Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
DATE: April 11, 1980
INTERVIEWEE: Elsie (Mrs. Hans) Larson
INTERVIEWER: Kenneth B. West
WEST: Well, Mrs. Larson, when did you meet your husband?
LARSON: In about 1926 in Saginaw.
WEST: In Saginaw. Was he working then in the shops?
LARSON: He was working in Malleable Iron there, uh-huh.
WEST: Had he been born in this area?
LARSON: In Grayling, Michigan.
WEST: And what year would that have been?
WEST: Had he started then in the shops at Saginaw?
LARSON: At a very young age.
WEST: I wonder about what the age was when the boys started...
LARSON: Oh, they started to work right about eighteen or so. I’ll tell you what. He was in the army at fourteen, in the U.S. Army, World War I. He enlisted in the army and lied his age, so that, you know, he could go in a little earlier. Well, he was fourteen. He was a big boy, so he went in there, and then he came out, after the war, and then he went to work for the Malleable Iron.
WEST: He didn’t finish high school.
LARSON: Oh, no, no. They lived up north, there, and you just went...
WEST: So you knew him when he was working in the Malleable Iron. That was not a General Motors.
LARSON: Yes, that’s General Motors, uh-huh. That’s a foundry. That’s a foundry in Saginaw.
WEST: It must have been hot, heavy work. Did he talk to you about his work then?
LARSON: Not very much. I just knew that most of the boys that went to work went to work at the foundry there.
WEST: Yes. Were you born then around Saginaw?
LARSON: No, I was born in Wisconsin. Sheboygan, Wisconsin. But I’ve lived here the rest of my life. I moved here as a child, you know.
WEST: Were you working in Saginaw?
LARSON: Yeah, I worked at a dry goods, department store.
WEST: So did you get married then soon after?
LARSON: Well, I didn’t marry him until 1930.
WEST: And he was working then in Flint.
LARSON: Then Flint, yeah. Well, they always had layoffs and shutdowns and things like that, so then he came to Flint, and then I married him in 1930, because his folks lived there and my folks lived there, see. So that’s how we got together.
WEST: And then you came to Flint.
LARSON: I came to Flint, uh-huh.
WEST: Was he working then in Fisher Body number 2 in 1930?
LARSON: At Fisher, uh-huh.
WEST: Do you know if he was involved at all----there was a strike at Fisher 1 in the summer of 1930---now would that have been before or after he came to Flint?
LARSON: Well, he probably was here, but he worked at Fisher 2 and not at Fisher 1.
WEST: I just wondered if you knew anything about his possible involvement in that strike.
LARSON: No, I don’t.
WEST: You were married, then, in 1930. Did he talk much then, afterwards, about his work and how conditions on the job were for him then?
LARSON: Well, yeah, because he had to walk... We had an apartment on Lewis Street, and he had to walk every morning to work, to Fisher 2, here on Chevrolet Avenue. And then they would say, well, the boss would pick certain people to come into work, and he got to walk home if he wasn’t chosen to work, see.
WEST: Did that happen quite often?
LARSON: Oh, that was every year during the, what they had a shutdown, you know, model change. Well, that would be in the fall, see. And then you always wondered whether he’d get back to work before Thanksgiving. You were thankful if he got in and got a pay, see. So...
WEST: So he was laid off, then, sometimes.
LARSON: Every year they had a layoff, see. And then they had to wait ‘til they had to be called. Well, they didn’t call ‘em by car or by telephone. You had to go down there every morning to be hired in again, see.
WEST: Did he just stand in line, then?
LARSON: Stand around, mill around, ‘til he said, “No more. Don’t need anymore.” Then he came back home, and every morning he walkin’, and, see, that was in...
WEST: That’s a long ways. You didn’t have a car.
LARSON: Well, sure. No, we didn’t have a car ‘til ’36.
WEST: I see. Now what job was he doing at Fisher?
LARSON: He was what they called a polisher, with a polish wheel.
WEST: That was a semi-skilled job, anyway, wasn’t it?
LARSON: Yeah, yeah, a hard job.
WEST: It was a hard job. Did he come home tired, then?
