TRANSCRIPTION OF INTERVIEWS HELD DECEMBER 13-15, 1978, WITH BOB TRAVIS BY NEIL LEIGHTON
TAPE NO. 1
DATE: December 13, 1978
INTERVIEWER: Neil Leighton
INTERVIEWEES: Bob Travis and Charlie Kramer, Los Angeles, California
NL: Bob, what I wanted to go over was what I mentioned to you this morning. I went through the interview you had with Sidney Fine fourteen years ago.
RT: They were going to send me a copy of it, but they didn’t.
NL: They didn’t.
RT: Not yet. I don’t have it.
NL: Well, I’ll check up on it and see what I can do. There’s some questions that he asks, which, from our purposes, he doesn’t go far enough, and I kind of want to just maybe fill in some of the details. As I mentioned, what we are really interested in is looking at the context in which the strike was set. There’s so much that we don’t know about what went on in Flint: the makeup of the town, what went on inside the plants. One of the things we don’t have any record of, really―it’s very incomplete―is what went on inside the plant during the strike. You know, we know events outside, this type of thing. But how the men organized themselves in there... Anyway, we’ll get to that as we go along. In the early part of that Fine interview, he asked you questions about Fisher 1. And you’ve mentioned that it just happened and that Fisher 1, 2, and Chevrolet were really what you called the “soft spots.” They were ready for organizing, and that for a long time Buick didn’t move at all, and that AC Spark Plug never did move. Now, one of the things that we’re interested in finding out is why, let’s say, didn’t the Buick plant mount an organizing drive? If it did, in fact, all we have to go on so far is what Wyndham Mortimer writes about in his book when he holds the meeting with the fellow in the black church, Henry Clark.What was the nature of the plant that it was an unlikely starting point to organize?
RT: Well, at the Buick, the only place we could get into―well, in the first place, I had a philosophy of organizing of finding the problem places in the shop and concentrate on that place. For instance, if there was dirty work, or night work some place, and the guys were dissatisfied, that would be the place I’d concentrate on, to begin with. In Buick, the dirtiest and the worst place to work was the foundry. The result is that I concentrated on the foundry, to begin with, although we had guys from Buick. We had Ed Geiger and “Fitz” Fitzgerald and Norm Bully and some other guys from Flint, from Buick, but we never could break through into the white areas of Buick. Why I don’t know. The same way with AC Spark Plug. Minzey was the president of this AFL local to begin with, the citywide local. I always considered him maybe―I didn’t trust him. I didn’t trust anybody, in fact, unless I knew where the hell they stood about the prior strike in 1930. If they were in that, I could trust them a little bit. But if they weren’t in that, I wondered why. Buick, I’d never know, but, in fact, the black guys―both men and women, well, and some of the white guys in the foundry―were susceptible.
CK: The foundry was mostly black?
RT: Yes, mostly black.
CK: Bob, let me throw out something. Buick was also, from the little that I remember, a stronghold of the Black Legion and Klan elements in Flint.
RT: That’s true.
NL: Charlie, were they prevalent mainly among southern whites or just whites in general?
CK: Southern whites.
RT: Mostly Southern whites, yeah.
NL: In the foundry, about how many people worked there? Do you remember, Bob, just a ballpark estimate?
RT: There must have been a thousand or more. And Henry Clark and his father―his father was a minister... He was a little bit scared. Henry was a little bit―-he was a good guy―organized in and around the foundry. And that started things moving.
NL: Let me catch one thing there, ‘cause this is a point that we have really wanted to nail down. And we think it’s important and, although you may not be able to fill in all the blanks, every blank we fill in. You mentioned Henry Clark’s father was a minister. Was it Henry Clark’s father’s church that Mortimer held the meeting in? Do you remember? Now, that probably was before... I think Mortimer held that meeting before you got to Flint.
RT: Yeah, it may have been.
NL: And I don’t know whether he would have mentioned that to you or not.
RT: No, I never knew.
NL: Did you kind of keep an eye on what was going on in the foundry in Buick, even though I know you had to be so busy with the rest of it?
RT: Well, first I’ve got to tell you. Now, I was in there alone, to begin with. I was sent in because they jumped under Mortimer. They said he was too radical, you know. The Trotskyites were the ones that wanted him out.Guys like Glenn Shattuck and Tom Klasey and Ted LaDuke and the rest of ‘em all ganged up on Mort. They went to the Executive Board and wanted him out.
NL: Were the Trotskyites, at that time, were they primarily members of the Proletarian Party? Does that ring any bells, or were they just not. . .?
RT: No, they weren’t.
CK: The Proletarian Party was different.
NL: The reason I mention that is because the Proletarian Party and the Socialist Party had offices, apparently in the old―is it in the old Pengelly Building?
RT: No, not that I know of.
NL: Or they had offices in a common place, was that it? Okay.
NL: ‘Cause I remember someone else mentioning that, and I can’t remember who.
RT: The Proletarian Party we always considered as rocking-chair Communists. That’s what we called ‘em. The Trotskyites were vicious, to the extent that they would go against, they would go after Mortimer, an organizer, go against the union. It meant to me that you couldn’t trust them. I don’t know whether they were stooges for the company or not. And so I was in there alone. So for a month or so I used to carry around a film called The River. Did you ever see the film The River?
NL: Is that the―
CK: It’s the WPA film done by―
NL: Is that the one Robeson did?
RT: No, no.
CK: It’s a very famous WPA film.
RT: Innocuous film, you know. I could tell people that we were going to have a film. It was very good, about the Mississippi, you know, and it had no political content at all. But we brought people in to the little meeting in Swartz Creek and Fenton and the rest of the places that I could go to. I could get...I must have had fifty or a hundred groups, here, there, and a little. . . In fact, some of the time, in Flint especially, if I had a meeting in Flint, I would have it in somebody’s basement with only one candle, right here, before me. The rest of the place was dark. Nobody knew us. Well, nobody knew who else was in there except me. They could see who I was, and that’s all. That’s when I’d talk. But I would see each one of them individually and either get a card okay to get their support or else I wouldn’t get it. And I would keep it. When I went into Flint, there was a girl in the office that Mort had hired, that I finally asked her where she’s from, you know. And I finally found out. Somebody from AC told me that she’s the daughter of the chief of police at AC. So I fired her. So I kept―had to keep―every card to myself, you see. I didn’t even take the chance on the office, because prior to that, everyone that I turned into the office the next few days he would get fired, you see. So I fired her. She cried like a baby and so forth, but I fired her anyhow. And I kept all the people that joined the union myself and sent them to George Addes in Detroit and told him the need for security. And that’s how we began to find who the hellwas stool pigeons and who wasn’t, because when Charlie―the first guy that I asked for was Roy Reuther. The second guy was John Bartee, from South Bend, Leslie Towner from South Bend, Ralph Dale from Milwaukee. They were guys that I asked for. And so I put Reuther in charge of Chevrolet, Dale in charge of Buick. I don’t know who it was in charge of AC anymore―Towner, I guess, Towner at AC, and I took all of ‘em, you see. So I coordinated all the work between all of these guys.
NL: On that same score, did you, at Fisher 1, get somebody from out of the plant there, or did you also bring somebody in to organize that?
RT: No, I had Fisher 1 myself. Victor Reuther, by the way, Victor Reuther was in Fisher 2; Fisher 1, later, after the strike was over, not before. I took care of Fisher 1 myself, because I had one of the best organizers ever.There’s a guy you got to interview in Florida.
NL: Who’s that?
RT: Bud Simons.
NL: Yes, I’m going to do that. I hate to say it, but probably a week and a half from now.
RT: He and Walt Moore, Joe Devitt, were the three guys, and Parish, one of the Parish guys, “Bammy” Parrish.
NL: Was that the husband of Delia?
NL: She’s still. . .
RT: No, Della, that’s the mother, isn’t it?
NL: Yes, yes.
RT: It’s her kid.
NL: Oh, okay. Bennett, I think his name was. Or Everett.
RT: I don’t know. Everett, I guess it was, but we called him “Bammy,” ‘cause he’s from Alabama.
NL: Alabama, yeah.
RT: They’re the guys that organized Fisher 1, inside the plant. If anybody tells you that they organized Fisher 1, they’re full of crap, because those guys knew exactly what was happening in the plant all the time. I didn’t know. They took care of the organizing, what to do, how to organize floor by floor and the security and the whole thing.
NL: Bob, when I read the 1964 interview [with] Sidney Fine, there’s a piece of absolute genius in there. I’m not; it’s yours. And that’s when you. . . These same fellows you pointed, these shop stewards inside Fisher 1, and you tried to get a ratio of about one to twenty, I guess, ideally. And it really was an organization inside an organization. Now, Bud and Joe Devitt and Walter Moore. . .Were the Carpenter brothers part of that, too?Those were the two that got fired, I know, in November, but were they―?
NL: Perkins, not Carpenter. I’m thinking Carpenter. Were Carpenter brothers in there?
RT: There was one Carpenter I remember.
NL: Clayton Carpenter.
RT: Clayton Carpenter. He was, yeah, he was a good guy, I guess. I forgot what the hell he was like. He was involved. And there was another tall guy. It’s unfair not to remember his name. I can’t think who it would be.
NL: Now, how did, when you came into―
CK: Excuse me a minute. I just remembered. Pare Lorentz did the movie The River. It’s a very famous movie. It’s a classic.
NL: Okay. I remember reading the name of it somewhere.
RT: I used to have a projector, so damn heavy, used to carry that all over the damn Flint by myself. And I had a little Willys, you know, one of these little puddle jumpers. And I used to, night and day, through snow or―
CK: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything. Go ahead.
NL: That’s okay, sure. These fellows inside the plant, guys like Bud Simons and Walter Moore and the others, how did you identify them? These guys had been working there for some time. Did you pick ‘em because they had been in the ’30 strike?
RT: No, because Mort, you see, Mort... When Mort says he would―when this committee come to the Executive Board and wanted Mort to get out. And the Executive Board sheriff said, “After all, if Mort was Vice-President he should be doing something else except one plant or one town.” So Mort Says, “Well, I’ll assume my duties on one condition.” They said, “What is that condition?” He said, “If I can pick the guy that goes and takes my place in Flint.” They said, “Who’s the guy you’re gonna pick?” And he said, “I’ll pick me” (“me” refers to Bob Travis). And the Executive Board says, “Okay, Mort. Travis will be the guy that will go in your place.” That’s when I come in. And so I sat down with Mort. “Who do you get in touch with here?” “Get in touch with Walt Moore, Bud Simons, Joe Devitt, Jay Green.” Well, I really don’t know who else. That’s how I got in touch.
NL: Yeah. Did he ever tell you how he identified those guys? Because he came to Flint, what? The first time in Aug―no, June, I guess, June―of ’36. And he sums up the town very quickly, and he’s very good at that, you know.
NL: That’s what I―the impression I get, of course, is from reading that this guy, you know, had the ability to drive around that town, ask a few key questions, and he had that situation pretty well summed up. But these guys, why I keep hitting on this, is that these guys―
CK: Well, it’s simple. They were the CP’s child. Two answers. They had gone through the whole business of the National Labor Board. They had gone through the building up of the union before that and the debacle―
RT: Two years before, yeah.
CK: The destruction of the AFL local during that period, and they were the only guys who stood up during that whole period. So they may or may not have been known as CP members or whatever, because it doesn’t make any difference, really. But they were bigger than the police or the CP organizers in there. That’s why he knew them, because, when―well, we can get into that later.
NL: Yeah, but you know the thing I’m interested in is that these guys have skills.
CK: And a history.
NL: And a history. That’s right, the skills that they get out of experience. And the reason I asked this question, and it sounds naive, is, of course, because it is one of the most interesting things for those of us working on this project is that after just a very short period of time in talking to a lot of rank-and-file people, you realize that, although they look like everybody else in Flint, they’re not, down deep they’re not. And their views on politics and religion may be the same as everybody else; they may be different. But there’s a certain level below which―and they’ve got these skills. Of course, the people coming out of the academic world, you know, particularly those out of a middle-class background, they cannot believe that anybody that hasn’t been to college can read. Now, what we’re finding out is that those people who spent all their time in school can’t read either! But so, at any rate, they, and these fellows. . .
CK: Well, the important thing, it seems to me, is the business of experience in history. I don’t want to be academic about it, but the fact is that these guys had been through the mill. They had been through the period, you know, when there was no organization whatsoever. Along comes the NRA, and, of course, they had worked before that in the twenties and were probably in the TUUL or one of those other left-wing organizing efforts and had gotten nowhere. Along comes the NRA, and the NRA enables them, through Section 7(a), to setting up the Labor Board, which was a lot of hooey. But there was a big splurge of organization that went on, you know.
RT: Through the AFL.
CK: Yeah, through the AFL, largely. And at one point, at least, they told us at the time that they had fourteen thousand members in Flint.
RT: That’s right.
CK: But then, of course, then what happened was that they retracted the decision, knocked out the NRA and therefore knocked out the basis for the Labor Board. And immediately the companies decimated the union.They just refused to recognize them, to deal with them in any way whatsoever. With that refusal of recognition, the whole underpinning of that fell apart.
RT: There was a strike.
CK: Until after the Wagner Act, you see, was enacted in 1935 and then sanctified by the Supreme Court in 1937. So there was still a two-year period in which none of the big corporations of this country paid any attention whatsoever to the Wagner Act. But in the meantime, these guys had been organizing, and they’d had this history of organization. They knew the weak spots in the company, they knew the weak spots among their own people and the strong people among them. They knew whom they could turn to. That’s what Wyndham Mortimer turned over to Bob.
NL: Bob, also in the things that Mortimer turned over to you, in that sense, I mentioned, you know, at lunch that one of the things there seems to be, between movements, what we’ve called “labor insurgency.” I don’t know whether that’s the right title; we may toss it out. But between periods of it, there are links. What we are talking about are links. And these links go way back in the history of American labor. They don’t start in 1936. And I recently had a chance to talk to some people, and I said I’ve been reading Len DeCaux’s book on the Wobblies, his new one. And I said, you know, this place, Flint, is directly south of what must have been a small area, but still an area of some Wobbly activity. That’s the Upper Peninsula.
NL: Right. Calumet, the Century mines, the copper mines, the iron. And so I asked these people. I said, “Gee, did you notice any old Wobbly members?” Well, most of them said no. They couldn’t recognize them as such.I said, well, “How many Finns, Scandinavians, were there?” They said, “Ooooh.” Then it came to light, you know. I said, “How many of those had been miners?” Were you aware that there were some old Wobblies in and around the plants working?
RT: There’s another factor, not Wobblies particularly. There’s two factors, in fact. One was the foreigners who come to America to work.
NL: Right, right. Eastern Europeans, Slavs.
RT: Slavs. They were the best. They were the most conscious trade unionists, along with―We had a bunch of miners from Indiana, a bunch of miners from West Virginia. Anybody who had any mining experience or any union experience immediately joined with Bud and the rest of the people. But they became the core. And the wives of these people, the wives of the immigrants and the wives of the miners, they were―the Parishes, for instance.
NL: Right, old Mrs. Parish, talking about. Yes, yeah.
CK: Well, Mortimer was a miner.
NL: That’s right. He came out of the Pennsylvania coal fields.
RT: That’s right.
CK: And you have to go back historically. The whole area was one of the cores of the great 1919 steel strike.
NL: How so? You mean the mine. . .?
CK: Both the iron mines in upper Michigan and the Indiana steel mills, Indiana and Chicago steel mills. And a lot of those people who were driven out during the heyday of the steel strike moved into the auto industry and into that area. You probably can prove it from census material.
NL: No, you’re right. And, of course, also from upper Michigan the closing down, the winding down of the mines, particularly the copper.
RT: Do you want another drink?
NL: You mention the Eastern Europeans. We ran into the Evanoffs this summer. We ran... I’ll tell you. What is amazing about this project, I think maybe I mentioned to you on the phone. It’s like a big tank, you know, going down through the woods. We don’t really know what we’re doing, and we admit it, you know. What we’re doing is finding out what we don’t know. That’s the first step. But as we go along, it kicks up all this stuff behind it. So Mike and Genevieve, anyway, like Mike’s parents. . .
RT: Oh, boy, are they still living, by the way?
RT: I have a hell of a time writing a letter. Helen considers, so I say, “Be sure and say hello to Mike’s parents.” She says, “You can’t say hello to them because you don’t know whether they’re living or not.”
NL: I think they are.
RT: You see, Lewis was the head of the CIO to begin with, but the beginning of CIO started in Flint when we invited him to come in and negotiations send Martin to hell out. Remember?
CK: And do I remember!
RT: And that’s when we begin to get all kinds. We had so many people asking for organization that we couldn’t―
CK: The messenger boys.
RT: Oh, boy, oh, boy. J. C. Penney workers came right around from the Pengelly Building. We had them sitting in the front windows for a week or two making little skits about anti-labor stuff. And we had all the taxicabs on strike. We had the Flint Trolley Coach on strike. We had Standard Cotton on strike. We had a couple other foundries on strike. We had so many I couldn’t handle them. I couldn’t handle that.
NL: Bob, I wanted to get back to inside the plant, if I could. When the Sit-Down comes, and by that time, by the time the guys sit down, you already have a bunch of shop stewards who have had some on-the-ground training in the plant where they’re working now for about a month. Is that right?
RT: Yes, that’s right.
NL: Roughly from November, when the Perkins brothers were fired.
RT: They were volunteer organizers, or anybody’d come in I’d give ‘em a volunteer organizer. They could volunteer to organize somebody else, you see. “Chick” Ananich from Fisher 1 is another guy, a baseball player, a hell of a good guy.
NL: His son works with me.
RT: He does?
NL: Yeah, Jim Ananich.
RT: Is that right?
