University of Michigan-Flint
Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
INTERVIEW: MARCH 6, 1980
INTERVIEWER: KENNETH WEST
INTERVIEW: JAMES SPOHN
SPOHN: That's what I figured. The only ones that were set-down strikers were the ones that stayed in the plant forty-four days and forty-four nights. And when that strike ended, there was twenty-two of us holdin' the plant down. That's all there were. Now I can give you the names of 'em.
WEST: I would like to get 'em if we could.
SPOHN: Well, the main ones...
WEST: Well, perhaps I could get those later on. We don't need them on the tape right now, but I think I could get 'em and jot 'em down. That would be great. Just twenty-two?
SPOHN: Twenty-two of us was all there was that held that plant down. We kicked everybody out. We kicked the watchmens out and run all the guys out of the employment office. We put 'em all out. We caught the watchmen. They stayed in two days and we caught them sneakin' around and spyin' on us, so we throwed them out. And then we barred all the windows and stuff. And then we'd take and every day about twice a day we'd have two men patrol the whole plant. And if we caught anybody in that wasn't belongin' in there, we would run 'em out. That was the way it was. In 1930 we pulled the first strike. And we held our meetings out on South Saginaw Street, what they called the Cow Shed. Yeah, that was the name of it. And it was owned by Peter Branzo. That's the man that owned it, and he give us permission to hold meetings there. But he said, "Now I'll let you hold your meetings there, but I don't want no trouble." Well, we held meetings there for about three or four days, and all the law from all over come out, and they'd break our meetings up and run us away. So then they'd grab your leaders up and take your leaders and throw 'em in jail or whatever they done with 'em. I don't know. But they got all of our leaders away from us. And one night we decided to hold our meeting, because in the daytime they'd break all of our meetings up and just club the hell right out of us. So about four days later, when they got all of our leaders took away from us, we held a meeting for twelve o'clock at night in order to try so we could set up some new officers as leaders.
WEST: This was at the same place?
SPOHN: That's at this Cow Shed on South Saginaw Street. And so they come out there that night and run us out and they broke us up.
WEST: Was that the city police then?
SPOHN: Everything, city police, sheriff's department, clubs of all kinds, and I even think, to be honest about it, I even think they had some ex-cons out of the pen, you know. And they'd come out there, oh, maybe forty, fifty cars of 'em with seven and eight in each car. And they'd come of there with these big raidin' clubs and lord, if you didn't get goin', they'd let you lay there. They would just club you about to death. So this night they run us all away. First when they come we thought it was guys comin' to the meeting. And all at once they come in on us and they started in hollerin' and clubbin'.
WEST: Had they been tipped off then by someone who knew that you were meeting?
SPOHN: Oh yes, they were on our tail all the time. And, so then, first we started tryin' to hold our meetings down on South Saginaw Street in the office. And the state troopers (and they had everything) were on us and everything with horses and stuff. And they had all the backin' in the world, because Governor Fitzgerald, at that time, was governor, and he give 'em all the authority there was. They had police, deputies, anything you can mention from all over on us. That's what forced us out on South Saginaw Street to hold our meetings out there. So they broke our meetings up so many times and they grabbed our leaders so we didn't get to hold any more meetings. And in about four weeks they forced us back to work.
WEST: Now who is it who went on strike then, particularly. You were at Fisher Body. Were there particular men?
SPOHN: Oh yeah, the paint shop. The paint shop would always lead the strike. The paint shop was one. We'd call the strike in our paint department. And when we'd tell 'em what time we was gonna strike, for all the guys to get together, well, then, we passed the word at noon and stuff all through the plant. When we'd go right down through the plant at that time, from the south end right to the north end and run everybody out. Tell 'em, "Come on, you're on strike. Come on, run 'em out." And we pulled 'em out from under everything----tables, machines and everything where they would hide that wanted to stay in. But we'd get 'em. We'd get 'em all out.
WEST: How many would that be then? Could you estimate?
SPOHN: Seven thousand, five hundred people was workin' there at that time. And we got 'em all out. And then they forced us all back to work, so we went. That was in '30. And in '34...
WEST: Before getting to that, can I ask you what were the issues in that '30 strike, particularly? What did you go out for?
SPOHN: Well, for better conditions and more money and stuff. Now, my god, the conditions was terrible and the wages was----I don't remember what the wages was, but they were low, awful low. And so that was...
WEST: Did Phil Raymond come up from Detroit then? Did any local Communist, Detroit Communist come up?
SPOHN: That I can't remember. There was ones that come in, but I don't remember who they were. It's too far back for me to remember.
WEST: Cecil Comstock apparently was one of the leaders.
SPOHN: Yeah, he was one of 'em. He was one of em, yeah.
WEST: And we've heard the name just recently of another guy, who's in Florida, who says he can talk on that, a man named Morley Wiederhold. Does that name ring a bell?
SPOHN: That name rings a bell but I don't... He's a Communist, too, I think maybe. I think so.
WEST: Well, we'll talk to him and find out. At any rate, I didn't want to interrupt you. Go on.
SPOHN: Well, anyway, we went back to work, and then in '34 we pulled our next strike, in '34. Well, in '34 they found out that we was gonna go out on a strike. And we had it all set up to go out at noon. We was gonna pull the strike at twelve o'clock. Clean the plant out and we wouldn't have so many to take out, on account of a lot of 'em would be out eatin' at noon hour. So they decided that that would be the time to pull it. So we said, "All right." And so the watchman, I think it was, come up and asked me to come on down to the office. He said, "Mr. Spohn, Mr. Barefoot wants to see you." That was Dave Barefoot. He was the head superintendent. So I went down to the office and I talked to him. And he told me, he said, "Now Jim, I understand you'se are goin' out on strike. And if I was you, I wouldn't go out." He said, "You got a big family and you can't afford it." He said, "Not only that," but he said, "now if you don't go out and you stay in," he said, "you'll be a lot better off, because we'll put you in a better job, a better position if you will stay." I said, "Now listen, Dave, I don't want you or no one to try to talk me in, tellin' me to stay in. That's our reason all together. I'm goin' out on the strike and I don't care about your jobs or anything." I said, "I believe in the strike and I'm goin' out." And he said, "Well, when you come back you won't have a job." Well, after they started, after the strike started, they had the state troopers and everything there ridin' us. We held it right across the street there. We had an office there.
WEST: Again it was the paint people that led it.
SPOHN: Everybody----the state troopers, the cops, thugs of all kinds, deputy sheriffs from all over. Oh, my god, I don't know where all they was from.
WEST: No, but I mean, in terms of those who led the walkout, it was the paint people then again.
SPOHN: Oh yeah, the paint shop. We led every strike.
WEST: Metal finishers, were they...?
SPOHN: All of 'em. Metal finishers, we took 'em all out. We made 'em all get out and stuff. And really I don't remember of any out of the metal shop or any other that stayed in any length of time. They all got out, as far as that goes. They all got out. But that was in '34 we run 'em all out. And then we held our meetings. We didn't go back in the shop then. We just had an office, and we'd hold meetings and stuff in front of the plant. Then we set a date for everybody, like the next day we were gonna march down through by the Buick, down Industrial Avenue and over through by the Chevrolet and try to get them plants to go out too. So we got, oh, must have had four thousand people, and we marched down through the Buick. And they had it all set up with the fire departments and the cops and everything and the fire hose. And whenever we went by the Buick, the Buick knew what we were comin' down through and the guys would all get in the window. But whenever we'd get to a window, they'd close the window and duck back in so we wouldn't see 'em. They just didn't want nothin' to do with it. They were scared to death. They turned the fire hose on us and, oh, they just clubbed the hell out of us. And we fought them. And we went on through and came back around and come in through by the Chevrolet. And we tried to get the Chevrolet to come out, but we couldn't get them to go out that time, ever. So then we broke our meetings up, and we all met back at the office on Saginaw Street. And then we held our meetings there and then the cops and everybody tried to break us up. They got, I don't know, six or eight of the leaders and just beat the hell right out of 'em. What they had done with 'em was put 'em in jail and every other thing. I never did, at that time, see any of the leaders that was leadin' the strike at that time. After they got 'em, I never seen any of 'em.
WEST: They were let go then and didn't come back to work?
SPOHN: I imagine. Well, I don't even think they ever come back to work, as I can't remember of seein' any of 'em ever come back.
