INTERVIEW: March 3, 1980
INTERVIEWER: Bill Meyer
INTERVIEWEE: Ben Borski
MEYER: Talk about the working conditions. You were in Fisher 1?
BORSKI: Yes, I was an arc welder at the time. I hired in in 1935.
MEYER: Into Fisher 1?
BORSKI: Into Fisher 1. Yes, I hired in as a metal finisher. And then I took a little training. Got to be a welder and then I got to be a gas and arc welder.
MEYER: That was a skilled trade at that time.
BORSKI: No, not really, semi-skilled, I'd say, yes. At that time, particularly, I had one job that I used to crawl on my knees, along with the lines and gas weld at the same time, see. And at that, I mean it was rough. It was about forty five jobs an hour and the fellow that had the job previous to me, he just couldn't do it anymore. His knees swelled up, you know, and he just couldn't walk. But when he came back I figured, well boy I want to get off of this job; but I didn't. The job was mine and during that period is when we went on strike, when I had that particular job. And one of the things that we wanted was a pit in the floor, you know, so we could stand up to do our welding. And...which they did. They did dig pits after the strike, you know. The union was recognized. In fact, they put three or four pits for everybody there, so we wouldn't have to bend over. And it made the job a hundred percent better, plus you could do more work than actually you were doing in the first place. In other words, I could have done my job and my partner's job with the pit, which I couldn't do before, because you were practically in pain all the time. We couldn't smoke at the time in the shop. Then after the union came in they designated an area about the size of our kitchen by painting on the floor. I didn't smoke at the time, anyhow. But everybody chewed; I still do. We'd get a five-minute break, see. And everybody would run toward that area, smoke up a storm, you know. But I remember when we went on strike. I worked the second shift at that time. But when I first joined the union, getting back to when I first joined the union, it was in a basement across the street from Fisher 1. I think it was the union that rented a building, or a fellow that owned the building let us use the basement.
MEYER: Was that connected with a restaurant, by any chance?
MEYER: Was that Ray Cook's restaurant? Does that ring a bell?
BORSKI: Ray Cook and then down the street was the Cottage Restaurant. I would say Ray Cook's restaurant. We hid in the basement. There was fellows that I still know their names that were down there. They had a flashlight and you signed your name, you know, but you didn't dare put your button on at that time, because there wasn't too many that belonged to the union. And naturally, everybody was afraid of losing their job. But I mean it grew rapidly. The fellows were joining up like mad. And I'd say shortly before the strike everybody started to put their button on their shirt collar, wearing their union buttons. And we knew the day that we were gonna strike. I don't know whether the company knew or not. But we went out for lunch. We all brought a lunch to work, but we didn't eat 'em. We went across the street, paid in the restaurant. Then we came back, we all sat down, you know, along the wall. The old line started up, you know. And the foremen came along and said, "Hey, what's the matter? What are you guys gonna do?" We said, "We're not gonna work. That's it." "You guys can't do that!" We said, "Hell we can't!" We just sat there and finally...
MEYER: This was after the lunch break on the second shift.
BORSKI: Right. We just sat there. And eventually they shut the line down because nobody was working. And that was it. And then we all...
MEYER: When did you know that you were going to go back after the lunch hour and sit down? When was that clear in your mind that that was what you were going to do?
BORSKI: It was before we went into work, I think. I'm pretty sure that's when it was. And at noon hour, when we came back from lunch, nobody went to work. They started the line up and nobody went to work.
MEYER: It was before the shift started that you had been given some indication.
BORSKI: Yes, that we were going to strike at noon.
MEYER: How did you learn?
BORSKI: By word of mouth and naturally they were congregating all over the place, you know. Across the street it was getting kind of crowded. In fact there was a lot of the first-shift people out there, too.
MEYER: Who stayed around after their shift was over, waiting to see what was going to happen?
BORSKI: Yes, right. And at noon there was quite a crowd outside, you know.
MEYER: By noon you simply mean your lunch break.
BORSKI: Yes. And the next morning a lot of the people didn't know that the strike was on. In fact, there were guys coming to work. They had their lunch buckets there, thinking they was gonna go to work. And here we were on strike, see. So those guys, they gave us their lunches and everything and that's how we ate for a couple of days, until we went down into the north unit cafeteria area where they had cooking facilities there. Then they started a kitchen brigade and so on and so forth.
MEYER: Now, when do you remember joining? About when was that? How long before the strike?
BORSKI: It was 1936. I would say about six months before the strike, maybe not that long.
