University of Michigan-Flint
Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
DATE: July 11, 1980
INTERVIEWER: William Meyer
INTERVIEWEE: Victor Markanovich, at his home in Burton, Michigan
MEYER: Have you read a lot about the strike since, read books about it?
MARKANOVICH: Articles that's been in the papers, you know, Free Press , Journal, once in a while they have articles about the strike, the things that went on. Then of course this book I was interested in what they had to say about Reuther and how his brothers got started into this union.
MEYER: Maybe we should begin by your telling me a little bit about when you started working for General Motors and the beginnings of the union as you recall it.
MARKANOVICH: Well, I started working for General Motors. I started at Buick May 12th, when I was about 18, and latter part of 1934. My first job was working in the ... as the fabricating plant. They used to make front fenders and small parts for the automobiles. And the first job I had was at the...called it a "wash machine" when I first hired in. Jobs were hard to get at the time. I took the job as a washing machine. Later on, I didn't question it. I hired in at Buick, what type of work a "washing machine" was. Come to find out it was when they made the front fenders on the draw press and they run 'em through the rest of the operations, where they trimmed 'em and formed 'em and flanged 'em, they had a bunch of compound on 'em, and they had to be washed off. And they came over a overhead conveyor. And then we put 'em through this steamer booth. I was gonna be in front of the washin' machine, loadin' 'em as they went in, they'd be washed off, and the man on the other side would pull 'em off the conveyor and put 'em over overhead conveyor after they were clean. And I worked there for about six months and they had a layoff. The reason for the layoff, I think, in my own mind was that at about that time we started the AFL in 1934. And the conditions in the shop was quite rough in there. We were gettin' 45 cents an hour and bonus. And end of the week, at Friday, our efficiency bonus had dropped way down. They start goin' around campaigning that the union (AFL) would come in and help us and working conditions and try to get us more money for the work we were doing. I heard that they, GM, some way had got a hold of a list of employees that had joined the AFL. Oh, I was one of 'em that joined the AFL. And it was about six months later----now I have no proof of it----the only thing we had was we had received word from different people that were officials in the AFL and that we were sold out. So it seemed at the time that all of us boys that belonged to the AFL was the ones that got laid off. So, from then, after I got laid off, I went to Fisher 1 and I hired in at Fisher 1 March 18th, 1935. When I got hired in, I was asked no questions whether I belonged to the union or not. If they'd asked me if I had worked in the factory before or worked for General Motors before, and I said yes, I worked .... In the press room. So they hired me in workin' in the final assembly. They hired a lot of people at that time, '35. A big program started to sell quite a few cars. There wasn't too many satisfaction in the shop. You were given three or four days to do a job and to handle it in the efficient way. If you couldn't learn the job in three days, you were automatically out. And there was a lot of people that did get laid off or relieved of their jobs. And some of us boys had been able to do the job in three days and so we remained on the job. Well, job on the assembly line was puttin' instrument panels in. And it was a rough job. The instrument panels would fit properly; so we's always having trouble. The boss was on our back all the time at the time, and I imagine they were on his back, too. Now this is shop talk we're talking. But I was fortunate. I tried to do my job. I kept quiet, because at the time, I was single. There were four of us brothers, and my mother had passed away years ago, and there was just my dad, so the five of us bached it together. There was just my dad and I working at the time, so I made sure that I had a job.
MEYER: Where did your father work?
MARKANOVICH: He worked at Chevrolet. At Plant 4. Worked on the multiple drilling motor heads for your sparkplugs and screw holes, you know, mounted to your head to the block. Well, anyway, the supervisor told me I got a pretty nice job, so he asked me if I'd like to be a tack spitter. A tack spitter is you put tacks in your mouth with a hammer and you spit tacks, puttin' cloth, your trim, inside the car. For a couple of days, then, the tacks in my mouth, they were ... sore. But I kep' at it and told the foreman, I says, "I appreciate the job I have, but I wanted to get out of there, because my mouth is sore," and so forth.
MEYER: Was that supposed to be a better job, for final assembly?
MARKANOVICH: Yes. It paid a little more. It paid a nickel more. But it was rough on your mouth, spittin' these tacks out. And the working conditions was rough, you know. If you didn't do your job, why, they could hire any type of people and put 'em on the jobs. But I had talked to the foreman, and this foreman I had was a sensible supervisor, and he said that they were going to have layoffs to hold on, to stay on the job I had. After the layoff, they was gonna move some of these people around, and some of the employees that they thought were good workers they would keep on the job. And at that time seniority didn't mean anything. Whether you was a good worker and that too depend on if the supervisor liked you or didn't like you or had maybe a personality clash and you was still a good worker, why, you went out. But I was fortunate and so I got a job as a paint trucker in the Paint Department, truckin' paint, instead of getting laid off.
MEYER: Instead of getting laid off.
MARKANOVICH: Yes. But then I lost a nickel, just because I was a paint trucker, just truckin' paint around. Well, then I wanted a better job. I saw some of the people spraying paint, spray painters, and they were getting' paid a dollar an hour at that time. So at lunch time----I was eatin' a lunch in about fifteen minutes, and in the half-hour lunch break we used to have, I'd take the remaining fifteen minutes, and I asked the supervisor and some of the men did the sprayin' up there if I could go up there and play around a little bit sprayin' and show me how to do it. And that's the way I learned. I finally got a spray job. And that's actually when things start. We's talkin' about getting' a union, because things was really rough then. Seniority didn't mean anything. You could talk to your foreman about different things, working conditions you had in the shop. As a painter, you started seven o'clock in the morning, and you had coveralls and you had a cheesecloth. You didn't have any ordinary mask. It was just a cheesecloth that you put underneath your nose from inhalin' all that fumes from the paint. And it was hot, because the ovens were there. The air conditioning was not very good in there. So the people, the employees in the shop, you got to complain about different things. And that was before the union came in. We on the line----there was about twenty of us people on the line----used to be what they called the ground Duco and then the finishing Duco----it was all painters. And then they used to be, before we painted 'em, they used to have what they called the sanders, they used to put a coat of glaze on. They were water sanders. Well, they all belonged to this what they call the Paint Department. All five. You had polishers and spray painters and your glazers. We all got together and talked it over about seein' if we could get a nickel raise and improve our working conditions. So we talked to the plant superintendent, plus the department superintendent, and we had a spokesman for us, one of the men that was on the line, that was a good spokesman. He was a leader, too, over us boys. He had a meeting with them.