WEST: What about the people in the '30 strike? Did they come back to work after?
SPOHN: Oh yeah, all the people come back, but not the leaders. I don't know what the hell they done with 'em, whether they paid 'em off and put 'em in another plant as foremens and stuff or what they done. I don't know.
WEST: That was an A F of L union then, wasn't it, in '34?
SPOHN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was in '30 and '34. So then after they got all of our leaders at that time, they moved us out, and we went out to this same place, this Cow Shed on South Saginaw Street, and we held our meetings there. And we held 'em there, oh, for about two weeks. And every day and every day at one o'clock we would have a meeting. And, boy, they would raid them meetings, and we fought 'em and everything else. We throwed everything at 'em, but there was too many of 'em. They had us outfired too much. And they'd grab what leaders they could get and take 'em.
SPOHN: So, anyway, this night at twelve o'clock we had a meeting, and we told everybody we would have a meeting and try to get away from 'em and they wouldn't know it.
WEST: This was in thirty...?
SPOHN: Four. Yeah, so we told 'em all to be there at twelve o'clock and there would be a meeting that night at twelve o'clock. So at twelve o'clock out come the law. There was about a hundred or a hundred fifty of us there that night. I don't remember just which. And out come the law. And there must have been forty carloads of 'em. And out of them cars they come. And, Jesus, they were just clubbin' the hell out of everybody. We clubbed 'em and throwed bricks at 'em and everything else in our path. Finally they run us away, and they run us that night all over Genesee County. And they would run your car off the road and beat the hell out of you and everything else. So, anyway, they broke us up then, scattered us to where we went home. So the next day a bunch of us got together and we seen we couldn't hold our meetings in here any more because they were right on us all the time. So we went out south of Grand Blanc about seven mile on the Dixie. And there was a farm there. The man owned a gas station and he had the gas station you'd pull in like this. And he had his gas station settin' like this, see. And up here he had a fence across here. And up here he had an arch, he had a big arch set up on the hillside. So we asked him if he'd give us permission to use his arch so we could hold our meetings. And he said, "Well, why sure, fellows, why not?" And we told him what happened and stuff and he said, "Okay, I'll tell you what I'll do. As long as you're peaceful and go up there and don't fight among each other and are peaceful," he said, "you can hold your meetings there as long as you want. And I'll guarantee you one thing, the law or nobody will bother you." He said, "I've got this fenced in and there won't be nobody go inside that fence." And he said, "The only way they'll go in is if they come out here with a warrant for any one man, then I will take 'em up and they can bring the man out." So we agreed to that. We said, "That's okay," which we knew there wouldn't be.
WEST: So the farmer then, was sympathetic.
SPOHN: Yeah, the guy that run the gas station there, he was real good, real good. I can't never remember his name any more or nothin'. He was a little guy, just about my size, too. But you know, they come out there about a dozen times. And oh, maybe eight, ten carloads and they wanted to go up in. He said, "No, no way." He said, "The only way you can go up in there, fellows, if you bring a warrant out here for any one man or two men and you got a warrant for 'em, then I'll take you up and bring the man out." But he said, "That's the only way." Well, they said, "We're gonna go in." And he said, "No you're not." He said, "I've got a twelve gauge automatic shotgun settin' there." He said, "I own this property. It's mine. There ain't nobody goin' in there without my permission." He said, "And if anybody tries to go in there, I'll kill 'em right in their tracks." He said, "You'll never get in there." So he finally kept 'em out of there. Well, we held our meetings there and they already had our leaders, the guys that was leadin' the strike. And they had them all picked up already. So we was there, I think, eight or nine days. And finally no meeting after meeting. And every day there would be less show up, see. At first we had about a hundred and twenty-five or a hundred and fifty would show up there. But it got down to where maybe there was only ten or fifteen of us or maybe twenty. So then we broke it up. And we decided that we just may as well. It was all over. We weren't gettin' nowhere. We might as well go back to work. They forced us back to work.
WEST: Right. Who were some of those leaders in '34?
SPOHN: I can't think of any of their names? I truthfully can't. I know the names, but I can't think of 'em no more. I tried the last couple nights to think of 'em, but I can't think of 'em.
WEST: Cecil Comstock would not have been one of those then. He was gone.
SPOHN: No, no, no, no. I knew Cecil well. No he wasn't.
WEST: What sort of a person was Cecil Comstock?
SPOHN: Communist, he was a Communist. He wasn't bad to talk to. He was just like you or I. He was just like any other man. Any one of 'em wasn't bad to talk to. Only they would try to get you to sign them Communist cards and stuff. And that's the way they'd work it and wanted you to be a Communist. And we didn't go along with the Communists at all, because as far as I was concerned, any time they would go in on anything, they would make deals with the company and you'd get sold out. That's all there was to it. So we never had no use for the Communists at all. All right, they broke us up and we went back to work that time. We worked until '37. '37 we decided then to pull the set-down strike. And I don't remember just how it come about. But the paint shop, little Jerry Aldred, Jerry was one of our head men all the time. And Jerry come around and told us all about ten o'clock. He said, "At three-thirty we're gonna shut it down, boys." He said, "We're gonna keep it shut down this time. They are not gonna get the best of us."
WEST: Was that after Fisher 2 had shut down?
SPOHN: Oh, no.
WEST: We understand they shut down a little in the morning.
SPOHN: Oh no. Fisher 2 shut down after us. They shut down after we did. We shut down first. We were always first. We couldn't get Buick, we couldn't get Fisher 2 in '30 and '34 to go out at all. But in '37 Fisher 2 went out with us. And I never did know if the Buick took off on the set-down strike. They were shut down but I never knew.
WEST: Why was that? Why was Buick more reluctant to go along?
SPOHN: I don't know. All I can figure out is the ones that worked there must have had crap in their blood, in plain words. I think a lot of 'em had a lot of seniority. And they were preached to all the time that if we find out that you got anything to do with the union we'll lay you off and stuff like that is what I think it was.
WEST: Yeah. We've talked to some people who were members of the union at Buick, so they did enroll a few. But they claim that had they tried to pull a strike at Buick, they didn't have the strength.
SPOHN: Oh, they had more men than we had. That was a bunch of bull.
WEST: Yeah, well, union men, I'm thinking. They didn't have enough union men.
SPOHN: Yeah, well, I don't know about that. But we didn't have too many union men. The only union men we had we made ourself in the paint shop. The paint shop is the one.
WEST: I wanted to get into that, because that's interesting. You bring up always the paint shop and its militancy. Why was that the case?
SPOHN: Well, I don't know. The only way I could see it, the only union men that really was wantin' a union, there could have been in other departments. There were maybe one or two in a department, but they wouldn't let it known that they were union. But after we'd get out, well, then, they'd come over with us and stuff.
WEST: Were conditions in the paint shop then particularly bad?
SPOHN: Oh, it was terrible. It was really terrible.
WEST: Can you describe that, just what you did?
SPOHN: Yes, I sprayed Duco. That's what we were, Duco sprayers, sprayin' Duco. And when I first went in there in '27, you had a booth ten feet long and eight feet wide.
WEST: A booth ten by eight feet.
SPOHN: Yeah, an eight by ten booth. And they had no ventilation. The fumes, see you was sprayin' and your fumes was right in there. And you wore a mask and you wouldn't be in there an hour 'til you couldn't see your hands in front of you like this, sprayin'. The fumes was so bad.
WEST: You couldn't take much of that at a time. Didn't you have to go out to get fresh air then?
SPOHN: No, no, no. At that time we didn't even have a relief man. They wouldn't give you a relief man or nothin'. We never got relief men or nothin' until after the set-down strike.
WEST: I would think that would be almost intolerable to work under those conditions.
SPOHN: Oh, was it ever! So anyway, it was terrible and the pay was low. I forget any more what it was, but it wasn't too much. I don't remember what we did make. I don't remember it. I can't say for sure on that. I don't remember.
WEST: Was it flat rate that you were being paid or was it piecework?
SPOHN: Piecework. You'd pull tickets. On every car you'd pull a ticket. And at the end of the night, whoever's pullin' a ticket that day, at the end of the night would take the tickets over and count 'em up and we'd know what we made.
WEST: You got paid so much then.
SPOHN: So much on a car, so much on a body. But, see, I can't really remember all of it, just how it was. But then at the end of the night they'd figure the tickets up, how much we made, the whole department, maybe twelve or fourteen of us, whatever there was sprayin'. Then it would be divided, twelve or fourteen ways, whatever it was. Then we'd know what we made that day.