LARSON: Why, certainly, uh-huh. And I’d have to walk, too, you know, ‘cause money was scarce, even the ten cents for the streetcar wasn’t very good.
WEST: That’s right, that’s right. Did he talk about the conditions on the job, then, when he was working?
LARSON: Yeah, well, he didn’t like it, because they didn’t have certain privileges, you know, like time out to go have a smoke or anything like that. You had to stay with the work, you know.
WEST: It was pretty fast.
LARSON: Pretty fast running line, and, yeah, and very, well, the polish.
WEST: I wondered about that. He would have used a compound, probably, to polish. Were there fumes then?
LARSON: Yes. And he died...
WEST: Did he use it by hand, then, or was it a machine that polished it?
LARSON: There was a wheel, a polishing wheel. That’s what they used.
WEST: You think he died of that?
LARSON: Well, emphysema, so you see all this in the air, and that, you see, would have hurt his lungs.
WEST: There was no adequate ventilation then.
LARSON: No, that’s right. The working conditions weren’t too good at all. So that’s the reason they wanted to get better working conditions, maybe not so much the money per hour, you know, but the working conditions.
WEST: How was he paid, then? Was he paid straight hourly, or was paid by the piece? Do you know?
LARSON: I think they had to give so many out. Piecework, that’s what it was.
WEST: Something like a bonus system, perhaps, with a flat rate and then so much if you made your production out. Did he complain sometimes that he didn’t get the bonus that he expected?
LARSON: No, I never heard him say that. He was just thankful to be workin’.
WEST: Right, right. Of course he came down here in ’30, and the Depression had just started the year before. Was he laid off for exceptionally long periods, then, during the ‘30s, more than usual?
LARSON: Yeah, he was always... Like I say, they hired in who they wanted to, and you were lucky if you got in, see.
WEST: Was your husband lucky or unlucky getting in? You know, did he have trouble more than most getting...?
LARSON: No, not really. He was a good worker. And when they picked their favorites, why, then the next one, he probably got in line with the next one, see.
WEST: Did he talk about his relationship with his foreman at all, the boss on his job?
LARSON: Yeah. He liked his foreman, because we were friends, his foreman, and we were friends. We couldn’t do much on the outside, because the foreman couldn’t have any----what would you say?----closeness with his people that worked for him, because that would have been against his foreman, see. So, though, I’ve said, well, “We can be friends, but not so everybody knows we are,” see. It had to be kind of on the quiet.
WEST: But your husband did get along well with his foreman on the job. Because the reason I bring that up is that some of the men we’ve talked to said that their relationship was not very good, that the foreman was pretty tyrannical, and...
LARSON: He seemed to fight with the more higher-up, after he got on the----what do they call it?----committee that, Grievance Committee and that, you know. Well, then, he went up and argued with the bigger shots, you know. Yeah, that’s what he did. And, oh, his boss was all right, but if the boys come to him for grievances then he’d go up to the higher ones, you know.
WEST: Did he get involved in the...There was a strike, I understand, again, I think at Fisher 1, so maybe your husband didn’t get involved in it, in about 1934. There was a walkout.
LARSON: I don’t know. They had some kind of a union. I remember him saying. They had a meeting place, before the union was really known. They had a meeting place where a certain amount of men would get together and talk about their problems in the shop, see.
WEST: Do you know where he met?
LARSON: No, I don’t. It was in somebody’s home.
WEST: In somebody’s home. When was this?
LARSON: Oh, that was before the union ever was started.
WEST: They would get together to talk about the possibility of a union.
LARSON: Talk about it, and how to get together, and what they could do, see.
WEST: Did your husband ever join the AFL unions that came in earlier, before the CIO?
LARSON: That’s probably what it was, then. Probably that was it. I don’t remember about that.
WEST: Did he talk to you about what was said at these union meetings?
LARSON: No, no, uh-uh.
WEST: I know some of the men we’ve talked to apparently didn’t share an awful lot with their wives.
LARSON: No, we just...Yeah, home life was my home life, and he had his... Whatever he was doing outside didn’t bother me, interfere.
WEST: Do you know when he may have joined the CIO, then, before the ’36 strike?
LARSON: Wasn’t that AFL-CIO?