MEYER: During the summer, maybe?
BORSKI: Yes, during the summer, I'd say.
MEYER: This was at one of these basement meetings where you joined?
BORSKI: Right, where I joined, yes.
MEYER: Do you remember between the time you joined and the time the strike broke out what kind of talk there was about having a strike, or...?
BORSKI: Oh, yes. Bob Travis, I know he was there quite frequently, and Roy Reuther, one or the other. There was another organizer; in fact, he went into business for himself after being in the union for quite a while. I forget his name, but he started his own business.
MEYER: Reuther and Travis would be at these meetings you were talking about.
BORSKI: Yes, one or the other. Every now and then one of them would be there, yes. In fact, I think the next day after the strike they were both there, plus other organizers. And there were photographers there and they were trying to discourage pictures. But some of the photographers were across the street trying to get on buildings and take pictures. And factory workers or organizers were trying to discourage it.
MEYER: Well, during that late summer and fall would you attend these meetings fairly frequently?
BORSKI: Well, every time we knew about them, yes.
MEYER: And you learned about 'em how? Mainly through word of mouth, or?
BORSKI: Yes, and through the plant. I mean there were certain leaders in the plant, like one fellow I know, particularly, was Bud Simons. I worked with him in the press room, I think. That area was Bert Harris. There was Bud Simons, Pete Kennedy and Red Rose and...
MEYER: Do you remember working with Bert Harris?
BORSKI: No, he was in a different department. Bud Simons worked in the same department I did. And so did Pete Kennedy and Red Rose. In fact, Red Rose was one of the guys that went to Janesville to help out on the strike down there and he got shot up pretty bad.
MEYER: When was that?
BORSKI: That was when they were trying to organize the plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. And I don't know where he is and I don't know where Pete Kennedy is anymore. And I haven't heard about Bud Simons in years, whether he's living or not, I don't know.
MEYER: He's living in Florida.
BORSKI: Oh, is he?
MEYER: Yes, we've had opportunity to speak with him.
BORSKI: I'll be darned. He was a militant union man.
MEYER: In that late fall or late summer and fall of '36, what would you talk about at these meetings? What were the issues that dominated these kinds of meetings?
BORSKI: Well, about the same as they are right today. They want more money, better working conditions, bargaining units. They wanted the right to strike if they weren't satisfied.
MEYER: What kind of talk was there about striking? Or how did that develop?
BORSKI: Well, there wasn't too much...I mean they weren't like, "We're gonna strike." See, they weren't organized as to when or why they would strike, see. You'd get a bunch of hot heads, you know. And down went the line right now; they'd just take it upon themselves. See, we didn't like this. Maybe the line is going too fast, see, or they increased production one or two an hour more. You'd get a bunch of guys there and they'd say, " Well..."
MEYER: You remember some of that before the strike, occasionally?
BORSKI: No, they wouldn't do it before the strike, but after the strike. Yes, after the union was organized, they recognized it, see. But, yes, they'd stop lines.
MEYER: When did you, in that fall of '36, when did you first feel a strike was imminent, or a strike was coming on?
BORSKI: Oh, from the minute I joined, I knew we were gonna strike, yes. But there was a lot of skepticism among the members about how many times there has been a strike and they lost out, see. And that was one of the things that...
MEYER: What do you think got them over the skepticism this time, or what helped get them over that hesitation?
BORSKI: Well, I think it was just a good job of organizing and people just sticking together.
MEYER: Do you remember again during that period a specific discussion about sitting down in the plant rather than just walking out? Were there the advantages of the different tactics that might be used?
BORSKI: Well, only the reason for that is we wanted to be warm instead of walking the picket line outside. Sheriff Tom Wolcott came in the plant in the north unit where the restaurant was...lunchroom, with an injunction to get us out.
MEYER: Do you remember Wolcott reading the black injunction?
BORSKI: Yes. And the man was very scared. I would have been too. Because he was shaking when he read the injunction. Because, hell, there was guys around there; I don't know how many men were there at that time. But there was quite a few. Say, two, three hundred; and he was right in the center of them, see. And some of these guys, you know, there had been drinking going on in the plant. Some of these guys, you know, get a little hostile. But nobody laid a finger on him or nothing. He read the injunction, and it was a relief.
MEYER: What was the reaction of the worker when the injunction was read?
BORSKI: No way! It's just like they didn't pay any attention to it. Just disregarded it. No way were they gonna leave the plant.
MEYER: Were they worried about what might happen, or was there any unusual anticipation at that time?