MEYER: You don't remember who that was.
MARKANOVICH: No, golly, I don't remember his name now. Wait a minute. Yes, I do. Jerry Aldrich [sic, Aldred]. Yes. I think you probably heard of him.
MEYER: That name rings a bell, yes.
MARKANOVICH: Jerry used to be a spray painter. Aldrich.
MEYER: Was there a guy by the name of Cole, also? Does that name ring a bell?
MARKANOVICH: Cole, yes. But there was two areas that we were quite strong in tryin' to organize, which was the Paint Department and then what you call the Fabricating, the Press Department unit. Bud Simons. And they were trying to organize that area, and we were trying to organize in the Paint Department.
MEYER: So when you came to Fisher, there was no union.
MEYER: And these were the two departments that you recall first beginning to organize. But when do you think that was? You said you started in spring of '35.
MARKANOVICH: I would say in about '36 or '37, somewheres in there.
MEYER: Maybe early '36?
MARKANOVICH: Yes. We was tryin' to start organize, and, well, explain about this meeting. So we went out the meeting. Course we didn't let the spokesman go by himself, because we was afraid that he'd get fired. And so we went along. We told our spokesman, Jerry Aldrich, that we he did have a meeting with the plant superintendent and the department superintendent that we would go along with him, so if they had attempt to fire him, they didn't have to fire a bunch of us, which we knew we might be facing that. And so we went into....we had a meeting with the superintendent. He said yes. The department, plus the plant superintendent. And we told 'em what we wanted, that we wanted the conditions straightened up, helped out, and wanted a raise. And especially as spray painters, we wore coveralls and these masks----we didn't have mask protection----plus at quittin' time, when the whistle blow at three thirty, you work eight hours. You start at seven in the morning and you work 'til three-thirty. Well, we were covered with paint dust. We were not allowed any extra time to go down and take a shower and get ourselve cleaned out before we went home. End results, some men would take a shower in a half-hour, some would take 'em an hour. So actually we were in the shop nine hours, in the shop. So we asked for that too. In the meeting, the department superintendent, the plant superintendent said to us they would talk to the plant manager----at that time the plant manager was Patterson----so about two days later, at quittin' time, three-thirty, we had a meeting with the plant manager, Patterson. We went up on the second floor. And they had a big conference room there. We all went up in there. And he asked us what our problem was. And our spokesman spoke up and he says, "Well, you should understand what our problem is," he says, "I had talked to your plant superintendent. I talked to the department superintendent. They must have explained the whole thing to you and set up the meeting." Come on, kitty! Patterson was not very friendly, listening to us. We told him the working conditions. We explained what we was askin' for. And the health conditions weren't very well in there. We talked about the wash-up period. And we wanted a nickel raise. And he wasn't very friendly. He didn't try to understand our opinion about it. He didn't try to negotiate in any way. Matter of fact, he sat there, kind of defiant, not very friendly. And, far as any manners, he didn't have any manners, 'cause he embarrassed a bunch of us, well the whole group. He reached down and scratched his nuts and looked at us, and he got up out of the chair and he walked over to the window and that window faced Saginaw Street. And right down below the conference room was the employment office, where they were hiring people. So he called us all over. He says "I want you all to come over here to this window and take a look out here." And so we all got up and walked over to the windows. And we looked out. And here was...and as good be had it, here was a line of people about a block long, tryin' to get hired in. And he says, "You see the amount of people in there that are tryin' to get a job?" He says, well, "I can take any one of those men out there and make a painter out of him, or a polisher out of him, or a sander." Our spokesman tried to say something, but Patterson wouldn't even listen to him. Told us to go back and set down again in the conference room. So we all sat down. And he sat down himself. When he sat down, he spoke to all of us in the group and he says, "After the scene that you have saw out there, all these people there that want to be hired, that I can hire any one of those people to do the job that you're doin', and they want jobs, I think you people better go back to work. And, if you don't, you will be all fired." And they all went back to work. Well, that's when your union started come in, and Reuther, Homer Martin, all the bunch. And we had secret meetings across the Fisher 1. Bud Simons and Gerald Aldrich, all the group of us boys went to these secret meetings. We were trying to organize then, because if they found out we belonged to the union, we'd all get fired.
MEYER: Where were these secret meetings held?
MARKANOVICH: They were across the...I forgot the name of the restaurant now.
MEYER: Ray Cook's restaurant, was this?
MARKANOVICH: I think it was, yes.
MEYER: There was a restaurant run by a guy by the name of Ray Cook, and it was used to feed the strikers.
MARKANOVICH: Yes, we had secret meetings down the basement to organize. And so some of us were organizers, and we would try to reach employees at that time at their home, or they were invited to these secret meetings to join the union.
MEYER: Now, you were organizing at this time as the UAW, or was this still the AFL period, or what?
MARKANOVICH: The AFL period and UAW all in together, 'cause there was a Homer Martin faction in there, Reuther faction, and Bob Traverse [Travis] faction in there. We had two factions. There was the Homer Martin and Traverse and Reuther bunch in there. Well, what happened in the shop was that when they was organizing, people would join the union. We had two factions. So it got to be like what's called a goon squad, used to go around trying to organize these people. Well, the Paint Department, that I worked in at the time, we belonged to the Homer Martin bunch. And another bunch that was out in the pressroom, Bud Simons and the rest of those boys, they belonged more to the Bob Traverse and Reuther group. And they used to send what they used to call goon squadrons goin' through the whole plant. And they found that the boys that belonged to the Homer Martin bunch, they threatened 'em or they beat 'em up to join the Reuther faction.
MEYER: This was all before the strike?
MARKANOVICH: All before the strike. And finally we organized. And we got together after this feud we had and finally got settled and they ousted Homer Martin group and it was under Bob Traverse and Reuther boys together. And then we had Frankensteen in it too.
MEYER: About when would you say you got over some of those disputes?
MARKANOVICH: Oh, I'd say about six months later. That would be into the latter part of '36.
MEYER: Summer or fall '36?
MEYER: Do you remember Wyndham Mortimer?
MARKANOVICH: Yes. He was there too. But, like I say, I don't remember all, you know. I don't try to memorize what was goin' on. I was one of the organizers, but I wasn't in with the group, you know, to negotiate like Bud Simons was, Jerry Aldrich, and some of the other boys, but I can't think of their names now. But they were more active and they were the biggest organizers in there. And they were the leaders, actually.