NL: Yes, yes.
CK: Was he the kid who was the captain of the Guards at one point?
CK: There was an old Yugoslav or a Slav who was on a baseball team or an athlete in the plant and then became captain of the Guard setup.
RT: Maybe it was Chick, but I know I remember Chick Ananich so well. He was a real husky kid too and a good trade unionist. He was one of these foreigners, foreign derivation, you know, that I―
RT: Yeah, he was, and Mike Evanoff’s and Mike’s family. In fact, I stayed with Mike’s family a couple of times, about three nights in a row. When I was being followed, you know, I’d have to get out of my room, because somebody was following me. And I’d stay at Mike’s folks’ home. The women, these...like Chick’s―not Chick’s wife, but Chick’s family―was all involved, too. Everyone, just because Chick was involved, he would get his whole family. He’d get all over the neighborhood, you know, wherever there was a Russian or an immigrant or foreign derivation, they’d immediately become involved.
NL: Did you hold any meetings up there on the North Side, I mean in the St. John’s area, where a lot of these people lived?
RT: Sure I did.
NL: Did they have various associations that you’d talk to? Like I remember one, the Macedonian-Bulgarian Workers’ Association.
RT: Yes, there, and what was the name of the organization, the insurance company?
RT: The IWO. Yeah, wherever I had the IWO, I’d get IWO. They were the best people, too. You could just bet if you had an IWO member, I would have―I’d trust them. But I’d be very careful about the rest. You see, you’re talking about a time when I had to ask the LaFollette Committee to come in, because I was so afraid and so scared of what the hell was happening around me, that I had Charlie come in and look in to the members of the Executive Board of Local 13...384, I guess it was. No, anyhow, I forget what the number was. Out of the thirteen guys on that Executive Board, eleven of them were stool pigeons. Eleven of them! Finally, there was the Corporation’s auxiliary from St. Louis, and there was―
RT: R.A. and I.
CK: And the merchants and manufacturers, as well as the police.
RT: I don’t know how many different. They were reporting on each other, you see. So I was, so finally Charlie found a way in order to begin to pick out who the hell was and who wasn’t, because they were reporting all the time, you know. Then Charlie...we were able to figure out who was and who wasn’t a stool pigeon.
CK: Follow up on your question about what was going on inside the plant. We’re interested in that.
NL: Okay, Bob, did you have any plans, before the fellows sat down on how...I know that’s a naive question...on how you were going to....if they sat down...I remember in the interview you talk about it. You used to kick this idea around, of sitting down, because it was very close at hand. It had happened in Akron. It happened in France. It happened in a number of places.
RT: Poland. Poland. It started in Poland.
CK: Can I tell my story, ‘cause I observed it?
CK: The night that they sat down, Bob pulled the leaders, many of the leaders, out of the plant, for a midnight meeting.
RT: You were there, I guess.
CK: And he invited me to sit in the back of the room to watch. And Bob said, “Well, now that we’ve sat down, what do we do?” Four or five guys throughout the room took a couple of pieces of paper out of their pockets and they all read the same thing when I saw them lying around later, “What To Do In Case of a Sit-Down.” And there was a whole organizational plan as to what you do inside the plant and what you do outside the plant.This was an organizational plan which had been derived from the Polish experience, the French experience, and the Akron experience, and Midland Steel. Midland Steel had happened right before that, so that they had compiled all the information.
NL: Who had compiled it, Charlie?
NL: Oh, okay, I just wondered. I thought maybe Bob had.
CK: It was obviously CP. And as a matter of fact, it was Bill Weinstone.
RT: Weinstone, yeah. Will Weinstone.
CK: William Weinstone. And it was very explicit. You know. You set up a soup kitchen physically. You get food into the place. You set up a publicity committee. You do this. You set up guards at the doors inside the plant. It was really, well, you know, for what it was, it was a well organized systematic way of what you do at that point. . .
RT: Call ‘em all together and elect a committee.
CK: Elect a committee and start off with that and assign duties to each one of these, including, you know, what the wives do on the outside and all that kind of stuff. And it was really the start of that. And they held a big discussion that went on for two or three in the morning, it seems to me. I know I was dead tired at the end of it. But they discussed it, and they agreed with modifications suitable to their own experience and their own people there. And they went back into the plant. Now at that time it was easy to go in and out, before the sheriff clamped down on that kind of stuff. You can take it up then, because you know it.
RT: Bud was elected chairman of the committee, you see. On the committee was Joe, Walt, Harry something, Chick Ananich, Joe Devitt, and one of the Parishes, “Bammy” (Hilliard Parish) was on it. They decided, they said once the committee was set up then they set up all kinds of committees. A committee on security, a committee on food, a committee on this, a committee on that, you know, a committee on exercise, a committee on cleanliness.
NL: That’s when I was on to something. When I saw some of these old films, saw these guys with the exercise classes I said, “These guys just didn’t work that out on the spur of the moment, you know.” They had some good ideas.
RT: And they did everything. Bud was the leader.
CK:` Inside the plant.
RT: Inside, yeah, he was. He give me a couple jobs, too, to get somebody outside to make food. So I got to Detroit and got a member of a chef’s union from Detroit, whose name was Max Gazan. He was the chef of the Detroit Athletic Club.
CK: Really? I didn’t know that.
RT: Yes. He was brought into Flint and he begin to make―he got some big pots, you know, and all kinds of stuff, and we got... Across the street was a guy, a restauranteur, Ray something. I forget his name. He was a hell of a good guy. Anyhow, he turned his restaurant over to us. Max came in, took his restaurant. We bought new stoves, big pots. He’d never had such tremendous big meals. So we cooked all of the food for the hot meals outside and took it in.
CK: That’s deluxe service, Bob. Jesus! Hot meals served inside the plant!
NL: Now, that’s in the beginning. Later on, didn’t you set up a kitchen in the plant?
RT: Later on, we... this outside was to feed the people on the picket line and the women and give them something to do, because they helped Max. You see, they were the ones that were helping Max. And later we bought the same kind of equipment for inside. You see, then... and I was always afraid of an attack. So I decided we’d put in two weeks’ supply of food. That’s when we put in...do you remember, stacks of cans of all kinds of food and meat and all canned stuff, two weeks’ supply for at least six, seven hundred meals a day. So we had one whole place just stacked full of food. We got it all categorized, you know. And we had exercise, too. We bought...there was ping-pong tables, and we had exercise every day. Every morning, when you got up, you had to get up and exercise. And we had to clean up the place. We didn’t dare...Nobody didn’t dare destroy anything. Then during this period, I had one lady come to me and say her husband was inside and there was somebody was sleeping with some woman that walked in there, and she was a prostitute. And I said, “That’s not true.” Anyhow, I went out there. General Motors had sent fifty prostitutes into Flint, and some of ‘em got inside the plant. I got one of these gals. So I asked her, “How did you get to come to Flint?” She said, “Well, somebody give us fifty dollars apiece to come up here.” “Who gave you?” “Oh, I don’t know, somebody down there.” Who has fifty dollars to give, you know? So I released the story immediately, you know, kicked their ass out and got them out. And Henry did a story on the fact that we kicked them out. And we got this one woman who said that she thinks it had come from General Motors, the money had come from General Motors, you know. And we got her to testify in the story and so we printed... You see, we had a paper every week. Mike Burke was the head of the printer, the printer of the AFL paper that used to print ours.
NL: Right. Oh, we have that name anyway, the printer’s. They published something called the Weekly something.
RT: Yeah, the AFL paper. Anyhow, the AFL didn’t have much of a role in that, in Flint at all. They were very quiet. They didn’t help. They didn’t bother, either, except when Green was gonna do somethin’ about having the craft unions split up, you know. Then the AFL got active, but not much. They were more or less quiet.
NL: Was that because they were so weak by that time in Flint?
RT: They had really lost control of it, hadn’t they, by 1930, their action in 1934. Then they lost control of the whole damn thing.
NL: Yeah. In running the kitchen in Fisher, was Dorothy Kraus involved in that? Or did she run the kitchen food supply across the street? Or was it the whole―?
RT: No. In the shop, Dorothy didn’t help in the shop. Outside, she coordinated that work all along the picket lines. And we had the security in the automobiles. We called it. . . What the hell did we call it? “Flying Squad.”We had the Flying Squad in automobiles, you see. So she made sure that the Flying Squad was all fed and the guys on the picket line. Or if there was any problems that the women had with their men in the shops, Dorothy would go to the women, you see, and find out what’s the matter. Dorothy was the head of the Women’s Auxiliary, you see. Babes and Banners don’t say a damn word about Dorothy. In fact, they don’t even have a picture of her. Made sure that she didn’t get it.
NL: Well, what was the situation in. . . I wanted to kind of come back, stay on this side of the Sit-Down, in other words, before it got too far along. If we could go back to Buick for a minute, was there organizing going on inside Buick, inside the foundry, after Mortimer met with Henry Clark?
NL: Of a significant scope?
RT: Henry Clark and the black people in there, both men and women, and some of the white guys in there, in the foundry. Immediately they became the best organized unit in Buick.
NL: That’s what I thought.
RT: They really led the whole. . .the rest of the people were sort of intimidated, because of the fact that the foundry was so far ahead, you know. Geiger, and Fitzgerald, and Bully. . .they did a little organizing in their own places around, but not to any significant. . .Dale―Ralph Dale―had a lot of trouble with them.
NL: Would it be fair to say that by the time February 11th (the strike is over) comes along, that the Buick plant, among blacks in the foundry particularly, and those other people who work in the foundry, that organization was pretty, they were pretty well organized and complete? They had signed their cards.
NL: So, okay, I had often wondered about that. At the time that that’s happening, did you ever get any support from the black churches or black preachers in Flint? The reason I ask this, and let me tell you where I’m coming from―and, Charlie, maybe you can jump in on this: As you know, and it’s pretty obvious now, what Henry Ford did in Detroit―he bought every black church he could find, literally. I mean every organ, every building, every roof that needed patching, everything else, to buy himself, apparently, strikebreakers, I suppose if he needed them, but at least a quiet labor force. Did you ever run into any evidence that that happened in Flint? That GM had got to black preachers, in particular? Let’s just stay with those, ‘cause I know the other part is important, too.
RT: Before I got there, Mort had a program of giving coal. You see it was cold. Half ton of coal to this preacher, a half or a ton to that one, mostly, I suppose once in a while, he would give food, but not much, because you couldn’t afford to do very much. But they weren’t antagonistic. They were support[ive] because of the fact that their members in the foundry were in those churches, you see. And we made sure that wherever there was a member that had a church so-and-so, we’d find out what church he was goin’. And we’d get that church, and we’d see that that church got a ton of coal or whatever the hell it was that it needed.
NL: Is it right to say that of all the GM plants in Flint at that time that the black workers were concentrated almost exclusively in Buick?
RT: Right. Well, except for―
CK: Very few.
RT: More generous than in the other places.
NL: Chevy and something like that. I know there was Roscoe Van Zandt down at Fisher 1, who was the only black in the whole plant.
RT: That’s right.
NL: And then there were a few in maintenance and so on over at Chevy.
NL: Charlie, at this time, when you were conducting your investigations in Flint, did you ever happen to run across anything on the conditions of the black community in Flint, in terms of what―were they being exploited by GM in any way, and if so, how?
CK: Well, only incidentally. Remember, the focus of our investigation was industrial espionage. And, but you know, you inevitably came into contact with quite a good number of people. The interesting thing to me is that of all those people that we could identify, let’s say, as industrial spies or who were reporting to management, you see we had subpoena powers, so we could get some of the reports from people. I don’t think that there was a single one who was a black among them, which indicates, more than anything else, two things. One is that relatively few blacks were involved, particularly in Chevrolet and Fisher Body plants. But I think more important is that the blacks weren’t being organized, or were not organized. And there were no signs or very few signs of organization among them. Now, I don’t mean I want to make that definitive, but that’s just in terms of what we ran into in this thing. I had one―It seems to me that I had a talk with one black minister along the way, somewhere along the way, not in connection with that, but just generally. And he was not a leader of his congregation, in terms of organization. They were very cognizant of what the power structure was in Flint. And they were quite loath to bring their congregations into conflict with General Motors, or with the city mayor, or the sheriff. And remember that you also had this other problem. This was the mid-1930s, and what you had is in essence two kinds of migration. One is the post-, the First World War migration from the South, which brought in more white workers than the black workers, and then the Depression migration, which brought in more black workers. And those of them who could get jobs, any kind of jobs, just were dying to get ‘em. I think you found, Bob, that by and large only the guys who came out of the mines were the ones who were able to organize, at the start, anyway.
RT: Well, most of them from eastern Europe were from mines.
CK: No, I’m talking about the blacks.
RT: Oh, the blacks.
CK: Yeah, because you saw so few black faces, you know, in your setup and on the picket lines and so on.
RT: Well, it was because of the fact that Buick wasn’t on strike. And we only had―we had the white guys on strike and the few blacks that were in those other plants weren’t to be seen, because we didn’t want them to be discriminated against.
CK: Well, you didn’t want to expose ‘em.
NL: Did―were blacks, at that time, well―
RT: Joe Sayen, be sure to mention Joe Sayen. He was from Chevrolet. He was another guy.
NL: Ah-huh. He was a black worker?
RT: No, no, no. He was a good guy, good, young fellow.
NL: At that time, did AC―you know, you mentioned in this earlier interview, that “AC didn’t move at all” (I think was the phrase you used), meaning that they never did come around. Although we know that there were some people from AC who came over.
RT: A few women, yes.
NL: Yeah. AC was the place where women tended to be pretty well concentrated. I know there were women workers in Fisher, as well.
RT: But AC was the other place in town where large numbers of women were employed.
NL: What were they employed as?
RT: Mostly assemblers. And they were on the line assemblies and they weren’t. . .A lot of them had husbands in other plants. Some of ‘em had husbands in that plant, but they were very quiet. They were scared, and they had a right to be, because they got―especially if their husband was in another plant sittin’ down, they were scared to death that they would be found out, you know, by General Motors. So they were quiet from that point of view. But we do have a lot of, a number of very good women from AC. Bessie―
NL: Nellie Besson.
RT: Nellie Besson, yes. She was very good.
NL: Was there much―did you ever get anybody in a seat to do some organizing and signing people up in the same way that Henry Clark had? Maybe not the same scale, but―
RT: In AC?
NL: In AC, kind of getting people signed up on the quiet, on the QT.
RT: Yes, we had Geneva Bulrod. She signed up a number of women, not very many, but a few. She did―her husband was on strike at Chevrolet. His name was Murray, Murray Bulrod. She did some signing up there, but in relation to the number of people that were politically motivated, we can only look at the plants where there was any political people involved. The same was true of Buick. Buick had people. Well, we had Barrity. What the hell was his first name? Some Barrity, he was politically motivated in Buick. He did some good work in Buick. But his―he was so small he could never get a group together to do anything.
NL: Yes. Did you find that in Buick and AC, for example, that there might, in the makeup, what I call the makeup of the people in the plant, other than blacks, did those plants tend to have more people who were, let’s say, not Southern whites, and maybe just rural Michigan? People who had come, migrated into Flint from the farms, which probably were going under at a tremendous clip all during the Depression, or had migrated in from some, you know, rural area?
RT: Well, women usually found if the husband was working in the other plants, the only place she could get a job in Flint would be in AC.
NL: So that meant that they would have been anywhere, just across the board.
RT: Yes, so that they became very scared about letting GM know that they were the wife of so-and-so from Chevrolet or Fisher 1. And we had a lot of good women in Fisher 1. There was Pat Wiseman. Remember her?She was the first one elected to the Executive . . . She was from Fisher 1. And she was a good woman. What else?
NL: Did the Buick workers, among white workers in Buick, did there tend to be large numbers of eastern European, or again were they primarily just from rural Michigan, or were they white southerners?
CK: Both. I think you had a predominance of white southerners and also rural Michigan, or rural Michigan and Indiana and Ohio. They came from all over, in that sense.
RT: Well, we had a lot of nationals, Europeans, eastern European people, too. And IWO, whose local, a lot of the IWO workers lived, worked in Buick. But they were recently come over here. They were afraid, but they were militantly trade unionists. They were―okay, you could always depend on them. There weren’t so many of them; maybe a couple hundred. But they were scattered all through, so that we never could―I tried to get Ralph Dale to get them together, you know, so to set up a committee and do some organizing, department by department in separating them, you know. But we had trouble with stool pigeons, too. And Dale was a very good guy, but he wasn’t too effective about dealing with the stool pigeons. And I always told him to be careful and maybe I was too. . .maybe it was my fault, ‘cause I was scared to death of goddamned stool pigeons, too.
CK: You weren’t that scared. Come on.
RT: Well, I know, but I was always after these other guys to go watch, be careful, and don’t reveal anything. In fact, when you get to Chevrolet taking Plant 4, nobody knew who the hell was gonna take the Plant Four except me, me and three other guys in Plant 4.
NL: Do you remember who those guys were?
RT: Yes, Tom Klasey―no, he was in Plant 9, Chevrolet Plant 9. Ted LaDuke. Joe Sayen was Plant Four. Carl Bibber.
NL: Carl Bibber?
RT: Bibber, yes. And Johnson. What the hell was his name?
NL: Kermit Johnson.
RT: Kermit Johnson.
NL: Let me ask you about that, ‘cause in the 1964 interview, that’s a little confused, and I think it’s probably the typist who gets it confused. You mention in there that kind of in an off, in an indirect way, Kermit gave you the idea for the notion of the diversion. Is that true?
NL: But also that Kermit Johnson was frightened to death. I mean he was scared. And there are other people who said that too. Did you clue him in on the fact that Chevrolet 4 would be the target?