BORSKI: No, it didn't seem to be. I think everybody thought that they were gonna come out on top, which they did. The fellows that stayed in the plant, you know, they didn't talk on the negative side...mostly positive thinking.
MEYER: Now when you first joined, you said you had the feeling that you had to keep your membership in the union secret from the company or else there would be trouble.
BORSKI: Oh, yes.
MEYER: Do you remember any particular actions the company took against people they found out were members?
BORSKI: No, no, not that I know of. And there wasn't any when we started wearing the buttons, because of the fact that there was such a large group that were wearing them at that time. I'd say if there was two or three guys wearing them in a department or maybe fifty throughout the whole plant, that would have been a different story. But when you see a couple...two or three thousand men. Well, I don't know, at that time. There were thirty-five hundred workers in the plant at that time. With the majority of them wearing the buttons, well, then you can't just say, "We're gonna get rid of all of you." They couldn't run the place.
MEYER: That was a few days or a week or so before the strike that they started going public with the buttons?
BORSKI: I'd say weeks before the strike.
MEYER: Weeks before the strike they start wearing the buttons and they were out in the open about it.
BORSKI: Yes, right.
MEYER: What was the idea of all of a sudden being public about the membership? Was that to...?
BORSKI: Well, they figured they had enough strength. I know the company knew they were being organized; but they didn't know how well, see, or how many. It just spread like wildfire, you know. But, see, another thing, when I hired in at Fisher Body, we worked a nine-hour day, you see. Worked nine hours and then every Saturday we went in for three hours. Made it forty-eight hours. See, that was another thing they were striking for: a forty-hour week. Then when I got transferred onto second shift it was a nine-and-a-half hour day, five days. The day shift used to come in on a Saturday for three hours.
MEYER: To sum up what happened inside the plant, now, how long were you in? How long did you stay in?
BORSKI: I was in there a total out of the forty-four days, I'd say I was in there about thirty days, off and on.
MEYER: What were the main purposes for leaving, the times when you left?
BORSKI: Well, there wasn't much to do in there; it got kind of monotonous.
MEYER: Relieve the boredom and get a little entertainment.
BORSKI: Yes, go home for a few days. I was single at the time. We slept inside the bodies. We had seats...put seats on the bodies and sleep in there.
MEYER: How do you remember spending most of your time?
BORSKI: Reading, and then they had patrols, you know, committees. I mean, just trying to keep order. Well, when that strike first started, hell, there was a couple women in there, you know. They had to get guys in there to chase 'em out, get 'em out of the plant, you see, which they did. But there was a lot of drinking going on and stuff like that. And you had to have somebody to hold that down. And besides, there were plant protection men there, too.
MEYER: Plant security, inside?
BORSKI: Yes, they didn't bother us at all.
MEYER: And you let them remain in?
BORSKI: Oh, yes. I know at one time there was about fifteen or twenty of them. Somebody got the word that they were going to try to kick us out, see, about fifteen or twenty plant protection men. It wasn't their intent at all, you know, come to find out. They were marching down. This guy got shook up. He said, "Here they come; they're gonna kick us out." Everybody started getting the hinges, files and everything. Boy, here we go. But it never happened. I don't know. They were just taking a tour, I guess. But nothing like that happened.
MEYER: Do you ever remember order breaking down at any point among the workers? Any times when it got a little tense?
BORSKI: No. The only time I figured that the union was gonna go down the drain was in 1938 when they split. The A F of L came in widely organized. I'd say thirty percent of them joined the A F of L; the rest were CIO. And there was quite a few hassles over that. In fact, I got clipped a couple times myself during that time.
MEYER: Yes, I want to get to that issue also. Let me ask you. You mentioned patrol. Was that one of the specific assignments you had, patrolling? What did that involve? Mainly worrying about...?
BORSKI: Just walking around, seeing everything was all right and the guys weren't trying to do anything they shouldn't be doing.
MEYER: Then it was concerned with order in the inside rather than the problem of people coming in from the outside.
MEYER: Do you remember people visiting at the plant while you were sitting in...strike leaders or spokesmen?
MEYER: The press, or anything like that...you don't remember any kind of visitors or that kind of thing?
MEYER: How did you make decisions inside? How did you run things?
BORSKI: Well, there wasn't many decisions to be made. There was a committee like Bud Simons was one of them. They were the governing body, you might say, inside of the plant, see. But I don't think there was any critical decisions to be made. I mean, the guys just stayed in the plant and they were gonna stay there until they were recognized. That was the main thing there. But I didn't mind staying in there. Oh, it got boring at times, you know. But then you'd have some come and you'd have some go. Some guys would come in and stay a few days and they'd go and somebody else would come in.
