it was Carey. And he was on the board.
NL: Mortimer was still on the board, wasn't he?
HH: Well, again, now, you are going over to a guess. Those people were all on the board, but then they switched over to the CIO. When they busted it up, they switched over. The AFL stayed intact. See, that's where I'm talking about Carey.
Elsie: Hugh Carey.
HH: Hugh Carey, yeah, yeah. Then you had two boards. But all of the Communist Party men, of course, all of them, Addes and the whole group, went then with the CIO. Well, then, when... Then it was when the Reuther brothers quit the Communist Party.
NL: This was '38?
HH: And with others, with others. Addes did. Mortimer did. They moved on. I don't know what the hell's happened to Addes. Do you know?
NL: I think George Addes, I think somebody said he's alive and lives in
HH: Edwards, George Edwards?
NL: Yeah, I've heard the name, but I don't know him.
HH: The judge, the big judge, George Edwards.
NL: Oh, sure. He's still in
HH: We had a photostatic copy of his Communist Party membership. I mean, if those things were known... But we didn't dare.
NL: Well, you would have split the union.
HH: Well, yes. There you go. You would have split... Everybody went up... The government itself was staying out, see. We'd have been much worse off. But it did do us good to know who it was, because when we knew a person belonged to the Communist Party, they didn't bother us. It was these guys that we didn't know who they were.
NL: Now, let's get back to the strike itself. Did you get elected to the strike committee? Was that how it got arranged?
HH: Then there's
something else I didn't tell you. I was
elected on what they called the...
NL: That's when they formed 156, wasn't it?
HH: A five-man board. And I was on that board. Dave Dowell and myself, oh, I forget the other fellows' names.
NL: This is when they formed Local 156?
NL: They consolidated all the old Federal locals into one.
HH: Then the International took it over.
NL: Right, for the period of the strike and for the following year.
HH: Really, five of us run the union, run it entirely. At that time we had no Communists. There was no Communists on that board. That's when we had... That's after we took the Communists out.
NL: Oh, I see.
HH: It got so bad that you must have heard that we penned them up. It got so bad----we got so sour, which was wrong, I think now, but there was a hotel. We wouldn't allow them out of the hotel unless they were going to leave town, the Party members.
NL: This was after the strike, now?
HH: Oh, yes.
NL: Long after?
HH: This was the
last... That was just before Bob Travis... That was just before the termination of Bob Travis in
NL: And he left, what? '38, '39?
HH: I was thinking it was in '38.
NL: I see. And so you penned 'em up in a hotel.
HH: We had to. We had to.
NL: Who were the ones you penned up?
HH: I can't remember.
NL: Was Bob one of 'em? Bob Travis?
HH: Through the
graces of Bob's personality, he wasn't one of 'em,
but he got himself out of town. See,
when Bob left town, he had promised me that he would leave town. This is one part of the times almost was very
disgusting to me. He promised me he
would leave town. He wouldn't bother us
anymore. But he didn't say that others
would come in. But they threw a party at
Lakeside, or anyway at a park over there, a farewell party, and there was a
group of us, ten, that we were organizing, so we went over and broke that party
up, put a lot of 'em in the hospital. It was a free-for-all for nothing and what
have you. You know, we had to get out of
the county, get fixed up, but that was it. That was the end of it. What was
HH: That was the windup, that was the windup of the Communist Party in
NL: You mentioned the law, the government, knew what was going on. What was the city administration during the strike? Did they give you a hard time?
HH: Yes. Yes.
NL: Bradshaw was mayor.
HH: They didn't understand. We were Communist Party members, as far as they were concerned, also; anybody that was labor.
NL: Bradshaw was mayor and Barringer was city manager, is that right? Wills was police chief and Wolcott was the sheriff.
HH: Wolcott, I'll never forget him. He came in and read the riot act to us during the strike. There's another one the public doesn't know. If we would have done as per agreed by the government, those people would have been taken to... He would have been killed when he come out of the shop. That wasn't settled. That could happen naturally, but still, we're human beings. But that was because... That would have caused more chaos.
NL: Did the city manager, law enforcement, did it change after the strike?
HH: Gradually, and I
understand now----I've been out of
NL: Yeah, but I mean, you know, you mentioned that last farewell party and so on. They must have...
HH: Well, they had to serve warrants on us, if they could find us.
NL: But they didn't look for you.
HH: Well, they didn't look out of the county.