WEST: I see. There were about that many people working on it as a team?
SPOHN: No, in the paint department there'd be twelve or fourteen men sprayin'. And that would be the ones that we'd pull the tickets on. Then the other, some of 'em, worked on hourly rate, and some of 'em, I don't know how in the heck they did work that. I never did find out. But after the set-down strike, why then, we went on hourly rate. And it was strictly hourly rate. Then we made them put all new booths and everything in. All new booths and we got away from all that stuff in '30 and '34. We got away from all that filth and stuff. Now you'd come home at night and that would be that thick after you took a shower.
WEST: About half an inch or so.
SPOHN: All over you, and every night you'd have to take a shower. And at night, oh, you'd cough that stuff up, like that black paint and stuff.
WEST: Very unhealthy then. I imagine people would get sick.
SPOHN: Oh, it was. But they figured at that time, I think, about a year, year and a half was about the life of a Duco sprayer.
WEST: But you stuck it out.
SPOHN: I was in there twenty-six years, twenty-four years, to be exact. Two years in Cleveland. And what I done, I'd go to the doctor every now and then and have him check me over. And the doctor told me, he said, "Now, Jim, if you want to keep on sprayin' and stay at it, there's only one way you can do it." And he said, "Every day you've gotta drink lemonade, sweet milk, a lot of sweet milk, and a lot of lemonade and eat oranges and the juice and stuff." And he said, "Then every week, every week regularly you take two tablespoons full of Epsom salts as a physic and drive that out of you." And he said, "If you do that, you can keep it out of you pretty well." So I said, "Okay." So I did. And, well, the rest of 'em did. But we had several of them that died with paint balls in 'em, Duco balls. And it would kill 'em. They'd die but you'd never know what happened to 'em or anything. They'd never tell you.
WEST: Didn't the men complain to the management?
SPOHN: Oh, hell, yes. They'd tell you, "If you don't like it, go ahead and get out, quit, take off." They didn't care.
WEST: Who did you have, not necessarily names, but what sort of person was your foreman?
SPOHN: Rotten. Rotten, yeah. All the supervision as far as that was concerned was rotten. But they had a nice smooth way of comin' around and givin' you a pat on the back and a talkin' to and tryin' to break it up in you, in plain words. And I don't give a damn. I'll tell you the name of the foremen if you want to know 'em. In the south end it was Joe Wenzel. And under him was a guy by the name of "Lightning." They called him "Lightning." Now he was a pretty decent guy, "Lightning" was. But Wenzel, he was the other way. Then there was Dave Barefoot. He was superintendent. And I don't remember who was the assistant superintendent under him. And if you'd put up any argument, well, they would call you down to the office and give you a goin' over, talkin' to. They would tell you what you could do and what you couldn't do. But it was terrible. Now that was in '30 and '34. And after '37 we changed the condition. We got a water booth in and everything, real nice, and the water booth was as wide as from that wall over to that, about ten foot wide and about twelve feet long. And we cut the speed down. See, at that time in the south end in '30 and '34, I think they was runnin' a hundred and fifteen and a hundred and eighteen jobs an hour. And at that time you painted one half. You sprayed one half and the other guy on the other side sprayed half. Well, the guy on the right side would spray the cowl of the car, by the windshield. Then he'd spray his side, the right side. And the guy on the left side would spray from the cowl back and spray the trunk lid and in the trunk. And that's the way it was.
WEST: I see. Well, it required some skill certainly to do that. You couldn't take a guy off the street and just bring him in.
SPOHN: Oh no, no. It took 'em, oh, a couple weeks to break a man in to spray to where he was any good at all.
WEST: I wonder if that wouldn't give you some leverage, you know, the fact that you had skill. They would have to treat you a little better. They couldn't just pull you to the window and say, "There's a guy out there..."
SPOHN: No, they didn't. That way, they didn't do that. They'd always let you know if they had somebody to take your place.
WEST: What did it take to get to be a foreman?
SPOHN: A good suck-hole, in plain words. That's what it took, a guy that hung around, stuck around the foreman and stuff and squealed on the other guys, on the other workers.
WEST: Oh, I see. Were the men expected to do things for the foremen, then, to keep their jobs?
SPOHN: Oh, they kept on the good side of the foremen all the time. But there wasn't that many foremen changed to where they would be made foreman that fast. Now in '34, when I come to think of it, in '34 it was, I'm sure, Tom Murphy (he's dead now). He was a foreman. He made a crack and someone run and turned him in for it. "We ought to get a bomb and blow the damn place up." So whenever they called 'em all back in '34, they wouldn't hire him back.
WEST: He was a foreman?
SPOHN: No, he wasn't a foreman, he was a worker. He was a sprayer, a Duco sprayer. They wouldn't hire him back and they let him out about three years that he didn't work. Maybe it was two years that he didn't work at all. And then he went in and he seen the plant manager. He sat down and had a talk with the plant manager, Mr. Paterson. And Paterson must have worked out a deal with him and hired him back and put him in, back to work. And in about two weeks he was made a foreman. And he was under the general foreman. He was the foreman. Well, before we pulled the sit-down strike (I think but I ain't sure on this) he was made general foreman. And before the strikes or anything, he was a good man. But after that, he was a rat. Really a rat. The company turned him right over and he was strictly a company man after that. And before that, him and I was the best of friends, best of pals, runnin' around together and everything. And after that he got to where he couldn't do enough dirt on me or on any of 'em if he got the chance.
WEST: After the sit-down strike.
SPOHN: Oh yeah, after we got the set-down strike, yeah. But he wouldn't come out in the open and let you know he was cuttin' your throat at the same time. He got to be awful. Well, then, when we pulled the set-down strike there in '37... We all had to go back to work in '34. We went back and took their crap and everything else. I had a big family.
WEST: You were married at the time?
SPOHN: Oh, yes. I think I had seven kids. See, I'm a dad of twelve.
WEST: Were they school age then?
SPOHN: Oh, yeah, all school age. And mother, she was home with the children all the time. Mother never worked. I never let her work or anything like that.
WEST: Where were you living then at that time?
SPOHN: At the time whenever the set-down strike, I was livin' up here on Dearborn Street, the big white house up here on the right-hand side.
WEST: Oh, so you haven't moved very far?
SPOHN: I moved from Wells Street. I lived on Wells Street in '30 and '34. And I missed a lot of it too, I didn't tell you. So I lived here when we pulled the set-down strike, up here in this big white house on the right-hand side on Dearborn Street. And when we pulled the set-down strike, why, that afternoon at three-thirty when we were done, we stayed right in there. And we stayed in there for the forty-four days and forty-four nights, never out of there. And the set-down strike, I can't remember the names of the leaders of the other two strikes. But the set-down strike, our leader at that time was a little guy by the name of Jerry Aldridge [sic, Aldred]. And these are the ones that was in there that I can remember. Jerry Aldred, Earl Aldred, Jimmy Aldred, three brothers. And then there was me, James Spohn, Frank Spohn and Ralph Spohn.
SPOHN: Brothers, us three, my two brothers.
WEST: So you had a big family, too.
SPOHN: Oh, god, I come from a family of fourteen. And then the next one was John Rose and Ralph Rose, two brothers. They were in there. And Hugh Peters, and George Constable and Earl Constable. And there was Homer Corvet and Bill Skidmore. Then that was all I can remember what was settin' in there. And there was seven boys, seven guys from up north that was in there forty-four days and forty-four nights, right with us. They growed big beards and everything. After the strike was over, about a week after (it wasn't quite a week after the strike was over), they would drive from up north to work. And comin' in the Bristol Road they got hit with a train there and killed, all seven of 'em. It killed all seven of 'em. And they were good boys, real good boys. They were from up in West Branch. I can't think of their names. It's been so long now I just can remember their names. And they were all good boys. Then every day...now the ones that didn't even work there, my oldest boy, Ed Spohn and the next one to him was Bud Spohn. They'd come over every day to the plant and they'd spend three, four hours a day in the plant with us. Sometimes they'd stay in there all day with us. And Bill Kupres and his brother, Joe Kupres, and Don Leineke, they'd be there every day. They'd spend the biggest part of the day, every day and every day with us.
WEST: But not nights?