WEST: It was AFL, but then, the way I understand it, some of the men thought the AFL wasn’t doing much for them, so they dropped out and then later, when the CIO was forming in 1935, many of them joined the CIO. Wyndham Mortimer and Bob Travis were two of the people in Flint in the summer of ’36 who were organizing.
LARSON: Yeah, he was in with them.
WEST: Did you know either of them?
LARSON: Well, I saw them, but I didn’t know them. But my husband did.
WEST: Your husband knew those men pretty well.
LARSON: Yeah, he had dealings with them.
WEST: According to Kraus’s book, apparently your husband was pretty close with a man named Bruce Manley.
WEST: Did you know Bruce Manley?
LARSON: Just knew him.
WEST: Just knew him, but you weren’t social friends, then.
LARSON: No, no, uh-uh. Anything that it was done with ‘em, my husband did outside.
WEST: Did he talk to you, then, about the possibility there would be a strike (before the strike)? Did he talk to you about how that they would have strike?
LARSON: No, only that when I went downstate----no, I didn’t know they were going to sit in or anything. I didn’t know about that.
WEST: When did you find out that they did shut down? Do you remember that?
LARSON: No, I don’t remember how I found out that they was sitting in, because everyone was talkin’ about it. Oh, probably was on the radio that the Fisher 2 men were sitting in, see. And then when they were sitting in, then we went down, and that was before the National Guards came in. You could take food to them, see. And then they’d have their supper, see. Well, this one night, when I went down, they said, “Take the kid and go home,” he said, because, he says, “We’re gonna have problems here tonight.” So then I was at home, and, later----it was quite late at night----when some (I knew what was goin’ on ‘cause the radio was tellin’ me what was goin’ on) , and two men came to my front door. We were living over on Ossington and Fenton Road. And they came and they said, “Hans has been shot.” “Shot in the leg,” they said, and I thought they said “in the head.” And I said, well, “Where is he?” And they said, why, “They’re taking him to Hurley,” see.
WEST: Were these union men?
LARSON: These union men. I don’t know who they were at all. I couldn’t even picture them. But I knew they said that. And so then I jumped in the car and I went to Hurley. Well, he was up there in the emergency room, and he was shot in the leg, see, and so they were dressing that. And then I thought he could come on home with me, see, but, as we went into the elevator, the policemen, they said they wouldn’t even let me ride in the elevator. I was going down. They said, “No, you can’t go,” see. So then I had to step off the elevator.
WEST: You couldn’t go with your husband down the elevator.
LARSON: And down that elevator, just with the detectives. Well, then, they took him on to jail, see. They took him on to jail.
WEST: How long was he in the hospital, then?
LARSON: Well, just to get the wound....
WEST: The dressing on, to take care of. And then they took him to jail.
LARSON: Right away they took him to jail, see.
WEST: Could you visit him in jail, then?
LARSON: No, I couldn’t get to see him there, either. I think I went right down there, and Wolcott was sheriff, you know, and I went to him and he said, “No.” He says I couldn’t go in. Well I said, well, “I want to take him some cigarettes and some clean underwear.” You know, clothes. And he says, “You come back,” and, he said, “another time and be alone.” I said, “I’m alone now.” You know. But then, after a day or two, he told me I could go and take these things. So that’s what happened.
WEST: Did your husband talk about the shooting, how it happened?
WEST: He was involved in the fight. I wonder if he knew who shot him, or...
LARSON: No, it was probably the police. They’re the only ones that had guns. The fellows had things out of the shop.
WEST: Was it a pistol shot or a rifle?
LARSON: I don’t know. They didn’t remove that bullet, you know, from his leg. They didn’t remove that. No, I don’t know how long that was afterwards that it bothered him and we went to Dr. Ware on Fenton Road, and he took it out for him, you know, right in the office there, and then I put hot packs on it, and it...
WEST: How did your husband get to the hospital, then? Did some union people...?
LARSON: Yes, they took him in a car, I guess. I do know that.
WEST: How long was he in jail, then, before he...?
LARSON: I don’t know. I can’t remember that. It wasn’t long. It was just days, you know.
WEST: Did he have to have an attorney, then, to get him released?