NL: Oh, I see. Oh, so it was held out of the county.
HH: We got out of the county. Until they got out of town, 'cause there was, I think, only fourteen of us. Well, there were 1400 back in town. But, you see, we just did the dirty work and got out. Somebody had to do it. I knew that it was the last breath for them. See, they was holding an American Relation (?) meeting, but what they were actually doing at Bob Travis's farewell was trying to draw themselves back together again, see. If that would have happened----if they would have been allowed to let that happen----we would have had another era of hell again, see.
NL: You mentioned the "era of hell." Was this maybe because of these wildcat strikes?
HH: Yes, that and the innuendo against the people. In other words, I was a "stool pigeon" and the other guy was this and another guy was that. In other words, there was a constant, they had a constant, well, workings of throwing out against all the leadership that weren't Communists. And it was... Kept the minds of the workers in turmoil all the time. No, the only time they ever bothered the wildcat strikes and the negotiating operation that we knew----the negotiating organization was myself and Harold Hubbard----nobody knew much because nobody was speaking for anybody, and they didn't squawk about it. But I personally couldn't stomach it, see. Harold couldn't stomach it at all. And their strikes were of short duration, so that didn't bother us financially. But it was the being a part in an association, being a part of something of that type that galled so many of us, because that's way, Bud knows, even though they were heroes, why they were kicked out with a very negative vote that they received, even though they were heroes to the people in the shop. They were. They carried a great stick. I mean they did a great service to the people.
NL: But those wildcat strikes just tore that all down.
HH: It tore it all to hell.
NL: Did you know a guy at the same time----oh, you must have known him----Henry Kraus?
HH: Oh, sure.
NL: Did you ever meet him?
HH: Oh, yes.
NL: Did he play much of a----I know that he was editor of the Auto Worker, the Flint Auto Worker.
HH: No. He pressed buttons. He pressed buttons.
NL: You say he "pressed buttons." What do you mean?
HH: He got things
done. In other words, he gave the orders. The organization was set up as of this. The orders came from
NL: This was after the strike?
HH: During. Well, before the strike. Oh, yes. I knew it. I knew the whole thing before... That's why I call the shot. I had to call the strike before they were ready for it, before the Communist Party was ready. Hell, the strike wouldn't have been called for another ten days.
NL: So, OK. Then you called it on the 29th or something, because of the dies being moved.
HH: Because of the dies being moved. All right, the dies were going to be moved, but I gave the men ahead of time. I was friends with the...
NL: With the guy, yeah, I got.
HH: See, that was the union too. And they had been told us, prior to the moving, don't you see? They had to go. The whole build-up, the whole build-up was----none of this is gonna come out----I watched the papers, the little paper that goes to the worker. But it's so muted now. Elsie and I talked so many times. What do these other fellows that know, these personnel and things, where they get this paper. They know, the old fellows, what the hell do they think? We got three of 'em. We got every paper all the time, the Lamplighter. Because it's the same, it's the same, it's the same line today. And the union is not controlled by Communist Party interests. But the ignorance of the people is the same, because we had our bellies full. We just stuck it. Well, there's no chance for it, don't you see? The leadership [inaudible]. And so there was no chance. They had to carry on with what they had. So you had to leave a backup, I suppose, or you could be in trouble.
NL: I wanted to ask
you, if we could kind of go back a little bit. You mentioned something, and I didn't follow up on it, and I should
have. In 1930, you were in
NL: Were you in
Fisher Body when that? That was the one
where there was a big march down
NL: 'Cause I guess the police were much rougher then than they were later on, even in the Sit-Down. A man named Scavarda was chief of police.
HH: Agin, that goes back into the toggle press operators. See, our plant didn't start work for three days. Yeah, everybody went back to work but Fisher Body. There was five of us, and it was very rare that you'll find people thinking about the same way. I don't know as I remember now as we discussed it, the march itself. We just had our bellies full. We just couldn't take it. We weren't being discriminated against. [Inaudible} to call it bad in those days. But it was what we saw around us. We couldn't stand it. It just wasn't in the books.
NL: Do you remember who led that strike?
HH: No, I don't. We were very disciplined. You see, they didn't bother... We didn't even know they were going to strike. We were too well-off. But you see, we in the press room, we were too well off. They would never think that we would want to be involved in something like this. So we were, well, we were the first ones out, now, I don't want to say that. We were out when we knew about it. But we were the last ones in. They couldn't start without us. We were the last ones in, because we still never understood what it was all about. And I never did understand what it was all about, never did.