SPOHN: No, they couldn't stay in at nights. They had to go home. They were kids, see. Ed and Bud would come over and set in with us. And Billy Kupres was at that time about seventeen. His brother Joe was about sixteen and Don Leineke was about sixteen.
WEST: So that was an exciting time for those kids to come in.
SPOHN: Oh yeah, yeah. Then a lot of days, through the days, they'd go around to restaurants and stores and pick up stuff for us.
WEST: What school were they going to then?
MRS. SPOHN: They was goin' to St. Matthew's School then.
WEST: St. Matthew's.
MRS. SPOHN: Yes, and I think Bud was in St. Matthew's.
SPOHN: Yeah, they both were.
WEST: I wonder, did they as kids goin' to school, did they have a rough time at all from some of the other kids whose parents, you know, might not have liked what you were doing?
SPOHN: Well, that I don't know. I don't know about that. I really don't.
WEST: Did teachers talk much at all?
SPOHN: I don't believe they did. I've never heard of it. I've never heard 'em say. They had fights of all kinds and everything. But I don't know what was the cause of it. I know they had lots of fights. But I don't know what was the cause of it. But they spent a lot of time in there with us. And then after we were settin' in there, oh, I'd say after the breakout at the Chevy 2, after they had that fight over at Chevy 2... Do you remember that?
WEST: Well, Fisher 2, I think they had the Battle of Running Bulls there.
SPOHN: Well, Fisher 2. That's what they called it, Fisher 2. I'm thinkin' Chevy 2, and it was Fisher 2. Well, they had that strike there. After they had that, then the main reason that we stayed in there, that we weren't took out was on account of the governor we had then. See at that time we had Governor Murphy, if you remember. He was elected as governor.
WEST: Then after the Battle of Running Bulls he sent the National Guard in.
SPOHN: No, Governor Murphy wouldn't let them bother us.
WEST: No, but he sent them in to guard the place.
SPOHN: To protect and he told 'em all. He give 'em all warnings. He said, "You don't bother them men. That's their rights. They have their equal rights. You leave them alone in there." But every day, for about two weeks or three weeks before the set-down strike was ended, old Tom Wolcott, who was the sheriff at that time, and he'd come out and come to the north-end door and rattle on the door. And Jerry would go to the door or I'd go to the door. One of us would go to the door. There was three of us, I think, went to the door. I think it was me, Jerry, and Earl. That was Jerry's brother, Earl. We'd go to the door and he'd say, "I've got a warrant here and we're gonna come in and take you out." We would take it and read it and just take it and rip it up and hand it back to him and say, "Well, come on, we're waitin' for you. We're ready. Come on any time you want to. Come on, we're waitin'." And about the next day or two he'd be back again to serve another injunction they called it. But they never did, they never tried to come in on us. Now they had that fight over at Fisher 2. But after that they didn't try to come in.
WEST: Right. Now you say you were down to about twenty-two men at the last day.
WEST: What were the maximum numbers that you had in there at some time?
SPOHN: Well, I think at the most at any time we ever had in there to set in, that would want to set in any length of time, was about fifty. Out of seven thousand, five hundred, there was about fifty. But then after four or five days, why, they took off and got out. They jumped out of the second story window and the first story window and everything else, out on the lawn to get out.
WEST: Was it strictly a volunteer thing to stay in or go out?
SPOHN: Well, we never held nobody, forced 'em to stay in. If they didn't want to stay in, we'd tell 'em to go and get the hell out of here. If you're that kind of a yellow pot-licker, get out. And they would go ahead and the ones that didn't want to stay would come to us and tell us. We'd just open the window and say, "There it is. Go ahead and get out." But then there's ones that didn't have guts enough to come and tell you. And they would jump out of the windows and get out.
WEST: Well, didn't you have a pass system set up so that you had to give a pass when you could go out and then come back in again?
SPOHN: Well, they did, yeah they did. But we very seldom ever used it, as far as I can remember. I don't ever remember usin' it. The only thing is whenever we thought the strike was settled, they called in one day and told us. They got ahold of Jerry and told Jerry Aldred. They said, "Now Jerry, the strike is over. Tomorrow have the people all together. Notify everybody to come on in. Get as many in as you can get in to walk out to make a show of it." So they put it on the radio and the television and everything, and it must have been, I would say close to two hundred come in to walk out with us. And that afternoon and that night and the next morning real early, Jerry got a call, "Hold it, stay in." And it was phony. "Don't go out; hold the plant down." Somethin' was messed up. They had tried to pull some kind of a crooked deal. So Jerry said, "Okay, we'll stay. We don't go out. We'll be here." And Reuther, the Reuther brothers, there was three Reuthers. They used to come in once a week.
WEST: Right. Vic and Roy were more active, weren't they, than Walter?
SPOHN: No, no, no. Walt was really active. Walt was the main one of the whole bunch, to tell you the truth. He was head of all of them, Walt Reuther. Then come Vic and then Roy. But Walt was the main man of all of 'em. He was the one that was over the whole damn thing, Walt was. He was the one that got killed in a plane. And then Roy died. Vic's still livin'. But they were three wonderful men. I don't mean maybe. They were real good men. I will say that. A lot of people used to blame them for bein' Communist. But we never could find out whether they were or had any connections with it.
WEST: Now before you went down on the sit-down strike, did you have a notice that you were gonna sit down very long before?
SPOHN: No. No, that day, one day I think it was. Jerry, I think in the morning...see Jerry would go back and forth with Walt Reuther, with Walter Reuther, and Vic and Roy. And Walt would contact Jerry at home and everything. And he'd give Jerry orders what we were gonna do. See Jerry, I imagine would call him and tell him that we want a strike. We want to try to better our conditions and stuff. And so he would tell 'em to go ahead and get it set up. So that morning Jerry come along and he told 'em...he told all of us. He said, "Now we're gonna pull a set-down strike tonight at quittin' time, right at three-thirty, and we'll keep the night shift out. And we'll let the ones come in that wants to come in. And then after they're in, why, we'll tell 'em that we're shuttin' the plant down on strike. And let the ones stay that wants to stay and the other ones that don't want to stay, let 'em go home." And so we stayed right in there.
WEST: So can you describe what happened later that afternoon when you did shut down?
SPOHN: Well, there was a lot. I'd say at first, the first night there was maybe a hundred and fifty stayed. The rest all went home. They just got the hell out and went home. They didn't want no part of it. But there was about a hundred and fifty that stayed. And Joe Devitt...what did you say that guy's name was? I never can think of it again.
WEST: Well, Bud Simons?
SPOHN: Oh yeah, Bud Simons, yeah. Yeah, old Bud. Is he dead now? I think he is dead.
WEST: No, Bud Simons is alive. He is in California. Joe Devitt is too, I think. Walt Moore was another one of the three, and he's gone. He's gone; he's dead.
SPOHN: Walt Moore was another and Jay Green was another one. Yeah, now that you call the names I remember 'em. But otherwise I'd have forgotten all of 'em. And Joe Devitt, he was one of the main ones. Bud Simons and Joe Devitt was more of the leader in the Communist at that time. He was more of a leader than anything else.
WEST: Well, did you have an organization then, set up after the strike? Did you have meetings in the plant to describe what you were going to do?
SPOHN: Oh yeah, we held meetings in there. Every day we'd hold a meeting and get the guys all together. We would go down in the cafeteria at mealtime. We'd go down in the cafeteria and eat and we would have our meetings. We had music in there. We had everything in there. I had a brother and there was four or five other guys that would play and we'd sing and stuff like that. My brother Frank, he played the accordion. He played accordion and he'd sing and there was four or five other guys. I don't remember who they were, even. And then a lot of the other guys would sing with 'em, you know, and stuff.
WEST: Did you have committees set up? Did everybody have an assigned job?
SPOHN: Oh yeah, yes, each one had their jobs assigned to 'em.
WEST: What was your job?
SPOHN: I would check 'em in and check 'em out.
WEST: At the windows?
SPOHN: At the window, yeah. And then sometimes...
WEST: Did you have a card then, a strike card?
SPOHN: Oh yeah. We all had the set-down strike cards.
WEST: Did they have those ready at the time? They must have had them printed up then, ready to give out to people.
SPOHN: Oh yeah. Jerry Aldred took care of all that. And then they got a set-down medal and everything, you see. Now I don't know whatever became of my medal. He was in the office over there on Saginaw Street all the time. Him and different guys, I can't remember their names. And they took care of the office over there and there was six, eight women over there to cook for us. And they would carry it over and hand it in the window to us. They'd hand the food in and then we'd take it down to the cafeteria.