RT: I told Kermit that something was gonna happen in 4; he should be ready. Joe Sayen, Carl Bibber, and some guys from Plant 6.
NL: Ed Cronk?
RT: Ed Cronk. Uh, Roy, Roy. . .what was Roy’s first name?
NL: Oh, I know who you mean, something Roy.
RT: Yeah, he was in Plant 4. He, Bibber―
NL: Was Kenny Malone in? Was he in Plant 4?
RT: Kenny Malone...nobody...
NL: A great big guy.
RT: Yeah, he was a good guy, wherever he was. I can’t re. . . He was in Fisher 2, wasn’t he?
NL: That’s right, across the street.
RT: But they were the guys that knew what was happening and gonna happen in Plant 4. They were the only guys, but they didn’t know until about 12:30 or 1 o’clock in the morning that these three guys knew what wasgonna happen. That’s why Kermit was so damned scared, you see. You read about how I had to take him in twice, you know.
NL: They way Henry Kraus puts it in his book.
RT: Yeah, I had to take him in my car to have him get the hell back in the plant before 3:30, in order for him to be there.
NL: He’d keep ending up downtown. Is that it, at the Pengelly Building?
RT: That’s right. Remember, I always caught hell from Genora, because I revealed that, and she said she blamed it on Henry Kraus. It wasn’t Henry that did it. It was me. I did it, ‘cause I got him back in the plant. But EdCronk was one of the leaders that came over from Plant 6. But he was the one that took the American flag and marched around the plant and helped to. . . He was one of the leaders. He was the leader, I guess, in Plant 4, after he got over there. But he was from Plant 6. And Carl Bibber was very good, too. He was a young fellow. And Joe Sayen was all right. Joe jumped across the―he was on the assembly line. He jumped across the assembly line. They always talk about him jumping across and fightin’ with some of the guys there and takin’ a club and say, “Shut her down!” And he was a little athlete, athletic-type kid. But actually, I really don’t know what happened in there in Plant 4, other than it was all prepared for them to, well, to drive out the supervision, then allow the other guys that didn’t want to stay, get them to hell out of the plant. And then when they got it out, they was all set. They got the welders there to weld the door shut. And that’s... But Ed Cronk was one of the leaders of that crew. And Bill Roy. Bill Roy.
NL: Bill Roy. That’s right. Bob, while we’re on Chevy 4, you know, we know the importance that Chevy 4 had for GM, because of the number of engines and so on. But had you, as an organizer, been working on the guys in Plant 4 to some extent before that day? Because there’s a relatively small number of people who actually come over from 6 to close that plant down. If the guys inside Chevy 4 had really been opposed to it, they probably could have stopped ‘em cold.
RT: That’s right.
NL: But they must have had a hell of a lot of internal cooperation. How did that take place?
RT: Well, the meeting before the day we sat down, we had about 1500 Chevrolet workers. That’s where I told. . .1500 workers. I don’t know how many Plant 4 workers were there. But, I’ll tell you, if you’re in Flint. . . one of these plants and somethin’ happens, be sure to shut it down and stand still and help whatever’s goin’ on. That’s the most I could do; I couldn’t tell ‘em exactly how to do it other than to drive out that . . .
NL: Where had you held the meeting? You mean you had a meeting with 1500 of ‘em?
RT: At the Pengelly.
NL: So they had all. . .
RT: That’s where we, that’s the day we took―
CK: The kid, Frenchie?
RT: Not Frenchie, the---
CK: Oh, the young kid?
RT: No, the guy that went out to his house, got his records. What was his name? That’s when we exposed the stool pigeon. We went out to his―he was the secretary of the Chevrolet union. He was in Plant 4. I forget what. . .
CK: Well, the kid... You had done some organizing in Plant 4, anyway. He had had a lot of contacts inside the plant with the guys, anyway. He had different groups set up already.
RT: For instance, Ed Cronk, I took. He was in charge of Plant 6. There was another guy in charge of Plant 7. Another one, Tom Klasey and Ted LaDuke were in Plant 9. And we had Plant 4. We had little groups in all plants. And I would sit down with each little group and tell ‘em, you know. Like the night before Plant 4, when we had that 1500 meeting. I asked that meeting to give me the right to select a committee. That was on Sunday afternoon. And in Pengelly there was a hall, a big hall. And there was a small hall. The small hall didn’t have any light, any windows in it, or anything else. So I asked the―before we adjourned the meeting, I asked that everybody line up and go through this little hall, one at a time. And there was only―it always was dramatic, you, know, for me. I put a little―I’d show ‘em my face, you know, who I was. And, as they went through, I would give ‘em a slip of paper, slip of paper, each one. I told ‘em, told the whole meeting, “Now, when you go there, you go through one at a time. I’ll pick out―you give me the authority, I’ll pick out the committee that I’ll meet with and what we’re gonna do in Chevrolet.” You see, that’s the proof. In order to dramatize the thing, I took them one at a time through there. I’d shake hands with each one of them. Most of the guys that went through got a little slip of paper about this wide, nothing on it, you see. I told ‘em, “If there’s nothing on it, forget about it. Go home and get ready to do something in Chevrolet.” That’s all I told them. But the guys that I wanted to go to a later meeting at 12:30 at Fisher 1, I wanted them to get a little slip. “If you get a slip that tells you, with the information on it, be sure that nobody sees it. You tell nobody.” And so forth. “Don’t tell your wife; don’t tell anybody.” And they became very. . . So fifteen, I’d made sure that I got two stool pigeons on there. After the meeting, on the way out, Roy Reuther was with me, and Henry Kraus was with me, and they said, “What the hell you gonna do?” And I said, “Well, we’re gonna take Plant 9.” Oh, I told that at that big meeting out there. Said something may happen in Plant 9. You know, I give ‘em the idea, just a little thought. So I got these fifteen guys together at Fisher 1 at night. They crawled in the window. We met inside. I had a hell of a time convincing Roy and convincing Henry that we could take Plant 9. They said, “What the hell’s Plant 9? You can buy bearings.” They make bearings in there. “You can buy bearings from SKF or any place, any time.” I said (it took me about an hour to convince them, that the guys, these fifteen guys, too) “Don’t worry about that. They can’t get that same size and same kind of bearing,” you know. “They can’t get that. It’ll take ‘em six months to fix up the dies, to make the dies for the bearings.” Finally, I convinced them. I was the only one that knew, at that point, that we were going to take Plant 4.
NL: When did you, on that Plant 4, now, come to the realization yourself, how vital Plant 4 was to the whole complex? It must have come very early.
RT: Oh, vital, because here were, facing the court on the other hand, in Fisher 1 with Gadola, you know, after we’d taken care of Black. We were right at the top at a balance. We had to do something, you know.
NL: Had you ever thought of taking Chevy 4 before?
RT: Yes, yes, I’d thought about it. In fact, I’d used Dubuc one time. We were meeting with Dubuc. He was a stool pigeon, you know.
NL: This is the guy, “Frenchy”?
RT: “Frenchy” Dubuc, yeah. I’d take him down to the telephone, and I’d have him call Pinkerton. I’d say, “You tell Pinkerton, tell what’s-his-name. . .” I forget the manager of the Pinkerton in Detroit. I said, “You tell him that I want to take Plant 4, and I want to find out how deep the river is, between. Can we get a boat up that river?” you know. And he said to me, he said to “Frenchy,” with me listening, he said, “Oh, Christ, don’t worry about that.” He said, “That’s not Travis doin’ that. That’s John L. Lewis.” So I almost had to snicker in the phone. But, you see, Pinkerton knew that this was like the kernel of the problem. Plant 6 and Plant 9 and the regular plants were just, even Fisher 1 and Fisher 2 was just, auxiliary plants. But here was the kernel of the big strike that would decide the fate of this strike one way or another. So I had to make sure that nobody except these two guys in Plant 9 knew one thing. They didn’t know it was Plant 4 they was gonna take. They knew all I wanted them to do was fight for twenty minutes in Plant 9.
CK: These were two stool pigeons.
RT: Yes---no, they weren’t stool pigeons. Klasey and Dubuc were Trotskyites. No, but they were decent guys. I said, “You go in there and fight and make sure you make trouble in there.” Then I got Kermit, Bill Roy, Carl Bibber, and Ed Cronk, these four guys. I had two meetings that night, see, with Klasey in Plant 4, with Ed Cronk in Plant 6. I told ‘em, I said, “Now, look here. This Plant 9 that we just decided we’re gonna take,” you know. “That’s not the plant we want. We want Plant 4. But you guys are the ones that are gonna have to take it. You and Ed Cronk and Bibber. And here’s the way you do it, because, if we’re sufficiently able to dramatize this thing to the extent that we can fool General Motors, through their own stool pigeons, we can draw every goddamned guy from Lenz on down into Plant 9, don’t you see? And we can draw all the present Flint law enforcement agencies in Plant 9. They’ll all be there. We can take it, if you can make it over there. Do you think you can do it?” And Ed Cronk says, “Yeah, we can do it. I got the guys at Plant 6. We can get over there and do it.” So we laid out a plan how we’d do it, you know, and get ‘em out: Get the supervision out first, then get next the anti-union guys out, and drive ‘em out of the plant, and then weld the thing shut. That was the only thing that we could do. But that was the thing that decided on the whole damn strike. Not only the plants at Fisher 1, but it decided Cleveland and Toledo and Norwood and the rest of ‘em all together. I said, “Now this is it.” I laid it out to them that way, because they were all on strike, you see. We were able. . .but I told ‘em, “God damn, the first guy. . .you must not tell one soul, not even your wife, or your kid, or anybody. It’s to be in your head and your head only. Be sure that nobody else knows, because if you tell somebody else, they’ll tell somebody else. Don’t you see how soon it’ll get back to General Motors? Because we’re just around stool pigeons, so goddamned many of them. We can’t afford not to keep this secret, because if the secret gets out, nobody is to blame but you, you four guys. You can bet that I’ll never tell. Now, you four guys. . .or else we can’t do it.” So that’s how we were able to do it. But that kernel, that General Motors kernel, of all these plants all over the country, there was seventeen or nineteen on strike, you know.
NL: All by February? By February there were nineteen of them down?
RT: No, no, there weren’t that many then.
NL: No, I knew there were nineteen total.
RT: Total, nineteen total, all the way, but I think as we did it in Flint, there became more.
NL: The others went down.
RT: But I said, “All these plants are gonna be on your. . .” Oh, I wish I could talk like I used to.
NL: Well, listen, you’ve been going on at it for a long time here. You’re doin’ all the work. Let’s take a break.
NL: On the question of the Flint Alliance, I read in the tape, and you’re the first one that I have seen mention anything that specific on the Flint Alliance, that Harlow “Red” Curtice, the general manager of Buick at the time, was really the kingpin behind the Alliance. Did you ever get any good evidence of that?
RT: The fact that every once in a while he would send all his big shots from Buick down to the Flint Alliance to watch and see who it was that was there. And occasionally they would talk about him. The leadership of the Flint Alliance would talk about Curtice. Because the head was Boysen. He was an ex-treasurer of Buick, you see. And he was appointed. I asked him one time, “How the hell did you get to be the head?” He said, “Well, the guys at Buick. . .” And I said, “Who, Red?” And he said, “Well, yeah.”
NL: This was after the strike?
NL: In the Flint Alliance, they got started after the strike, is that right? They didn’t exist prior to the strike.
RT: After Fisher 1.
NL: After Fisher 1 and 2 went down.
RT: Yes, they started first when they tried to bring the Black Legion, you see.
NL: The Alliance gets started. Now, you said the Black Legion tried to get in. Were they. . .?
RT: The Black Legion.
NL: There was no connection between the Alliance and the Legion, was there?
RT: Well, I think the Alliance became an outgrowth of the Black Legion, because the Black Legion didn’t get any place in Fisher 1, you see.
NL: The Black Legion wouldn’t have been very respectable for all those business people, would it?
RT: Well, you see, it was violence-oriented, and some of these people, the merchants, didn’t go for that too much. They were scared of it, you know, because I’d often tell ‘em. . . In fact, one time, when I lived in the Dresden Hotel, right across from my room, was the meeting hall. Who was meeting? The little grocers, not the big shots, but the grocers in the city. And I could hear ‘em in there, talkin’ about this and that and the other, and about the goddamn union this and that. So I opened the door and went in. I said, “Now, look. I’m from the CIO. I want to tell you that you guys live off of the workers in this town.” And I split that, damn. . .right there. I made a speech about the fact that if the guys make more money in the shops, they can do more business with you, and you will make more money, and they will too, and so forth. And they began to see that. And I split the little guy from the big ones, just by accident.
CK: Bob, back to this Black Legion thing. When I was there, it seems to me that at one point, when the sheriff started to move in, some people (I don’t know whether it was Bud or you or a couple people told me that there was a number of Black Legionnaires in Fisher) who said, “That goddamned sheriff is not gonna come in here if we have to close these doors with our bodies.” And these were members of the Black Legion who had really been won over by the militants who had started it. Is that your recollection or not?
RT: Bert. . .what was his name?
RT: Harris, yes. Bert Harris was a Black Legion, always in opposition to Bud. And so I knew where he stood. And there was a number of times that they always wanted to be a little bit more militant than I’d like or saw that was necessary. And when Sheriff Wolcott wanted to come in, he called me, and he said, “I’d like to go out there.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll go out with you.” And he said, “All right.” And so we went out and crawled through the window, too. The sheriff read his riot act with ‘em there. So before, I called Bud on the telephone. I said, “At two o’clock this afternoon, Sheriff Wolcott and I are gonna go out. When we go out there, you see that nothing happens to the sheriff, because the sheriff is halfway decent guy, and you don’t have to worry about him too much. But just kid him along; don’t allow any trouble in there.” He said, “Okay.” So that’s how it happened. The Black Legion. . .I told Bud, “Nothing doin’.” We wouldn’t do anything like that. We wouldn’t keep him out. Let him in; in fact, I’d go in with him, so long as he wanted to go in alone. Yeah, I asked him, “Do you want to go in alone?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll go in alone.” I said, “Well, I’ll go in with you, then.” No, he said, “Will you go in with me?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll go in with you.” So I went in too, and that’s when we decided. . .he tipped his hat. You know, every time he’d start to read the riot act, he’d tip his hat down, we’d reach up and put it back, and we’d kid him along about being so fat and this and that.
NL: Did the Legion grow out of Pontiac mainly, and Detroit?
RT: Well, it was a creature of General Motors. They had been talked to by General Motors in terms of their executive, I guess, at some time or other. The way to handle that is to do like they do in so-and-so to develop an anti-strike movement. And that’s how it grew. It grew from the policy-making of the General Motors into different places. And they used the Black Legion as a means of doing this.
NL: Oh, but the Black Legion existed even before.
NL: It was an ongoing thing, right?
CK: It started, really, in Ohio.
NL: Oh. As you mentioned before, when I first got here. There really hasn’t been much done on that. You know, there have been some people like you mentioned that have been interested in it, but you probably know more about it than anyone.
RT: No, not really. See, one of our guys, who was. . .
CK: Ben Allen?
RT: Ben Allen, yeah. He had. . .he was inseparable from pads of yellow paper, much more so than Nixon. And he used to write down all kinds of things that he ran into. And he met with people in the underworld and in Detroit and the fringes of the underworld and even some Black Legionnaires. And he must have had reams and reams and reams of paper. He was interested more, you might say, in the power structure and really quite an interesting guy. He was the only guy I knew who in those days (I was interested in the same kind of thing) would read the society pages and could understand them. So he would know who was a Rockefeller, who was a Mellon, and that kind of structural relation in society, and so on. And he would trace these and follow these relationships. But the poor guy died, and nobody knows what happened to all those innumerable notes. We’ve been trying to trace it down for, oh, now ten years. And nobody’s been able to trace what the hell happened to those papers.
CK: He was a good guy.
RT: Oh, he was a wonderful guy. He just drank too much. But his notes were invaluable, because, you know, it’s the kind of thing that was really first-rate note taking. Of course, I went through a lot of it with him at one time, unfortunately not the Black Legion stuff, so I haven’t any idea. I don’t know whether it’s any place in any of these books about the organizing of the World veterans.
NL: Just a little bit in that other tape. No, go ahead. All I know is that there was a union. What was it called? The Union’s Vet Legion, or something like that.
RT: Yeah, the Union Veterans. I sat down a number of times and segregated every section of the plant, every section of Flint. Children, schools, libraries, women, blacks, foreign-speaking people, supervision, the rulers, the politicians, and I made up plans for each section. Children, what they could do in school, in terms of union kids in school, wear buttons, and they would defend the union’s rights. Schoolteachers, we had five of ‘em therewere fired, you know.
CK: That’s right.
RT: I met with them, and they would make a certain pitch. They would defend, not only, they wouldn’t proselytize, but they would defend, wherever they could. I’d tell them, “Never stick your neck out to the point where you’re gonna lose your job. But don’t let anybody get away with anything in terms of anti-unionism.” I don’t care where it was, the Union Veterans, the city workers, the city bosses, you know. And I don’t know. I must have had twenty or thirty different categories that I had set aside to work on in each section of the city.
CK: You were rather self-destructive.
NL: That’s right.
RT: For a practical purpose.
NL: Did you call in people from each one of those sectors?