LARSON: No, the union.... Somebody must have done that through the union. Who was the head of it then? I’ve forgotten.
WEST: Well, it would have been the Reuther boys. They may have been active. Walter not so much, but Roy and Victor were both there.
LARSON: Yes. Victor. He wasn’t the only one taking them to jail. There was others.
WEST: Right. Travis, of course, was the head of the union, too. So he wasn’t in for very long, then.
LARSON: No. They didn’t keep him long.
WEST: Did they bring any charges against him later on?
LARSON: No, not that I know of.
WEST: He didn’t have to go to court.
WEST: When he got out of jail, did he come home and stay at home for the rest of the strike, or did he go back in again at all? There may not have been much time, because that would have taken place about the first...
LARSON: Well, he went back in, because he was in when they came out. He went back in and stayed there. That was before they... Well, you could go back and forth. There was a time where you could go back and forth, but I meant we ladies, you know, could go back and forth. Well, then, until they had the National Guard there, then you couldn’t go beyond Glenwood, you know, Glenwood and Chevrolet, down there. We could go as far as the bank, but you couldn’t go further, see. So you had no contact with ‘em while they were in there. And that’s why I----
WEST: But they did get food, still.
LARSON: Yes. Well, I guess a little restaurant was providin’ them.
WEST: But you had no way of getting them food.
LARSON: No, no, uh-huh.
WEST: Could you get messages to him, then?
LARSON: No, not every day. But when the accident happened in Saginaw, and I went up there, well, then, I came back and went to Wolcott, and he sent someone in.
WEST: Now you say that was February the 6th. And the battle took place on the 1st, so there must have been just a few days between the 1st and the 6th when your husband was in the hospital.
LARSON: Well, I’d say maybe at the funeral, probably. He came for the funeral. He didn’t go when I went, you know.
WEST: Can you describe that again for the tape, that incident? Your parents-in-law, his parents? Oh, your parents.
LARSON: My parents.
WEST: I see. They were killed in an auto accident and you went to...
LARSON: That was my stepdad, see. My mother was injured badly, you know. She was in the hospital.
WEST: And you went to Sheriff Wolcott to...
LARSON: To get him released. He sent some men in to get him out and gave him a paper so he could come out.
WEST: Could he have gotten out otherwise?
LARSON: I don’t know, ‘cause I didn’t know any other way or who to contact to get him out, see.
WEST: You had a couple of contacts, then, with Sheriff Wolcott. How did he react to you? Was he polite?
LARSON: Yes. Well, I quit doin’ what I couldn’t do, you know. He didn’t seem to be aggravated, you know, by anything.
WEST: Because he was hostile, as some officials were, to the strikers, and I wonder if he betrayed that to you, you know, by acting...
LARSON: No, he treated me very nicely.
WEST: Did your husband...He was in, off and on, before and after the battle. Did he come home very often before that, before the battle, during January?
LARSON: No. He stayed right there.
WEST: He stayed right there.
LARSON: He stayed right there. Some of the fellows went home for a night or two or so, and then they’d come back in, see. No, he just stayed right in there. He was kind of keepin’ order and keepin’ things goin’, you know.
WEST: I was going to ask what his job was in the plant at the time.
LARSON: Well, the fellows...He was a good leader, you know, and they all would get their information from him and then they’d get their heads together and do as he thought they should do, you know.
WEST: So you took him some food and change of clothing and that sort of thing.
LARSON: Yeah, at the jail. They let me take that.
WEST: Well, I mean before, when he was sitting in. Presumably if he didn’t come home, he would change of clothing...
LARSON: Yeah. And the food, we didn’t have to really. The man in the restaurant...
WEST: Supplied the food. Were they able to take showers?
LARSON: Yeah, they, it said somewhere they had those hoses or something there, you know. He said they used a firehoses, or I don’t know what they had, but they had something there. Even did that washing machine.
WEST: Right. Did you husband talk to you about the events of that day, the day of the battle? Did he ever talk to you afterwards about that, because you went to visit him in the day, and he told you to go home.
LARSON: There were going to be problems.
WEST: There were going to be problems. That’s interesting. What time was that of the day?