MEYER: What did you spend most of your organizing time doing? Trying to get new members, or?
MARKANOVICH: We's trying to get new members, yes, and talk to people about joinin' the union. At that time there wasn't too many people joining the union, you know. They were afraid of losin' their jobs, you know, and so forth.
MEYER: How would you approach a person and try to get him in the union? What would be your...?
MARKANOVICH: Well, we would find out the people that you could trust, you know. Even when you'd have shop talk, you know, we'd go to lunchtime and talk, you know. We'd talk about how do you feel about joining the union, and had his feeling about it. You didn't come right out and ask him about him to join the union. You felt him out, to see if he really was going to be a union member or not, or what was his opinion about the union. Most of the people you talked to wanted to join the union, but they were afraid to join the union 'cause that was the reason of losin' their jobs. So in results, lot of the boys wouldn't join the union for that simple reason of losin' their jobs. But then finally, as we progressed, and more members got into it, then they began to realize that actually we had a union started.
MEYER: Was most of your organizing activity, or your attempt to get members, was most of that in the plant?
MARKANOVICH: In the plant, around work, and we'd go to their houses.
MEYER: You would go sometimes to the houses.
MARKANOVICH: Of course, we would call them up on the telephone or see 'em at the shop and ask them if we could come over and visit them at their house and talk to 'em. We didn't go over to their house and knock on the door and just ask them. We first talked to them about it, how they felt about it and if we could come over and sign 'em up. And most of 'em did ask us to come over.
MEYER: Did people feel more comfortable talking about the union in their homes rather than on the job?
MARKANOVICH: Yes, yes.
MEYER: It was an easier way to get them.
MARKANOVICH: Because there was rumors flyin' around in the shop that they had company spies. The company had hired spies and they was spyin' on people and we were tryin' to organize in the shop. So most of the talking we did was in the cafeteria and we'd watch for certain people that was around, that they weren't spies, and outside the shop. And that's the way we did at their homes.
MEYER: We're kind of getting close to the strike itself, but let me back up just a bit. You said your father worked over in Chevy 4. What were his views on the union?
MARKANOVICH: He belonged to the union, too, himself.
MEYER: At that time, was there...?
MARKANOVICH: At that time, they were tryin' to organize the AFL. They was trying organize the AFL, too. And he belonged to the AFL. That's why I say he joined it up. He was in, thirty year, 1934, AFL started to organize. Organize first with Chevrolet, when they first tried to organize, and then finally drifted into Buick.
MEYER: Had your father worked for some time for General Motors?
MARKANOVICH: Oh, yes. He worked, oh, I'd say about twenty years, thirty years, before at the time.
MEYER: Were you born in Flint?
MARKANOVICH: No, I was born 'cross the straits up around Houghton and Hancock. Upper Peninsula.
MEYER: So your family was from the Upper Peninsula. What did they do up there?
MARKANOVICH: My dad was a copper miner. And he remembers the strike. He used to tell me about the strike that they had up there, when the copper miners tried to organize, tried to have a union there, how they were beat up down there. And they brought in there about this----I remember my dad talkin' about it----Wilcox [sic] was the sheriff of Genesee County at the time. And he said somethin' about Wilcox. Now I can't, no proof of anyway, but my dad used to mention his name that he was one of the organizers that went up there to help break the union up, get these people back to work.
MEYER: Not Wills?
MARKANOVICH: Wills, yes. He went up to the UP to break up the copper mine.
MEYER: So then your father moved the family down here to work in the plants. So I take it he was quite sympathetic to any union organizing?
MARKANOVICH: Yes, he was.
MEYER: Did he sit down when Chevy 4 went down?
MARKANOVICH: Yes, he did. Yes. In fact, my brother John, he worked at Fisher 1, and he got hired in about '36, and Dad. There was three of us. The other twin brothers I had, they was too young to go to work yet. They were goin' to school at the time.
MEYER: So at the time of the strike, as you described it earlier, all of you were "baching" it. You were not married yet.
MARKANOVICH: No, I was not married at the time. I remember Dad used to come home from Chevrolet. And Chevrolet Plant 4 was down in a valley. And their conditions were quite bad, especially in the summertime. I remember Dad comin' home from work, and Dad used to wear long johns, and his long johns, shirts, underwear, would turn yellow. And he would come home from work, and his shoes was full of mill shavings. Take 'em off. And things were quite rough down there too at the time. That's what he used to tell me, of course. I'm just goin' on what he send.
MEYER: Let's talk about the fall of '36, just before the strike. Do you recall your first knowledge or indication or feeling that a strike was going to happen or was imminent?
MARKANOVICH: Yes. I don't exactly remember the dates. But they let us know us organizers was helpin' organize the union, our leaders. They kept it a secret, but let a few of use boys know. They didn't tell what day it was gonna be or anything. They would let us know the day and time we'd go on a strike.
MEYER: That's what they told you, that when they were gonna go with the strike, they would alert you?
MEYER: About how far ahead would they alert you, or did they say they would alert you?
MARKANOVICH: No, they said it'd be a certain day at a certain time, and what it'd do, they would be a group of men would come through the plant and each department they would go and call out for a certain...well, they had certain leaders there, like Jerry Aldrich was a leader up there in the Paint Department. They would notify him and then he would notify us, rest of us that worked on the line and tell us, well, this is it. So the company didn't have no knowledge of whether it was going to happen. And, of course, us working men knew that there was going to be a strike, but what day, what time, or that we did not know. Our group leaders did know. And so when the strike actually happens, they came up to the department, and, of course, this group and our leader, Jerry Aldrich, came down and shut the line off, and we all walked off the line. And the whole plant went down that way. Well then some of us organizers, they put us in certain spots where we wouldn't let people out or let people come in.
MEYER: What about the day the strike broke out in Fisher 1? What shift did you work?
MARKANOVICH: I was workin' the first shift.
MEYER: Okay, so you were not at work when the strike broke out.
