Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
DATE: March 4, 1980
INTERVIEWEE: Raymond Zink
INTERVIEWER: Kenneth West
WEST: I wonder, Mr. Zink, if we could start with a bit of your personal background. Are you a native of Flint?
ZINK: Yeah, I was born in Flint, Michigan, on East Kearsley Street. The place I lived, or my dad lived, was St. Joseph’s Hospital occupies that ground now.
WEST: Oh, that’s interesting. What year was that?
ZINK: 1914. We moved out on the Clio Road, just north of Carpenter Road, in 1916, so I don’t remember living there, but I have pictures of it.
WEST: Right. But you were living up Clio Road, then, at the time of the strike, were you?
ZINK: Yes. Yes.
WEST: Were you living with your parents then, or?
ZINK: Between Ruth’s (my wife’s) parents and my parents. We were married in 1934, and I worked at the Chevrolet Number 4, Chevrolet Manufacturing, in 1934. I hired in there in April of ’34 and worked until August of that same year. And that, of course, was pre-union, and the wage rate was 55 cents an hour and for six days a week and seven-and-a-half hours a day, why, in two weeks I had a check of 49 dollars and a half, but there were no deductions. Nothing taken out. But still it wasn’t very much, but it was a going wage at that time, and it was under the NRA set-up. It was three shifts working there.
WEST: So you were twenty years old then when you did the work there.
WEST: Had you been working?
ZINK: Just on the farm with my dad and around in different odd jobs that I could pick up.
WEST: So you were living on Clio. That was a farmstead then.
ZINK: On Clio Road, yes, just north of Carpenter.
WEST: Well, that was during the... What did your dad do then?
ZINK: Well, he was a farmer at that time, although he had been a carpenter in Flint many years. And then he had left that, because he could only make 50 cents a day, working carpenter work, and so he left that and bought the farm and went out there in 1916, although he came from a farm family. He was a native of New York State. He was born in New York State, moved to Monroe and then came up to the Flint area, oh, right around 1900, and then worked in the carpenter trade and farming also. He used to rent farms at times, out south of Flint.
WEST: Did you go to schools, then, ...?
ZINK: Yes, I went to the Flint Central, graduated from Flint Central in 1931. It was at that time our school district, the Beckwith School District, and they had an agreement, or they paid the tuition of the students. Now many school districts would not pay the tuition of their high school students, and so that meant many students didn’t get a chance to go to high school, but I did, although we lived seven miles from the high school. And I used to drive when I once got old enough. Course I got my license to drive at fourteen, and a little bit different now, but...
WEST: Did you have a car then at the time of the ...
ZINK: Yes, I used to drop milk off at a dairy, Howe’s Dairy. We delivered milk to the Howe’s Dairy, and they were on Avenue A at that time, and then I would drop the milk there in the morning and then go on over to school. And then that was in the latter two years, but the first years, why, he would take me part way and then I would get the streetcar, and then, comin’ home, I would catch the streetcar, and they used to come out to Flint Park, Fleming Road, and then I only had a couple miles to walk. But I’d usually catch a ride or somethin’. Once in a while I had to walk all the way, but not always. Not always.
WEST: Well, you came in, then, during the Depression. Was your family affected by the Depression very much?
ZINK: In that there was such a lack of ready money, but never was short of food, ‘cause we had the farm, you know, and we could raise our own food, yes. We were never hungry. But trying to find a job was a very hard thing. I know that they spent many a morning down there at Chevrolet and then putting my application in at other plants, and I managed to get that job there in April, or I got it March, actually. Went to work the first day of April by standing out by the employment office. And then a man would come out twice a day and say, well, they need so many men of such-and-such a weight. But if you could get in the office, usually you could get a job. And so I got as close to the door as I could that one day, and then when they come out and said they needed a half a dozen men, well, I don’t know, 160-pound weight, something like that, why, I managed to get in, and then I got a job, and then I went to work in the Plant 4. And my first job down there was hanging flywheels.
WEST: They needed men of certain weight, then, because the job was...
ZINK: They didn’t hold you to that, though, once you got in the office. And the weight was forgotten. Now I don’t know why. Now the job that they gave me was not a particularly hard, heavy job, but it was fast. The main motor line at that time was running, oh, I would say between 80 and 100 motors per hour, and I was required to hang a flywheel on each one, and I had to take the flywheel off the conveyor system that came around and start four bolts in it. You had to go pretty fast.
WEST: Did the line speed up, then, at...?
ZINK: No, that was basically the line speed for that, although it would vary, depending upon the conditions for that particular day. Sometimes it would run faster for periods of time, and then it would run slower. Now I don’t know what really did govern it. It was usually manpower, you know.
WEST: Well, that was the job you hired in at you said in ’34.
ZINK: Yes, at Chevrolet in 1934.
WEST: You stayed there only for a...
ZINK: Six months. Well, not quite six months. About four and a half, somethin’ like that.