RT: As many as I could. After I got to the number of how I wanted to break it down, as many as I could. I don’t remember how many I got, but I got wherever I could. Here’s somebody so-and-so. I’d look in my notes.Do you remember them? If you’re a woman, you belong over here. You’ve got to see Dorothy. She would take care of that. And I’d send whoever it was to Dorothy. And I got in trouble a couple times, when I got into negotiations with Lenz. I called the son of a bitch. I said “You’re nothing but a goddamned Nazi.” He said, “Look, you can’t talk to me that way.” But the biggest thrill that I ever got. . .in Plant 9, to see the sheriff and his deputies, the chief of police, and all the police in Flint were in Plant 9. And Lenz was there; Lenz and every foreman in Chevrolet was in Plant 9. And every stooge was in Plant 9. They just converged, the whole goddamned thing, right there in Plant 9. That was when I got the biggest kick. I said, “Well, I beat that son of a bitch Nazi.” He must have got hell inside the executive when they knew that we had taken Plant 4. He said, “How the hell did we let a goddamned little kid, know-nothing, doesn’t have an education of any kind, and who’s beaten you and out-whipped you in terms of Plant 4? This is our bread and butter, and you let him get away with it!” That give me a lot of help.
NL: Bob, these various groups in town. I’m really interested in that. The point where you got them organized. Let’s take the school kids, for example. Did you work through teachers to get to the school kids to stand up or through their parents?
RT: No, I worked through one of the women on the Brigade. I think it was Pat Wiseman. One of the women that was very close to the Brigade had a kid in school. And this girl was in one of the schools that had one of these teachers in, you see. So I told this little kid, “If you wear a button, do you get so-and-so’s class?” “Yes.” “Well, you wear a button in there. And don’t worry. She won’t bother you, because she’s all right.” And so I give the little kid a handful of other buttons and said, “Now, you’ve got some other kids in there that their father and mother is in the union. You give them.” That’s how we started in the schools. That’s why the schools became exercised about firing those five teachers, you see. The teachers began to defend these kids’ right to wear those buttons, you see. Then they fired them. But so we kept ‘em busy at every goddamned level that we could think of.
NL: This is a loaded question, so I phrase it that way. The idea for the children's’ march during the strike. Was that yours or. . .where the little kids come out with the signs?
RT: I don’t know. I think that was probably the women’s movement. Because the women did most of that. Whenever there was a problem with the kids, I would refer it and would call the women together and say, “What do you think about this and that and the other?” They would make the decision, and not me.
NL: You mentioned another group was city workers. One of the things that’s fascinating is in Henry’s book. In the beginning he mentions that one of the plans was to organize or to set up, I guess the best way to call it would be a shadow city government. In other words, in each ward, there would be a ward structure, you know, but of the union. Now that’s the only place I’ve ever run into it. And Henry doesn’t mention it in the rest of the book. And I wondered if did you ever set that up, and did the city workers ever help out in that? In other words, you’d have your regular precinct committeemen and your ward boss and son on, and they were under the thumb of city hall.
CK: Are you talking about the political side or in terms of the city government?
NL: Well, in both, but you’d have a ward organization. In other words, you took the existing boundary of a ward in Flint, whatever they were at that time. And so it had its usual ward boss, and he was beholden to the mayor. But Henry gives us the illusion that you and Mortimer had the idea, at least, of setting up ward organizations of union guys so that you’d maintain communications that way. Like a ward boss would, you’d be able to mobilize all the people in that ward, if you had to, for anything. Take care of complaints and so on.
CK: That’s interesting. I never realized that you did anything like that.
RT: Well, that came about as a result of―
CK: Was that after the strike or during the strike?
RT: During the strike. Remember, we had a worker in Chevrolet who was on the city council. I forget the hell what his name was. But he was flippin’ back and forth for the union, to have the time for the company and for the politics in the city hall. And we tried to win him over so as to make sure that he wouldn’t be in opposition in the first place. And in the second place, he would be a union member, you see, pro-union. It turned out later that he was pro-union. But we discussed with him the possibility of getting more members of the council rather than he. He was the only worker on the council, the only hourly worker. The rest were all politicians. And we discussed with him the possibility of getting some more people. And he was the one that proposed whether we could do that by wards, you know. And so we considered that, but we didn’t have time.
NL: Yeah. Now that’s what I thought. Did you consider running guys against the incumbent politicians in the wards? Is that the way you would have done it?
RT: Well, we didn’t get to that point, actually because we didn’t have time. It was just so close. And plus the fact that our problem was not with the city. It was with the state, with Murphy, you see. Our job was to elect Murphy over Fitzgerald.
CK: Fitzgerald. Was it Fitzgerald?
NL: Now Fitzgerald was the governor who preceded him.
RT: Yes, he was it. And he was a Republican candidate against Murphy.
CK: That’s a hell of an interesting idea. You’re setting up kind of a dual political organization. You should have really gone through with it, if you had had the time to go through with it and the means.
RT: We had the plans, but that’s as far as it went, I guess.
CK: It’s interesting that Henry should have taken that up. That’s the Paris Commune, I guess.
RT: Well, we considered doing that at a later time, you know. We had plans for it, but we wanted to win this guy over first, at least him, to make sure that it was worthwhile to do something and have him speak to the union in the council. Well, he didn’t speak against the union, but he didn’t speak for us, either, to begin with. But we didn’t have time to do the rest. I don’t know what would have happened. You read the letter from Anderson.That’s what happened.
NL: Yeah, right.
RT: You read it, too, didn’t you, Charlie? That’s what happened in Anderson, after I left there.
NL: You mentioned one of the groups. You know, we mentioned the children and the teachers and so on, and we started on the vets, but we didn’t get very far in organizing the veterans. You were gonna mention about that.
RT: Well, the veterans, because of the fact, it was more or less because of the fact that we needed somebody to offset the lousy publicity we were getting from the Legionnaires.
CK: The American Legion was blasting the movement.
RT: The American Legion was taking the company’s side all the time, you know. So we had to balance that off somehow. Even if it was as little as ten percent, we could do it. So I forgot who was in charge of organizing that. I think. . .anyhow, whoever it was, we sat down and we made all these plants. . .we give so many. . .Reuther would get so many veterans out of Chevrolet, Red Mundale would get so many out of Fisher 2, Bud would get so many out of Fisher 1. We’d have about. . . So we’d get them all together, then. And, by God, we had seven hundred.
CK: Seven hundred. Really?
RT: Yes, in uniform, in uniform. Had a march from the bridge down all the way up to the top. They marched―
CK: With American flags.
NL: They had their uniforms on, too, didn’t they?
RT: Yes, their uniforms. Seven hundred.
CK: Gee, I didn’t think you had that many in the union. I mean total membership.
RT: Well, that was during. . .later.
NL: That was after the National Guard came in, when you had the march.
RT: Yes, yes.
NL: And Colonel Lewis protested like crazy.
NL: He really kicked, like the whole next year.
RT: Did you. . . I don’t know whether it’s in one of these books about the guy that was gonna shoot me, who was supposed to shoot me?
NL: Sawinski, yeah.
RT: Was that his name?
NL: It’s again in that interview. Fine tapes that interview, but he never put a lot of it in the book.
RT: Sawinski was. . . I was at the Dresden Hotel, tired as hell, about one o’clock in the morning and the goddamn phone rings, and the desk clerk says, “Hello, Mr. Travis, there’s somebody down here wants to see you.” I said, “What the hell! This is one o’clock in the morning. I’m asleep. Have him call the office in the morning. I’ll be there at nine o’clock.” “Well. Mr. (he didn’t tell her his name) wants to see you. It’s very, very important.”And I said, “No, Christ, he’s got to see me in the morning.” He said, “Well, he wants to talk to you.” “Well, put him on, then.” He come on, and he said, “Travis, my name is Sawinski (whatever it was). I’ve got to see you.It’s very, very important. It’s a matter of life and death.” I said, “What the hell you talkin’ about?” He said, “Well, if you let me come up and see you, I’ll tell you what it’s about. But I can’t tell you over the phone.” And we talked for about five or ten minutes, and I said, “Well, all right, come on up.”
He come up, and he told me a goddamn story. You see, my room was in one building right here. And this was the city hall, right over here. I was on the second floor. And Bradshaw’s office was on the second floor. And he come over, and he says, “Do you see that light in that office across the street?” I says, “Yeah.” “That’s Bradshaw’s office. I was just there.” And he said, “I was at home, and my wife says (it was one o’clock) ‘Mayor Bradshaw is on the phone and he wants you to come down right away’.” He said, “What?” So he got on the phone, and he says, “Sawinski, come on down. I want to see you right away.” He said, “All right.” So he says, “I got on my pants and went on down to the jail, and when I got down there, and I got into his office and he took out his gun and laid it on the counter.” And he says, “You got your gun?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, give it to me.” “I give him my gun, and he put my gun in his pocket, and he give me his gun, and he said, ‘Now, take this gun and go across the street and shoot that son of a bitch. Shoot Travis and kill him. Don’t wound him, but kill him’.” And Sawinski says, “Jesus Christ, I was scared to death. I didn’t know what the hell to do, and the only thing I can do is to come over here and tell you.” He says, “I was a miner in Illinois, and I could never do that, and I want you to know.” So I said, “Wait a minute. I want you to tell somebody else, a friend of mine.” I called Charlie. I said, “Charlie, come on down.” “Jesus Christ,” he says. He was in a big hotel downtown, the Durant, down the street. Nice and warm down there, and it’s colder than hell out. And he said no. I said, “It’s very important, Charlie. Come on down.” He said, “Well, all right.” After about ten minutes, I convinced him to come down. He heard the story.
NL: Was the detective still there?
NL: Oh, so he told you direct?
RT: Yes, he told Charlie direct. But, so Charlie says, “Well, I got to. . . I want you. . .” Charlie raised the phone and called the Governor. They got the Governor out of bed. He had trouble getting the Governor. The gal at the other end says, “Well, the Governor’s in bed.” “Well, get him out of bed.” She says, “No. . . I’ll try.” It was fifteen minutes before he could get him out of bed, finally. So Charlie told him the story. He said, “Do you know that there’s law enforcement agencies here in Flint that are organizing violence that may end in death of some of these people and blood running in the streets, unless you do something about it?”
CK: Come on. I didn’t use language like that . . . “blood running in the streets.” I never used language like that!
RT: That was Pressman, Lee Pressman. And so the Governor says, “Well, Charlie, okay. You stay right there, and you don’t move. I’ll have somebody come over there. I’ll call Colonel Lewis. He’ll be over there in an hour’s time, and he’ll meet with you. And you tell him exactly the same story you told me.” He said, “All right.” And Charlie met with Lewis, and Lewis says, “Well, now, it’s my turn.” So Lewis calls Bradshaw, and he says he wants the sheriff, the chief of police, and all the lieutenants and all the deputies and all the law enforcement people in Flint in the Mayor’s office in fifty minutes. This was about four o’clock in the morning. . . or five or six.I don’t know what time it was. And Bradshaw says, “Jesus, I don’t know whether I can get them out.” He said, “You get ‘em out of there, God damn.” We could watch, right across the street, you see. Hell, Charlie and I could watch what was goin’ on in the mayor’s office. Jesus Christ, here was Goddamn all kinds of . . . Here’s Colonel Lewis sittin’ there, and he said, “Now look. I have unimpeachable information that there’s violence being perpetrated by law enforcement people in this city. Now I’m telling you right now that the Governor has authorized me to take over the law enforcement agencies of this city, unless I get some pretty Goddamn good assurances from you that that’s not true. Now I want you to know right now that I’m giving you ‘til twelve o’clock noon today to convince me that there’s not gonna be no violence by law enforcement people. And unless you do, I’m gonna take over the reins of the City of Flint.” It only took him about ten-fifteen minutes to tell ‘em. He come back over, and he said, “Well, you see now. I give ‘em ‘til noon today to get off their cans and do something, or else I’m gonna take it over.” And that’s the story.
NL: Do you remember about what date that took place?
RT: Jesus, I don’t know.
NL: Let’s see. The strike had been on, what, a month? It was after the Running Bull, was it not?
CK: Well, it was obviously after the National Guard had been brought in.
NL: So it was after January 12th (1937).
CK: I was on my way back to Washington, as a matter of fact. We had planned some hearings. And, in fact, I had left Flint in December, was in a hotel in Detroit, packing, ready to go, when you called and said the Goddamned sheriff and city police are trying to storm the plant. So we rushed back to Flint. That Harold what’s-his-name drove us back to Flint.
NL: It wouldn’t have been after the taking of Chevy 4, then?
CK: I don’t think so, no.
RT: I don’t know when it was.
NL: Because there were. . . Well, okay, it would have been. . .The twelfth is when the National Guard came in. The fifteenth was the planned evacuation of the plants, which fell through because of Bill Lawrence’s. . .
RT: Yeah, Bill Lawrence. He’s dead now. Did you know Bill Lawrence is dead?
CK: Is that the same Lawrence that became a TV newsman?
RT: Yes, same guy.
NL: For one of the big networks.
RT: Yep, ABC.
NL: At that time he was writing for the Times, the New York Times?
CK: No, not the Times. The Times reporter there was Louie Stark. But they didn’t trust Louie Stark, even though I didn’t trust Louie Stark, either, because, well, it was very simiple. We were standing there, watching the sheriff and the police beating some of the pickets. And I pick up the New York Times the next day, and there was no word of that in his story, even though I was standing side by side with him.
CK: And I said to him, “Louie, for Christ sakes, what the hell are you writing?” He says, “Well, we’re not permitted to write what we see, but only what other people tell us.” I said, “Oh, for Christ sakes, and you’re the premier labor reporter in the United States!” But the Times still didn’t trust him. So they sent in a financial reporter by the name of Owens to work with Stark on the stories.
NL: That must have been really rich.
CK: That’s my theory of first-hand reporting, after that one.
RT: On Paul Gallico, where’s Paul Gallico. Who was he?
CK: Paul Gallico was a magazine writer who came in later.
RT: Yeah, I introduced him to his wife. He’s still married, by the way. He’s living in England, yeah.
NL: He wrote a novel quite a number of years ago.
RT: Dozens of them.
CK: Very prolific magazine writer, feature articles.
RT: His wife is a red-headed secretary from General Motors.
CK: The point is that I only stayed in Flint a couple days thereafter, because we had to get back to these hearings. See, our job was finished, presumably. Because we were interested only in the industrial munitions aspect, the industrial espionage thing, and so we had different investigators working on the stuff. And we had to get back, because we had a schedule of hearings coming up. And I called the senator, and I told him at the time that I had to go back to Flint, because Flint looked as though it were erupting, and there were things going on. And I had an interview with the sheriff, with the mayor, and that kind of stuff, wanting to intimidate them with my presence, as I said. I’m not that good a guy, except with Murphy and those guys. But this was before Chevrolet 4, Bob.
NL: Okay, I just wanted to put it in some perspective. That’s okay. The meeting of Lewis with the city officials and the police is probably on public record.
CK: Some. I think the more important reason was Lewis’s meeting with Murphy.
RT: Murphy told Lewis to get off his ass and go take that over. He give him the authority to take it over.
CK: Lewis told Murphy, not Murphy told Lewis.
RT: I don’t know who it was.
CK: Oh, no, no. But the point is that I’d had a talk with the governor, too. And Lewis’s presence was absolutely incredible. He was the kind of guy who. . .nobody fazed him. . .from Roosevelt down. And he did his best, and history on it isn’t accurate, apparently. Incredible.
NL: One of the things that amazes me about Lewis, in a sense, is that usually the Guard or ex-officers like that. . .and I wanted to come back to this question of the American Legion, too, in a little bit.
CK: No, no, I’m not talking about. . .not Colonel Lewis. John L. Lewis.
NL: Oh, John L. Lewis. I’m sorry. I was wondering, because the meeting. . .
CK: No, no, John L. Lewis was working with Murphy.
NL: I was thinking of Colonel Lewis after he had met with these guys and then going back.
CK: Oh, no. He was a servant of Murphy’s. He wouldn’t talk to Murphy that way. But he convinced Murphy that the facts were correct. It was John L. Lewis’s intervention, I think.
NL: Oh, yeah. Bob, I wanted to ask you on this question of the American Legion. You know, we were talking about the vets, and you were organizing the veterans. And I take it that the American Legion must have given you some grief right from the beginning of the strike. Is that right?
RT: They were pro-company, to begin with.
NL: Why was that?
RT: Well, because all their officers were officials of the goddamn company. Their company, the American Legion, the president or the chairman or whatever the hell he was was an officer.
CK: Commander of the post.
RT: Commander of the post was a big shot in the General Motors.
CK: General Motors.
RT: And he directed the whole. . .
CK: Not a big shot; a little big shot, Bob.
RT: Well, yes. They were officials. They were supervision, you see.
NL: Today the American Legion and its social status, let’s say, is a little different maybe than what it was in the ‘30s.
CK: But it was the only Legionnaire organization in Flint. We didn’t have any competing organization.
NL: Okay. So there weren’t many rank-and-file workers in the American Legion, then?
RT: Half of our union veterans were members of the Legion. They marched with the union veterans.
NL: I see. Okay. So when you did that, you really broke the American Legion in town.
RT: Yes, we split ‘em. They were scared to do any goddamn thing.
NL: That’s what I was getting at, because today you probably wouldn’t find very many company people, lawyers, doctors, and so on, even in Flint, you know, in the American Legion.
CK: Well, I don’t know about Flint, but, you know, the origin of the Legion clearly indicates what its orientation was. They were scared to death that the returning veterans from World War I were being radicalized. And the guys who set up the Legion. . .there’s a marvelous book on the Legion by a guy who worked there for a couple of years that you ought to get hold of sometime. Well, there were several books on the origin of the Legion, but this one was kind of a first-hand account of what happens at national headquarters, the directives they sent out on political issues and that kind of stuff. This was back in the forties, but it’s consistent.
RT: That’s why you see Nixon supporters wearing these goddamn Legion hats.
CK: No, the older guys in the Legion clearly had been so indoctrinated. They were unruly, the usual stuff about patriotism and so on. And remember that it was set up during the period when you had . . . [END OF TAPE]
TAPE NO. 2 (interview continued)
NL: The Legion was founded in the ‘20s during the Red Scare, wasn’t it? It started in about 1920.