MARKANOVICH: No. The strike broke out, and I think it was about second shift at about lunchtime. And we got, received calls from our leader to come into the plant, all the second shift. So we let all the second shift come in. And I went on the second shift, and we were all given posts to take care of. There was warnings goin' through that the Fisher Body, Fisher 1, was going to call in the city police and state police and try to break it up. And they were talkin' about hiring special strikebreakers to bring 'em in the plant. So we were all posted at different areas to watch for this. And in the meantime we had different groups of people. Each group had a function to do. One group was to set up, we took water hoses, in case there was a fire or anything. We had fire hoses, used door hinges, whenever, anything we could to protect ourselves. We had a group that was up on top of the Fisher 1 on the roof, and they were loaded down with hinges and different objects that we could drop down in the strikebreakers or the police that try to come in. And we had these fire hoses, and they had pressure on 'em, from 50 to 100 pounds of water pressure on it, and that would knock a man down, several men down, with those water hoses. So we had these water hoses all over the plant, and then, of course, we had group of men stationed, and we had a group stationed for the healthcare in the plant, and a group to keep the plant electrical goin', and so forth, and then we had a group that took care of the cafeteria part of it, where you could serve all the food for the people, and then we had a bunch that was guards that patrolled the plant, to see that everything was pretty well organized.
MEYER: Now the day the strike broke out, in December, the first time that you knew that the strike was on was when you got called at home?
MEYER: You didn't know during the first shift?
MARKANOVICH: No. They kept everything pretty well secret.
MEYER: Did it surprise you at all that you got the call?
MARKANOVICH: No, it didn't. It was a situation where you were kind of expecting one of those calls. You expected a call, because the word went around that the strike would be within a week or within that month. Certain time or date we did not know.
MEYER: So the feeling was it was imminent.
MARKANOVICH: Yes, the strike was comin' on. Yes.
MEYER: Did you stay in the plant, then?
MARKANOVICH: I stayed in the plant for 144 days, yes.
MEYER: For 44 days.
MEYER: What was your particular job or task during the Sit-Down?
MARKANOVICH: Uh, I was with the guard group. I moved around, checkin' on the guards throughout the plant, see that men were posted in certain areas, and so forth. And then they pulled me out of the plant, and I went to Pengelly Building, where Victor Reuther, Roy Reuther, and Frankensteen, they had a quota set up at the Pengelly Building. And at that time Fisher 2 went on strike, about the same time we did. And I was one of the group that was in what they call the "flying squadron" group, that, if there's any certain trouble, we would get an amount of people, maybe out of Fisher 1, and take 'em down there to Fisher 2. We got the warning that there was going to be a, they's try to throw the strikers out. And so we brought in...There was another gentleman, used to call him Chick Ananich. And Chick and I got what they call a leaders of the flying squadron. We furnished cars to take this group. There was a group that we had come from Toledo. And they were a bunch that would help. They were a bunch of tough gentlemen that would help. They were for the union. In case the police did try to throw the people out, or the city police or the state police, that we had reinforcements.
MEYER: Specifically this was concerned about Fisher 2 with this strike.
MARKANOVICH: Yes, 'cause they never did try to move 'em out of Fisher 1. So we got the word that they had moved in, the city police, and they were usin' tear gas and so forth, tryin' to oust the workers out of Fisher 2. And this group was from Toledo, Ohio. We took 'em down there in the cars. And they were...I don't know what you called them, actually. They were union men, but they would try to move the city police out. And they were tough. With the tear gas, they walked right into the plant. If it wasn't for that bunch, [inaudible]. They finally pushed out the city police. In fact, they beat up some of the city police and took the riot guns and tear-gas guns away from 'em. And they finally pushed 'em across the bridge. Remember that bridge there in the Flint River? It was across that. And things quieted down there. Then they thought for a while that they would get the National Guards down. And they actually did bring the National Guards, but the National Guards never did try to attempt to break up the strike.
MEYER: But the main battle you're referring to is the Running Bulls?
MARKANOVICH: Battle of the Running Bull, yes.
MEYER: And who brought these people up from Toledo? Do you know?
MARKANOVICH: No, I don't. No, we never did know. They never told us that. But there was a lot of things goin' on at the time. There was a lot of, how should I put it, unrest, because we heard so many rumors about the officials, our leaders in the union themselves was sellin' us out, and the strike break comin' up, and so forth. I was assigned, Chick and I were assigned one time to watch Frankensteen. There was a rumor goin' around, and Vic Reuther, Roy Reuther called Chick and me in to tail Frankensteen. They thought Frankensteen was gettin' involved in some way with General Motors. And he was stayin' at the Durant Hotel. And we tailed him to the Durant Hotel and different areas that he had left and went to see. But, in my opinion, and for what I saw, Frankensteen didn't sell them out.
MEYER: How long did that go on, this surveillance of Frankensteen?
MARKANOVICH: For about a week.
MEYER: Was that the Reuthers who asked you to do this?
MARKANOVICH: Yes. Then there was a faction goin' on, now whether Frankensteen was tryin' to step in between the Reuther boys and take the leadership over. What happened? But about a week later some way Frankensteen and his group found out that he was bein' tailed, and there was an argument between the leadership, between the Reuther boys and Frankensteen and some of the other leaders. I don't remember the rest of their names. But Frankensteen did pull out a pistol and he shot---whether he was trying to shoot somebody or what----but he shot and a shot went up in the ceiling at the time when a fight broke out up there. Like I said, there was a lot of unrest, and everybody was in suspicion of each other at the time.
MEYER: This was in the Pengelly Building.
MARKANOVICH: In the Pengelly Building. And the boys wrestled the pistol away from Frankensteen. And they pushed him out. And from then on I don't know if actually Frankensteen was involved any more into the union or not. At the time it was off my mind. I didn't know anything about that part of it.
MEYER: You don't know what the nature of that split was, or why there was a suspicion between those people.
MARKANOVICH: No, I don't. No. No. Like I said, I wasn't in the group of the leaders, you know. I was more toward the help. I was one of the trusties that they would trust, you know, and give you assignments. But, as far as being a leader of the group, no, I was not. So they knew more about it. I saw what was goin' on, you know. I could see the unrest and there was different factions. In fact, they had several battles there before the strike come up, where they was tryin' to organize. At one time they had the state police at Fisher 1, when they was have the Homer Martin bunch and the Reuther bunch. And there was, we had a big battle out there then.
MEYER: Later on.
MARKANOVICH: Later on, yes.
MEYER: During the strike period, in other words, apparently Frankensteen carried a gun. Do you know if any other leaders carried a gun?