MEYER: Do you remember it ever getting dangerously low, the number of people in there?
BORSKI: Well, during the last...I wasn't there when the company recognized the union. I wasn't there that night. That was I, think, forty-four days that they were in there. I wasn't there at that time; I wish I had been. Because they marched right out of the plant and all the way downtown Flint. I remember that. No, I don't think so. They were represented pretty good in the plant at all times; they had to. I wanted to say something about the teachers, you know the teachers in the schools. Boy did they give us hell! They really...teachers...the public schools, you know. We were Communists, everything. They couldn't figure out why anybody would do something like that. But yet today the old shoe's on the other foot.
MEYER: I was wondering how you have a specific recollection of the teachers being so anti-union. Was there any connection with your own experience? Your family?
BORSKI: The paper...in the newspapers that they would come out against us. They didn't think it was right...that we were doing the right thing.
MEYER: What is your recollection about what things were like in the plant after you got back when the strike was over, after you got back on the job? Did your relationships change with foremen and supervisors or the work situation change any?
BORSKI: Not too much, no. I know in some cases they wanted certain foreman removed, you know. But it never took place. And then in some cases a foreman was to be removed by the company and the hourly man went to bat for him; see they figured he was a good Joe. One guy in particular that I remember, George McQuigg He was a foreman and they were taking him off and all the guys around the set-up bucks and down through there they wanted him to stay on, see. But he didn't fight it. In fact, he might have been relieved to be taken off the job that he had, see.
MEYER: I see. Let me step back a moment. Thirty-five, was that when you first begin working for General Motors?
MEYER: Had you just gotten out of school at that point? Were you fairly young at that time?
BORSKI: Well, I was eighteen in January and I hired there in March the fifth, 1935.
MEYER: That was your first real job, in a way?
BORSKI: No, I worked for the CWA in 1933-34. And then I went to work for..."
MEYER: The CWA?
BORSKI: During the Depression when they started these work programs. Something like the WPA. I worked there. Then I worked at the Kewpee Hamburger on Harrison Street there when I was just a little tyke. And then I hired in in Fisher Body.
MEYER: Did you have other relatives who were working in the plants at that time? Any brothers or sisters or?
BORSKI: Oh, yes, I had a brother at Chevrolet, two brothers at Chevrolet at that time. I had one brother that worked at Buick, but he died in 1933. And I had brother-in-laws that worked at Buick.
MEYER: Were these brothers involved in the Chevy 4 sit-down?
BORSKI: No, in fact, well, my oldest brother at the Chevrolet, he went on strike too, but he never took part or stayed in or anything like that. And the other one, he quit the Chevrolet.
MEYER: Was your family originally from Michigan?
BORSKI: No, Chicago, Illinois. I was born in Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, but I came here when I was very young, about five or six years old.
MEYER: Was your father a factory worker also?
BORSKI: Yes, he worked at the Buick until he got sick. And then he didn't work for about fifteen years. He never got a pension or nothing. I never thought I would get one. I never thought I would be getting a pension or anything, you know. I said, "I'm just going to work until I can't work anymore. That's it! Goodbye!"
MEYER: You were single at the time; didn't have a family or anything.
BORSKI: I was taking care of my mother and brother.
MEYER: You were living with them?
BORSKI: Yes. I was sole support of the family.
MEYER: How did they make out during the strike if you were the sole support? Did they experience any difficulty?
BORSKI: Well, you went behind in your rent, you didn't eat as good and you just bought what you could afford. That was it. There was no unemployment or nothing at that time, you know. And you could always expect to be off two, three months during the model change, you know. And you had to prepare yourself for that. Because when the model ended you know, and they'd start tearing the plant apart and everything was being changed, you were just laid off, period. There was no unemployment, no nothing.
MEYER: Well, during the strike did they experience any community harassment like from missing a rent payment or any attempts to come down on you?
BORSKI: No, not that I know of. It might have, but I don't recall anything like that.
MEYER: Did they ever call upon the union to help them out while you were sitting in, do you remember?
BORSKI: Well, the only thing was food, see. And, well, the union didn't have anything to begin. They were out breaking on a shoestring. Evidently the organizers were being paid by the coalminers and the steelworkers and the donations and so on and so forth. No, we didn't get a thing.
MEYER: What did your family think of your sitting in? Were they supportive?