WEST: And then where did you go?
ZINK: Then I was given a job there that one, and I was hanging rocker arms, and there was another man working right side of me. And I forget just what ... He was putting in some kind of an oil transfer line. I don’t know just exactly what it was, but the foreman come around to me one morning and he says he wanted me to do his job. And I said, fine, I would do it, because I’d helped him out occasionally. And I said, “Is somebody gonna take mine?” He says, “No.” He says, “You’ll have to do ‘em both.” Well, there was no way I could do it, but then that night, then, I was laid off.
WEST: Because you, did you refuse to do it?
ZINK: No, I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t keep up in any... No matter what you tried to do, you just couldn’t do the both jobs. I suppose that I would be called back, but I never was called back at Chevrolet.
WEST: So you were off, out of work, then, for a while.
ZINK: I was off a year and a half.
WEST: Oh, my. What did you do then?
ZINK: Just helped on the farm and scrounged for what few jobs they could, here and there. We were married in July of ’34, one week before I was laid off, and lived with my wife’s parents (she lived over here on Francis Road) and with my parents on Clio Road. And then in November of ’35, I was called to Fisher Number 1, and I went to work out there. And at that time that was piecework. And then they had a unique work of piecework. We worked in what they called groups, although I worked on the actual production line. We worked a group of men. They would have a number of different operations to do, and the group that I worked in, there probably was twelve to fourteen men. And we were given so much money to perform certain operations. And that group of men had to do that. And, depending upon the body mix, you know (two-doors, four-doors, or things like that, coupes), why, our rate of pay would vary each and every night. And then every evening or every day, depending on what you were workin’, why, the foreman would come around and tell you how much you had made. But they would not let you go over 80-85 cents per hour.
WEST: You had a flat rate, then, did you, plus...?
ZINK: I really don’t know whether they had it set up in a flat rate, but they, we had what they called a piecework price, you know, and one problem with that was if you were consistently making a little bit more than they thought you should, they’d cut it, you know, and made, model year, it didn’t make any difference. I know one job I had there, with the job I was on, they cut it a quarter of a cent per job during the model year, and then also if you made too much money on one evening in particular, why, we had to work with two men short. And we had made over what they wanted or expected us to, so the next night, when they came around, they said, “Well, we didn’t give you all that you made, so we divided it up with other guys up the line that didn’t do so good. Well, there was no... You had no recourse. You just had to accept whatever they gave you. And we had no choice.
WEST: I think that would be an incentive to slow down just a bit, rather than....
ZINK: Well, possibly it was for some, but usually, you know, the men would produce, that do the work, you know... I know the group that I worked with if we were shortly, we would quite often work one man short, and we would cover the jobs, see that this complete operation was done, you know. It included weather stripping, Bailey channels, and, oh, I used to work in the trunk, putting in what they called he spare tire support, and two or three other little jobs that was all mixed into this one big group.
WEST: Now you were working with a group you say, of twelve to fourteen. Did you get to know those men pretty well, then, on a first-name basis and talk?
ZINK: Oh, yes, in a kind of a roundabout way. Although you knew many men by nickname, you never did really know their names, you know. At that time we were working nine and a half hours a night. That was the regular line. The rate of production was, I’m going to say, around between 40 and 45 jobs per hour. And then that continued through until, I think, we finished 1936 model, uh, it was either early August or late July, but let’s say around the first of August that year, and then we started the 1937 production in September. And we went from the wood backup body----in other words, there was a lot of wood in the ’36 model----to the all-steel body was introduced in 1937. That was when the turret top or the all-steel top was put on all cars. Prior to that it was the fabric top.
WEST: Now did that change the nature of the job?
ZINK: Oh, yes. All jobs were different then.
WEST: Could you characterize it as being more difficult, then, or harder?
ZINK: It was to begin with, and then course all jobs were broken, and you were workin’ in different groups then on the new model, because, well, a lot of the old jobs had been eliminated, and they was completely different jobs to be done, for one thing.
WEST: So they broke up the teams that had been working before, so there were no teams that were working around September?
ZINK: In September, I was workin’ with none that I had worked with on the ’36 model. Entirely different group of men.
WEST: And doing different jobs, too.
ZINK: Yes, different operations.
WEST: Do you recall what the nature of those differences were? I know it’s slightly difficult to get that specific, but...
ZINK: Well, there was so much woodwork done on the ’36 model. The job was metal in up to a point, but there was, all of the backup support and everything was all wood. There was wood seals in it and everything, and wood around your windows, where your trim went. Your trim was tacked to wood, you know, and on the ’37 model it was all metal. And then screws were used and then they began using adhesives at that time, more so, well, I shouldn’t say more so, but I think that was the first, well, let’s say the first extensive use of adhesives on the automotive body that I recall. In the ’36, the only thing that I remember adhesive being used was on a trunk gutter rubber, but on the ’37 there were many areas.