RT: I was just a youngster, then. There was a lot of little side stories that you might be interested in.
NL: Most of it is fairly new, other than the printed stuff. A lot of it has never come through.
RT: But you’ve got to emphasize the fact that Chevy 4 was the turning point. I realized that when we were in court, you know, and we got the first judge, Black, out. I realized that we were very much on the defensive. God damn, we had to do something radical. We had to do something sensational, you know, to capture the imagination of people away from these lousy courts that were in Flint.
NL: Well, leading up to the Gadola injunction, it was really kind of sapping the energy of the guys. Right? In other words, the guys inside had to sit and wait and watch all this fussing around in the court.
RT: Yeah, yeah.
NL: And you were diverted from organizing more guys by having to be there in court.
RT: And I realized that we had to do something to take the spotlight away from the court. You see, the court would be nothing if we could do this. When I realized how important it was, that’s why all the dramatics and the strife that I went through to get that. And even, I had to convince Henry and Roy both. For half an hour I had to. They tried to tell me Plant 9 was no goddamn good, you know. Jesus, I. . .
CK: You mean you never even told Henry?
RT: Not until the last minute!
RT: I didn’t dare, because I was afraid they would. . .or Roy. I couldn’t trust Roy.
CK: Roy was okay.
RT: He was okay, but he’s got a big mouth, you know.
CK: Well, he was in Oakland County, too.
NL: Did you really have much of what you call a morale problem inside the plants at the time?
RT: A few times we did in Chevy 4, because we had food poisoning in there once.
NL: Ah, I wanted to ask you about that, the food poisoning. And Larry Jones brought up this question. There appear a couple of times when you have to rely on the medical profession in this strike. And we’ve run into oneof those guys who’s still alive and still practicing medicine in Flint and won’t say a word, because he got burned so badly, apparently. And that’s Dr. Finkelstein. Do you remember him? He went in when the question of workers, I think in Fisher 2, when they turned off the heat and the guys were coming down with the flu or suspected coming down with the flu. And he was one of the doctors that went in. Now the other one, of course, was a Dr. Shafarman. That was in Chevy 4.
NL: But Finkelstein was the guy who went in, and he says that the union accused him, because he said, “Some of these guys should be sent out of here, because they’ve got the flu.” And I don’t think it’s a very big issue one way or the other, except it would have been interesting to talk to this guy, because he’d have a perspective. He was there. And he was inside the plant, one of the few outsiders, you know, who got in.
RT: Shafarman was in. You can talk to him. He’s still practicing in Detroit.
NL: In Detroit.
RT: Yes, he’s a good guy.
NL: He was the guy who went in Chevy 4 over the food poisoning, wasn’t it?
RT: Yes, yes.
NL: Did they come up, you know, I mean did Shafarman come up from Detroit just specifically for that, or did the union send him in?
RT: Yes. I couldn’t get any doctors that I could trust. There was another doctor in Flint. I don’t remember his name. He was in the hospital, one of the hospitals there. I can’t remember his name; he was a fairly decent guy, but I can’t remember his name. But Shafarman, in fact, I couldn’t get anybody else to come in. Besides, Shafarman was young then, like me, you know. We could crawl over the fence. And I told him (his name was GeneShafarman), “Gene, come on up here. You’ve got to come in to Flint.” So he come in, he come up, and went in. And we went over the fence, and he inspected all this stuff that they were cooking with in there and made some recommendations about cleaning it up and do this and that and the other. But he didn’t recommend anybody leaving the plant. Finkelstein I don’t remember.
NL: I wanted to ask you about, since we’re on doctors and lawyers and that type of thing, . . . There’s mentioned in a couple of places, and maybe in Henry Kraus’s book, that on occasion, once it was very difficult in the beginning to get any legal help from Flint, as I understand it. And so you had Maurice Sugar in Detroit, and Lee Pressman with the CIO in Washington, and Mike Evanoff in Flint. But Mike was one of the very few lawyers who would even touch the case.
NL: Is that right?
RT: That’s right.
NL: Did you find that...now, you just mentioned the doctors apparently were treating you the same way, as if you were the plague.
NL: Did you find professionals, what we classify as professional people, pretty much the opposed to the strikers?
RT: If I needed professional help, I had to have professional help I trusted, so I didn’t even look in Flint, except for Mike.
NL: How did you come up with Mike?
RT: IWO and his fear of the IWO. His brother and father were in IWO, and I figured that Mike was the best guy we could get in Flint, and he was. But the rest of the lawyers, the rest of the bar I didn’t even bother with. If I needed any more, I’d never go take a problem to a lawyer.
CK: You never even bothered to, as a matter of fact. It seems to me there was another incident involving doctors. Somebody there got sick or hurt, and you had to take them to some public hospital or something in Flint.
RT: Yeah, I went.
CK: Because you couldn’t get hold of a doctor you trusted.
RT: There was a doctor in Flint that I did trust, but I can’t think of the guy’s name. His wife was a nurse, I think, too. It seems like it starts with “M.”
NL: Ah, that rings a bell. There was a doctor in a hospital, kind of what you’d call a public health type, who had been working on. . .I don’t know whether it was a project or what it was, and it had to do with nutrition. And I think maybe you’d remember this, Charlie. And I think he gave a report, or it was a paper, or he made a statement to the press about the sorry state or condition of workers’ families in Flint, because of the lousy wages and poor working conditions.
CK: I have a vague recollection of it, yeah.
NL: Does that ring any bell?
RT: It might have been that guy that I have in mind, yes.
CK: But I think that was a public health service, Bob.
NL: Public health service, right.
CK: And he would be, you know, Federal government, Public Health Service, not connected with any. . .He may have been working within one of the hospitals in Flint. But I have a vague recollection.
RT: I remember that this guy’s last name began with “M.”
NL: I think you’re right, and I know I’ve run across it. Well, if I have, it’s around somewhere. There were businessmen in town, and not all of them were opposed to you. Did you have any group of businessmen who met regularly, maybe, and pledged some kind of support, like Lorne Herrlich, the pharmacist, apparently one of the Hamady brothers, or the Hamady brothers.
RT: I don’t know about the Hamady brothers. I know Lorne Herrlich and Jack. Do you know they gave sixty thousand dollars worth of medicine to the strike?
NL: Sixty thousand!
CK: They were from Flint?
NL: They’re still there.
RT: Yes, right there on the corner of Saginaw and the next street, whatever the hell it was. Herrlich Drug Store. There’s this wonderful story I like to tell, because it helps me. One night, I used to go over to Herrlich’sdrugstore every night after the Free Press come in, the morning Free Press, you know. It come in about eight o’clock or seven at night. They would throw it off, and I would go over and get a paper and go home and go to bed. This night I went over there, and all I wanted was a paper. I went across the street, and as I went across the street to get a paper, there was a guy standing on the corner. Christ, he didn’t have any coat on. He was justshiverin’ there. So I said, “What the hell’s the matter with you?” And he said, “I got to take this bus.” You could see the bus was comin’ way up the street. So I said, “Well, why don’t you go inside until the bus comes?”And he said, “No, I can’t miss this. This is the last one.” And I said, “Here, take this overcoat.” And I give him my overcoat, and I went into Herrlich’s drugstore and got the paper. And the next night, the guy says to JackHerrlich (Jack told me this story). He said, “Say, by the way, who in the hell was this guy that come over and got a newspaper, and he gave me his overcoat?” And he said, “I don’t know. You mean the guy that came in and go the Free Press, that took the bundle of Free Presses off the. . .? He said, “Yeah, that’s the guy.” He said, “Well, that’s the CIO man.” He said, “No fooling? My God, what do you know about that!” I never heard of that before, for years later, until Jack told me this story. I never told anybody this. I went home, and all I had was a damn topcoat, you know, a light-blue topcoat. That’s all I had for the rest of the winter. And Jack says, “You’re (he told me at a meeting one time) . . . He said, “I’m gonna tell you a story about what this guy did.” Talked about my giving this guy my overcoat. And this guy didn’t know who the hell the CIO was, even!
NL: What about the preachers in Flint? Let’s get into that. I gathered, from what I read, they were not very friendly, other than the black churches, now.
RT: There was one person, one church. I think it was the Methodist, just a block off Saginaw, to the left. There was one in a Protestant church who was a good guy and good to ‘em.
NL: Was that Genny Evanoff’s father? I can’t remember his last name. He was an Episcopal preacher.
RT: Episcopal. Maybe it was Episcopal.
NL: Yeah, I’ll bet it was him.
RT: I’ll bet it was, too, then. Mike’s wife’s name was Genevieve, right?
RT: She was a good woman. She was wonderful.
NL: The other preachers, though, in town. . . Maybe we’ll break it down a little bit. Let’s say the more established churches, not the Southern white fundamentalists, but your rank-and-file Protestant preachers―the Methodists, Episcopal, Congregational, all the ones that were downtown, other than this one.
RT: There was only one meeting they had in a church. I think it was in that Episcopal church. I don’t know whether these other preachers. . . Preachers I never got into.
NL: Did the workers ever come to you and say they were really catching hell on Sunday morning from the preacher?
RT: No. The workers didn’t have enough money to go to church.
NL: Oh, even the guys from the South didn’t go to the. . . Because, you know, Flint has, still today,. . . is just knee-deep in churches and small, little fundamentalist churches. [TAPE ENDS; SUBJECT CHANGES]
TAPE NO. 3
DATE: December 14, 1978
INTERVIEWER: Neil Leighton
INTERVIEWEE: Bob Travis
RT: This information is after the Sit-Down Strike. I was considering organizing in the other GM plants in Saginaw and Bay City, and I had had a committee from Dow Chemical come to see me. Would I come in the afternoon? So I went to Saginaw. I had four organizers with me, and Dorothy Kraus was along. There were six of us in the car, and I went to Saginaw. We went to the meeting. It was a rip-roaring meeting. They had about a thousand guys standing in line to sign up for the union. I felt very good about that. I left two organizers there, and I said, “You sign ‘em up and bring the money down to Flint when you get through.” I went on to Bay City, took two organizers along with me and Dorothy, and the same thing happened. Beautiful meeting. Had a good meeting. Talked about the union and signed up hundreds of guys there. That was a foundry in Bay City.
NL: Were these all UAW? Were you starting up UAW locals?
RT: Yes. And they signed them up. I had left two organizers there. “You sign them up and keep the money. There’s a bushel basket to put your money in and keep the cards. Don’t give anybody the cards. I’ll take the cards when you get down to Flint.” Dorothy and I could see a couple of the guys that had asked me to come. I didn’t know anybody else but the two or three or four people there that were down to see me. And it was in kind of a church with a high podium. We stood up on the podium and looked down. So I started to speak and they started to clap. They wouldn’t let me speak. Yeah, yeah, yeah! And I tried for about fifteen-twenty minutes to try to speak. Couldn’t speak. Then they got a little bit rough. They said, “Damn, throw him out!” So finally I said, “All right, the meeting’s over.” I walked down off there. As I got down off the podium, a guy on both sides, one on each side, and a whole bunch of guys behind me, took me out into the schoolyard (it was a school). In the schoolyard, they threw a rope up over the tree and set up an orange crate down below. They got me on the orange crate and put it around my neck, and they begin to pull on it, you know. And here I was with my hands like this, trying to keep my balance, on one hand, and not fall off that damn orange crate on the other. And then they had an argument between them. “Lynch the son of a bitch,” you know. “Lynch him! Lynch him!” “No!” Half of ‘em says, “Lynch him!” And the other half says, “Let him go!” And so they said, “All right. Ask him. Hey, Travis, will you promise never to come back here again?” I said, “I promise never to come back here again. I’ll never come back here again.” Okay, after about five minutes, they let me go, and they took me again, put me in my car, and then, when I got in the car, and put my keys in the car (Dorothy was there), they reached in and took my keys. They took a new Buick, brand-new! They got a Buick behind me and shoved me right out to the edge of town, to the edge of Midland. On both sides of the street was dirty, “dog days” water, you know, stinky water. They threw my keys out in the water. I saw where they landed. So I had two sticks. I rolled up my pants legs and went out and tried to find the goddamned keys. Then they started to throw rocks at me, splashing they crappy water all over me, you know, and I’d have to duck, dodge the rocks.And Dorothy was up on the road. I was worried about Dorothy, too, what the hell they were gonna do to her. And finally, they kept throwing rocks. It was a Sunday afternoon. People were out for rides, you know. And they began to stop, because they could see this gang of people had a guy out in the water. And the women raised hell with these guys that were throwin’ rocks. “What’s the matter? Leave that man alone!” And as a result of their pressure, I was able to put the sticks back and forth so I could. . .I finally found those damn keys. The water was about that deep. Finally found them, got into the car again and said to Dorothy, “Jesus, what kind of a job have we got here? What the hell kind of a business is this?” And all the way back, I said, “Ah, hell, this isn’t worth it, this kind of crap. You try to do something for somebody. . .” It was the superintendents and the supervision that was leading the thing.
NL: That’s what I wondered. These guys in the hall where you talked, were they all supervision?
RT: Most of them supervision. And a lot of guys were the anti-union guys that didn’t want the union, see, in Dow. But most of them were supervision. Dorothy and I got back to Flint and went up in my room. What the hell did we find in our room? We found these four organizers with four baskets of dollar bills, trying to straighten ‘em out. And here they had all the cards. They give me a big stack of cards, and then I felt better. But, Jesus, that’s what I went through. I almost got it! I promised never to go back, but I did. And I helped to organize that place. I turned it over to District 50, United Mine Workers. There’s a building up there now, District 50, a great, big building. I used to go up by there skiing in northern Michigan, District 50, United Mine Workers at Dow Chemical.
NL: Bob, I wanted to spend a little time today. One of the things, in looking over stuff that we don’t know very much about is you. In terms of where. . .you know, we mentioned this morning. . .where you first got the idea and the book and so on. I want to kind of go back over that. You were born where, Defiance, Ohio?
RT: I was born Lucas County, Ohio. . .Toledo, right outside of Toledo in 1906.
NL: And you went to a school there, in a small town?
RT: No, I went to school in Defiance. We moved after I was born. My father and mother moved. My grandfather had a farm outside of Toledo. And that’s where we lived. That’s where I was born. Then we moved back to Defiance, Ohio, where he got a job in a shoe store.
NL: Oh, your dad did.
RT: Yeah. In early times, when I was a baby, I guess he had had a grocery store, he and his brother, Ed Travis.
NL: Did your grandfather ever belong to any pro-labor group, like some kind of farmers’ alliance, or was he an old Populist?
RT: No, he was just a truck driver who did hard work. And I used to help him later in life. I used to go down to Grandpa’s farm and help him crawl along and plant the plants, you know, the tomatoes and the dill and the melons. But my grandfather didn’t have any political or social effect on me. But my father did.
NL: Ah, I wondered. I was gonna ask you next. What about your dad or your mom?
RT: My father was a. . . My mother was a member of the Lutheran Church, and I always, you know what a kid does. I went to church, of course. And I didn’t belong to the church, because I didn’t know enough. So I had to go to catechism. When I was old enough to go to catechism, I could go to catechism all during the summer, when school was out. And then later that same year, I could join the church if I passed catechism. Well, let me tell you what happened. I went to catechism every Saturday morning, every Saturday, all day, studying the catechism of the Lutheran Church, until we went to be examined later, before we went back to school. As I was being examined, the preacher come up to me, and he says to me, “Robert, here are two slips of paper with two questions I’m gonna ask you tomorrow morning, when we examine you in front of the congregation.” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “These are the only two questions you’ll have to answer.” I said, “You mean to tell me that I’ve gone for all summer long, givin’ up my Saturdays, in order to. . . Why didn’t you give me those the first day, and I could have had Saturdays free?” He said, “No, you just study those questions and we’ll answer those tomorrow.” So, when I went home, I told my mother, “Never again am I going to this goddamn church!” She said, “Why?” I said, “Well, because that’s a fraud. If they want to examine me, they should have examined me, because I studied hard all that crap it was on.” And she said, “Well, you better not tell Father about that.” I said, “Why?” She said, “He will agree with you.” And so I never went to church since then, except when I got to Flint. I went to the Unitarian Church. I just refused to go. No, that’s just a fraud, you know, a bunch of fraud.
NL: So, your father was very anti-church. Was that it?
RT: No, he was a devotee of . . .the guy running for President.
NL: Eugene V. Debs, ah, yes.
RT: We used to have guys come over to the house occasionally, and they’d talk, you know. And I would listen a little bit, and some of it rubbed off.
NL: Do you remember anything they talked about?
RT: No, I don’t remember anything, just the idea that my dad was a Debite. And I believed he knowed some of the stuff, because in later life, it turned out to be true, you know. They talked about the railroads then.
NL: He’d voted for Debs.
NL: Do you remember where he was in the. . .Was he opposed to World War I?
RT: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
NL: Was he ever. . . Do you remember whether he ever gave any money or talked in the house about Sacco and Vanzetti?
RT: No, he didn’t. I didn’t know anything about Sacco and Vanzetti. I learned later, of course, and read they were fishmongers in Connecticut. I knew all that, but I don’t remember ever having been exposed to that when I was a young kid. I was very young.
NL: Did any of your dad’s ideas ever get you in trouble in school?
RT: No, because we were too busy with reading, writing, and arithmetic. We didn’t discuss. We didn’t have any kind of current events when I was a kid. We went to school, and that’s all. Those three things, and nothin’ else.
NL: When did you get out of high school?
RT: I never went to high school.
NL: Oh, you didn’t go to high school?