MARKANOVICH: No, I didn't. No. No. But he had protection, and so did Reuther had protection. There was a special group of men that would guard him wherever he went and Roy Reuther and Vic Reuther.
MEYER: So you left Fisher 1 for this work at the Pengelly Building during part of that time.
MARKANOVICH: During the strike, yes.
MEYER: When you left, did you ever go back in, before the end of the strike?
MARKANOVICH: No, I didn't. I went back after the strike was settled.
MEYER: So you stayed in for a short time at the beginning, then came out and engaged in these kinds of activities.
MEYER: What other kinds of things did you do out of the Pengelly Building base, other than surveillance work, and in connection with the flying squadron?
MARKANOVICH: Well, I was asked if I wanted to get in towards the group of people, you know, as be one of the leaders. And, in fact, there was several of us boys that was invited to go along. Reuther had talked to us boys about goin' to Detroit and goin' to different areas to help organize. I was still leery. I was for the union, but I was afraid. And I thought my education wasn't enough, too. I had a high school education, graduated out of high school, but I didn't think I was that smart enough to help organize it. I might have been, but I didn't have the confidence in myself. So I didn't go. I refused. A lot of the boys accepted the job. And a lot of the boys were what at the time they called a representative. They had a regional director of certain areas, tryin' to organize the group. They were furnished cars and money to do those things. But I refused it and went back on the line where I was working and I was just an ordinary union member. I was invited to several places to go. I was invited to go to their conference and so forth, but I stayed in the background more.
MEYER: In the few days where you were in Fisher 1, sitting in, what do you recall about how things were organized, how decisions were made inside while the Sit-Down's going on? How did it hang together? Were there meetings?
MARKANOVICH: We had meetings. Yes, we had secret meetings. And you could express your feelings and views. And they would tell us what they were tryin' to do. They're tryin' to do at the main part was tryin' to organize the group and get everybody to join the union at the time. Once they had everybody belong to the union, then they were pretty well organized, because they had a group of people that was organized, and they could do this thing, call it off a strike. And so the objectors that didn't want to join the group, they were afraid, because they knew they were a large group and they'd either get beat up or kicked out. And they were threatened. Then we'd all get together, the secret meetings that we just talked about, and Victor Reuther was there and Roy and the rest of the group, and they would talk about the things that should be done in the shop. They usually talked about the health conditions, clean conditions in the shop, the health conditions, the work conditions, the [inaudible], the money. That's what we first tried to get. Those things.
MEYER: You say when you were called in that day, first day of the strike, one of the things that had to be done was to, you know, keep certain people out and certain people in, I think is the way you put it. How did you know who should not come in, who should be allowed to leave, who was gonna stay? How could you sort that out? Did you just know by personal knowledge?
MARKANOVICH: Yes. We knew which men belonged to the union and what didn't belong to the union. And the boys that didn't belong to the union were afraid to come to the plant, 'cause they were afraid of getting' beat up. What we did allow was, like the plant manager and all the executives of certain departments, or the plant manager, the assistant plant manager, the plant superintendent, we didn't let those boys leave the main office, the personnel building. We kept 'em in there. We wouldn't allow them to go through the shop. They attempted to, but we stopped all of those, 'cause they told us to not let them go through the plant, 'cause we were afraid that they would start talkin' to some of the employees that was in on the strike, talk 'em out of it. Then they had another group that was stationed in the personnel building. Wouldn't allow any visitors to come into the .... They'd have to show their passes or their badge or their business card to come into the personnel building. That's the way we...
MEYER: What about the people who were actually working second shift at the time the strike started? Did you give them the choice of whether to stay or not? Or did you tell some of them...?
MARKANOVICH: Oh, yes, they had the choice. They could stay or leave the plant if they wanted to. We encouraged them to stay in the plant, because, if we didn't, we wouldn't have a very big group in the plant to protect ourselves and in case GM did bring in city police, or somebody to get us out of the plant, if we didn't have a group in there, why, then we didn't have any protection at all. Course all of us made the billy clubs and ball bats and so forth to protect ourselves, just in case we had anything like that, you know.
MEYER: Were you in the plant the day the injunction was read? Do you recall a reaction to the injunction?
MARKANOVICH: Yeah, everybody just laughed and hollered and said, "Boot 'em out, throw 'em out, throw 'em out the window!" See. But they were very good about it. I think it was Wills, came into the cafeteria, and he got up on the cafeteria table, and he had two guards. They allowed him to come in with two guards. And he got up on the table, and he says, "I got an injunction here to move you boys out of the plant." If we didn't, he was forced to jail all of us and so forth. And when he got through readin' that, he says, "That's part of my job." And he says, "So I'm reading you the injunction what it says and what I have to perform." And everybody give him the razz and boo and everything else. And then, of course, our leaders, they says, "Well, quiet down now. Let the man have his say-so." When he got through readin' the injunction and everything that he said, he looked around at everybody and he says, "Where you servin' the coffee?" And him and his two personal guards, they sat down and had coffee with us and they walked out of the plant then. That was it. But then I guess he could see what he gonna have trouble tryin' to move us out.
MEYER: When did you go back when the strike was over? Did you go back right away, or was it...?
MARKANOVICH: No, we didn't go back to work for a couple weeks, because they had a lot of repairs to do. We had people in there, some of the organizers, cost General Motors, I would say cost 'em quite a bit. I wouldn't say any set figures, but there was a lot of damage done, because lot of the boys had took this good leather material like they cushioned your seats, and used to cut up the leather to make billy clubs. And a lot of the bodies were bashed in, you know. And there was a lot of boxes with material that they was shrewed around in the plant. So it took about a couple weeks to clean up the plant and then they went in back to work. And things pretty well settled down, but every so often they would have a problem in the plant. And a group would come through, or a worker had problems, call a committeeman, all that, set up. Now I never was in that setup. I think I said I believed in the union, I wanted to organize it, I could see the conditions we had, and since the union came in, the conditions really did help us. We were treated more like human beings, and, if you wanted to talk to your supervisor, or the supervisors, the general supervisor, the superintendent, you could stop and talk to 'em and tell 'em your problems, where before, you could not. They ignored you, or they threatened you that if you didn't behave, you was just a troublemaker, you'd lose your job. So things improved in that way.
MEYER: Do you recall, during the Sit-Down itself, inside Fisher 1, do you recall, while you were there, any difficulties, kind of the discipline situation that the workers...?