WEST: Police didn't make any effort then, to interfere with that?
SPOHN: Oh, they'd come to the window, but we'd tell 'em to "get your fanny goin'" and that would be all there'd be to it. They'd take right off. They wouldn't hang around. And at that time then there'd be ones come down, maybe if they figured there was gonna be any trouble, maybe fifty or sixty would come from the office down to the window and ask us if everything was all right. And we'd tell 'em, "Yeah, it's okay."
WEST: Did reporters come in to the plant?
SPOHN: Yeah, they left two or three of the reporters in, but I can't remember who they were. They left two or three in.
WEST: Did they come from a long ways?
SPOHN: I don't know where they come from. I think some was Flint and I think some was from Detroit. I ain't sure on that. But they'd come to the window and then Jerry would talk to 'em. But we never took 'em through the plant. Never took 'em in through the plants; he would just talk to 'em at the window.
WEST: Did the morale get pretty low sometimes?
SPOHN: No, I couldn't say it did. With the ones that stayed in there, I think we was just as happy as we were. And happier than we was when we were workin'. We were just as happy as hell. We had a hell of a good time. We were all busy. We made all kind of stuff. Made blackjacks and these raidin' clubs, and wrapped them with leather. All leather over 'em. Cut leather out of the tops. We'd cut up tops and make blackjacks and make leather, make black snake whips and everything. But we had the plant windows all barred and everything.
WEST: But I'm thinking, if numbers got so low, there must have been a time when you feared that if the cops had made a rush at you, you wouldn't have been able to hold out.
SPOHN: No, we had steel over windows and stuff. We had holes cut in it. Everything had a certain amount of holes and everything cut in it. And we had some of the stuff. There could have been a thousand of 'em got outside there and we could have slaughtered 'em all. We weren't worried. And we had acid and everything else.
WEST: Acid? Where did that come from?
SPOHN: Oh yeah. Well, they had it in the plant there, barrels of it that they used for different things. They used it on cleanin' metal and stuff. And we had it all set. We had maybe, oh, thirty barrels settin' along the windows where you could take a five-gallon pail and just heave it right out all over them and everything.
WEST: And you had pickets outside, too didn't you?
SPOHN: No, we never had no pickets walkin' the picket line. We'd have guys once in a while, they'd have 'em in the office, go down and go up the other side of the street to see if everything was all right. And if we wanted any of 'em, we'd just open the window and holler at 'em, motioning 'em to come over to the window.
WEST: Did guys come up from Toledo, Cleveland, places like that? South Bend, Pontiac...?
SPOHN: There has been ones come from different places and talk to Jerry at the window. But I couldn't tell you what it was all about or anything. Oh, we had doctors and lawyers and everything come, as far as that goes, wantin' to know how we were, if there was any way they could help and everything.
WEST: Was there any sickness in the plant, then?
SPOHN: No, I don't know of anybody that really got sick that they had to go out and go to the doctor or anything. I don't know of any one of us. I don't know of any of 'em that was really sick, not a sign of it.
WEST: You didn't get out then and come home at any time during the period? Some of the guys must have if they had families.
SPOHN: No, they never did. No, no, every one of their families would come up to the window and talk to them.
MRS. SPOHN: That's a miracle. That's right.
SPOHN: And I've got my others, too. I've got my what-do-you-call-it, too. I've got my card.
MRS. SPOHN: Let me clean that off a little bit so you can see it.
WEST: Oh, that’s fine.
SPOHN: Walter Reuther sent me a watch. Walter Reuther met my son over here. My son was over to the union here on Van Slyke Road for about eleven years. Bud, the one I told you that set in with us. And Ed worked over at the old Chevrolet later on in years. He worked there, and Bud worked over here. In fact, Bud's still workin' over there. He is safety director over the whole plant, and he has been for about six, seven years.
WEST: Can we go back just a little bit? In the period between '34 and the sit-down in '36...
WEST: Did you maintain membership in unions or did you let your membership lapse?
SPOHN: Oh no, no. I've belonged to the union all my life, ever since I was fourteen years old.
WEST: I want to get to that too, but I was thinking...
SPOHN: See, we built the A F of L union in Cleveland out on 140th and St. Clair. We worked there. All of us guys, practically half of us that was in the set-down strike, came from Cleveland.
WEST: When was that?
SPOHN: And we come up here in '27. And we come in here and there was three brothers besides me come up here. And little Jerry Aldred and his two brothers come up. And they transferred us from Cleveland up here. And the superintendent in Cleveland...
WEST: They had just opened Fisher 1 then, hadn't they, in about '27? Fisher brothers had taken over.
SPOHN: Yeah, or just a year or so even before that. I don't know exactly when it was, but it was just about a year or so before that. But when I first come up, the rest was in, but I didn't get in right away. I was here about two weeks before they called me in. In fact, I'd go down to the employment office. So they told me, "You come in in the morning and go to work." So I said, "All right." So we did. I come in there and went to work. But I didn't go on Duco sprayin' when I first come in, I oil sanded for about three month. And, boy, you talk about a job to work. Your arms, clear up to here, would be raw.
WEST: Above the elbow.
SPOHN: Blood drippin' out, runnin' right out of your arms from the stuff you used to sand with, gasoline and oil, see. And it would just eat your...
WEST: What were you doin', then? Sanding?
SPOHN: Sanding the bodies. Yeah, sandin' the bodies.
WEST: Were those bodies metal then or were they wood?
SPOHN: Oh yeah. No, they were all metal. Wood and metal over it, see. And we'd sand 'em. And at that time, I can't remember the foremen who were there. And there was a guy from Grand Blanc. I can't think of his name who was the superintendent over the oil sandin'. Oh, he was rotten. Then for about three months or three months and a half I oil sanded, and my arms got so bad and my hands all broke out and everything just like eczema, raw all over and it would just set you crazy. And so I got on 'em for a transfer. So they transferred me down on to Duco polish. And I went down there. And that was at the time when you Duco polished by hand. You would take a...like this underwear...they would have it like this stuff here. And you would roll it up into a ball. And you'd take it like this and you'd put the polish on it, see. Then like this you'd polish the one side, rub the one side.
WEST: That was before you got the spray.
SPOHN: And one day they come down. I was on that about three month. One day the superintendent come down and he got ahold of the polishin' foreman. The polishin' foreman was a nice guy. And he got ahold of him and he asked him where I was and he showed him. And he said, "Well, I want him. I come down to get him to go on the Duco sprayer. He's a finish sprayer and I want to take him up to the sprayin' room. And he's been on sanding and polishin', waitin' for an opening on sprayin'.
WEST: Had you done spraying in Cleveland, then before?
SPOHN: Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, I worked on all coats in Cleveland. Undercoat and then worked up to Duco.
WEST: When did you start work in Cleveland then?
SPOHN: Oh, now that is gonna be hard to remember. It must have been about 1924.
WEST: And how old were you then?
SPOHN: Well, I was around twenty-two, somewhere around there.
WEST: So you must have been born around 1902, then.
SPOHN: I was born in 1901. I was in the First World War. Oh yeah, the First World War.
WEST: Well, that interests me, because I understand that when the sit-down strike was on, there was an effort to organize some of the World War I veterans to offset the American Legion that were veterans.
SPOHN: Yeah, well, I never heard anything about that. That's news to me. I never knew that they done that.
WEST: Well, I heard that they tried to develop some, because the American Legion was active as World War I veterans, and of course they were conservative and opposed to the strike.
SPOHN: Yes, I remember that.
WEST: And to offset that, I understand there was an effort to organize some of the World War I veterans, as a group, to support the strike.
SPOHN: Well, I didn't know anything about that. I never went into the veterans. I never went into that. And I never joined it or anything. I just left it go, just like I did the set-down strike. But I've been in every strike there ever was, I'll tell you that. I started back in 1918 or 1919 in the Binghamton, New York, strike. That was the first.
WEST: What was that?
WEST: Bricklayers. You were layin' bricks then, in New York in nineteen...
SPOHN: Oh yea, in 1919 or 1920, I forget just when it was. Then we got married and I got a clearance card out of the local there and cleared into the local in Cleveland. I cleared into Local 5, Bricklayers.
WEST: The bricklayers local in Cleveland.