NL: Did they have some rallies or something south of town?
HH: Oh, yes, [inaudible] rally.
NL: Yeah. One was in
HH: I remember they came over with horses, and they deliberately run the people down.
NL: All I know, most of what I get is from the old newspapers.
HH: Oh, yes. Didn't you get that from one.... No, they are pretty much gone. They' re all. Back in those days. There aren't too many of 'em left.
NL: No. There was a woman named Louise Morrison or something. She got thrown in jail.
HH: Yeah, there was seventeen or eighteen of 'em that got got thrown in Jail.
NL: There were a number of women in that strike.
HH: Well, see, again I suppose, you are a man and you have learned by this time that the most militant people in the world are women. The most militant in the world.
NL: You had women in Fisher at the time of the Sit-Down, too, didn't you, about four hundred?
HH: We kicked 'em out of the shop. We
didn't want them inside, because it was too dangerous, and it was no place for
them. But, after we were organized, when
we had to shut a shop down, as an illustration, Saginaw Gear and Axle, we shut
it down, and they went on strike, and the police moved in. I was in charge of the strike. The police moved in and arrested all
the----knocked 'em in the head and arrested the
pickets. The women moved in and stepped
right in. I shut down Munday Tools down in
NL: You mentioned women. Of course, one of the things that is coming out now, of course, is that women were in the Sit-Down Strike. You must have known Genora Johnson.
HH: Oh, sure, I guess I did. I guess so.
NL: She, what, organized the Women's Emergency Brigade?
HH: She was... Elsie could tell you more about her than I can. She was very active, very, very----Elsie, what recollection do you have of Genora Johnson? She was an organizer of the Women's Sit-Down Strike. Do you remember?
NL: The Red Beret women, the Emergency Brigade.
Elsie: The name is so familiar, but I can't recall anything.
NL: She was in the Auxiliary, and then she organized about four hundred women into a brigade, and they were the women who smashed the windows out of Plant 9, during the Chevy takeover.
HH: Again, it was a shame, but we were more or less isolated. Fisher 1 was more or less isolated from a lot of the things that people will talk about. We do not know.
NL: Well, sure, that's the nature of a sit-down.
HH: We do know about it. I do know her.
Elsie: I know her just as well as [inaudible], but I haven't heard in years and years, but I know she was something.
NL: Dorothy Kraus was in the Auxiliary, and she worked with Hazel Simon, didn't she, in the kitchen?
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE 2]
HH: ... of our strike. Well-fed people was apt to be noted, and I never missed a day, and I struck twenty-four days, and I never missed a day. I read that article. It was rather amusing to me.
Elsie: That was after your time, though.
HH: No, that was the strike. No, this was the strike. This article says so, that she was the boss of the kitchen of the Fisher Body.
Elsie: But you didn't have any boss in the kitchen. You didn't have any kitchen.
NL: Oh, no. I think what they meant was she, of the strike kitchen... Wasn't there one across the street?
HH: Across the street.
Elsie: Yeah, after, though. That was mostly after the strike was over.
NL: Oh, was it?
HH: It had to be, because they didn't have any part of that during the strike. I mean I read that article, I read that article, and when I read it, I said "For God almighty's sake, who wrote this?"
Elsie: We didn't organize any auxiliary until after the strike was over. We didn't have an auxiliary then.
HH: Not as such. We had women working like crazy, but, as such, no. But when I read this article (Fred brought it over), I read it, and he was laughing, see. "What the hell you laughing at?" "Well, look at this." I said, "Well, for God's sake, I wished, hell, I'd known something about it. I'd like to get some of that food!"
Elsie: Afterward, after the big strike was over, then they had a kitchen across the street.
HH: We had bologna on
the table all the time. We had good
NL: I wanted to ask
you something else. During that
organizing drive, from '34 to '36, there were a couple of UAW organizers that
were killed (at least one, maybe two, in
HH: There were nine killed, altogether. Altogether.
NL: Oh, in the whole...? You mean in the '30s?
HH: In the
NL: Somebody mentioned to me that there was a group that was called the Black Legion that did that. Did they ever bother you?
HH: Oh, that was after the strike. They were formulated long after the strike. Long after the strike.
NL: What role did they play in the labor thing?
HH: They didn't play any, at least nothing big. They scared the hell out a lot of people afterwards.