MARKANOVICH: Yes, we had problems where... You mean within our own ranks? Oh, yes. We'd have a group of men that'd go out and talk to the men, tell 'em either straighten up or else. And there'd be some that tried to take advantage of the union and take advantage of the conditions. If we had to set up, we'd say we bargained for a certain thing, someone would take advantage of those things, so we'd try to straighten them up on that, because at that time, we had to organize, we had a union, we had a contract with the company. It was a beginning, you know. We had a lot of things that had to be cleaned up. And they did. We had a group, used to come down and once a week, there'd be a group come through and question each department. And the departments, they started havin' committeemen set up, and, at that time, they called 'em stewards, too. And committeemen. And they asked about problems they had. They'd come up and talk to people on the lines about the problems and what was goin' on, and so forth. And things kind of straightened out, then. They had a pretty well organized group to try to get things straightened out.
MEYER: I'm just curious about the Frankensteen incident again. Were you around when that shooting occurred, or?
MARKANOVICH: Yes. I was in the building. All at once, like I said, just like you and I were settin' here talkin', and there was a bunch of people----everyone had a certain job to do up there; there was always a group up there----and there was always some argument goin' on between the leaders about wantin' this, the other group wanted this, another group wanted this, We wasn't organized at that time, you know. We were tryin' to, we were all after the same thing, but everybody had a different idea doin' different things. And, like I said, there was a lot of unrest. There was a, looked like there was a split in the union. It looked like there was the Reuther group and then there was the Frankensteen group. There was the Bob Travis group. There was the Homer Martin group at the time. So you could see the unrest was goin' on. Now whether Frankensteen and Homer Martin group got together and an argument started in between----'cause there was always a lot of argument goin' on----but nobody got too excited where they got into a fight. But this time it did happen, and how it happened, what happened, I don't know.
MEYER: It may have been in connection with Frankensteen being upset about the surveillance?
MARKANOVICH: I think so, yes. Yes.
MEYER: Did you hear a shot fired or something?
MARKANOVICH: Yes, a shot fired. Oh, I heard a shot fired and I run into the, it was right in the Vic and Roy Reuther's office, and that's where the argument was. And I remember Frankensteen in there, and I see a group of people and I rushed in, a group of people was in there, and there was some scuffling goin' on, and I see 'em pullin' a gun away from Frankensteen.
MEYER: What happened immediately afterwards?
MARKANOVICH: The whole group just pushed out and everything settled down. Vic and Roy Reuther got up on the desk and started hollerin' at everybody to settle down and everything, and finally they had the, they had a group too that they called like a flying squadron, they were a bunch of toughies that just kind of moved 'em out, you know. And things finally settled down.
MEYER: What happened to Frankensteen after that, do you recall? Did you see him around any more, or?
MARKANOVICH: No, I didn't see him around after that any more. But now what happened I don't know, whether they had moved him out somewheres else or what happened. But I know that I read about him in Detroit, that he was with Reuther at the group at that time organizing Ford. Now, so I said a loss of time at that time would have happened. But I know Homer Martin, he was really pushed out completely.
MEYER: Did you ever meet Homer Martin or know him at all?
MARKANOVICH: I didn't know him that well, no. I've met him. And I was in the meetings that he had. 'Cause there was two groups. You didn't know which group to belong to at the time. And the first one, when I was first organizing, the Reuther group, and the Homer Martin group, Bob Traverse, when he was in there, you didn't know which group to belong to. And nobody threatened each other at that time, 'cause we were all tryin' to organize. Actually, where the faction come in was the two groups, like the Reuther group and the Martin group, the leaders, actually, would be the two leaders. They were tryin' to 'suade the group of people that was organized, each group.
MEYER: Just for a moment: Your father decides to sit down at Chevy 4, while all of this is going on. And he stayed in the eleven days there at Chevy 4?
MARKANOVICH: No. He was in there for a few days and finally he went out of the plant. He came back home, because I think at that time my dad was a foreigner and they was no use for him, so he just come on home. And when they got ready to go back to work, they notified him to come back to work and that was it.
MEYER: What kind of problems arose because he was a foreigner?
MARKANOVICH: No problem at all. There was...
MEYER: Was he kind of left out of things?
MARKANOVICH: Left out of things, yes. Maybe he was one of those that, I guess my father didn't volunteer or get interested. He believed in the union, but, far as bein' interested into it, no, at the time, you know... I guess he volunteered to stay in the plant , when they needed him. And then I guess they told him that no, they didn't need him, and that was it.
MEYER: Was he an immigrant? Was he born in this country, or?
MARKANOVICH: No, he was in there. He came out of Yugoslavia. And went up in the copper country. And when they had the big strike there, and I guess at the time, he was in the strike they had. They beat up all the people up over there, and finally they all had to go to work. And so maybe he wasn't too interested. He believed in the union, but yet he was afraid of losin' his job and he stayed on at the group.
MEYER: Do you recall, as a foreigner, as a Yugoslav, any kind of associations or organizations of ethnic groups like that in Flint at the time, or Slavic associations that were important in the community that you might have belonged to?
MARKANOVICH: No, Dad just belonged to the Croatian club that's over on Dort Highway.
MEYER: They existed at that time. Did groups like that in the community, did they take any interest in these kinds of questions? Were they an important kind of group in being concerned with working?
MARKANOVICH: No, the only thing that they would talk about the working conditions. And most of 'em did want to belong to the union. And they talked these things. And most of 'em did belong to the union. And that's all they would talk about. A group of men would sit down, they'd talk about the union and ask each other if they belonged to the union and ask each other if they belonged to the union, about the working conditions. That was just about it.
MEYER: Would that be a type of place an organizer might go to seek members? Would be something like that?
MARKANOVICH: Yes, it was. Yes.
MEYER: The Croatian-Slovene club.
MARKANOVICH: Yes. They'd ask the group if they'd join the union, and they did. They signed up a lot of people at the Croatian hall. But I don't remember any of our group that was any leader into the organization of the union at the time.
MEYER: Let's talk about the split. Your referred to it a couple of times.