BORSKI: Yes, yes. Sure, my mother was there the next day, the next morning, you know. She probably heard it on the radio. She came up and I was talking to her through the window, you know.
MEYER: So she came over to the plant to talk to you.
BORSKI: Yes, to see if I was all right.
MEYER: Did she help out at all on the outside?
BORSKI: No, no, my mother was quite old by then. No, you didn't get much help. Although some of the guys went across the street, you know, and bought dinners from the restaurant and bring 'em...you know out of their own pocket, you know, and bring us in lunches and stuff like that. Then they set up the kitchen in the north unit. And all the restaurants across the street, and the taverns, you know, and everything, they all donated. See, they all helped us with money and food, which was pretty nice.
MEYER: You were talking earlier about the split later on. What is your recollection of that and how that affected you?
BORSKI: I'm pretty sure it was 1938. Some of the fellows from the union figured that they would rather belong to the A F of L than the CIO, see, so they started an organizing campaign, see, to organize the workers again in the A F of L. But they couldn't get the majority. And there was rough times then. In fact, in the plant there was. I know a lot of guys lost their jobs over fighting, spraying water, using fire hoses and everything between the two factions, A F of L and CIO. And a couple of my friends lost their job.
MEYER: How would the workers lose their jobs in this factional fight? How would that go?
BORSKI: They just disrupted production, I mean. They were the leaders of this skirmish, see. At one time they had the water hose going on up there in final assembly, paint line, squirting them like that, and fighting like hell. And I know in the body shop where I worked there was several close encounters, I mean, everybody with files in their hand and hammers and everything. This group there and here's another group here, ready to go at it. But they never did, because one of them was always outnumbered. But I know one of the guys in our department was pinpointed to get the hell knocked out him. And that was Sam Hawk. They were gonna nail him that one night. And they were gonna do it right in the shop. But they never did get to him because everybody backed him up, see. We all were for Sam Hawk.
MEYER: Which side was he on?
BORSKI: He was for CIO, see. But, and there was a lot of fights in the bars, outside the bars, you know. The CIO hall was here, the A F of L union hall was right next door.
MEYER: On Saginaw Street?
BORSKI: Yes, right across the street from Fisher Body, we had two union halls there. And eventually they had an election, see, who was gonna represent them, the workers and the CIO, and that was the end of it.
MEYER: Do you know what motivated people to get interested in the A F of L?
BORSKI: No, I don't. I couldn't tell you why. Maybe it was because they were stronger and there was more membership. Eventually they merged, and then they split again, see. It was A F of L -CIO, later on. And then I think it was Walter Reuther pulled them out of the A F of L. But after the election, why, that was it...the CIO had the bargaining rights and that was it. And there wasn't any problem after that.
MEYER: People accepted that result.
MEYER: Do you remember any picketing at that time?
BORSKI: Yes, one night. One night I came out of the shop, I rang my card and I run out Saginaw Street and made a U-turn and went right back in the plant again because there was over three thousand men. The A F of L had gone and gotten...I don't know what you'd call 'em...pickets or goons or what. But they were from Detroit, Janesville, all over the country, about three thousand of them across the street waiting for us to come out of work, see. And evidently when I got back to the door the guys said, "What's the matter?" I said, "Look across the street." Man, there was just people all over the place, see. Supposedly A F of L, see, that were waiting for us. Then we could hear the guys across the street hollering, you know. "Come on out, Ben, you're okay," and this and that. Evidently they were outnumbered, so they didn't do a thing.
MEYER: The A F of L was outnumbered.
BORSKI: Yes, right, so they didn't do a thing that night. Yes, the state police came in; there was about ten or fifteen cars. They pulled right up in front of the ad building. They were well organized; I know that. And they marched right across the street, you know, with billy clubs. "Let's move it." They did. They cleared it right out.
MEYER: And this incident was during the time just before this election, the referendum between the two unions, so it was apparently an attempt to campaign to win.
BORSKI: Yes, that's about what it boiled down to, but it didn't work. It's still there today, which I don't agree with on all points now, anymore.
MEYER: I think you mentioned over the phone you ended up on supervision, later on in the fifties.
MEYER: Do you recall, when you went over to supervision, did you experience any problems from management by virtue of the fact that you were a former sit-downer?
MEYER: In any way you could tell, they didn't hold that against you?