LARSON: Well, that would be after the supper hour, like between four to seven, somewhere in there.
WEST: Did you notice anything that was amiss when you visited him that indicated there were going to be problems?
LARSON: No, no. He was quite quiet and calm.
WEST: But he did say that there were going to be ...
LARSON: He said, yes. Well, they must have gotten word, someone must have gotten word to them that the police were gonna come and throw ‘em out or something.
WEST: I see. Had the heat been turned off then, because my understanding is that just before the police came, the company management tried to shut off the heat, and they tried to close off the food from getting in. But you were able to bring food that day.
LARSON: Before the problem, yeah.
WEST: Before the problem. They didn’t stop you, then, and there’s no one around then. But he told you that there was going to be big trouble that night. Then you did come home.
LARSON: Yes, I went home.
WEST: Do you remember how long it was afterwards that you heard that there was in fact trouble?
LARSON: Oh, it probably was around eight. I probably was there between four and five, and then I came home.
WEST: So it was just a matter of a few hours.
WEST: About two-three hours before you heard it on the... Did you turn on the radio then and listen to...
LARSON: Yes, and then I said that they were fighting, and the police were shooting, and cars were being turned over and different things like that, so I knew there was a great problem.
WEST: You didn’t go down there to try to see what was going on.
WEST: Did your husband ever talk about his part, his role in that fight, because Kraus describes, I think, your husband and Bruce Manley as leading some men down from the second floor to tell the watchmen, the guards, to open the gates, because apparently they had been interfering with the delivery of food and that.
LARSON: Yeah, well, he was an instigator, and he was a leader, like I say.
WEST: He was a leader, but he didn’t talk to you particularly about that later on. Did he know Roscoe Rich at all (another name that...)?
WEST: You didn’t know them as a family.
LARSON: No, no.
WEST: Did he not have----what I’m getting at is did you socialize with some families of the men that your husband knew?
LARSON: Not very many, only Cy Davis and his wife.
WEST: Cy Davis. Was he a striker, a sit-downer?
LARSON: Well, he didn’t stay in. He was one of these men that went home occasionally, you know, more like that. I don’t think he was there the night of the big battle.
WEST: Is he still alive?
LARSON: No, he died five years ago, maybe.
WEST: Are there any that are alive today?
LARSON: I don’t know. They’re all pretty well gone. When I just thought to think about ‘em, they’re all gone.
WEST: Oh, yes. Well, if they were as old as your husband, he couldn’t have been that old at the time, they’d be eighty, you know, so, you know. Well, you were living then, you said, on Ossington, off Fenton. Was that a farm area then?
LARSON: No, that’s near the cotton factory there. At the end of Ossington was a ...
WEST: Was that Standard Cotton?
LARSON: Standard Cotton.
WEST: Can you tell me just where Standard Cotton Products was located then?
LARSON: It was right there at the end of our street, at the end of Ossington and I forgot this other name. It’s a dead-end street, you know, with the street in front of it.
WEST: Is that building still in existence?
LARSON: I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been around there either.
WEST: Did you know anybody that worked at Standard Cotton Products?
LARSON: My husband did, and he organized that place, too.
WEST: He did. That was before the strike. They went down, too. They shut down. Were there any incidents around Standard Cotton Products?
LARSON: Not at that time, uh-huh.
WEST: Because they were sitting in. It was a fairly small plant.
LARSON: Yeah, and there wasn’t much commotion around there at all, you know.
WEST: The reason I ask is that one of the things we’re trying to do is to find people from Standard Cotton Products that are alive.
LARSON: I think they were younger than my husband, and if they are still alive, they would remember more about him.
WEST: Oh, yes. But you don’t remember any of the names?
LARSON: No, I never had any dealings with that at all.
WEST: I see. Well, you were living then at home, and you had children. Were they going to school then?
LARSON: Yes, uh-huh. Cody. She was going to Cody School.
WEST: Cody School. What was the attitude of the neighbors around you toward the strike?
LARSON: Well, very good, because the other people that lived around me, their husbands worked at the Chevrolet engine plant, you know. See, Hans was in the body shop, and they were in this, what do you call it? In the hole there at the Chevrolet plant.