MARKANOVICH: Bud Simon's group belonged to the group at the, Reuther group. But our leaders, Jerry Aldrich and Bud Simons, they heavily got together and they took quite a group of us people would go over to the...They told us what Homer Martin was after and what Reuther was after. And so at first they tried to persuade the boys to go over. And the group that didn't and were stubborn about it, well, then, we, they'd had a flare-up of fights would be happening when we'd be going to work. They would try to stop 'em from going to work or try to tell 'em to organize. It got to the point if they didn't join the group, they'd threaten 'em. And several big fights they had out in the...Course, like I said before, the group, like the Homer Martin and the Reuther bunch, well, I finally moved into the Reuther group, because they were the strongest. And they had some people that were strong-minded about the Homer Martin bunch, but they finally convinced them after the flare-up they had and the fights they had. In fact they had the state police down there when the whole Saginaw Street was really a flare that time between the two factions. That part I stayed out of then. I didn't want to get involved too much. Well, I wanted the union, but I didn't want to get involved in too much. Like I said, I didn't want to get too active into the group. Like I said...
MEYER: You were still working at Fisher 1 during that split?
MARKANOVICH: Yeah, but I wasn't bothered. They never threatened me. They knew that I was a loyal union member at the time. And they asked me to join the other group in which I did have to explain to me, and I never had any problems. The other group kept talked to me, too.
MEYER: What were their respective pitches, when they tried to convince you? What were the two sides telling you?
MARKANOVICH: Well, they used different pitches. They used that the Reuther group was more of a Communist group, because the Reuther boys had went to Russia. So they brought this up. They said that this group is gonna be a communistic group. And the Homer Martin isn't a communistic group. It was more of a democratic group. And that they were gettin' funded, the money and to organize the group, by the Russians, communistic government. It was givin' Victor Reuther all the money and so forth. And that was the biggest pitch they had. And lot of the people would believe some of it, and lot of them didn't.
MEYER: What was the Reuther pitch against the Martin faction?
MARKANOVICH: That they were causing a lot of problems about the organization, bein' a Communist group, of them that they were Communist and they weren't, and they would give better working conditions and get more money and they were a better group of people to bargain with. That about what I could tell you, 'cause, like I said, I wasn't in for the front part of the group at that time.
MEYER: Now I think you told me, when we talked over the phone, that you went to a salaried position later on.
MEYER: How much later was that?
MARKANOVICH: I went that into in about 1952, salaried group.
MEYER: I see. Kind of supervisory, or what?
MEYER: Was that at Fisher 1, too?
MARKANOVICH: Yes. I was working there. Like I said, I finally got my mind about workin' in an assembly line and working as a painter. I was after more money, and I wanted to get a better job. At that time, I was married, too. I got married in 1938, June 25th, 1938. So I decided to have a better home and better things in life, too, to have and to give my children a better living and a better education and so forth, as they grew older. And different things that I wanted. So the wife and I talked about it. She says to me, "Why don't you go to school and learn some type of a skill?" So I went to GMI for four years and I took up tool and die making and took up a little bit of reading math, precision inspection, machine shop. And at that time I paid my own lessons, when I was goin' up there. I went there four years. And at that time, too, they had a model change every year. When they had a model change, you was laid off for about four to five months, six months. They would hire production people as helpers, and we would go down to the employment office and make out a application. Of course, they'd look through the application and see if they would try to pick out the best people to work for 'em, the maintenance group. And at that time they had the maintenance group. Then they had the skilled trades group, which was jig and fixture, tool and die. A group there, when they had extra work, and they could hire people to do menial jobs, grinding and helping journeymen on the job. So I put an application in for maintenance. And there was about three years I worked as a pipe-fitter helper, electrician helper, millwright helper, and we would maybe work for two or three months. And when the model change was over with, then we all went back into production again. And this went along for several years and they wouldn't call me one year. I got into the jig and fixture group as a helper there. And of course at the same time I talked to my supervisor that I worked for in jig and fixture and I talked to general foreman and the superintendent, assistant superintendent, tryin' to better myself. I was tryin' to promote myself at the time, and I was tryin' to do a good job at the time. And they told me to go find that, they asked me if I was goin' to school. I said, "Yes, I'm goin' to General Motors." So they kept track of me. And so every time they'd have a model change, they would try to call us boys back that was the good workers and that was interested in tryin' to be a journeyman at the time. So that's the way I worked back into it. And they would check to see how I was doin' on my grades at GMI, and then finally I was too old to work as an apprentice. I worked as what they called an "upgrader" at the time. And I worked that way a few years. And each year I got more and more involved into it. Finally I got to the point where I had four or five under my belt as an upgrader. And I worked behind jig and fixture and tool and die. There was some years that tool and die had more work than jig and fixture group did. And I was called into the tool and die group at Fisher 1. And I did a lot of grinding and worked with the journeymen, spotting, workin' trim section and composite section, and so forth. In the meantime I was learning all that. And I worked at a machine shop on the lathe, boring mills, and that's the way I established myself. Finally I've got a classification as a journeyman. But you wasn't a full-class journeyman until you had a journeyman's card. You had to have ten years at the time then. Well, I finally become a journeyman, and I was doin' a very good job. And then they had what they called at the time----they was always tryin' to replace some supervisor that they needed, and some of the supervisors went out on vacation, replacement----so they picked a group that they thought was qualified for supervision, had high school education and were good workers and doin' a good job, and I finally worked myself into a leader in jig and fixture and tool and die. And they would go around pickin' out the people they wanted, and they'd set 'em down. They come ask you----they'd call you in the personnel office----they'd talk to you and they asked you if you were interested in goin' on supervision and to take an aptitude test. And they called me down and I went to the personnel building and at the time the personnel executive or whatever you want to call him talked to him and says if I would be interested in as a supervisor. And I said "Yes, I naturally want to get in." I wanted more money. So I said I would recommend my department superintendent, and they had watched me, and they thought that I was qualified as a supervisor job. So I wrote the aptitude test and I passed the aptitude test. They said, "This doesn't mean that we're gonna put you on supervision right off the bat, 'cause you passed the aptitude test. But when there is an opening, we will try to place you on it.". And I says, "Well, would I go into skilled trades?" Says, "You may; you may not. There's always opening as a production foreman, supervisor for quality standards in jig and fixture, tool and die, maintenance." Then later on they could move you out into the skilled