WEST: Did it require an adjustment, quite an adjustment, for people to make, then, going from wood to metal?
ZINK: Yes. Oh, yeah, you would be doing different operations, and then using drills much more than you did with the wood and also drilling into metal is entirely different than drilling into wood. You had to sharpen your drills different. We had a lot more problems with drill breakage for one thing.
WEST: Did that mean lost, loss of time, loss of wages, too?
ZINK: Uh, time to, as far as you were concerned, to change drills and to keep your drills sharp, you would, you know. Hard to, let’s say, to keep up to the line speed. It was difficult, let’s say.
WEST: Were there complaints, then, about the new...?
ZINK: Oh, yes, many complaints, many complaints. Most of the jobs that I worked on, starting on the ’37 model, we were continually working what they call “down the line.” We couldn’t keep up. We were maybe being forced down by some other operation that couldn’t keep up or we would be having the same problem ourselves. Individuals would have that same problem, like if they had drill breakage, you know, or whatever.
WEST: I’m just interested in whether that change might have contributed to a growing feeling of discontent.
ZINK: Oh, it could have had something, but I think that the real problem was mainly in the area of wages, because the what they called the “D rate” at that time was 60 cents an hour, and they wouldn’t give us our piecework price until they... Well, they wanted the line to get up to production, what they call “production,” and, as we understood it, they wanted somewheres in the vicinity of 45 jobs per hour. And, at the time of the strike, I believe that the line speed was maybe about 40-41 jobs per hour at that time. And we had asked for our piecework price, oh, three or four different times. And we were told each time, when you get it up to production, why, you will get your piecework price. Now, we started in in...
WEST: What was that piecework price?
ZINK: Well, it would probably have been in the 85 to 90 cent range, right in that area.
WEST: So you were really short, then, 25-30 cents.
ZINK: About 20 to 25 cents per hour, but we were not producing 45 jobs per hour, either, which the...
WEST: No, but you were still going about as fast as...
ZINK: Well, yes, we were, because so many of us, they were havin’ difficulties, yes. They was... And then on a new model like that things don’t fit, you know. And, course, when you’re building bodies, you know, putting moldings on and things like that, you got to make ‘em fit. And you got to work at it until you get it and get a decent job out of it, so that, all in all, why, you were working really probably under peak pressure, you might say, and as fast as you could, but still and for all we were only getting 60 cents an hour. Now this started in September. I think it was about the last week of September we started production. And the strike started between Christmas and New Year’s, 1936, when we set down in Fisher Number 1.
WEST: Now what sort of a relationship did you have with your foreman?
ZINK: Oh, it was very good. I never had any particular dispute with any foreman, because you might say they were the buffer between management, although they were part of management. They still couldn’t do anything about getting our piecework price, because that came from the superintendent or higher.
WEST: Some people we’ve talked to had complaints about their relationship.
ZINK: Probably many did, because, you know, if you were on a job that you were havin’ trouble, and if your foreman was givin’ you a hard time, why, that’s the natural reaction. You resist right where the pressure is.
WEST: Right. What were the conditions on the job, aside from the wages and the speed-up? Cleanliness and safety and that sort of thing.
ZINK: As I recall, they were not that abnormal. I would say they were normal. I can’t recall any particular area that was dirty or, let’s say, cluttered, or anything like that. I know I was put on a molding job during that period of time, and it was, well, you just could not keep up to the line speed, you know. They didn’t put enough men on the job, and it was a new and different job from what it was in the previous years. It was one of those things that nobody could keep up. They were continually down the line. Course, and as you go down the line, why, you would push other operations down, and then what they would do is when everybody got so far down, then they’d shut the line down and everybody work back. And then they turned it on again, and then it would be a period of time, maybe an hour, sometimes longer, before everybody would be down the line again. Now maybe some of these operations, maybe the men worked really tryin’. I don’t know. But, as far as the operation I was on, there was no way you could keep up to. When the line was running, you couldn’t keep up.
WEST: Were there people, other than the foreman, who were checking you? Did they have stopwatches and that?
ZINK: There could have been, but I was not aware that there were men. They could have been around, but I was never aware that anybody was particularly timing any job I was on or anything.
WEST: Was there any union background in your family? Your father. You mentioned that he was a carpenter for a time. I wondered if he was a member of the carpenters’ union.
ZINK: No, he was not a member of a union, no. Not to my knowledge, anyway. No. I don’t believe that there were any carpenter unions in the Flint area in the early 1900s. Oh, there could have been.
WEST: I just know that there was one. It was an AFL carpenters’ union at the time of the strike, but your father, of course, had been farming for a long while.
ZINK: Yeah, for many years. He wasn’t involved in anything like that.
WEST: When did you first hear talk of a union, then?