BORSKI: No. In fact, a lot of the fellows I know, during that time, ended up on supervision. In fact, one of the guys I met at Genesee Mall the other day, he's plant superintendent. He wasn't a sit-downer, he didn't stay in the plant, but he was working in that department at that time. I know a lot of the boys who went on supervision. Well, it all boiled down, in fact. Well, just like me; I bought a house in one day in 1939 and we went on strike the next day. And I mean, nobody came around and said, "Well, here, you can buy groceries, here's some money to buy groceries." You didn't get nothing. Everything you did, you did on your own. And if you went out on strike, well, that's it. You get along the best way you know how. I think most of the guys went on supervision because nobody's going to put that loaf of bread on your table but you.
MEYER: But you didn't sense any particular discrimination against you as a supervisor because of your union in the past?
BORSKI: None, whatsoever.
MEYER: Is your background Polish? Do you remember any ethnic groups that were active in Flint at that time? There were various Slavic groups and Hungarians and Polish. Do you remember them being organized in social clubs, associations of any kind?
BORSKI: Well, I'd say the Polish people had their Dom Polski down on the North End there, which they still have. And the Italians on the North End there, they had the Sons of Italy on North Street, there.
MEYER: Do you remember them playing any role in supporting the union movement?
BORSKI: Not that I can remember, no. I do know that there was, like the metal finishers in Fisher 1 were, I'd say ninety percent Polish in that particular line of work. No coloreds, no blacks at all. They had one in the main office...janitor. No, I don't remember any of them, you know. I can't recollect.
MEYER: What about other kinds of political parties? Do you remember their activity at all in relationship to the union workers and labor movements?
BORSKI: One man that stands out in my mind, I think he was the mayor, Boysen.
MEYER: Well, he was the head of the Flint Alliance.
BORSKI: Something like that, yes.
BORSKI: I thought he was mayor. Anyhow, they burned him in effigy about every week. Outside of that I can't pinpoint any particular group.
MEYER: You don't remember any Socialist Party or Proletarian Party or those various...?
BORSKI: I do know that we had some pinkies in the union; I do know that. But I think that faded away as time went on. And that was the main concern, I think, of the general public, that we were Communist-oriented, see.
MEYER: Was that much of a concern to the workers? What was their attitude towards that business?
BORSKI: No, I'll tell you. In fact, they ganged around one guy in the plant and wanted to know if he was Communist, see. He swore up and down he wasn't. But there was an article in the paper, in the Journal, that came out with a whole list of names of people that were Communists.
MEYER: They claimed they were Communists during the strike?
BORSKI: Yes. How they knew, I don't know, or whether they could prove it. I don't think they could prove it, but they had a whole list of names in the Journal. And a lot of them names were the guys that I worked with in the plant, see.
MEYER: When was this published? During the strike or after the strike?
BORSKI: I don't know if it was before or after. It could have been after the strike.
MEYER: But it was around the time or close to the time of the strike?
BORSKI: Bud Simons was one of them that was named.
MEYER: This was close to the time of the strike that they published this list of names or is it hard to say?
BORSKI: I just can't remember when it was, but I do know they had it in the Flint Journal that these people were all from the Communist Party. But I think most of the men in the plant, the workers, they didn't go for that, I'll tell you. I know I didn't. I didn't care for it. In fact, when they had election of officers, you know, that would be one of the things that these guys would campaign on. They'd say, "Well, his name was in the paper as a Communist. And for Christ's sakes we don't want that guy in there." But it didn't seem to make too much difference, you know.
MEYER: Did they tend to believe the Flint Journal?
BORSKI: Well, I'll tell you. When you see that in the paper, then you
begin to wonder. But I had no reason to believe that they were. But I think some people thought it was true. But I worked with these guys for a long time and knew 'em, some of 'em that were in there. And I didn't believe it.
MEYER: You mentioned Bob Travis. I guess you had gone to a lot of meetings. What kind of a guy was he like? What do you remember about him as an organizer?
BORSKI: Well, he was a real nice guy; I know that. He was a good-looking fellow. He just died here a year ago.
MEYER: Yes, in the fall, I believe.
BORSKI: I didn't ever talk to him personally. I mean he was an aggressive man. He knew what he was doing at all times.
MEYER: Do you remember Wyndham Mortimer at all?
BORSKI: Yes, I don't know him, but I know of him.
MEYER: What do you remember about him?
BORSKI: Very little.
MEYER: He was before Travis.
BORSKI: There's one other guy I'm trying to think of; I can't think of his name. He was an organizer and he was on the labor relations staff of his company. That was a switch there.
MEYER: Yes. Do you remember how you got your first job at General Motors?