WEST: So around you most of the people were...
LARSON: Yeah, we were all together, and we ladies, when we would get together and play cards or visit in the afternoons, you know, after the work was done, because our husbands are away, so we would kind of get...
WEST: Were many of the men sitting in with your husband, or in Chevrolet or Fisher?
LARSON: Not directly in Hans’s shop. These men worked, like I say, in the motor plant there.
WEST: I see. Chevrolet 4. That shut down, too.
LARSON: Yeah, that was right afterwards, within a day or two.
WEST: The women were pretty active outside, breaking the windows outside Chevrolet 9.
LARSON: Were they? I don’t know.
WEST: That was apparently later.
LARSON: Well, I wasn’t active in anything like that. That was not my... I had my own little house. That was where I stayed.
WEST: Right. You didn’t encounter any expressions, then, of hostility?
LARSON: No. Towards me? Oh, no.
WEST: Did the company ever try to get in touch with you?
LARSON: No, no.
WEST: You didn’t have any encounters with the Flint Alliance, a group of back-to-work people?
WEST: No petitions circulated around denouncing the men?
WEST: Well, that’s interesting, because apparently there was that sort of atmosphere.
LARSON: Yeah, but they were, like I say, they were women that were more aggressive, and they were out and seein’ what was goin’ on, and I just stayed put, and whatever was goin’ on, my husband did, you know. That was his business. Even in his union work, he would come home, and he’d say little things to me, but I didn’t interfere or wasn’t too... It was his job, and he don’t have to bring his work home to me. What I meant is, so, I wanted him to relax when he was home. He had enough mentally. Mentally tired, see.
WEST: He left his problems there, his work there, and not at home.
LARSON: But I always took messages here for him, you know. Anyone that would call, you know, and people that would have problems call.
WEST: Your daughter, then, was going to school. Did she encounter any...?
LARSON: No, no, because that’s all a working class of people lived in that area.
WEST: The teachers too didn’t express any...
LARSON: No, no.
WEST: Were you going to church at the time?
LARSON: I wasn’t a member. I went to church, but I didn’t...
WEST: The minister didn’t say anything about the strike or events taking place?
WEST: And did any of the women from the Women’s Auxiliary or the Emergency Brigade contact you about joining?
WEST: You said you did go...
LARSON: Yeah, I went there, ‘cause I don’t know who asked me, but someone asked me would I fill these---I don’t know what they were doin’, but I think I filled some envelopes or something. And I did something. But I wanted to stay home. My child was goin’ to school, and I wanted to be there when my child came home, see. And I wasn’t really interested in a lot of that. I wasn’t interested.
WEST: Apparently one of the women that was very active was Genora Johnson. Her husband was Kermit Johnson. I think he worked, well, I guess he was more Chevy 4.
LARSON: Oh, well, that’s a different Johnson, then. I’m thinking of Leora Johnson, and, you know, he just died two years ago. Isn’t that funny? I can see him, but I can’t tell you his name.
WEST: At any rate, were you working? You weren’t working then.
LARSON: No, I wasn’t working anywhere.
WEST: You didn’t have an income, then, did you, when your husband was on strike?
LARSON: No, he was the sole support.
WEST: Did you have some troubles, then, with groceries?
LARSON: Gettin’ by. Well, when he did work, I save a little, and then we would----‘cause we had to buy our own coal and pay our rent, and I never went back on the rent----but it was because I put it away, and I always planned for this layoff, which would be anywhere from four to six weeks or even longer, you know. The layoffs----that was the hard part. And then I bought things in the summer, when he was working, for the fall, when he’d get the layoffs. I had cases of peas and things, and I’d can.
WEST: Right. So that stood you in good stead.
LARSON: It never put us behind, but we didn’t have a car. We didn’t have insurances, you know, health insurance, life insurance, or anything like that. We just lived and paid our rent.
WEST: And you managed to do all that pretty well. Did you get food from the grocers on credit?
LARSON: No, but most of the people did.
WEST: People did. And the grocers were pretty good about extending credit?
LARSON: Yeah, yeah.
WEST: They were perhaps used to that, too, during the layoffs.
LARSON: Layoffs all the time.