ZINK: Oh, I would say shortly after I went to work in ’35. I recall in during the ’36 model run, there had been two or three strikes out in what we call the body shop. And we were shut down then two or three different times, because of lack of bodies.
WEST: Were those spontaneous strikes?
ZINK: I really don’t know. I don’t really know, because up where I worked----I worked in what they call the CV department, or final assembly----so I didn’t really know. And we weren’t really organized. There was no union activity up there that I was aware of until, oh, I would say maybe prior to just ‘fore the end of the ’36 model run, that I was first aware that there was union activity.
WEST: I understand that there was an AFL union around ’34, ’35.
ZINK: Yes, and they had been involved in some strikes there at Fisher Number 1, but I was not involved in them in any way or manner.
WEST: It would have been in the summer of ’36, as a matter of fact, just before the model change, that you spoke of, that the CIO, began...
ZINK: Yes, that was when they began organizing, and, although it was on a very low-key... There was not very much effort put into it, or it didn’t seem to be, let’s say. Maybe there was more effort put into it than I was aware of. I don’t really know.
WEST: I see. Did the men talk about the union on the job?
ZINK: Not particularly, no. If they did, there could have been in some areas, but not where I was involved.
WEST: Did you have an opportunity to talk much on the line?
ZINK: Very little. Very little. The only time you would have would be lunchtime. And at that time there was no breaks. There was no shutdown.
WEST: I see. Where did you take your lunch? Did you eat on the job, or...?
ZINK: No. There was a half-hour lunch break, and you had to go to the cafeteria. Go downstairs, and then so on. That would be the only time. And then usually you would be with different people, not people that you were working with, directly involved in working, you know, during your lunch hour. It become more or less separated, unless you deliberately tried to go as a group. Very seldom.
WEST: But really there wasn’t a great deal of camaraderie or socializing between the men that were working.
ZINK: No. No, although there could have been in some areas more so than where I worked. I don’t know.
WEST: Do you remember when you were first approached about getting involved in the union?
ZINK: It was sometime after the beginning of the ’37 model, sometime after that.
WEST: But it was before the strike.
ZINK: Yes, oh, my, yes, yes. And I had joined...
WEST: Do you remember the circumstances...?
ZINK: Well, all I remember is that I had heard talk that the union wanted to see if we could get... They wanted to get the union so that we could get our piecework price. And I was in favor of that, because I knew that we were being, let’s say, well, we weren’t getting our fair share of the... In the financial area, we were being shorted, and the work at 60 cents a hour, which, you know, this was in late ’36, in October or November or December of ’36.
WEST: Did you know Wyndham Mortimer or Bob Travis, then, who were here then?
ZINK: No, I didn’t know them personally, although I knew them if I happened to see them, but I never did know ‘em personally.
WEST: They didn’t approach you.
ZINK: No, it was strictly men in our immediate area that approached.
WEST: Did they approach you on the job or off the job?
ZINK: I don’t remember whether it was on the job or off the job. Course it could have been talk back and forth and then maybe during lunch hour, they might have...
WEST: I’m just wondering whether you were apprehensive, men were apprehensive, about talking about unions within earshot of supervision.
ZINK: There was a certain reluctance, yes, because, well, you had a pretty good chance of losin’ your job, you know, and you was also, like I had to recall over there in Chevrolet experience, and then, you know, to lose your job and then not get called back.
WEST: And of course you were married then.
ZINK: Yes, and we had a youngster. Our oldest boy was born in ’35, in June of ’35, during one period of layoff.
WEST: So you did join the union then.
ZINK: Prior to the strike, yes. Yes, I went over to the union hall myself, and I had made an application and I joined the union, although at that time you had to go and I believe there were application blanks passed out around, or they were left laying around. I don’t remember just whether somebody handed me one or whether I picked it up, but anyway I filled it out and went over myself and joined the union.
WEST: Did you attend union meetings prior to the strike?
ZINK: Uh, not prior to the strike, no. No. But I became involved in later years and I served as committeeman in later years, both at Number 1 and also out at Fisher Grand Blanc, where I went as a skilled tradesman.
WEST: Now, did you talk to your father at all, then, about you having joined the union?
ZINK: No. Nothing was said. If I did, I’m not aware that I mentioned it. I don’t recall saying anything.
WEST: Did you have a premonition that, the men generally have a premonition, that a strike was coming before it did?
ZINK: I don’t really know. You know it’s kind of hazy now, but, as I recall, just prior to the Christmas holiday of that year, we were given a bonus, and it just seems as though I received a 25-dollar bonus for that year. And, at the time, we thought, well, what they’re trying to do is to keep us from going on strike to secure our wage rate.
WEST: I see. In other words, there had been some thought about a possibility of going on strike.
ZINK: Apparently there was quite a bit of talk maybe amongst some persons that I didn’t know anything about, and maybe the management wasn’t much more aware of it than I was. Maybe they were sensitive to, well, let’s say the unrest of many of the men.