BORSKI: Yes, I had a cousin working there on plant protections. And he called me up and said, "Hey, they're hiring down here today." So I had a car and I got the car, jumped in and got three or four other guys to go with me. There were about five of us; they hired all five of us. Stood in line. In fact, Tiny Guyrock is the guy that hired me in. Have your heard of him?
MEYER: What's the name?
BORSKI: Tiny Guyrock.
MEYER: No, I don't think so.
BORSKI: He was the head bargainer for General Motors in Detroit. He was a clerk at that time.
MEYER: Did it help that you had your cousin as a reference? Or did you just...
BORSKI: No, I just went in there and stood in line with the rest of them, you know. When I got up there the guy asked me how much I weighed and this and that.
MEYER: Was your cousin still doing plant protection while the strike was on?
BORSKI: No, he was gone. He was from Chicago and he worked on the force in Chicago. He was a policeman in Chicago. He came down here when he got laid off and got a job on Plant Protection. And then when things picked up, he just quit and went back to Chicago. No, everybody that I picked up that day, we all went down there and got hired. Hired every one of us guys. Jobs were scarce, too. Fifty cents an hour.
MEYER: What was the thing that drew you to go to the union and take out a membership? What was it?
BORSKI: Well, it was just talk, you know. The guys talk in the shop. And naturally it builds up, you know.
MEYER: Did you join up with a bunch of friends or something or did you just go down yourself?
BORSKI: Well, I knew the guys that were in there, see. I knew guys that were in there. And naturally they were soliciting all the time, you know, trying to get guys to join. You couldn't be very open about it. But, no, I just decided one day, what the hell, so I went down there in the basement with a flashlight and they give me a card and I signed it and give 'em a dollar.
MEYER: In formulating your own thinking about striking and sitting down and going through all that, what would you identify as kind of the main problems with working at that time that encouraged you to take that step?
BORSKI: I would say working conditions.
MEYER: You described, for example, about the welding and the kneeling down.
BORSKI: Well, like in a grinding booth. I did some grinding and when you weld and stuff like that you gotta clean it. You've got wire brushes, you have discs, you got buffers. Well, they were all on a stand. You pick those up. Maybe you had seven of those to use on one job. You pick that up 'til you hit all your joints, you pick the disc up, hit what joints you had to have there to disc them off. That was all. You do that for nine, nine-and-a-half hours. Oh, buddy, you're tired. After the union, all stabilizers were put on those, you know, from the ceiling, from a track. There was no physical effort to it as much as when you had to pick those up all day. I used to put in regulator boards in the Buick, the 1936 Buick, on the coaches only. You had to get inside to do that. I had two boxes. This was full of rubber dough, wooden blocks, metals parts, and corner blocks; you had to nail some. At that time there was still wood in the bodies. You had to get inside every coach and you don't straighten up. And I had two motors; they ran on a trolley. And I'd get a job, I'd grab the two boxes, grab the two motors, run to the next job, hook motors up, jump in the next car and do the job again. The sales in the 1936 Chevrolet Standard, they called it at that time, were so high that they had to build more bodies some place else. So they put 'em right into Fisher 1. Now right on back of the Buicks that I was working on, here come the Chevrolets. At that time, it was piecework. Every car you did, you pull off a little tab from the front of the car, from the body. At the end of the day you turned 'em in. I got fourteen cents, I think, for a Buick and I got eleven cents for a Chevrolet and I had more work on the Chevrolet than I did on the Buick. But they didn't cut down the amount of Buicks. I did the same amount of Buicks, plus they put in the Chevrolets right along with them. My partner and I there was no way we could keep up. We ended up in the paint department trying to do our job.
MEYER: You mean you'd just ride the car...
BORSKI: You'd just work as fast as you could, but you couldn't keep up. So the next day when I come in...well, about noontime they would post on the foreman's desk what you made the day before. So I worked eleven-and-a-half hours and I made four dollars and sixty-six cents. When I read that, I just folded my arms and dropped everything I had. I remember Jeff Schadle, he was my foreman, he said, "What's the matter?" I said, "I quit. I'm not buying that." You couldn't get nobody else to do that job, I'll tell you, because that was a back-breaker. I used to come home from work and put a pillow under my back and try to sleep. You'd bend over nine-and-a-half hours. "No, come on back to work. I'll see if I can get you at least day rate on that," or something. I said, "No, I'm not going to buy that."
MEYER: Was he able to do anything for you?