RT: No. I went to grade school to the eighth grade. And I started into high school, and in my freshman year, in Scott High School, in Toledo, Ohio. And I lived outside of Toledo then, and I had to go all the way into Toledo to Scott, and it was too far, you see. Finally, I decided, ah, what the hell, I’ll go to work. And I went to work when I had gone two months to Scott High School in Toledo.
NL: So you must have been sixteen or seventeen.
RT: Yes, somethin’ like that.
NL: Where was your first job?
RT: At the Willys-Overland Company. My father worked at Willys-Overland, so my brother and I went down and tried to get jobs. We both got jobs there, too. No, I went first; that was it.
NL: And this must have been, what? 1922, ’23, ’24?
RT: It must have been somewhere around then. I was in the maintenance department of Willys-Overland. And my father was a clerk in the office in the maintenance department. And finally, he was a crib attendant. He ran the crib, the tool crib. And I became sort of a straw boss on nights in the maintenance department, the kind that you had to clean the goddamn ovens, you know, those paint ovens. Oh, what a lousy job. One time during the night, we had a job. We had to put in the hammer bases in the forge shop. . .big, fifty-ton blocks of. . .you know what a hammer vise base is? It was a fifty-ton block of steel. If you put down the hammer, the steam hammer goes down, and they make all kinds of different things out of steel. Well, we had to take that great big. . .maybe it was a hundred tons. I don’t know. It was a great big son of a bitch, almost as big as this room and as high as this room. And we had to put. . .dig a hole and then fill the hole with railroad ties and then tip it up, take this tie out, tip it back down, and take this tie out, see, ‘til we got it down to the bottom. During that whole period, I got sick. What did I get sick from? Drinking water. Because when we got it down into the hole, we had to cement it in, you see. And we had to have water to mix the cement. And the company had diverted the city water to creek water to make cement. And twenty of us got typhoid fever from that goddamn water.
NL: Oh. . .and they hadn’t told you that they had done that.
RT: No, they didn’t tell us at all. So we’d go to the fountains and drink that creek water, you see, ‘cause there was a creek right outside of the forge shop. I went to the hospital and damn near died. I got typhoid fever and yellow jaundice at the same time. My mother said she thought I was going to die. And I had hallucinations of worrying about my mother and father having to pay the bills for this, because I was in there for quite some time.And while I was hallucinating, I plowed a field and said a big long somethin’ about potatoes out there. I planted potatoes, I raised the potatoes, I hoed the potatoes, I harvested them, and I sold them in order to pay the money for my mother and my family to pay for my hospital bill. And finally I got better.
NL: Did that leave you with some kind of resentment against the company, when you found out what they had done?
RT: Yeah. Well, I wanted to sue ‘em.
NL: Did you?
RT: My brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, he was a draftsman. He worked in the engineering department. My brother worked in one of the plants there. My father was in the tool crib. I was in the maintenance department. Four of us. They said, “Well, go ahead and sue. If you do, your other three people will lose their jobs.” And my father said to me, “What do you want to do?” I says, “Well, hell, I don’t want you to lose your job because of me, but how the hell am I gonna pay?” And he said, “Don’t worry about that. If you don’t want to sue, we’ll stay on our jobs and pay.”
NL: Oh, so the company paid the hospital bill?
RT: No, they didn’t.
NL: Oh, they didn’t.
RT: No, and my father did. My father kept his job, and my brother-in-law and my brother kept his job. And I didn’t.
NL: You lost your job?
RT: I lost it. I quit. I didn’t want any part of it. That was it. They wouldn’t take me back, because I had threatened to sue. But they took the other three back. And from that point on, I don’t know where the hell I went.
NL: You didn’t go to work at Chevrolet, then?
RT: Soon after. I got married then, after that, got married and went to work at Chevrolet as a gear cutter.
NL: Is that when you got married to Helen?
RT: No, my first wife was Margaret. She died.
NL: Did she work in the plants, too?
RT: No, she stayed at home. We had a little apartment. She died of cancer, very young. She had Hodgkin’s Disease.
NL: When did you first run into people, let’s say in the plant or in and around Toledo, that you kind of sat down and began to talk with you about unions, let’s say, or about politics.
RT: Well, we had a guy by the name of. . .He was the business agent of the AFL federal labor union 18384. And he would come out and talk to Joe Ditzel and myself, and he give us some cards, you know.
NL: So you knew Joe Ditzel from where? High school? Or you met him there at Chevrolet?
RT: At the plant, yeah. And he give us cards. We didn’t pay too much attention at the time, because we tried. That was during the War Labor Board. Dou you remember about the War Labor Board, the NRA Board, theAuto Labor Board? Remember that?
RT: It was a Federal board setup. We had the right to organize, you know.
NL: Oh, but that was still in the ‘20s? In the late ‘20s?
RT: I don’t remember when it was.
NL: Yeah, that was the one on paper that said you had the right to organize, but they couldn’t do anything about it to enforce it.
RT: That’s when the company begin to organize for themselves. They had company unions.
NL: Company unions, that’s right.
RT: Yes. So Joe and I and Jimmy Roland decided that, by god, we should run Jimmy on the board. At least we’d have somebody on the board. We got everybody to vote for Jim in the shop on the company unions as a member of the workers, you know. And Jimmy was elected! By god, we were so glad. And Jimmy was a tough little kid. He was a Musteite and militant as hell. And he got into the company’s hair so badly that they fired him. That’s when we started.
NL: Okay, do you remember about when that was? Had Roosevelt been elected then? ’32, Hoover still in? The march of the veterans in Washington? Anything ring any bells in there?
RT: No, I can’t remember what. . .
NL: Coolidge still in? Of course, nobody remembers Coolidge anyway.
RT: I don’t remember what the political situation was at that time.
NL: Yeah, I’m just trying to get some rough idea of the time.
RT: I can’t tell when it was.
NL: You were still pretty young.
RT: We were very young.
NL: You hadn’t reached twenty-five then?
RT: Probably not.
NL: A good number of years before Flint?
RT: Oh, yes.
NL: So it would have been 1930, probably at the earliest, somewhere in there―’30, ’31. I’m trying to think of what else. Had the stock market crashed, the Depression started?
RT: Doesn’t ring a bell. You see, my . . . I got a one-track mind.
NL: Well, that’s all right.
RT: Well, anyhow, let me tell you about Jimmy Roland, when he was fired. They fired him on one day.
NL: And he was a Musteite?
RT: He was a Musteite, and he was fired as a representative of the board of the company union, see, because he was always in their hair. One morning I went to work, ‘cause I lived with my wife’s family just two blocks from Chevrolet, so in ten minutes I could run those two blocks and get into the shop before seven. And this morning, I come and I found somebody picketing the goddamn plant. One man, Jimmy Roland, had a picket sign.He was out there picketing, like this, back and forth. And I stopped him. I said, “Jim, what the hell are you doing?” He said, “Well, the son of a bitch fired me yesterday.” I didn’t know it, you see. So he said, “Look, why don’t you and Joe come on over at noon, right across from the Chevrolet?” This was the Chevrolet here, and here was a bunch of little houses. And they used to have restaurants. You could go in for a meal, you know, during the noon hour. But it was just a house. Maybe you could get ten people for a meal here and ten people in that house. And so I said, “Okay, we’ll meet you and so-and-so’s house at noon. We’ll run out as soon as the bell rings.” So we met Jimmy at noon. That’s when we started to organize. We said, “Well, let’s organize this goddamn plant, now that we’ve got started. You stay out here on the picket line. Don’t let anybody bother you. We’ll go in and see if we can’t get some guys inside.”
NL: And you were gonna organize this, the Federated Local 18384.
RT: Yes, because we had those cards that what’s-his-name had given us. So Joe and I decided we’d take these cards, and you take one half the plant and I’ll take the other. So we started and it took us about two weeks.Jimmy’s still out on that picket line, see.
NL: Just a one-man picket.
RT: In order to help us, you see, because then everybody knew what the hell it was about, see. And everybody agreed that had voted for Jimmy. After all, we elected him. They had joined the union, you see. So we began, and a couple weeks later, we had a strike.
NL: I’ll be darned. How many guys did you manage to pull out? Do you remember, about? The majority, or . . .
RT: Yeah, we got ‘em all out, I guess. But before we got ‘em out, we had some difficulty inside. Knudsen came down from Detroit and began to walk down through the plant, because we still had guys in the plant.
NL: This is while you were out on strike, but you hadn’t got everybody out yet?
RT: No, no, before we had a strike. Knudsen began to pick out this guy and that guy and talk with ‘em. And finally I thought this is the time we got to stop that bastard. So I got up on the bench, right in the plant. I said, “Knudsen, what the hell are you doin’ down here? You’ve never been in this plant before,” you know. “You come down here and we have to raise hell in order to get some recognition of what are the problems of this plant.” And so he said, “Now just a minute, just a minute.” He said to the guards, “Either you be quiet or else you’ll be fired.” I told him. I said, “You can’t fire me. I’m a member of this union now. And if you want to fire me, then we’ll talk about it. You sure as hell can’t fire me now.” A couple of the old guards come. He said, “Take this man, take him out to the gate.” I said, “Nothin’ doin’. No one takes me out to the gate.” So the whole plant gathered around. We were inside the plant. Knudsen and I were discussing whether I was going to be fired or not. Joe (Ditzel) helped to agitate, you know.
NL: You mean Joe would circle the crowd.
RT: And some of the other guys, Jack. . . C. C. Smith, I remember. He still may be on the CIO payroll. I put him on. I don’t know where he is now. C. C. Smith was one of them. I get a Christmas card from him once in a while. Anyhow, I had that argument with Knudsen, and Knudsen went off with Edelhauser. . .now what the hell was he? He was a Dutchman. And they said, “Well, you can come up to the office and talk with us.” And I said, “No, we won’t come up in the office and talk.” Oh, he wanted me to come to the office then and talk with him, he and the manager. I said, “Nothin’ doin’. If you want to talk with me, you talk with the committee.We’ve got other problems. I’m not the problem in this plant.” Anyhow, right then we decided, shut it off, closed her down. And Knudsen went up there. He had never been in a strike before, I guess. And he was from Denmark, and he was a pretty good guy, by the way. He wasn’t as bad as Sloan and the rest of them.
NL: Sure. Well, he had been an autoworker, I guess.
RT: Yes, he was the only worker in the damn GM. And he wanted to talk with me, wanted me to come up and talk. I said, “Nothin’ doin’.” And so we decided right then when I had all the guys around me. Joe and I said, “Let’s get the hell out of this plant and have a strike.”
NL: Bob, this idea, the standing up to this guy, to Knudsen and the forming of a committee, did you get those ideas from the old AFL business agent, or were these just things you picked up on your own?
RT: I had to do something. I couldn’t go up there alone, because I needed support. I wasn’t gonna go up. . . They wanted me to go up in the front office alone with Knudsen and the plant manager.
NL: But you guys must have. . . even by then had some idea of how you were gonna approach this. Were these things you and Joe had been talkin’ over?
RT: Joe was the best guy, best man for what to do next. I wasn’t.
NL: Okay, that’s what I wondered. Somewhere you guys had been talking and kicking ideas around.
RT: Joe says, “Come on, let’s go.” I said, “Yeah, let’s go.” I said, “Let’s go out and join Jimmy.” So we got on the line. The whole goddamn plant got on the line to join with Jimmy, you see, with his one sign. We didn’t have any signs. And that’s when we struck the plant and finally settled it after nine weeks, see.
NL: So you all stayed out for nine weeks.
RT: Yeah. That’s when they decided to split the plant, you see.
NL: Okay, and they took half of it to Saginaw and kept half of it. And they made two transmission plants.
RT: Yes. And that’s when we decided that 1600 men losing their jobs was a goddamn shame. We got to make them pay. And that’s when I. . . Joe did the same thing. Actually, yes, we did talk about the strike, you know, before.
NL: Yeah. You and Joe?
RT: Yes. And the next day, at seven o’clock, we were gonna keep everybody out again, you know. We were supposed to be there before seven, in order to get the picket line goin’, and I was late. We had been meeting that night before in my basement, just two blocks away.
NL: Just the two of you, you and Joe?
RT: No, we had a committee by that time. Five or six, I guess, and we met late into the night. And the next morning I was about five minutes late in getting to the plant. I’ll never forget. I was so embarrassed.
NL: The guys on the committee, Bob: Had any of them had any previous experience in labor? They were all just new?
RT: Joe and Jimmy. Joe was a Socialist, at least. I don’t know whether he had any experience or not, but he’d read about them, see. He knew about the railroad strike with Debs and the rest of them.
NL: Okay. He hadn’t been goin’ to Socialist Party gatherings or meetings or anything?
RT: I think so. Jimmy was a Musteite. He’d been very close to Muste, and he was a militant guy. You couldn’t kid him about militancy. They were much more politicized about what to do and what not to do than I was.
NL: Yes, so that’s where you really cut your teeth.
RT: Yes. I was learning, see, with the help of Mortimer, you see.
NL: Now, had you already met Wyndham Mortimer by then?
RT: Oh, yes. You see, before that. I had met him once before, you see.
NL: So, before the Chevrolet strike which you guys talked over.
NL: You and Mortimer had already met.
NL: How did you ever meet Wyndham Mortimer, if he lived in Cleveland?
RT: I told you Cleveland to Toledo to Detroit. He was a member of the, he was an international executive of the UAW.
NL: So he was coming by to see how you guys were doing.
NL: I see. Okay, I missed that this morning. I knew he’d come by, but I didn’t know how.
RT: He came by months before, to deiscuss with us what we should do, what we shouldn’t do. And we were against the company union, you see.
NL: So he was giving you some ideas, too, at the same time as Joe Ditzel and Jimmy Roland.
RT: Yes, Mort, Joe, and Jimmy were the important guys in there.
NL: So you were really getting kind of three, in one sense, you kind of got some common ideas, but comin’ out of three different political traditions there.
RT: Well, mostly two different. Mortimer on one side and Jim and Joe on the other.
NL: There wasn’t much difference between the Musteites. At this same time that you’re getting involved in the Chevrolet strike, do you remember about in Toledo? One of the things in doing some of the reading that I remember is that Toledo, even in the ‘20s, is hard hit. The wages didn’t go up very much. There were layoffs. You know, the conditions in Toledo seemed to have been worse than in some other places in the country. A lot of guys had lost jobs.
RT: I don’t know about the conditions there. I was developing interest in some of these other places that wanted organization as a result of trouble, not necessarily loss of jobs and things like that, but low pay. Remember, I was working for 42 cents an hour. What the hell, that’s 20 dollars a week, you know! What the hell can you do?
NL: In the ‘20s, too, if you were making that, even in the late 1920s, the prices hadn’t started to come down yet, like they did in the Depression, so the prices were relatively high.
RT: My wife wasn’t working, you know, and I had to pay rent. I had a little apartment just after I got married. I couldn’t pay it anymore, and I had to move in with my in-laws.
NL: Okay. Do you remember the unemployment rate in Toledo, now, before the onset of the Depression? Was it pretty high?
RT: Before I went to work at Chevrolet, I worked as a real estate salesman for Howard Atchison Company. And their office was right on the square, the public square. And I’d look out the window of the office of the real estate company, and I’d see a picket line over there. It was “Free Tom Mooney” and for unemployment compensation. Do you remember? I’d go over there and read those signs for unemployment compensation and for freeing Tom Mooney. And I went and joined in line. I quit the real estate company, and that’s when I went for Chevrolet, I guess. But, you see, I had a little background of struggle right then. Unemployment. . . A lot of the guys in the union or in the shop would say, “What the hell do you mean, you get paid for not working?” I’d say, “You’re goddamned right,” you know. I had a hell of a time. They didn’t understand it.
NL: Bob, at that time of the Chevy strike in Toledo, was there much political activity from the radical parties in Toledo? Do you remember? The reason I ask is that it seems like a natural spot. You got a city which is hard hit in the beginning of the Depression. Unemployment rate in Toledo, from figures I’ve seen, was higher than almost any other place in the country. And you had a couple of guys you worked with. Was there any move by political parties on the Left to organize workers and to---?
RT: Well, I remember there was some people come in. A guy by the name of Dave Gordon. I think he was a Trotskyite; I don’t know. Ted Selander was either a Trotskyite or a Musteite; I don’t know which. Maybe it was the Socialist Party. Anyhow, there was a number of groups of people that were favoring us, you see. But I didn’t know what the hell they represented or what they were doing. But they didn’t help. Selander wouldcome talk with Joe or with Jimmy and this national columnist―
NL: This is the heavy-set guy.
RT: His son is now on, mostly on races.
NL: On races, racing, horses.
RT: Yes. All I can think of is Woody something. What in the hell was his name? I know you’d know him, ‘cause his father was a. . . Finally he died, but he died as a Catholic. He turned Catholic the day before he died. But he was an atheist up to that point. And I always remembered the bastard.
NL: Were the churches getting in the act at all in Toledo, in terms of the labor unrest? You just don’t remember.
RT: No. At least I didn’t know anything about it.
NL: When Mortimer used to come to town and talk with you, did he ever try to get you interested in politics at all, or was it just strictly. . .
RT: Strictly on the union.
NL: On the union.
RT: It was on the union, but around questions of working conditions, pay, recognition of the union, general questions that I became interested in. And everybody said, everybody would tell me, you know, Mortimer, that’s a Communist. I didn’t give a goddamn what he was, but I agreed with what he was saying about the union and the pay and the recognition and the grievances and so forth. I didn’t care what he was.
NL: These guys that were saying that Mort was a Communist. . .
RT: And I would defend Mort then, see. I’d say, “So what?” you know.
NL: These were the guys even in the other political parties.