WEST: Right. Do you remember your experiences, then, on the day of the strike?
ZINK: Very well. Yeah, we were workin’, and they was a little talk that the men were going to sit down at lunchtime, and didn’t think too much about it. Our lunch hour was from nine to nine-thirty that evening, and ate our lunch, and I believe that some men had went over to the union hall, and when they came back, they said, “We’re not goin’ to go to work. Fisher Number 2 is on strike, and we’re goin’ to join them.” And, as the line started up at nine-thirty, everybody just stayed right at their own work area, at their own bench, and never offered to go to work. And the line I would see run for probably ten minutes, and it is quite a traumatic experience, you know, because you could see your job goin’ down the line, and you knew that if the men broke, you were going to start way behind. You’d be down the line and you would have to work like blazes, you might say, to catch up. So they put that kind of a pressure on to the men. They let it run for, I would say, approximately ten minutes, and then the superintendent, he came out of the office, and he walked down the line, and I would assume that if looks would kill, why, probably most of us would have been dead right there. But, finally, he walked over, and they turned the line off.
WEST: He turned the line off.
ZINK: He turned the line off. I seen him turn the line off.
WEST: So the men didn’t turn the line off. They just let the jobs run without...
ZINK: They didn’t go to work, and he turned the line off, because I seen him do it.
WEST: And then what happened?
ZINK: Well, they was, you might say, a mass confusion. Nobody knew just exactly what to do next, and this was between nine-thirty and ten o’clock, and, of course, they was groups gathered and talked with one another: “Well, what are we going to do?” And there was no plan, no set plan, at that time, as far as I know, that they were going to occupy or stay in the shop.
[END OF SIDE 1]
ZINK: There was no intent to sit in that I was aware of, so I went down to the cafeteria and tried to get with some of the men that I knew or was familiar with the union and had been active in some areas, and they knew nothing. And I would say that probably between three and four o’clock there was still mass confusion and...
WEST: That was hours after.
ZINK: Yes. I came home. I left the shop and came home, because I could see no rhyme nor reason or sense to stay any longer, because nothing seemed to be developing, and so I...
WEST: There was no mass meeting, then? No meeting at all?
ZINK: Not that I was involved in, although there could have been some places. Maybe over in the union hall or down in the management. I don’t know. I wasn’t aware of it.
WEST: One of the things that has interested us is how it was determined who would sit in and who would go.
ZINK: I think probably those that stayed, that didn’t leave and go home, sometime during the night, and, although it’s possible that some came back after they had gone home----I really don’t know----but I know that once that I had went home, and then when the strike continued then the next day, and I see what was developing, I had no desire to go back in and be a part of the sit-in as such.
WEST: Why? Were you opposed, then, to the idea?
ZINK: I wasn’t really in favor of a sit-in, no. I’ll say I was not. I really couldn’t come to that realization that that was AOK. No.
WEST: Would you have been more in favor, then, of a more conventional strike, where you left...?
ZINK: Just to shut the plant down, so to speak, and not to work, but as far as occupying the premises, no, that seemed to be not favorable to my way of understanding.
WEST: But did you engage in any activities, then?
ZINK: No, I was not involved in the strike, other than I gave support to it in that picketing and things like that, but not...
WEST: Oh, you did picket, then?
ZINK: Yes, but not in any way becoming involved in the actual sit-in. No.
WEST: Did anyone pressure you at all to become involved in the sit-down?
ZINK: No. No. No. There was no pressure of any kind put on me by anybody, as far as the union was concerned, the men in the union that I knew.
WEST: There was apparently a group organized shortly after the strike known as the Flint Alliance, back-to-work movement, by George Boysen, I gather.
ZINK: If that was put any pressure on, I would imagine it was putting pressure on the men in the shop, the ones that were actually involved in the sit-down or the sit-in. Not to my knowledge was there any pressure put on anybody on the outside, although there could have been, you know.
WEST: You weren’t solicited to join, then, this group, at all.
ZINK: No. No.
WEST: What were the sentiments of your neighbors, people who were...?
ZINK: Well, I really don’t know, ‘cause where we lived, on the Francis Road, my wife’s lived on a farm, and there were no close neighbors, so I really don’t know. Now my brother-in-law, my wife’s brother, worked at Buick at that time. Course Buick was not on strike. Now they were down, because of the lack of bodies, but I can’t remember of any particular understanding that we had about the strike. Really we hadn’t worked in the shops long enough to really, let’s say, understand the full working of it. The men that were really involved were the people that had, let’s say, families, large, good-sized, growing families and had worked for quite a few years and had any succession of jobs in first one plant and another. In other words, they would work at the Buick, Chevrolet, Fisher Body and go back and forth, you know. Maybe you’d work for a little while and get laid off. And, prior to the forming of the union, if you got laid off in one department, sometimes you could go to another department, if you were good friends with the foreman or knew him or something and hire right in without ever leaving the shop. There was no, you know, it wasn’t handled the way it has been in latter years. So I can’t recall that there was any real discussions one way or another. I know that our main concern was that it would be terminated soon.