WEST: In the earlier ‘30s, during the Depression, when your husband was laid off, did he ever work for WPA or any of the projects in town?
WEST: What did he do, then, when he was laid off for those periods? Did he have odd jobs or other work that he might...?
LARSON: Well, he used to go north, and then he would help the farmer up there, you know, and they’d give you eggs, and they’d give you----they didn’t give you money, but they gave you produce, you know.
WEST: I see, so he’d work on farms.
LARSON: Yeah, and that helped out.
WEST: One accusation that was made, but perhaps you didn’t run into it personally, was that the guys who shut the plants down were a bunch of Communists, you know, radicals and that sort of thing. Did you hear any of that sort of talk?
LARSON: No, I didn’t hear that.
WEST: Did your husband ever talk about, you know...
LARSON: Being Communistic?
WEST: Yeah, radicalism in the union.
LARSON: No, uh-huh. He just said, “Fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage.” That’s what he felt, see.
WEST: I was going to ask you that generally. Now we’ve looked at certain specific things, wat it was that prompted your husband to join the union.
LARSON: Well, I think working conditions, I think, were... When they had to go in the cold and walk and stand outside instead, they finally did get ‘em to send the card to them when their job would be ready for them, you know, after. First you had to stand out all the time. Well, then, after a few years, why, then they sent you a card, “Report to work” on such-and-such a date. Well, you didn’t have to get up every morning at four o’clock or five o’clock and walk down there to see if you could get in to work. You were really beggin’ for a job. If they wanted you, or needed you,
[END OF SIDE ONE]
LARSON: ...yes, the speed of the line, and you had to get so many out, and... They worked ‘em too hard for the money that they were paying ‘em at the time.
WEST: Now did your husband notice differences after the
Did you notice anything in your situation, things being changed for the
better after the strike?
LARSON: Oh, yes. Yes, it was better. Like I say, they sent cards after that, too, to tell you when to come to work, so you didn’t have to freeze out there in the early morning hours.
WEST: Did his pay increase at all then?
LARSON: No, I imagine it did, though, you know. Instead of small amounts, I imagine that... I think it was that hurrying of the line, and you had to get out so many, and if there was something that was spoiled, you know, that was taken off, too, you know. Like if the job was spoiled, that was taken off, put against them. I never been in a shop, so I don’t know much about the shops.
WEST: Well, you just know what your husband might tell you, and our experience has been that a lot of the husbands didn’t tell their wives a lot. You know, they tended to leave it at work.
LARSON: Well, they forget, too. They probably mentioned different things, but after the years, you’re just...
WEST: Your husband, then, after the strike was over, became a steward for a while, or a committeeman?
LARSON: He was president of the local.
WEST: He was president before that.
LARSON: Yes, like you say, committeeman. Yes.
WEST: Did he talk about that much, that he was doing as a committeeman, then?
LARSON: No, but if a fellow had a problem, he wasn’t afraid to go tell Hans, and Hans would go up to the big shot and tell him.
WEST: Did he say what the problems might have been, you know, particular things like that?
WEST: Did your husband work pretty steady after that, or was he involved in any wildcat strikes or shutdowns?
LARSON: No, he worked pretty good after that.
WEST: Did you still have the same problem with layoffs, then, long layoffs after model changes?
LARSON: I don’t think it was, because, let’s see...
WEST: Right. Now did he get involved in the split in the union that took place between the AFL and the CIO, because that tore the city and the autoworkers apart? Two factions. Apparently Homer Martin was the head of the union at the time, and then later there was a split, and there was opposition to Martin’s leadership of the union, and later on, I guess, it took the form of an AFL/CIO split. Do you remember what side your husband was involved on? Was he favorable to Martin or opposed?
LARSON: Who was the other one?
WEST: The CIO group was one. They tended to be opposed more and more to Homer Martin, who was the leader of what became the AFL group, and I guess ultimately, in 1940, they had an election in the shops. National Labor Relations Board came in and they had an election, and the CIO did win out.
LARSON: Well, was it Homer Martin and Reuther?
LARSON: Well, my husband went with Reuther.
WEST: He was with the Reuther group.
LARSON: Yes, uh-huh.