trades in different areas. That's what they promised you. They said they wouldn't promise you anything, but they would try to move you in the area that they want you in. Well, so then when they had the vacation period, supervisor was not me, I used to be maybe a temporary supervisor for two weeks, three weeks, maybe a month, and I'd get 25 percent more than the hourly rate worker did. And that way I worked off and on. So one time this new plant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Fisher Body plant----actually it was in McKeesport, Pennsylvania----and they called me in and said that they have an opening for supervisor at the new plant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and would I like to go down there for an interview. And I said, "Well, what type of a job?" He says they want a supervisor for jig and fixture. I think it was four or five of us boys that went from Fisher 1 to Pittsburgh plant. That was in '52, 1952. And so I went down there. We had an interview, and, of course, they had all our records. Interview I had, they were satisfied with my record, and they said they would like to have me come down. And at that time, I think I was offered, what? Seven hundred-some dollars a month. So, in the meantime, before I went to the interview in Pittsburgh, my wife and I had sat down and talked it over. She says, "Well, Vic, if you want to go on supervision," and, as far as goin' to Pittsburgh, she said, "Well, we'll go along with it." So when I went down there I says, "Yes, I'll take the job." And I went to work there Labor Day, 1952, just after Labor Day. And I stayed there 'til '56. And they opened up Grand Blanc fabricating plant. And the superintendent I worked for was originally from Pontiac. And they had transferred him from Pittsburgh down to Grand Blanc. My wife wasn't too happy with Pittsburgh, 'cause we was there in the wintertime and they have a little bit of snow, and then they got all that steel smell. So when I come down on vacation, I called up the superintendent at Grand Blanc that I knew and I asked him if I could talk to him. And I come into the plant, and I told him what I was after, and I says, and I said it was strictly between him and me, and that I didn't want Pittsburgh to find out, 'cause if they found out that I was lookin' for another job, they'd maybe let me go. He said, "No," he says, "well, come on down." So I went and had a visit with him and went into his office, and I was talkin' to him. And he told me, "Sure, I'll take you. I need experienced people down here. Now," he says, "the only way I can get you down here," he says, "by tellin' that I need a general foreman with some experience." And what they were doin', durin' the tank program, they had people there that didn't have experience in tool and die work. And then I had got into the automation part of it, too, what they called gadgets, and the automating of the dies, and then we would make automation, like shuttles, and lotus, for loading the dies and so forth, and what they call the "iron hand," that used to pull paddles off the presses. Well, I had worked in that quite a bit, too, when I was at Pittsburgh. And the superintendent knew I had. So I told him what I was, and I says, "I understand you're lookin' for supervisors." And he said, "Well, Vic, yes." He said, "I'd like to have you come down." But he says, "You know..." At that Pittsburgh had moved a lot of people from Fisher 1, from Grand Rapids, Marion, and Hamilton plant, Cleveland plant, bringin' experienced supervisors to get the place started, and a lot of them were unhappy. Their wives were unhappy, because they were used to not the hilly country and all that steel smell. So he said, "I can't promise you a general foreman's job, Vic," but he said, "I wanted you." And he says, "I've got an opening for a general foreman, but I promised it to another man." And he says, "This man I worked with him," he says, "over to Pontiac with the fabricating plant." He says, "He's a good man, and he's got more experience than you have." And he says, "I want him down here as general foreman, but," he says, "I can use that excuse and have you come down for an interview." In the meantime, Harry Jeremy (he was assistant plant manager at Grand Blanc) knew---I can't think of the superintendent's name now, anyway----they worked together in Pontiac. And he says, "And there was---" I can't think of his name now. He was a supervisor at Fisher 1 years ago. Anyway, he knew me from Fisher 1. And the superintendent of the tool and die at Grand Blanc knew that I knew him, too. He says, "Well, I'll try to work it out between you two," between Harry Jeremy and this other, and tell him about you and bring you down here. So that's what happened.
MEYER: That's how you got back to Flint. Just going back to, one last question I had about the strike. The period after the strike we're particularly interested in, as well as the strike. The few months after the strike was settled, we understand was a period of of course very important organizing and very active membership drive. What do you remember about that, that period of three, four, five months after the strike? Do you remember what it like to get members at that time? Was it easy, difficult?
MARKANOVICH: No, it wasn't too difficult to get members in. Of course, like I said, there were some groups of workers that was afraid of joining the union, because they figured that the union was organized at that time and we had a contract, but still there was a feeling that a group that wasn't, they didn't think that it was, maybe a year or two later that the company was going to put the pressure on and finally get the union members out, you know.
MEYER: Some had not lost all their fears.
MARKANOVICH: That's right. And they didn't threaten 'em after the thing kind of settled down. They just put a little pressure on 'em: "Why don't you belong to the union." And then they used different tactics, where this group of boys, if we had a fellow worker working with us, and he didn't belong to the union, why, we would leave him alone. Nobody would talk to him. And when he did try to talk to somebody, they'd just ignore him, you know, and finally he got to the point that he got the message, you know. So he finally joined the union.
MEYER: Remember very many people who stiffly resisted joining the union?
MARKANOVICH: Yes, I don't remember them, but I do remember. They did. Some of what they called, that thought they were church members, what they call that didn't believe in the union. And some of 'em that they was religious, they didn't think that they should belong to the union. And they left them alone for a while, but they still put pressure on 'em.
MEYER: Were there any particular churches that were a problem in this respect?
MARKANOVICH: Not that I know of, no. No. Course, like I said, only thing that I know is what we did, you know. You put pressure on 'em. And the most stubborn ones that resisted, they finally...they did maul some of them around, you know. And ignored the group. And they used different tactics. They finally got everybody organized.
MEYER: Do you remember whether certain kinds of workers were easier to organize than others? Like younger or older, or workers with families, workers without families?
MARKANOVICH: Younger group, they were willing to organize and join the union. Some of the older workers, like my dad that went through the trouble they had in the copper mines. He belonged to the union, but a lot of them that were in the AFL before they were sold out and lost some of their jobs and never did get back workin' in the factory, and the union tried to get 'em back in. Lot of those didn't want to belong to the union, 'cause they says, well, "No, we're workin' now. Last time we belonged to the union, we got fired." They were afraid that the union wasn't strong enough and wasn't settled enough that they wanted to belong to it, because, you know, their jobs were kind of hard to get at that time.
MEYER: So the one group that may have been difficult was those who had been in strikes before and lost.
MARKANOVICH: That's right. They were blackballed, or things like that.
MEYER: Well, this has been very helpful.
MARKANOVICH: Well, I hope I helped you. I don't...Like I say, I wish I had dates and so forth.