WEST: Well, you had no income at all, but you got by with the farm.
ZINK: Yeah, because my folks had a farm, and my wife’s folks did. And, between the two, why, we...
WEST: Did you have a radio at the time, then, so you could follow the events?
ZINK: Yes, battery-operated, but many times the battery, just as you wanted to hear something, the battery would go dead.
WEST: And did you get newspapers then?
ZINK: Yes, yes.
WEST: Any other newspapers that were then...?
ZINK: Flint Journal was the only one that we had access to. Flint Journal.
WEST: And its accounts, from what I...
ZINK: Well, we had to accept their version of things, you know. I suppose in some areas they were right and in some areas they were wrong, but I remember when the National Guard was brought in, and they set up their pillboxes all up and down Saginaw Street and around the main shops. And I don’t know if they were around Buick so much, but they were over around Chevrolet and Fisher Number 2 and down there in that.... where they had quite a scuffle there.
WEST: They did, the so-called “Battle of Running Bulls.”
ZINK: But that was prior to their bringing in the National Guard.
WEST: That was earlier in January. Did you go down there, then, to witness?
ZINK: No, no. I didn’t know anything about it until it was over. And so I didn’t, I was nowheres near it at any time.
WEST: And then they had the next bit of action, I guess you could say, is when they took over Chevrolet 4, and they had the women down there breaking windows outside Chevrolet.
ZINK: Yeah, I’ve forgotten just how long that was after the two Fishers had ceased work, though it seems as though it was a matter of week or two weeks, although it could have been longer. It’s kind of got away from my memory, but I recall the women breaking the glass out of that plant along Kearsley Street there, but I was not involved in it in any way. When we went on strike, I was getting 60 cents an hour, and when we finally resumed production and the settlement, the average line operation then, we received a dollar an hour. That was the...
WEST: So the wages did increase.
ZINK: Forty cents. As far as I was concerned personally, it was a forty-cent-an-hour raise. And at that time forty cents was...
WEST: Was the line speed greater then?
ZINK: They brought the line right up to, I think they set it at 43 jobs per hour. As I recall that was our line speed after the strike. And the highest that we had got prior to the strike was around 40 or 41.
WEST: So they did, in fact, increase the speed for a while.
ZINK: About two jobs per hour. I think that was in the agreement that they would set the line speed at 43.
WEST: But, for that, you got a great deal more compensation.
WEST: Did you notice any other changes when you got back, after the strike was over? I’m thinking perhaps of the attitude of the foremen and that, supervision. Did their attitude change towards the men?
ZINK: I can’t say that it did very soon, but over a period of time, the pressure that supervision (the immediate supervision, the foremen and general foreman were under) seemed to lessen. And then they weren’t under such pressure, and then in turn, that lessened the pressure on the men on the line.
WEST: Yes, we’ve heard from some that perhaps the strike helped the foremen out, too.
ZINK: Oh, yes, it did, definitely. Definitely. Because they were under... They had so many jobs. And, if they didn’t get ‘em, they had to answer to their supervisor: “Well, why? How come you didn’t get ‘em?”
WEST: But the line speed then was set constant. Apparently after the strike, too, you had a more settled grievance procedure.
ZINK: Although it took quite some time for it to become operative, yes. Many people couldn’t or didn’t take advantage of it, because, well, it was something new and something different.
WEST: Did you have stewards then?
ZINK: Yes, yes. At that time, I believe they were appointed. I can’t recall an election for committeemen or stewards as such, until, oh, possibly late in ’37. I don’t remember just when they were first elected. Well, one of our main problems at one time was the variable line speed. Each segment or each, I should say, maybe each department could vary their line speed. In other words, it wasn’t one complete line. It was a series of lines, and in many areas, the foreman, as he walked by, he would give that thing a crank and speed it up, you know, especially if his department was, let’s say, running a little bit behind, and sometimes when you were supposed to, like on the ’36 model, when we were supposed be running a 43 or 45 jobs per hour, and if we were having a little difficulty with breakdowns, there was no provision made for breakdown. It was strictly, you were on your own. And sometimes the maintenance department, they would, let’s say, be a half an hour ‘fore they’d show up, if there was a line break some place, or...
WEST: And you’d be just sitting around then?
ZINK: Yes, we’d be just sitting around, but they would still want that same amount of production, and so as the foreman would walk by these controllers, all they’d do is they’d give ‘em just a twist, you know, and the first thing you know, instead of running 45 jobs an hour, maybe you were running 50 or 55, and you were wondering why you were working like the dickens and still couldn’t keep up. And that was one of the main complaints, that variable line speed.
WEST: That was after the strike.
ZINK: That was ‘fore the strike, too.