SPOHN: Yes, then I worked there for oh about...must have been wasn't it, Mother, when I worked for Alek Howey about three years, didn't I?
MRS. SPOHN: Who?
SPOHN: Alek Howey, when I worked for him bricklayin' and stone steppin'.
MRS. SPOHN: I'd say all of three years.
SPOHN: Well, I worked for him. Then the oldest brother got a job out of Fisher Body on 140th and St. Clair. So after he was out there a couple of weeks he got me to go out there with him. He said, "I can get you a job there if you want to go, Jim." He finally talked me into coming. So finally I said, "All right." So he had me come out to the employment office, and Earl Quick was the superintendent over the paint. So Earl come down and asked for me and I stood up and he said, "You're Dan Spohn's brother?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Well, Dan spoke to me about having you get a job. Come in here and go to work." I said, "Well, I've been thinkin' about it and I thought I'd come out and try it." He said, "Okay, how about comin' in in the morning?" I said, "All right." So I went in there and I worked there. First I went on undercoats, sprayin' undercoats. And then I got lead poisonin'. I got lead poisonin' three different times. And I was off maybe three or four weeks before they could get it drove out of me. And then one day, the second or third time...I forget which...I think it was the third time, I went back. And old...what the hell was his name? He was under Earl Quick, he was...Jack Brady, he was the assistant superintendent. And he was the assistant superintendent over Chevy 2 over here. They transferred him up here after they closed that plant down, down there. So I went in and he said, "Well Jim, come on." He said, "I'll put you back on sprayin' undercoats again." I said, "No, Jack, I just can't. The doctors told me to stay off any paint with lead on. Next time I'd more likely die from it and I'm not gonna do it." "Well," he said, "you'll either go back on that or we don't need you any more. We'll just let you go." And just about that time Earl Quick walked up, and I said, "Well, I guess I'll just have to go. That's it, because I ain't goin' back on it. You can take that and shove it in your ass. I don't want no part of it." So Earl come up and he said, "Just a minute. Jim, what seems to be the trouble?" And I said, "Mr. Quick, I just got out of the hospital and got back to work again. I've had lead poisonin' (I think it was twice; I ain't sure), and Brady wanted to put me back on undercoats again. And I told him the doctor give me strict orders I couldn't go back on it." And he told me I could take that or quit. And I told him I'd rather quit. And he said, "Now just a minute, Jack. You go to your office and I'll talk to you after while." He said, "You come on with me, Jim. So he took me upstairs and told me, "I'm gonna put you on sprayin' Duco. There ain't no lead in that and you can work on that." So I said, "Okay." So I started sprayin' Duco. And then I sprayed Duco about a year, and I met little Jerry Aldred. He was workin' there and his brother, Jimmy. And we decided the conditions was bad, but they weren't nothin' like they were up here. But we decided to pull a strike, for more money, better conditions and stuff.
WEST: Was there a union then or you just walked out?
SPOHN: No, no, I belonged to A F of L. Little Jerry did, too. Little Jerry Aldred did and stuff. They didn't know it. See, if they knew that you belonged to the union...
WEST: Was that a carriage workers' and motor vehicles union? Because it wasn't obviously the UAW?
SPOHN: That was UAW, oh yeah, that was UAW. So little Jerry, after we got acquainted we got talkin'. So we decided to go and hit 'em up for more money and shorter hours and stuff.
WEST: How many hours were you working?
SPOHN: At that time I think I was workin' ten or eleven hours a day, I think it was. And so they wouldn't go along with it. So we told 'em, "All right, we're gonna pull a strike." So we shut her down. And we shut it down and we was down three weeks. Walked the street, picket line out in front of the plant all of the time. And the people there, even outsiders, would get in the picket line and walk with you. They weren't like they were here. They'd get right out there and walk right with you and stuff. And after three weeks they closed that plant down altogether. And they told us, they said, "You are all done. We're closin' the plant and you go find yourselves other jobs because they've closed the plant. General Motors ain't gonna have the plant here any more." So we said, "All right." So we started huntin' other jobs. And, oh, we all got jobs as far as that was concerned.
WEST: In Cleveland?
SPOHN: Oh yeah, we got jobs there. Then about, oh, maybe a month afterwards, Earl Quick, who was superintendent over the paint and stuff, he must have gotten in touch with 'em up here or somethin'. But he was a good man in General Motors. And he was a good man and honest man. And he didn't hate labor. So Earl sent 'em all a letter. And he wrote up here and seen how many Duco sprayers they could use. And so he wrote up here and then he wrote all the men a letter and told 'em that they could transfer 'em up here to work. So he transferred us all up here to Fisher 1 up here. And that's how we got up here.
WEST: I see. Well, was there a union up here then at Fisher I?
SPOHN: Oh, no, hell no! We come up here in '27, and we worked 'til '30 with nothin', no union or nothin'. And in '30 was the first strike we pulled. And in '34 we pulled a second strike. And they clubbed us all over Genesee County, just clubbed the hell right out of us and beat the hell out of us and run us clear out seven or eight miles on the other side of Grand Blanc. Then when we pulled the set-down, why, we held it. They couldn't get in.
WEST: Who thought of the sit-down technique, 'cause, as you say, you tried it in '30 and '34?
SPOHN: I think it was cooked up between Walter Reuther and Jerry Aldred and me and some more of the leaders and the ones that he could depend on.
WEST: No, I mean the idea of a sit-down strike. How did you come to think of that way to do it?
SPOHN: Well, we knew we couldn't win on the outside and we figured the only way we could win it is if we could hold the plant on the inside. If we could hold the plant on the inside, why, we stood a chance.
WEST: Did you think of other places that had been tried before?
SPOHN: Oh, no, I never knew of a set-down strike before that. I never knew of one. I never did. Now maybe they did. I don't know. But I didn't.
WEST: Now you mentioned your experience in Cleveland, up until '27, which is interesting, because Wyndham Mortimer came from Cleveland.
SPOHN: I know.
WEST: At White Motors.
WEST: Did you know Wyndham Mortimer?
SPOHN: Yeah, yeah.
WEST: He came up in the summer of '36 to organize the CIO.
SPOHN: Yeah, I remember.
WEST: What sort of a person was Wyndham Mortimer then, do you know?
SPOHN: Well, I don't know. I hate to say, because he was a sellout, is the way I got it. I understood that General Motors bought him out and he turned over...
WEST: That's not Martin now? You're not thinkin' of Homer Martin, who was the president of the UAW and later moved with Ford?
SPOHN: That's who I'm thinkin' of, yeah. Yeah, Homer Martin, that's who I'm thinkin' of. Wyndham Mortimer I never knew. Now that's different.
WEST: Oh, I see. He came up, I guess after the CIO was formed. John L. Lewis formed the CIO in '35 and then they got the UAW South Bend organized, and he came up here. I think Wyndham Mortimer came up here in December of '36. And Bob Travis came up. Did you know Travis?
SPOHN: Yeah, I knew Travis.
WEST: What was he like?
SPOHN: Well, I never knew too much about Bob. To be honest about it, I can't remember too much about him any more to be honest about it. I can't remember and I can't say. But I think he was lined up with the Communists, too, if I'm not mistaken.
WEST: Maybe we should explore that just a bit. How did you come into contact then, with Communists? How did you know that someone was Communist?
SPOHN: Well, after the set-down strike... Well, we had 'em in the other strikes, but we didn't know it. I didn't know it at least, anyway. But after the set-down strike, we throwed them out. If we found out they were Communists, we kicked 'em out of the set-down and wouldn't let 'em in there. They went right next door to our office over there and rented the building right next to us and started their office, CIO. And that's how we...
WEST: So there was a split.
SPOHN: Yeah, that was a split, right there.
WEST: You mentioned, I think, that Bud Simons and Joe Devitt were Communists. Who were some of the others?
SPOHN: Jay Green and them ones you mentioned there. I can never think of their names any more. They were all Communists.
WEST: How did you know they were? Did they talk about joining the party?
SPOHN: No, they would talk to you and then they'd come around in a nice smooth way and they'd have a card about the size of that and they'd want you to sign the card. And when you signed the card, you agreed that you would go along with 'em. And little Jerry Aldred was the one that put the stop to that. He held meetings and told 'em, "Now don't none of you sign them damn cards. When you sign your name on that card you've signed to be a Communist." And he stopped that.