NL: I see. Were they headquartered in
HH: Well, as far as I
know, with any kind of problem that I knew that were in
NL: What about when
you first come to
HH: No, I have never
run into the Klan in
NL: I'll be darned. I would have never expected them that far north.
HH: Yeah, well, I
never... Just the one
time. I run into it. Never heard of 'em before or after. I never run into a Klan in
NL: You mean they came after you.
HH: Oh, yes, with the same theory. Wanted me to join them, of course. Certainly, and so I got into the thing, I got into the right end of the thing on the basis of meeting their leaders, too, not do it, meaning their leaders.
NL: Was that after the strike?
HH: Oh, a long time
after the strike. They give a .32 bullet
to carry at all times. Then they had
their supposition they were gonna make a march on
NL: What were they against or for? The reason I say this there's been nothing written on them.
HH: Well, the reason there hasn't been anything written on it because the fear, I suppose, the people you can talk to that know----I don't know----but those people that talked to that know are fearful there could be some of them left. It's a danger, a terrible... What I get out of it, it was you carried that bullet at all times for a reminder, that if you spoke out of turn, you were dead. And there were dozens----oh, I told you there was seven organizers was killed----there was two you know of. Umpteen people killed. Now whether the Black Legion was involved with that thing I have no way of knowing, and I don't even surmise one way or another. I'd rather think not, but this was an aftermath. This was right along the same thing as the Klan, because they were not only the colored as the... But, see, I know nothing about colored. I negotiated the first contract with General Motors. I was in on the negotiations. However, according to the colored situation, but I was out of the shop when the first contract with the colored went in at Fisher Body. That was the year I left the shop. So I don't know anything about the colored.
NL: Were there any blacks working in Fisher when you were there?
HH: Oh, yes. Oh, they had maybe four or five cleaning up, but they were working out of the offices, but there wasn't any working in the shop.
NL: Do you remember any of their names?
HH: No, no, we didn't know them at all. They were in the offices. They were just in the offices.
NL: Inside Fisher, you mentioned it was kind of groups of people, mentioned fellows from the South. Any other groups kind of stand out? You mentioned Polish. Were there any Poles who played a big role?
HH: No, the closest thing you might say was back in the early '30s. No, there wasn't. We did have a time you had, years prior, before the war, they put women into work, that didn't work out. Didn't work out at all. That's before the union.
NL: The company brought the women in?
HH: Yeah. During the war, I guess. I worked in the press room... Well, there wasn't any, we hadn't the
NL: You didn't have large numbers, just had a few.
HH: The biggest
trouble we had was people coming in from
NL: You were a young
guy then from the
NL: Not too many. Some that had been, let's say copper miners or iron miners?
HH: I don't remember any. I don't remember any. Could have been, but I don't remember any. There was a number at Buick, Chevrolet, but I don't remember any at Fisher.
NL: Any coal miners
HH: Quite a few, and they were real prominent in the strike, too. Very prominent. Harold Hubbard was an outstanding ..., very militant. They were good men, real good men.
NL: Is that because they knew something about a union? They had belonged to one?
HH: It had been drilled into them. Yes, they had the education. See, the only trouble, even today, is education. That's the only trouble with the union today. Today, if Reuther would have, instead of going out to share the wealth situation, he'd taken the same, put in the same energy for education for the workers, the unions wouldn't be in the shape they're in today. I find myself, now periodically----for God's sake, I'm horrified----condemning the union for stupid things they do. It's terrible. It's strictly education, strictly education.
NL: Did you ever
attend any of the classes that they held over in the
HH: Which classes?
NL: Well, didn't Roy Reuther teach some things on parliamentary procedure, and...
HH: Oh, yes. In fact, I helped him.
NL: Oh, did you?
HH: Oh, sure.
NL: When did he first
HH: I met him at the door when he come, all of 'em, George Edwards and the whole shebang. We had to have something, and they were our boys. There is no question that we had to have 'em. They knew how.
NL: Was Walter around
much before the strike in
HH: No, Walter was behind the lines. His brothers were taking orders from him.
NL: SWo Victor and Roy were the ones that were the most prominent.
NL: What did Victor Reuther do? Did he come into Fisher 1 at all?
HH: He was in education. He was in education.
Elsie: Which ones are living?
Elsie: Just Victor?
HH: He looks like an old, old, old, old, old man. I can't understand how he looked so white, unless his picture doesn't do him justice, but the picture I've seen him in he looks terrible.