WEST: And after the strike, it didn’t change.
ZINK: Uh, it was more under control. It was more under control at that time. And after the strike, when the line broke down, it was charged to the maintenance department and not charged to the men.
WEST: So the men would get paid.
ZINK: Yes. In other words, we were on a flat or hourly rate at that time, so if the line broke down, we still got our dollar an hour.
WEST: So the piecework...
ZINK: The piecework was eliminated. The piecework was eliminated after the strike, so it was very rare that, if a line broke down, that the maintenance department wasn’t there within a matter of minutes. They were right there. Now, whether they put more men on or just what, I don’t know. I would assume that they had to put more manpower on it, and maybe they took better care of some of their equipment than they been in the habit of doing in the past.
WEST: Now I understand that after the strike was settled in through March and April, there were a number of wildcat strikes, work stoppages, that were unauthorized, that the company complained of. Do you remember?
ZINK: Uh, we were not involved, where I worked, in any of ‘em. Now they were some in some areas. I remember them, but probably again, over little disputes, little local disputes, let’s say maybe again, maybe the foreman was turnin’ the line up on ‘em or something. I don’t really know. But I know, where I worked, in final assembly, we were not involved in anything like that. Now the paint department, I remember one that the paint department and the trim department had these problems.
WEST: Uh, now the accusation was thrown about in the Journal and elsewhere that the people who led the strike were a bunch of Communists, you know, radicals, reds. What did you think of that accusation? Was there any substance to the...?
ZINK: They were maybe radical in the sense that they wouldn’t accept some of the explanations that we were given from the company as to why we couldn’t reach line speed. To the best of my knowledge, if they had that leaning, I wasn’t aware of it. Course then I was not in enough direct contact with ‘em maybe to really become aware of it, either.
WEST: Did you know Bud Simons?
ZINK: Yes, I knew who he was. I knew who he was. I think he worked in the body shop at Fisher Number 1. I’m pretty sure that’s where he worked. But I knew who he was, but I didn’t know him personally.
WEST: I see. Now, after the strike was over, did people flock to the union?
ZINK: Not too great a numbers, no. There were many that were... They would accept what was won for them, but they didn’t like to carry the load. And I was opposed to the closed shop, when it became operative in, oh, I guess it was after the war. I never felt that it was right, but I was also very annoyed with the people that were willing to accept the gains but not to carry, let’s say, any of the responsibility of securing it. And something like that, the union, they needed money. They had to have money. There was no question about it. And many would not participate until they had to.
WEST: Was there pressure then applied to them, subtle or otherwise, to bring them in?
ZINK: Uh, there could have been in some isolated instances, but when the closed shop came in, I don’t recall anybody that I seen any pressure put on.
WEST: Well, then, of course, they had to come in or lose their job.
ZINK: That’s right. They had to become a member of the union.
WEST: I’m wondering before, that occasionally a man who was reluctant to join the union might find his lunch...
ZINK: Well, there was, let’s say, agitation. They would be, oh, I wouldn’t say harassed. Maybe they were. Maybe you would call it harassment. But that would be all. But nothing in a physical sense. It would be strictly verbal. But any that ever heard or was aware was verbal.
WEST: This goes back before the strike again, but it’s something that I hadn’t mentioned. Did you have to be careful who you talked to on the job? Spies and that. People who were expected to...
ZINK: Not that I was aware of. I couldn’t say that I ever was fearful of talking to anybody. I’m not aware of anybody.
WEST: Now, after the strike, and on through the summer of ’37, I have become aware, through reading the Journal for that period, that there were a number of strikes in Flint and other areas, too, and in some cases UAW members became involved in attempting to organize people outside of the automotive industry. There was a strike at Penney’s, for example, the Durant Hotel. Do you remember...?
ZINK: No. I remember, I recall some of them, but I was not involved in any way, although maybe some of the members, or the leaders of the union there were. I don’t recall. I know one thing that was attempted was to organize the automotive repair shops in Flint, and that was... The service shops.
WEST: When did that come up?
ZINK: That was, oh, let’s see, opposed, that it didn’t succeed. The men that were in the... I don’t know whether due to a lack of good organizational drive or whether the men really didn’t want it and couldn’t see any purpose in it. Course I never in one of them. I know they worked more or less of a piecework basis, too, and if their employer, let’s say play fair and square with them, they were probably very content and couldn’t see any necessity for organizing.
WEST: Closer to where you worked at Fisher 1, I understand there were during the summer of ’37 there was a construction outfit, Utley Construction Company, that was building a massive, million-dollar expansion to Fisher 1, and some of the construction workers there went on strike, and the CIO and UAW attempted to organize them. Do you remember any of that?
ZINK: No. No. That’s gone completely from my memory. I remember some of the construction going on there. Seems as though they were workin’ out on a, building a new pressroom at the time.
WEST: I see. And were you engaged in any local political activity in the community at all?