WEST: Was there any literature around, the Daily Worker or any of that?
SPOHN: Oh yes, they had a lot of that around, but I don't remember it, to be honest about it. But they had a lot of that. They were publishin' that all the time. And then after the set-down strike, next door, we were fightin' all the time.
WEST: That was the Homer Martin split, wasn't it?
SPOHN: Well, Homer got out of it after that. He got out and then I don't know who in the hell they got in for their leader after that. I don't remember. And I can't remember the ones that we had in, the leaders we had in. I would know 'em by name if I could hear their names.
WEST: What group were you identified with then?
SPOHN: A F of L.
WEST: You were with the A F of L. Did you have any real battles with the CIO boys there?
SPOHN: Oh yeah, several.
WEST: Can you recall any of those?
SPOHN: Well, oh, no, I don't really remember who I fought with. But I fought with a lot of 'em.
WEST: What was the main issue then between the Martin people and the..?
SPOHN: Well, see, after the set-down strike, we held them all out...all the ones that didn't want to come in. We had a picket line. And I forget what it was about. I don't just remember. But the CIO marched in. They went in and went to work, broke through our picket lines and went in and went to work. They were tryin' to make it CIO, which in the end they called it CIO anyway. But they broke through the picket lines and went through the A F of L picket lines and went in to work in the plant.
WEST: Right. I'm wondering what the issues were between the Martin people and the CIO?
SPOHN: Well, they got the idea that the CIO was run by the Communist Party is all I ever knowed it to be. And John L. Lewis, they claimed even John L. Lewis was Communist.
WEST: Who is "they" who claimed that?
SPOHN: All the leaders. Little Jerry, Jerry knew. He knew all of them. And he claimed that through the leadership, through the international and stuff they would come in. And they would tell 'em, too, who was. And that's why we pulled away from John L. Lewis and stayed with the A F of L. And I never did join the CIO. No, no. I never joined the CIO. None of us that I know of, and there was about ten or twelve of us, that never joined the CIO.
WEST: Well, wasn't it hard after the CIO won the election in 1940, when you got the closed shop? Didn't you have to join the CIO then?
SPOHN: No, they never even tried to force us to join. They would some. They made a lot of 'em join. But they never tried to make us join.
WEST: I'm wondering after the strike was over and before the split, a lot of people would come in to join the union then wouldn't they, that had stayed out? That was before you had the A F of L-CIO split.
SPOHN: Oh yeah. We had a lot of 'em join the A F of L. But then they went CIO afterwards. They turned right over and went CIO, because they were anxious to go back and go to work. They didn't give a damn. They wanted to go to work. In '34 (I'm pretty sure it was in '34 that we had...; it's so damn far back that I can't remember just how it was), but we had our office. I think that's when the split was, if I'm not mistaken. I ain't sure. It was in '34. We had our office, and they started the office right next door to us. And, if I remember right, they tried to force us to join the CIO. And they were gonna tear our office down and stuff. One night about, oh, I'd say six-thirty or seven o'clock, there must have been about oh, twenty-five thousand people marched in and they come from all over. I don't know where in the hell all they come from but they started in at Bristol Road and they marched right down Saginaw Street, four abreast like an army. Right down 'til they all got in and they just packed, every place they could get a man in, they packed 'em in there on Saginaw Street. And they had that street packed, that you couldn't move that far either way, with men. I think (I'm pretty sure, I don't know), I think that was in '34, but I ain't positive on that now. But anyway, they started. We locked our doors. There was only that night I think about ten of us in our office. And they wanted to get us out of there. They was gonna just work us over and beat the hell out of us, kill us. What they was gonna do, I don't know. But they tried to get in our office and we had our door barred and everything and the doors all locked. There was, I think, about twelve or fourteen, I don't know exactly what it was in there. And I'd say one or two women worked in the office. I think they were in there. But little Jerry...it got so damn bad and they started to try to cave the walls in in the side of the buildin' and we had the windows all barred. And they tried to tear the bars off the windows and stuff. And Jerry he called the Flint police, and they wouldn't do nothin' about it. He called the sheriff's department. They wouldn't do nothin' about it. So he got ahold of the state troopers and he told 'em, he said now, by god, they told him to call the sheriff department and the Flint police. And he said, "I've called 'em and they won't do a thing. Now we've gotta have help here. There ain't no way out of it or we're all gonna be killed. There's gonna be a lot of people killed. We ain't gonna be the only ones killed." So he said, "You'd better get somebody out here." So when the sergeant in the state police said, "Okay, we'll be there in about ten minutes." He said, "If the sheriff's department and the Flint police won't do nothin' about it, I'll send men right out." So he did. He brought out about seven or eight cars, seven and eight men in each car with machine guns. And he just sounded his sirens and they come right up through. Where in the hell them people got out of the way I don't know. But they come straight up through Saginaw Street, right in the front of our office. The sergeant's car, he stopped right in front of the office. And the others lined up right back of him. And he give 'em their orders what to do. Have their windows all down, have their machine guns right out the windows. And he got out of the car and come over to the office and pounded on the door. So Jerry and I opened the door and let him in. He come in and wanted to know what it was all about. And we told him. We told him we didn't know what it was all about. And they marched in here. And there must be, god we don't know how many. It looked like to us there must have been fifteen, twenty thousand people, as far down Saginaw Street as you could see. It was just packed.
WEST: All CIO men out to get...
SPOHN: It was all cooked up with the CIO. So he said, "Okay, now I'll tell you what I'm gonna do." He said, "I'm goin' out now and I'll split the gang up. I'll split 'em up and if they don't go when I tell 'em, we'll kill 'em. We'll kill every one of 'em." "Now," he said, "what I want you to do, just stay in there and lock your door. I'll go out and I'll give the orders. And if they don't scatter, we'll scatter 'em. We won't monkey with 'em." And he said, "You guys stay in there. And after we get it scattered I'll rap on the door and we'll take you, all of you, home." And I'll tell you truthfully, that's one night that I had shit my bottom, in plain words. I was scared. I'm not kiddin' you; I was scared. Because I didn't know what second...
WEST: You were sure if they got hold of you that they were gonna...
SPOHN: Oh, they would have killed us, there's no doubt about it, because they knew that we were the head ones in there and they were gonna try to get rid of us if they possibly could, which has happened several times since that, but not there. But anyway, he went out there and he got up on top of the car and he told on the loud speaker, "Now, I want everybody, I want this street clean in ten minutes. I don't mean maybe." You could hear him just as plain as you can hear me. He said, "I mean in ten minutes if this street ain't clean, anyone that's on the street, I'm lookin' at all them cars. They got their windows down, their guns out of 'em. I gave my men all orders if anyone was on this street to mow 'em down." And you never seen people disappear so quick in all your life. I don't know where in the hell they went to, but I bet you in ten minutes you couldn't see a person nowhere. He cleared 'em all out and, boy, were we glad! Then he come over in the office and he said, "Okay, boys, come on. Now you get in this car, a couple of you and a couple in this car and tell 'em where you live and they'll take you home." So the second car, at that time I was livin' in the white house up here. I don't know, I think I was. But anyway, he took us home. And then the next day we went back and held our meetings just the same. Then from there on there'd be street fights all the time. It was fightin' all the time. I would get two or three on me at one time and fight with them. Not just me. I didn't get any more of it than any of the rest of them. And this Billy Kupres I was tellin' you about what come in and set down with us, him and his brother, Joe and Don Leineke and my oldest son and even little Bud at that time, they would come over to the office and hang around there all of the time. But this Billy Kupres, I never seen a man like him in my life. There was no way you could lick him. I've seen him fight six, seven at a time and just lay 'em all over the street. Boy, he was wicked. And we had a lot of good men, a lot of real good men. But they weren't none that picked fights or they didn't look for a fight. But if it come on 'em, they'd get at it.
WEST: But finally there was an election, wasn't there, in 1940, wasn't there?
SPOHN: I think there were, yeah. But I don't remember just when it was. But I never did join the CIO, never had a CIO card.
WEST: I wonder if we could go back just a little bit, back to the beginning as it were, with your personal background. You were born then in 1901. Where was that?
SPOHN: 1901, August the third.
WEST: Where were you born?
SPOHN: Pennsylvania, Butler, Pennsylvania.
WEST: What was your father; what did he do?
SPOHN: Well, he worked on oil wells. He was a driller, drillin' oil wells.