BORSKI: Yes, I ended up with about seven dollars for that day, I guess. But it was things like that, you know. Well, a lot of the guys on the torch side of the line...there was no ventilation, you worked with bolt and solder all day, you know. You'd weld joints, solder. Finishers would finish it. That was lead poisoning. So then after the strike, there was ventilators put in, you know, draw fans. Then they were getting lead poisoning tests. They had to go to the plant doctor every so often. They would give them a test to see if they had lead poisoning. Just like me, I worked with a lot of asbestos when I was a welder. And nobody knew that was harmful at that time, so we get a lot of things you can't blame the company for, you know.
MEYER: We get the impression that a lot of the foremen or people who were immediate superiors had a lot of latitude sometimes in how they paid people, and rates. Could you deal with them, to some extent, as you indicated with that one example?
BORSKI: Oh, I think a foreman could fire you, you know.
MEYER: Did they adjust the rates for pay of the people?
BORSKI: No, I never knew of that. The only time I can tell you truthfully is when that happened to me. He said, "Come on back to work; I'll see what I can do about it." Which he did, see. When a foreman, I think at that time, would come up to you and say, "Don't come back," well, that was it. I remember one time, this was during the Red Feather campaign, Buick donated so many cars. Like Fisher 1 got one car, Buick got two or three, depending on the employment. And you donated four hours work, see, to the Red Feather. And you got a chance on winning that car, plus there were other prizes, you know.
MEYER: You mean you worked four hours without pay?
MEYER: And that gave you a chance on the car?
BORSKI: On the car, plus other prizes they had. I forget what they were, you know.
MEYER: Well, this job I had, you know, putting regulator boards in these coaches and stuff like that. That's how come I got that job. This guy flat out refused to give four hours. I was on his job the next day.
MEYER: He got fired.
BORSKI: I never seen him again. Right. I also had this happen to me. The foreman took me up to the superintendent's office, he told Stu Renn, "I got a man out here; I don't know what to do with him." The superintendent said, "I'll stand him outside. Don't you know what the hell to do with a man you don't need? Get him the hell out of here!" So then I walked in the office; I said, "Hey, I need this job." He said, "Is this the guy you're talkin' about?" Jeff said, "Yeah, that's him." He says, "You're not gonna lay that man off. Now you put him to work and you get somebody else and lay him off." 'Cause I figured I always did a good job, you know. I was good worker, not bragging or anything.
MEYER: Why did he say that?
BORSKI: He had seen me. I know he had observed me several times, you know, doing my job, see. When I walked in there I said, "Hey, I need the job." So he said to the foreman, "Is that the guy you don't know what to do with?" He said, "Yeah." He said, "Put him on a job and get somebody else and lay him off. Give him a job." See, you can't do things that way anymore.
MEYER: Yes. Do you remember foreman using their hiring and firing power to get special favors from workers and that sort of thing? We've heard tales of workers sometimes having to do work on a foreman's house on a weekend or something of that sort. Do you remember any of that going on?
BORSKI: No, I never did. No, I worked on foremen's cars and superintendents' cars, but that was on company time in the company garage, say, on a Saturday. And I was paid for it. Anytime they'd call me up and say, "Hey I got a job that would take about two hours. Do you want to do it?" Man, I was there in five minutes, 'cause I needed the money.
MEYER: Going back to the strike for a moment, how surprised were you the day that the strike started? Were you surprised that it got called at that point or...?
BORSKI: No, not particularly, no. No, I don't know, I just anticipated it. Just like sitting right here, you know. The guys say, "Hey, what's the matter?" They said, "That's it; we're not workin'!"
MEYER: So you were ready for it, in a sense; evidently you anticipated it.
BORSKI: Well, you know, my age was another thing, too. I was nineteen years old. Most of the fellows that were in there were older than I. But, no, it didn't surprise me or anything. It's just like an everyday occurrence. In fact, it was quite a bit of fun first few days, you know, never realizing what could happen.
MEYER: Not realizing how long you were going to be in there.
MEYER: Are there any other recollections that I didn't really hit, on some of the questions I asked?
BORSKI: No. Think you probably know what happened down there at Chevrolet.
MEYER: When was this picture taken?
BORSKI: This was in 1936.
MEYER: This was right after it started?
MEYER: You were down on the first floor of the plant this was taken?
MEYER: Do you recall any particular problems in Fisher or any point in Fisher 1 when there was harassment or attempts to take it over or anything or take it back while you were sitting in or attacks from the outside. Did that ever happen?
BORSKI: No, just you know what I read about over at Chevrolet, you know, Fisher 2.
MEYER: Yes. Were you sitting in during that? (End of tape)