RT: They like Mort, too. Well, you see what Joe did over here in Long Beach? Because Joe appreciated Mort. He was an honest man, and Joe was honest, too, and Jimmy. And so they all helped. When Mortimer was attacked, they would defend Mort, just the same as Mort would defend their right to do so-and-so, and the Socialists. He wasn’t like they are today, you know, pulling the workers’ ranks. He wouldn’t. That wasn’t in his book.
NL: So, by the time Flint comes along, Mortimer had already seen you in action, and so that, as a result of having talked to you before the strike and seeing how you had conducted yourself, it’s from that that Wyndham Mortimer is able to say to Homer Martin, “This is the guy I want to replace me in Flint.”
NL: Okay. You got to Flint. . .
RT: I quit, went to Flint, you know. I was assigned to Flint. I went the first day. I took my little Willys-Overland puddle-jumper. I went out to the Chevrolet. I went to the Buick. I watched them change shifts. Jesus Christ!There’s 68,000 workers there, you see.
NL: Yes. This was in October of ’36 when you first got here.
RT: Yeah. And I stood on―those little puddle-jumpers had running boards then―I stood on the running board and looked at that sea of humanity changing, half going in and half going out, the same as in Chevrolet, and then I went back to Detroit, and I said, “You got the wrong guy.” I come from a little shop with 4000 workers or 600 workers. They got more janitors than we have workers, you know.
NL: One of the things I wanted to take up is what Charlie talked about yesterday. When Charlie talked about, you know I asked you about how you got in touch with Bud Simons and these guys. You knew who to pick for the shop stewards.
NL: When you got to Flint, in October, when you finally decided to take the job, and I take it you did was what, you quit Chevy and then you went on the UAW payroll?
RT: No, no. I was still working at Chevy, Chevrolet, and they said, “Well, come up and take a look.” So I went up to the Executive Board, and that’s when they assigned me to Flint. And I went the next day, you see.
NL: I see. Were you working as an organizer in Chevy?
RT: No, I was president of the union. I went back to the Executive Board the next day and said, “No, that’s not for me. Get somebody else. You need somebody with experience, how to organize those people.” They said, “Don’t you know that we don’t have nobody that has any experience? Industrial workers? Nobody can do it. Nobody has been able to. You’ve done it in Toledo. You can do it here.”
NL: So the UAW was really short-handed, other than you and Mortimer. For people who had had very much experience with industrial workers, there just weren’t any.
RT: That’s right. Well, Reuther was on the board, too, at the beginning. Of course, he was from 174 Local, West Side local, you see. But he hadn’t had much experience over there. He was having a tough time on the West Side then, too.
NL: Right. Was that the―had the Kelsey-Hayes gone yet?
RT: No, that was later, I believe.
NL: That came a little later.
RT: When George Edwards―do you know George Edwards?
NL: I know who the name is, yeah, sure.
RT: I’ll have to tell you a story then.
NL: You get to Flint, though, you finally take the job. And you drive up there in October.
RT: Before I took the job, I said, “Get somebody else.” They said, “Don’t worry. Go on back up there and give it a try, because the union’ll back you, and you don’t have to worry about a job.” You see, I said, “Yeah, but if I don’t go back to the Chevrolet in three days, I will be fired.” That’s how I got it, see. I was fired from Chevrolet, because I didn’t go back to work in three days.
NL: Okay, that’s what happened. So then you had no choice. You had to take the job.
RT: Yeah. So I went, and I said, “Okay, you take care of me.” They said, “You’ll always have a job here. We’ll always take care of you. If you can do that job, we’ll take care of you.” Anyhow, that’s how it happened.That’s how I got to Flint, and that’s how when I sat down with Mort. Jay Green was a Socialist, Bud and Joe Devitt and Walt Moore. Some other guys. . .
NL: Was Clayton Carpenter. . .?
RT: Clayton Carpenter was a Proletarian Party. And the head of the credit union there, Bill Genske, Genske was there, too.
NL: They were all CP?
RT: Genske was Proletariat, I believe.
NL: Bill must have been very young, because he’s still a young guy now.
NL: So Mort knew about these guys. He was the one who turned them over to you.
NL: And he knew which ones were fairly trustworthy.
RT: That’s true.
NL: Because he had been working with the 122 people, right in the beginning, or at least he’d contacted them. He talked about going with Ed Geiger to see Henry Clark. And he’s not sure about Ed Geiger.
RT: The Buick guy was named John Mc-something [McGill]. John, a very good guy, John. . .What the hell was his name? I thought of it the other day. He was a very good guy. He gave me all these guys. Whoever.Howard Foster was in Chevrolet. Ed Cronk. Bill Roy was a Socialist. Kermit Johnson was a Socialist in Chevrolet. Bibber. Bibber was a pure trade unionist, an honest guy. He’d back anybody who would be for the union.He didn’t give a damn what they were. Remember that’s forty years ago, forty-two years ago.
NL: You know, what I want to ask you about is the political side of it, because that’s one of the things that we don’t know much about. I kind of give you advance warning, then. When you come into Flint, did the political parties that are already there and active, did they ever approach you? Like, let’s say, the Socialists, or was there just no organized move on their part? They seem to have been in Flint for some time, the Socialist Party, and fairly active, holding classes and. . .
RT: Roy Reuther’s wife was the wife of the Socialist Party organizer when he moved into Flint.
NL: Hy Fish.
RT: Hy Fish, yes. She was Fania Fish. She was later married to Roy Reuther. Did you know that?
NL: No. She was Hy Fish’s sister?
RT: She was his wife! Yes. And so I asked her several years ago, when I was in Detroit. I saw her there, and she was antagonistic to me. I said, “Where’s Hy?” And she said, “He’s in Israel.” See, I said, “Well, FaniaFish.” I didn’t say, “Roy Reuther, Mrs. Roy Reuther.” I said, “My God, how are you, Fania?” She hates me, I guess, because I remember her as Fania Fish, you know. Yeah. She was very antagonistic to me. She turned her back on me.
NL: Oh, really. That’s too bad. Did the parties ever interfere with the organizing, as parties, now? I don’t mean as individuals having differences.
RT: No, only to the extent before I got there of going to the Executive Board to get Mort out. That’s when Glenn Shattuck, Tom Klasey, Ted LaDuke, and I don’t know whether the Socialists. . .I don’t know whether they participated in it.
NL: But these were the Lovestoneites.
RT: Yes. They were able to get him out. They participated to that extent in getting him out. But when I got there, I said to each one of them after I’d met with Mort, who each one of us was. I said, “Now look here.” I got ‘em all together. I said, “There’s one enemy in the city of Flint. Only one. Just one enemy. That’s General Motors. The first guy right here in this room begins to say that so-and-so’s the enemy or this guy is no damn good or that guy is no damn good or I’m no good, I’m gonna expose ‘em as a stool pigeon for General Motors, because you’ve got to work together, or else we’ll hang separately, one of the two.” And I laid that law down a half a dozen times when things would come up. But I knew that the Socialists were meeting. Roy would have a Socialist Party caucus of a few guys, Bill Roy and the rest of ‘em. And Chevrolet would make certain agreements.You know, Genora Dollinger. She married Dollinger. Dollinger would come from the Trotskyites. He’s a Trotsky, you know. Well, he used to have a group of guys that they would get together.
NL: Sol Dollinger?
NL: Was he in Flint?
RT: Sure, he was in Flint.
NL: I didn’t know that.
RT: Yes, he was in Flint. That’s how he got close to Genora.
NL: Oh, I’ve never met him, so I had no idea.
RT: He lives here in California. And I don’t know what they decided, but I told ‘em, “You can have all kinds of meetings among yourselves, but don’t attack other people in this union. If you want to attack somebody, attack Lenz and General Motors and Skinner from Fisher 1.” And Bert Harris―he was with the Black Legion, but he would join with anybody who would be opposed to what we were trying to propose, you know.
NL: Even though he was a worker.
RT: He was a working, yeah.
NL: At the same time all this is going on, did you ever know, had you met Will Weinstone?
RT: Oh, yes. Yeah, he come into town, and I met him.
NL: You met him in Flint, then, for the first time?
RT: Yeah, for the first time, I met him in Flint. He would sit down with me and talk about this or that problem. And I would talk about this kind of problem and that kind of problem. And he would say, well, you know, he’d make some suggestions. And I could take it or leave it. And if I took it, fine. If it didn’t work, I’d blame it onto him. And if it did work and was okay, it was me.
NL: Did they ever provide you any kind of support? I don’t know what they would have had.
RT: No. They didn’t have any money or anything. Only advice.
NL: No. Did they supply any advice? I know Charlie [Kramer] had mentioned guidelines. I don’t know what you called them. Guidelines for the structure inside the plants. That’s fascinating.
RT: That was probably. . . Bud Simons probably met with Will Weinstone, and that group at Fisher would probably work out all these things with Will, you see. I didn’t know anything about that. And inside the plant, probably Will did that. And it was very good.
NL: I wanted to come up to something that is a mystery to me, although I’ll get a chance to talk to him, and that is where and when. . . [TAPE ENDS]
TAPE NO. 3
DATE: Dec. 14, 1978
INTERVIEWER: Neil Leighton
INTERVIEWEE: Bob Travis (also Rudi Miller on this tape)
RT: Mortimer knew Henry [Kraus] in Cleveland?
RT: And worked with him. I don’t know what kind of work.
NL: Henry was a writer, wasn’t he? He must have been a newspaper man, too.
RT: So, when the union needed a newspaper man, Mortimer proposed Henry Kraus to take over the paper, the national paper, you see, the Auto Worker.
NL: And that was published out of Detroit.
RT: Yes. And then when I. . .
NL: So Henry was nominated by. . .
RT: By the Executive Board, not by Mort. Mort proposed Henry, but the Executive Board adopted Henry as the editor for the Auto Worker.
NL: When did they do that?
RT: Jesus, that’s. . . Well, anyhow, before the Flint strike, sometime. And during that time, as things began to get hot over there, that’s when I proposed to Mort, “For God’s sake, send Henry Kraus up here.”
NL: Did you know Henry before, or you had just heard about him?
RT: No, I had just been reading the paper.
NL: Reading the paper. So Henry sets up a strike paper in Flint for you.
NL: And brings Dorothy with him.
NL: And she must have had a hell of a lot of experience, because she wasn’t an unskilled lady when she hit Flint.
RT: I don’t know what kind of experience she had, but she was good. She took right over. You give her the ball, and she’d run with it. That’s all there is to it.
NL: Henry sets up the paper, and does Henry come up to Flint before the Sit-Down?
RT: Oh, yes.
NL: He comes up. Does he come up with you in October, or is that a little later?
RT: He comes up later. When I asked for some more help there, you know, organizers and so forth, and I could see that we needed something. Charlie Killinger had been fired from Buick before that, and he was married and had ten children, and he was starving to death. So I said to Henry, “I want Charlie to distribute these papers at the different shops,” you see. And he and his ten kids distributed all the Auto Workers, the Flint Auto Workers, in Flint. Different plants at different times. We’d cover every damn gate. Every kid would have a package of papers. And I paid him. So he was starving, anyhow. I paid him 25 dollars a week, you see, and provided transportation for him to get to the other plants to distribute these papers. And I don’t know how long he distributed them. It was before the strike and right up to the strike, you know.
NL: Had Henry Kraus had any organizing experience or just strictly as a journalist?
RT: I don’t know. I don’t know much about Henry. I know that he is a Ph.D., a mathematics Ph.D. Yes.
NL: I knew he went to school at Western Reserve University.
RT: Yes, and right now he’s taking a Ph.D., another Ph.D. in chemistry. You see, he’s in Paris now, representing the chemical industries all over the world. Yeah, he writes articles in the chemistry papers, different magazines for chemistry. And he goes to every conference, chemical conference, all over the world. And he’ll write up that conference and provide what’s going on in chemistry in the different places for the chemical industry.
NL: So is he in Paris. . . This is one of the questions I wanted to ask you. He’s been in Paris since when, the ‘50s?
RT: I don’t know. He’s been there a long time.
NL: I often wondered if Henry went to Paris. This is a question I probably should ask him, but did he go over there because of this job in the kind of chemistry, or was it because he left on account of the McCarthy hearings?
RT: I don’t know. I’ll never know. I know that he just got up and left, he and Dorothy. He used to live here in San Pedro, you know. He wrote the book.
NL: The Many and the Few.
RT: No. In the City Is a Garden. He wrote about the first public housing development here in Flint.
NL: You mean here in San Pedro?
RT: In San Pedro, I mean. Yes. And it’s a beautiful book. I don’t know whether I have it or not.
NL: I’ll look it up. That’s fascinating.
RT: See, that’s what he did after he left the union, when he was fired from the union. You see, he was writing books.
NL: Yeah, Henry was hounded out because they accused him of being a―
RT: A Communist.
NL: A Communist.
RT: And a supporter of Mortimer. And Eddie, Eddie. . . They took in the Socialists then. Eddie. I can’t think of the name of the guy that took Henry’s job. He’s dead, too.
NL: That would have been along in August, somewhere in ’37, too, well after the strike, that summer following the strike, wasn’t it? About the time they had the elections for 156?
RT: I don’t know.
NL: Well, that we can find out. I wanted to come to another point about the strike. And it really comes under the subject of skills, people’s skills, and so on. One of the things that struck us in writing about and reading about the strike was the sound car. Now Larry Goodwin hits this very early, and he says, you know, one of the things that sets the Flint strike off, in strikes of that period, is the use of modern technology by labor. Always before, management had it, as well as the hired goons. But now, for the first time, in these strikes in this period, you get the use of fairly sophisticated techniques in organizing, and the sound car seems to be a very crucial element. You mentioned in the interview with Sidney Fine that the sound car had been used before, before Flint, that it wasn’t new to Flint. Where?
RT: We used it in Toledo, although there was a sound car ordinance in Toledo. We fought the ordinance and was able to get the right if we could go out to a strike. We used it until they beat us down on that, in Toledo. But in Flint it developed this way. You see, when we had the Sit-Down in Fisher 1, we had a picket line on the outside, plus the fact that I had fifty automobiles in what we called the “Flying Squad.” Ed Cronk was the head of the Flying Squadron. On Ed Cronk’s car top was a loudspeaker, you see. And he directed the whole Flying Squad, for instance.
NL: These are the guys that supplied food and transportation to people between the various plants. Was that it?
RT: Yeah, they did many things. For instance, if Ed would see something happening at the end of the plant, the end of the line, twenty-five cars or whatever we had there that day, he’d say, “Two cars at the end, go down so and so.” Maybe I’d call and have somebody have Ed send a couple of cars downtown so that I could send ‘em someplace else they were needed, you know. But that was the beginning. It was so effective that we could move people so fast, you see, that way, and we could direct the cars. They wouldn’t move unless Ed said so, you see. And we would all go up and stop... We’d stop there. You see, there wasn’t anarchy in the Flying Squadron. And there was very good discipline.
NL: And what was the reason for the discipline? Because otherwise the cops would stop a car or something?
RT: No. It was because they knew that this was what was needed. They were all convinced that the union was right and that Ed was doing a good job. And if he said that we should do this and this and this, that was the reason why we were disciplined.
NL: Yeah, but I meant why the cars traveled kind of together.
RT: Because that was the whole idea of the squad. We’d get ‘em together before we went out, you know. And we said, “Now you know Ed is the leader, and whatever Ed says, we got to do this.” And we’d discuss with him what we were gonna do. “One, we’re gonna go to Chevrolet gates and go on by. And then we’ll do down to Buick and make a few calls on Buick.” But we’d all stay together. So that they got used to this developing of a plan before they would go out, you see.
NL: Oh, so it was kind of an educational or organizing device.
RT: Right. And out of that use of a little loudspeaker on top of that car became the sound car. Get the idea?
NL: I see, okay. But it’s Flint that the sound car really gets perfected, then.
NL: And where we see these pictures, photos of a car with very big loudspeakers on it, like maybe four big horns on the top of it.
RT: Yes, you’d see that in the miners’ strike pictures. Do you ever see ‘em?
RT: The miners’ strike.
NL: Oh, yes, sure I saw it.
RT: That was perfected in Flint, but they increased it. They made it better than we had. We had just dinky stuff.
NL: Sure. Now the sound car is the means by which a group such as workers who don’t have access to telephones, they don’t have access to the normal press, they don’t have access to the radio. That’s the way you could communicate to ‘em, particularly if the situation got rough and tumble. In other words, if the cops were rushing some place, or you had to contact people on the picket line, or you had to go down the street to get ‘em.
RT: In Cleveland they did that, you know. We had ‘em in Cleveland, too. But many times we had to fight anti-sound ordinances, you know, wherever we were. We’d take them on and violate the law about the sound cars.Flint tried the anti-sound ordinance. They knew what it was doing. But we beat that there.
NL: Did you have drivers specifically for the sound car, or would anybody drive? What I’m getting at, let me get that first. Did you entrust those sound cars to just anybody, or did you have to be pretty damn sure of who was gonna drive it?
RT: We were pretty sure. Lots of times we would put somebody. . .but the guy that was in there, like Roy or Vic or me, or sometimes Henry would go in. We’d always pick the guy and know very well that he could trust him, you see, because the guy that was on the mike would tell the driver what to do.
NL: Okay, so you never had a sound car there without usually one of the strike leaders in that car. That’s how important they were.
RT: That’s right.
NL: Okay. I guess during the Battle of Bull’s Run, the sound car plays a big part, doesn’t it?
NL: Because I think it’s Genora, mentions at one point how Roy Reuther told her that the batteries were wearing down on the sound car. Is that right?
RT: I don’t know.
NL: They were getting in trouble, because they were losing their power.
RT: Prior to the battle, I was gassed with tear gas in my eyes, and I was taken to the hospital. And I was out of half of that Bull’s Run fight, over in Hurley Hospital, where Governor Murphy sent an aide to see me to come over to see him with Germer. Germer was over to see him, too. So Germer and I was invited over to see Murphy at that hall, right after Bull’s Run, you see. But it was off, for me, from Hurley Hospital over there.