NL: Well, I think that he lost an eye. He got shot in the eye. He's the only one left. Walter was killed in a jet crash in Pellston, and Roy Reuther died apparently a long time ago.
Elsie: They were smart boys, I'll tell you.
HH: I've said that Walter would turn over in his grave if he knew that I was for him. He beat me by half of a vote.
NL: Oh, really? For what?
HH: Wage and Hours
Committee. That was for the
NL: This was in '38 or '39?
HH: It must have been. Actually it was after the strike.
NL: Did things change
Elsie: No, I stayed home. We had a grocery store.
Elsie: No, we had a
grocery store over on Whitney and Barney. Do you know where
NL: Did you notice things changing? I mean obviously your wages got a little better, for a while, anyway.
Elsie: Well, the wages got better, but we went broke.
HH: Well, we had a grocery store, see, and we put everything out during the strike.
Elsie: Everything was out on credit.
HH: Didn't we feed seventeen families, honey?
Elsie: I don't remember.
HH: I think it was seventeen families that we fed.
Elsie: One woman came over to the grocery store while they had the Sit-Down Strike, and she said, "Well, Mrs. Harris, you're all right." She said, "Your husband's sittin' in the shop and drawing wages, and my husband's out of work."And I said, "Mrs. Hodd, the only difference between you and me is I'm feeding thirty families and you're feeding one." And that's what it was. My shelves were all going empty, and I couldn't replace it, 'cause we didn't have any money, anyway, and nobody was paying their bills.
NL: How did you keep in contact? I mean he was sitting in the plant.
HH: Oh, she came down every day.
Elsie: I went down with the kids to the plant every day.
HH: She come down there at night. The kids come down all dressed up. It was a lark for them, you see.
NL: How old were the kids then?
Elsie: Four, and seven, and twelve.
NL: So the twelve-year-old, at least, now, he probably remembers.
Elsie: Oh, yeah. No, she's dead. She was killed.
HH: But the oldest boy remembers very vividly. My family, as strange as it may seem after you hearing me talk, as sour as I must sound, which I really am not, but when I get going over it, it must sound a little sour... My boys are quite wealthy. And they are strictly union people. Strictly. Again, they get very disgusted, so they [inaudible] us education. But they have no more to think of going regardless. They no more think of doing anything to harm the labor union.
Elsie: Well, I'll
tell you something, honey. You know he
always jobs, he was away from home. I
don't know if that was on purpose or what, but he was always away from home,
see. So I kept after him and after him
to get a job, so he'd stay home. And I
said, "Why don't you apply to Arthur for a job selling real estate?" No, he didn't think he'd want to do it. At that time, he was out in construction all
over the country, you see, all over
NL: What was Parker's? I don't know that.
Elsie: That's the
biggest real estate company in
NL: Parker bought him out?
Elsie: He did.
NL: Oh, you did.
Elsie: Yeah, he bought Acme Realty out. Then he came home one day, and he was going to pay $1500 for an old, broken-down desk and a lease on an old, broken down building across from Fisher Body, and I put my foot down. And I said, "The name of Acme. What does it mean? It doesn't mean a thing." I hated the name, you know. I said, "It has no appeal at all." Gee, he was so mad at me. So, anyhow, he went down, and I said, "You can get your own name and buy a good desk and a good typewriter for $1500 and start your own outfit." So that's how he started Statewide. He called me up later, and he said, "What do you think of the name Statewide or All-State?" And I said that I liked the name "Statewide." So that's how we got the name Statewide Real Estate.
NL: It's a good thing. "All-State" would have got you in trouble. Isn't that Sears?
Elsie: I think so, but the funny part of the whole darn thing is he went statewide, and he still wasn't home. He was gone all the time.
NL: So this was after the war, then?
Elsie: This was after he quit Fisher Body.
HH: It would have been during the war, because I remember gas was being rationed when I got my license. I worked two years for Parker, and then I went on my own.
Elsie: See, he was on Homer Martin's side. He wasn't doing very good...
HH: I worked two years for Parker and then I went on my own. Now I guess we have 150 offices.
NL: I've seen the
signs everywhere. Well, Statewide's in
HH: See, I started in
Elsie: Well, Morrie's in Gaines.
HH: Yeah, but he does something. Whenever the horses get bad, he makes three or four million dollars.
Elsie: Now we were going to build a two-hundred-thousand-dollar building, corporation building, in Escanaba. We all got our picture taken.