WEST: Did you ever meet Reuther, then?
LARSON: Yes, I met them, but not in that way, no.
WEST: Did your husband ever have any of the men in his house, you know?
LARSON: No, none of the upper ones, no.
WEST: Well, let’s see. Can you think of other things that we haven’t mentioned?
LARSON: Only it turned out good after the fight.
WEST: On the whole, then, you think it was worthwhile.
LARSON: Oh, yes. I don’t know where we would have been.
WEST: The bullet in the leg and everything?
LARSON: Yeah, well, we had that taken out, and you had little problems. But then that was okay . I mean it got better. And then when working conditions got better then we could get on our feet. You know what I mean? We weren’t behind, so wherever we did, we could go ahead, ‘cause we didn’t have a dead horse to pay for, you see. We were here and I could save for ahead. That’s how we accomplished...
WEST: So it was worth it. Oh, one other thing: When your husband was shot and was in the hospital, were there other men with him in the same ward that were shot, because I gather there were a number of them that were?
LARSON: Well, he was alone in this room that I went to, could go to see him at the emergency room. I went to see him, and he was on the table, and they were dressing his wound. Okay. There was another person that was shot in the stomach, I think, but I think he died. Did he?
WEST: I’m not sure whether he did or not. That was apparently a man named Delong, who was a bus striker.
LARSON: Oh, yeah.
WEST: Which reminds me of another thing. The busses were on strike during that time apparently. And if you didn’t have a car and had been using the busses, you’d have had to walk during that period. I just wondered if you...
LARSON: Well, we had a car when the strike was on. We had a car.
WEST: Now, did your husband after the strike go elsewhere to help organize, go out of town much, because some of the men apparently did, that we talked to? They’d go down to Pontiac, and some even went down to Detroit to help organize Ford, and they went to Dearborn. They went to South Bend. They went to Owosso.
LARSON: Well, he went to Owosso and Clarkston and Fenton and Holly and those places. All those small plants that he serviced after they were organized and that he sat in on their contracts, you see. Like he was there.
WEST: He was something of a negotiator, then.
LARSON: Yes, uh-huh. And he got men interested... Like you say you’d go to somebody’s home. I remember him saying, “I’ve got to go here to talk to this man.” And then he would set this man up and tell this man, and then they would get their little group together.
WEST: Right. But was that during the Second World War, then? Was that after he became the International representative?
LARSON: Yes, yes.
WEST: But I’m thinking of right after the strike, say, in the summer of 1937.
LARSON: No, I don’t think. No. He was home mostly.
WEST: And then Francis O’Rourke, who had been president, was killed, I guess.
LARSON: Yeah, in a car accident.
WEST: In ’37 or was in ’38?
LARSON: Well, I don’t know.
WEST: Your husband became president of the local following Francis O’Rourke.
LARSON: Him. Yes, uh-huh.
WEST: Did that involve a lot of work for your husband, then, being president of that local?
LARSON: Oh, I don’t know. He was a man that could come and go as pleased, you know. He didn’t have to report to me that “I’m going here, and I’ll be back so-and-so.” He didn’t. He would come and go as he wanted to, see.
WEST: I see. Do you remember when Local 598 was organized, because apparently at the time of the strike, there was one big local in Flint? It was local 156. It included all of the plants.
WEST: And then later there were particular plants. 599 was Buick, I think, and...
LARSON: I remember that number, 156, and then they had to get a charter for their...
WEST: For their local.
WEST: For their particular local, and I guess 598 would be the Fisher Body local that your husband...
LARSON: Yesah. Yeah, Fisher 2. We called it Fisher 2 Body. Well, that’s now a truck plant or something, I guess they call it. That’s on Van Slyke. Yes, I remember that. And then when they had so many members, I think it is, that they could get their own charter, right?
WEST: I think so, yeah. That was about 1938 or thereabouts.
LARSON: Yes. He was involved with that. In getting that, uh-huh.
WEST: Well, that’s very interesting. You can’t think of anything else, then. Can you think of any names of people that we could talk to?
LARSON: Well, it seems to me like Leora, and let me think of
name. We had a cottage up north together. I mean not
but next door.
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