WEST: Spohn, was that a European derivation? Was your father born in the United States?
SPOHN: Yeah, he was born here, but his parents was born in Germany. And then they moved to France and my dad was born in France. But his other two brothers, no, all three of 'em was born in France. But they come over here when he was a little boy. He was only maybe two or three years old. I don't remember. His mother and dad moved over here and they moved outside of Butler on a farm. They bought a farm and they lived there.
WEST: I see. So then you started work pretty early?
SPOHN: I started to work when I wasn't quite nine years old in the bottle works in Butler. Hamilton Bottle Works. I started to work there when I wasn't quite nine years old. We lived outside of Butler about twelve mile, at that time, at a place what they called Carbon Center, just twelve mile out of Butler. And the brother and I one day made up our mind we'd go in to Butler. And we walked in there in weather about just like it is right now, snow on the ground and stuff. And we, at that time, was in our bare feet 'cause we didn't have enough boy's shoes. And we walked in there and we met a young lad that lived on Kittanning Street, him and his mother. And he said, "Hello, boys." He was maybe three or four years older than us. And he asked where we were goin' and where we were from and everything and we told him. And he said, "Well, have you had anything to eat yet?" And we said, "No, we haven't." And I just had a little real light jacket on and my brother, too. We didn't have too much at that time out there, because my dad wasn't workin' at that time. He was workin' at that time in Bedstead, at East Butler. And I think he worked ten hours a day for a dollar and a quarter an hour at that time... A dollar and a quarter a day, I meant to say, is what he got. He drove back and forth seventeen mile to work. So we took off and went in there. And this young lad took us into the house and made us acquainted with his mother and she said, "Oh, my god, boys, where are your shoes?" And we said, "We ain't got no shoes." Well she said, "Are you hungry?" (You ain't recordin' this are you?)
WEST: Oh yeah, it's going, but don't worry about it.
SPOHN: So she said, "Well, are you boys hungry? I'll give you somethin' to eat." And we said, "Yeah, we are hungry." So she give us somethin' to eat. And we talked to her son there for quite a while and he said, "What are you gonna do in Butler here?" We told him we'd come in to see if we couldn't get a job. And he said, "Well, I think I can get you a job." And we said, "Can you?" And he said, "Yeah." He said, "Come on. After you get done eatin' I'll take you down here to the bottle works." It's right down below his house at the bottle factory, it was. So he took us down there and took us in and they hired us and give us a job and the next night we went to work nights, workin' twelve hours a night.
WEST: Goin' to school, too?
SPOHN: No, we didn't get to go to school. And so we went to work. And I worked two weeks before I got a pay. Two or three, but I think it was two, in my bare feet over that crushed glass, pickin' up bottles. And they had...well, the way they had it, like on this side they had a guy settin' over here with a bench and a finishin' tool where he'd finish the necks on the bottles, see. You'd go over here, there was a guy when the glass blower would roll 'em, he'd put 'em in a mold and the guy would close the mold and then he'd blow the bottle, see. And then after it was in there a second they'd open the mold and set 'em up on a scale. And we'd come along and take 'em off that scale and put 'em in a snap, what they called a snap like that, that the bottle fit down in, an iron snap where the bottle fit, about that long and then a handle about that long on it. We'd take it around and we'd take it over to this man over here and lay it on his bench. And he'd take...he had a finishin' tool. It looked like a pair of these clippers and it had a thing on it like that. He'd run the neck of the bottle and he'd roll it like this and finish the necks on the bottle. And then you'd go back and pick up another one. You just kept that up for twelve hours, all night long. I worked there, I think, two weeks in my bare feet. And then I got a pay and my dad got us shoes and stuff. And they still lived out on the farm out at Carbon Center. So we went home and told 'em. And so they finally made up their mind to move in to Butler then. So they moved in to Butler and moved only about eight blocks from the plant. So they moved in there. And we worked there and then I got my dad to go down and get a job. And he went in there and went to work nights pullin' what they call leers. Now like whenever they'd put these bottles in crates, crates about that long and about that wide, they would take 'em over and set 'em on this leer. The leer would be like this and they'd set two of 'em, three wide on the leer. And there would be two leers, so they'd pull 'em. And my dad would be on the back end and there was a big crank on it. And you'd pull it up. Each panel would be about that wide. They'd have six or eight crates of bottles on 'em. When he'd pull this pan up, there'd be a pan come up here, and pull this one up here. Then he'd unload them bottles and stack 'em. Then he'd go back and pull the next one up. And I worked there for, oh, hell, a couple years, my brother and I. And then we were there, oh, I was there 'til I was thirteen. And then, while I was thirteen years old, the First World War started and they drafted my oldest brother. He wouldn't enlist. They drafted him. And Frank went and joined, so I wanted to join. My dad told me, "Jim, you can't get in the army. I don't want you to go." I said, "Well, Pop, I'll tell you, it's just like this. To be honest about it, if you don't let me go, I'll run away like Frank did." Frank went to Oil City and joined the army. I said, "I'll run away and join the army. If you stop and figure it out, I've already talked about it and stuff. And if I go in the army, I'll sign an allotment over to you and mother. And every month you'll get an allotment from me." At that time it was forty dollars you would get a month. Well, I'd send my mother and dad thirty dollars and I'd keep ten dollars, what I needed to get by on. And so that was it until after the war was over. Then I come back home and I was home a couple of weeks and after that I went down with this carnival. I wanted to see what the carnival was like, you know. So I went down there and I got to talkin' around. I went to one stand there where you get hot dogs, hamburgers and stuff. And there was an old Jewish couple, Max Plum and his wife, Marie, run this. I had a hot dog there and talked a little bit. And then I went around lookin' through the carnival to see what all I could see. And then I come back to get another hot dog and I talked to 'em a little while. And we got talkin' and got quite friendly and they said, "Jimmy, how would you like to go with the carnival?" And I said, "Well, I don't know. I've never been with a carnival and I don't know anything about it, but I wouldn't mind." And so they said, "Well, Saturday night, we leave at midnight. And if you make up your mind you want to go, you can go with us. And we'll give you a job and you can work for us." So I did.
WEST: So you worked in the carnival and then later you had gone into bricklaying, so you had variety.
SPOHN: And I went with the carnival, oh I don't know, a month or two. Two month, I think it was, and they started me with a stand of my own. Set up a tent alone and let me work for myself. They liked me. They used to always tell everybody I was their son. They had a son they lost about the same age that I was so they took me as their son. So then I got acquainted with Kraus. We moved in with a circus and I got acquainted with Mr. Kraus. And he had, oh, eight or ten different things that he had in. I went in this Kraus carnival and I ended up in Binghamton, New York. And he was from Johnson City, New York, right outside of Binghamton. So he wanted me to go to...he said, "I'll be here two months, Jim. And we want you to go to Florida and play for the winter." So I said, "Well, okay, I ain't doin' nothin'. I'll go." And oh, I must have had ten or twelve tents of my own by that time. And so I shipped all my stuff home to my dad and I went down there and got a room in the hotel, Lewis House. And I stayed there and I got out huntin' a job. And I run into this man that was a contractor for bricklayin'. So I got acquainted with him and then went to work for him as a laborer. I worked for him for about five, six months and he liked me well. And he said, "Jimmy, how would you like to learn bricklayin', be an apprentice?" And I said, "Oh, I wouldn't mind it." And he told me what the scale was and stuff. And he said, "If you want, I'll take you down and I'll get you an apprentice card and start you as an apprentice." So I did. He said, "You know, you'll be on that four years before you become a bricklayer." So I worked at it for about a year and a half and all the bricklayers all liked me. And he thought there was nobody in the world like me. So he said, "Jimmy, we're gonna go to the hall on the next meeting night and we're gonna try to get you your book." And he said, "I ain't got a bricklayer on the job that you can't lay twice as many bricks as em' and stuff, and perfect." So all the layers agreed to it. So he made them go to the meeting that night. They went to the meeting and he got up and told 'em about it. And they said, "Okay." Everybody okayed it, so I got my book. And then I worked for, oh, maybe three month after that bricklayin' for 'em. And my wife and I was goin' together at the same time, so I decided to get married. So I told Hank I was gonna get married and I was gonna go to Cleveland to live. So we got married in Syracuse and then I went on into Cleveland. And I went down to the local there.
WEST: That's interesting. I think we're just about at the end here, so I won't get anything else going.