ZINK: No. No, I was not. No.
WEST: One other point, then, after, again in the post-strike situation, the rivalry between the AFL and the CIO and the Homer Martin forces and the...
ZINK: Yes, I remember when the vote was taken on that. And I would say that it seemed to be about half and half, equally divided, let’s say. The men, some were for one side and some were for the other, although I can’t recall that there was any real disagreement amongst the men. One just seemed to think, well, this is the best way to go, and the others thought, well, the other person or the other way was the best way to go, but I don’t believe that there was any real disagreement as to... But just in the method, not in the...
WEST: Which side did you lean toward?
ZINK: Uh, I believe that I voted for the CIO. If I remember right, I favored, it seemed to me at that time, as though that was the way we should go that way, and they could seem to bring about the situation that we desired or were trying to bring to bring it about, more so than the other.
WEST: A lot of it apparently hinged on the assessments that people made of Homer Martin and his leadership of the union.
ZINK: I would assume that some of them were in disagreement with him on some of his policies. I don’t know. I didn’t know the man, and I can’t remember too much about really his philosophy. I really can’t. It’s gone from my memory.
WEST: Can you think of other people that are still alive that went through these same experiences that we could perhaps talk to?
ZINK: Yes, I think I mentioned one fellow, and I believe he’s still workin’, and he was involved in the actual sit-in in Fisher Number 1, and that’s John Harrow, and he lives in Montrose, Michigan.
WEST: John Harlow?
ZINK: Harrow. H-A-R-R-O-W. And he’s a toolmaker, or jig-and-fixture builder, and he worked in the same department that I did.
WEST: Who is still working?
ZINK: He’s still working, to the best of my knowledge.
WEST: He must have been a very young man then.
ZINK: Yes, he hired in in 1933, and he’s still working, unless he retired since the first of the year. And he lives in Montrose and would probably be glad to talk to you. And he was actually on the inside. But he and I worked in the production area, and then we went into the skilled trades about the same time, and we basically worked together most of our lives in, let’s say, in the same department, except that I retired in 1974, and he continued working.
WEST: Anyone else?
ZINK: Well, there’s Lloyd Heidebreicht out here. Now, he was a student at GMI, and he was workin’ at the Buick at the time.
WEST: Hydabree. How is that spelled?
WEST: I see. He lives in...
ZINK: He lives over here on Lewis Road.
WEST: I see. Mount Morris.
ZINK: He was here the other night, and I asked him if he would be interested if he would be interested in sharing some of his views on what he seen over there at Buick, where they were not involved in the strike. Now, see, he worked through, because he was a student, and he worked through, but he had direct contact with some of the men in the shop, and he was telling me that he couldn’t understand why they were so in favor of the union at that time.
WEST: Right. Well, this is one of the things that has aroused our curiosity. We know that Buick did not go down, nor did AC, and I wonder if there were certain differences in Buick and at AC that made them less susceptible on the whole.
ZINK: I don’t really know why... Course, when Fisher Number 1 went down, naturally it shut down Buick completely, immediately. No bodies, no work. They didn’t keep building up a supply of parts in some of the areas that maybe they could have. They just shut everything down. Of course they had, I suppose, no way of knowing how long will it last when it started. They just shut down completely.
WEST: Well, I’d like to get in touch with Mr. Heidebreicht then. He sounds interesting.
ZINK: Yes, he said be willing to talk to you.
WEST: He could give you the GMI perspective, too.
ZINK: I could give you his phone number, and you can make a...
WEST: Oh, thank you very much. I’d appreciate that. Well, I want to thank you very much for your help. Can you think of things that we didn’t touch on that...?
ZINK: Yes. In working over at Chevrolet, there was a water fountain less than fifteen feet from where I worked. And I had to get relief to get a drink of water. That don’t sound possible in this day and age, but it happened in ’34.
WEST: Did they have relief men then?
ZINK: Oh, yes. Yes. You were most fortunate if you could get him, though. One day I recall a man across the line from me was sick to his stomach. The forelman told him, “I can’t get you the relief man.” And the man just worked and vomited and worked and vomited. He didn’t dare leave his job.
WEST: Did they clean up after him?
ZINK: I don’t remember just what did happen.
WEST: It would be nasty business if they didn’t. Well, times have certainly changed, haven’t they?
ZINK: He probably had a family, and he didn’t dare leave the job, because, see, the jobs had been, for three or four years here, there had been very few were workin’, and those that were, they maybe worked for maybe a few weeks and they were off again, and then worked a little more, and then they would go from shop to shop, you know. They might be workin’ at one shop and get laid off there and go to another one, hire in, or go to a different department.
WEST: There was a great deal of moving around, shifting around from job to job.
ZINK: If you knew a superintendent, usually you could get a job. But if you didn’t, you had a pretty hard time. You had to work. Work at it.
WEST: I should say. Well, thank you very much. I