NL: And that’s the only time you see Murphy face to face, wasn’t it?
NL: You talked to him maybe on the phone, once or so?
RT: Yeah. But he was a good man.
NL: So what Fine writes about him is basically true?
RT: I don’t know what he wrote.
NL: Well, I thought maybe you’d read. . .
RT: I read so damn much I forgot almost what it was he did write.
NL: Well, Sidney Fine is very sympathetic towards Murphy. He thinks that he’s. . .He’s even written a biography.
RT: Well, I still believe that we would have had a hell of a problem without Murphy. We’d have had much blood in the streets, because the night we asked Murphy to do something, Sugar and Pressman sit down and every fifteen minutes, they’d write another telegram. Blood in the streets, and this and that and the other stuff. We wanted protection from the military, you see.
NL: This was. . .When was this? This was after the Battle of Bull’s Run?
RT: I don’t know when it was.
NL: Well, it was before Chevy 4?
RT: I think so, yes. And we must have sent fifty telegrams that night. You see, Maurice Sugar went to school with Murphy, at the University of Michigan. They were there in the same law class. Pressman was in the national CIO. With him signing the telegrams and Sugar signing the telegram, and then me signing the telegram and Mort signing the telegram, we’d send just strings of telegrams, all night long. He must have had a stack of telegrams that high.
NL: So you were the fellows, really, that were interested in having the National Guard come in to protect the workers, to keep the police out of the plants.
RT: Yes. We said, “Close the plant, keep the men in the plant, keep everybody out and see that nobody gets hurt.” That was what our program was.
NL: So you really welcomed the National Guard when they came in on the twelfth of January.
RT: Yes, yes. We asked for it. We could trust them a hell of a lot sooner than. . . We could trust Murphy’s National Guard more than we could trust GM’s thugs, the Flint Alliance, you see. Because we were very scared about what would the Flint Alliance do, if they ever let loose, you know. And if GM would ever turn ‘em loose to shootin’. That’s what I was scared about. . .that our guys would. . .’cause our guys were all deer hunters, you know. They all had deer hunters’ rifles. Christ, anything could happen there.
NL: Nothing’s changed in forty years, either. Well, another reason for the National Guard, I would guess, is because you had a few fellows who were National Guardsmen.
RT: Right, yes.
NL: So you knew that you’d get a fairly good break, at least there.
NL: Even though you might lose a few sit-downers who had to go out and join the Guard, it was worth it.
RT: That’s right, that’s right. I knew what was happening in the Guard, and Colonel Lewis was pretty good with the Guard.
NL: He was an honest, straight guy?
NL: At one point, in the earlier interview. . .
RT: Except that he raised hell with me. I had Henry’s Flint Auto Worker distributed among the soldiers. And he said, “You son of a gun! Get ‘em out of here!”
NL: Well, he probably had to do that.
NL: One last point on the Guard, and we can take a break for lunch. You mentioned in the earlier interview that one thing that bothered you. . .Well, there were two things: One thing that bothered you about the Guard was the fact that the officers of the Guard were all the time socializing with GM, with the supervisors or executives or something. A lot of that went on?
RT: I wrote a letter to Murphy about that. I said, “They never socialize with us. What the hell are they doin’ over there?” you know. “They’re all over at the Durant Hotel eatin’ with the big shots, and it’s obvious where their sympathies lie. Now that’s got to stop!” And, you know, I raised hell with Murphy about it. And I raised hell with Lewis about it. And it did a little good, some good. At least Lewis knew our attitude, my attitude about it.He knew that I knew what they were doin’. And so he told ‘em, “For Christ’s sake, cut it out,” you know.
NL: Was there any overlap there between GM executives who were officers in the National Guard? That wouldn’t be uncommon.
RT: I don’t know. I don’t know. I never knew. I didn’t care, because they were subject to Murphy, not to GM. If I had reason to believe that they did something bad, I could raise hell with Murphy about it and Colonel Lewis.
TAPE NO. 3, Side 1
DATE: December 15, 1978
INTERVIEWER: Neil Leighton
INTERVIEWEES: Bob Travis, San Pedro, California
NL: This is a continuation of an interview with Bob Travis. Today is December 15, 1978, in San Pedro, California. Bob, I talked to you yesterday about the strike and about your life, the background and so on. And I’ve got some questions here today I wanted to kind of clear up and get out of the way. In the strike itself, one of the things that some people have talked about, in regard to the Cleveland Fisher Body plant strike in particular, but also in Flint, was this idea of spontaneity, that it was spontaneous. And that these strikes were as a result of fellows sitting down on their own, and this whole notion that these strikes were kind of spontaneous, they happened right away. And yet, what we’ve been talking about, that doesn’t seem to be the cae. Do you have any comments on that?
RT: Yeah. Well, when I was assigned, in the beginning I didn’t know where we was going or whether we ever could have a strike. I always had in my background the possibility of doing something that would better the life of the workers, not only in Flint, but throughout the country. And I always talked about the fact that some day we could have real negotiations and a contract and have real protection, seniority, and so forth. But I never...I always indicated that someday maybe it would be necessary for us to have a strike. But we wanted to make sure that when we did that, we would be able to protect our strike and win the strike. But everybody that ever signed a card was cognizant of the fact that it may be that during that time there may be an incident. No matter what kind of an incident it was, that we’d provoke, that would get the support of enough people in the plant that would finally prompt us to protect ourselves and to protect the people in there to do something about it, whether it would be a strike or whatever it was. But, anyhow, it wasn’t spontaneous. Everybody knew that that’s what our ultimate game was, to have the kind of protection of seniority and wages and working conditions that would benefit the people in the plant. They’d always knew that. There was never incidents that were spontaneous, that provoked us to do something about it. But we got enough support that we could do something about it. It wasn’t spontaneous. It was spontaneous because of some incident or something that happened in and around the plant that made it possible for us to do it.
NL: Okay, that helps a lot. Some of these are random questions, and the reason they’re random is because some of them we covered already. And this is a question that one of my colleagues was particularly interested in.There’s been a rumor that surfaced. You know, we talked about this Bert Cochran and his book.
NL: And he makes a lot of charges without much substantiation. And so I want to raise those questions with you, because you were there. And one of the questions is that it seems that Reuther (Walter Reuther) was suspected from the start by what he calls “anti-Stalinist radicals” in the union who thought Reuther was part of the CP operations. And who were these anti-Stalinist radicals? Would those have been the. . .We talked yesterday about the Trotskyites. . .who were behind pushing Mortimer out of Flint in October?
RT: Mostly, yes. It wasn’t Reuther. Reuther was not part of that. In fact, the split between Reuther and the Socialists and the CP and the other Left forces of the union came about as a discussion of something. I forgot what the hell it was. It was the vote for war. Do you remember the proposal to vote for war by a senator from Ohio? I can’t remember what it was. Some senator from Ohio was proposing that the people should vote for or against war. I forget what it was.
NL: This would have been in ’39 or ’40.
RT: Yes. And between Reuther and the Communists, they split on that. That’s where the split took place. I don’t remember which was which anymore, who wanted to vote and who didn’t want to vote. But, anyhow, that’s what the split came about. And from then on, Reuther was anti-CP because of that split. And it slopped over into other areas of the union because of that split. But that’s the point. I remember we had the discussion in Local 174 hall between the Socialist supporters and the Communist supporters.
NL: Was 174 the East Side local?
RT: The East Side local.
NL: In Detroit.
RT: The West Side local.
NL: The West Side. Yeah, 155 was the East, then. Okay, I got it reversed. The reason it comes up is that Cochran went through some papers left behind by Nat Ganley in Wayne State. And he said that there, in there is a memo from Nat Ganley stating that he, Ganley, collected party dues from Reuther, but that Reuther stayed in the Socialist Party “as an agent of the CP.”
RT: I don’t believe that.
NL: Okay. As I say, that’s a point which we’re trying to. . .
RT: That’s fabrication. Reuther was a pro-Socialist, Socialism. He always was. He was a good guy during those periods. He was always in favor of the workers. Whether he was a Communist or Socialist, he didn’t care.He was a pretty good guy.
NL: What we’re trying to do is. . .one of the things, and it’s very tough for us from the vantage point of 1970. . .is to figure out what the political landscape was at that time. And there are a lot of names of parties, particularly. And we talked some about the CP. But we haven’t talked too much about the others that played a part, in and around the Flint strike and in the community of Flint, and in Michigan, that are no longer in existence today.
NL: And so, even though you read about ‘em, it’s very hard to hook your brain into that. One of the parties that we just mentioned yesterday (and I really don’t know anything about), and one of my colleagues raised this question, “What about the Proletarian Party people in Michigan and who later came to Flint?” You mentioned a couple. Did you every have any knowledge about what their role or their position was, or was it just a question that they were there?
RT: They had a role all right. And Carpenter in Fisher 1.
NL: Clayton Carpenter?
RT: Clayton Carpenter was a Proletarian. Bill Genske was a Proletarian.
NL: Well, we can talk with Bill about that.
RT: And I don’t remember who else. But, anyhow, Mazey was New America. That was a new party in Detroit. He was a member of the New America Party, who was pro-Socialist, Socialism at the time. And so we considered him a friend, as well. We considered the Proletariats as a pro-labor party. We considered the Trotskyites pro-labor, to a point. Where we disagreed with them was about tactics. That’s where we mostly disagreed.
NL: Did they have a name as a party name, do you remember?
RT: Yes, they had. . .not the Workers’ Party, but. . .
NL: Was it the Young Socialist People’s League?
RT: I don’t know what the hell they called themselves. I know that Fania Fish’s husband was the Socialist Party organizer.
NL: But that was the old SP, wasn’t it?
RT: Yeah, that was the old SP.
NL: That wasn’t the Trotskyites.
RT: No, no. The Trotskyites were CPO.
RT: Communist Party Opposition.
NL: Oh, okay. See, the reason. . .if we run across that in some document or something, and somebody put “C.P.O.”, they’re writing at the time and assume everybody knows, but forty years later, nobody does know.
RT: Communist Party Opposition. That was Klasey, Dubuc, Shattuck.
RT: No. Carpenter was a Proletariat.
NL: A Proletariat. Okay.
RT: It was mostly in Chevrolet.
NL: In Chevy 4.
RT: Chevy and Chevrolet, all over Chevrolet.
NL: All plants, yeah.
RT: The CPO is.
NL: Let me bring up a point right there, that you just triggered something. In Flint, in the whole plant, the landscape of the plants now, was there a tendency for political parties to have carved out territory within the plants, or was this just one exception?
RT: I don’t know how it happened that way. CPO came from Chevrolet, and I put Reuther―Roy―in charge of Chevrolet, because of the possibility of him working with CPOs, you see, because the Socialists were sort of anti-CP as well. If he could work with Klasey and LaDuke and Shattuck, then it would be to the union’s advantage. I don’t care about what he did with these guys in terms of politics, but if he was able to advance the union’s cause by working with guys like LaDuke, fine. I didn’t care about that.
NL: But were there other plants around Flint that you were aware of? Let’s say that were strongholds for, let’s say the Socialist Party had a stronghold in this plant, and the Proletarians in this one. Was there anything like that, or was this just one that happened to be this way?
RT: No, it just happened to be. Like in Fisher 1, we had Bud Simon, Walt Moore, and Joe Devitt, and Jay Green. Jay was a Socialist and the other three were Communists that saw eye to eye on every kind of thing, you see, fine.
NL: They could all work together.
RT: But we also had in Fisher 1 the Black Legion, you see. So those guys had to work against the Black Legion.
NL: So that would have tended to drive them together anyway.
RT: Yes. In Buick, we had some guys―Barrity. . .I forget his name. We had a number of pro-Socialist guys in Buick like Cap Kenney and Barrity and Bully.
NL: Norm Bully?
RT: Norm Bully.
NL: Norm Bully was an old SP?
RT: Yeah, I think so.
NL: He’s still around. He still writes articles.
RT: He is? Yeah, he was a very good guy. And that was a little group that we could work through in Buick, you see.
NL: Let me ask you something else that just came to mind. What’s kind of unusual for a labor organizer today. . .maybe it is; maybe is just my naiveté. But by the time you walked into Flint, in addition to skills concerning organizing, one of those skills is you had to know the political landscape, which meant you had to be up on all of these things. Is that some of the stuff that Mort had left behind?
RT: Mort left behind people with whom I could trust. Whether they were Socialist or Communist, or Left of some kind or another, at least they all fit into a pro-union. . .I could program them. I could count on them being for the union. Never mind what their politics were. I didn’t have to worry about being. . .they were pro-union. They might attack certain other parties because of tactics, but basically they were pro-union in the whole area.And that’s the touchstone that I used, you see. I didn’t care what or who they were or where they come from, except that they were pro-union, whether they didn’t have any union at all, or didn’t have any political support at all, you see. Found lots of those guys, like Carl Bibber, like Bill Roy and Barrity and those guys. I didn’t know what they were, but they were damn good union men. Turned out that they were pro-something or other, I didn’t care what.
NL: What about the Lovestoneites?
RT: Yes, Lovestoneites, yeah. We didn’t have much trouble with them, because we didn’t allow that kind of . . .because there were so many different splits, you know. The Lovestoneites became just another split. But we did have ‘em from the outside. Bill Munger in Lansing was a Lovestoneite. And he finally became the editor of the paper in the UAW, you know. And he used his influence and tried to use his influence in terms of theLovestoneites in favor of Martin, you see. Martin was a Lovestoneite, too. But we circumvented that. He didn’t get any place with us in terms of Lovestone.
NL: We talked a little bit about the Fisher strike in Cleveland, the Coit Road plant.
RT: Yeah. The first one or the second one?
NL: Ah, that’s the problem. There was one on December 28th. That would have been just. . .
RT: Just before we did.
NL: Just before Flint.
NL: And Cochran makes this statement, he says: “Mortimer and Travis (what he calls the “Mortimer-Travis axis”) had no control in Cleveland.” Cochran said the Cleveland sit-down on December 28th was spontaneous, undirected protest at local grievances or on local grievances. He said: “Even though it set in motion the Flint events.”
RT: Yeah, right. That’s why, if we got Rudi Miller. . .He was in the tool room, where it started. He was the leader of the tool room. I can bring him from Long Beach over here now to tell you all about this. . .whether. . .how it was.
NL: Okay. Bob, I got a question about finances back then. And a lot of this stuff, as I mentioned, comes out of Cochran’s book, and he raises these questions. And he says that the UAW, at the time of the Sit-Down Strike, that you and Mortimer handled the strike fund, which totaled, I guess, around a couple hundred thousand dollars. He doesn’t question, you know. . .I mean there was an audit of it, and everything was. . .so there was no hint of any wrongdoing. But one of the questions that’s kicked up is where the money came from, because he writes this chapter in his book, called “From Akron to Flint,” and we know that the Mine Workers. . .
RT: Ninety thousand.
NL: Ninety thousand from the Mine Workers. What other unions contributed finances? What other unions? Why don’t we just leave it at that for the time being? The Mine Workers. What about Rubber?
RT: I don’t remember. I think Rubber didn’t do very much. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers, Sidney Hellman, Dubinsky, ILGWU, because of Reuther and the rest of them.
NL: Why Reuther and the other ones? Because they were all Socialists, or they had known each other?
RT: No. Dubinsky was on the CIO Executive.
NL: Oh, that’s right. That’s right. I’m sorry.
RT: And Howard Priters. And what’s his name out here on the West Coast?
NL: Harry Bridges?
RT: Bridges. Those are the kinds. . .UE.
NL: The electrical union?
RT: UE, the United Electrical Workers. Those are the kinds of unions, just the Left unions, mostly. Aluminum did, too.
NL: Smelters and Refiners, or something like that?
RT: Oh, yes, the guy that got kicked out. What the hell was his name? Yeah, the Miners, the Western Miners, Smelters and Refineries, yes. That’s where the money come from. Very little money come from anybody or place except for the Miners.
NL: Except for the Miners. Were there any individuals who gave, you know, what we call a fairly significant contribution?
RT: Yes, some of the GM stockholders gave. Mrs. Pinchot. . .
NL: Oh, Gifford Pinchot’s. . .
RT: The governor of Pennsylvania.
NL: Yeah, right. Later became Secretary of the Interior, didn’t he, or had been?
RT: I don’t know. She was a GM stockholder. She gave money. I forget now. It was not very much. But we had some GM stockholders that gave money, a few of them. But it didn’t amount to very much. But, you know, it meant something to even say that we had GM stockholders giving money, which we did. But we publicized Mrs. Pinchot, because she gave, I guess, five hundred dollars.
NL: Was there any attempt to raise funds, other than from workers, in and around Flint? Any organized committees to go out and raise money?
RT: Not money. Food, yes. The women did that. Dorothy organized that with the merchants.
NL: So she went to the merchants. What about farmers? You had a committee that was in charge of going out to farmers, didn’t you?
RT: Yes. Dorothy organized that, too. And they brought in piles of vegetables and things like that we used for Fisher 1, at the strike kitchen.
NL: Why did the farmers do that? In some cases they didn’t even charge you?
RT: No, they didn’t charge us anything. I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Dorothy about that or why the farmers did.
NL: Okay, the reason I raise that is if they’d been from families that had been in the Farmers’ Alliance or old labor ties.
RT: I don’t know. I never knew. Dorothy took care of that. She brought in lots of vegetables and stuff from the farms. Why, I don’t know. But I was satisfied to have the stuff, because I was too busy with other stuff.
NL: Cochran implies in his book that, of the strike fund, that the CP had control of these funds. He makes that statement.
RT: It’s not true. I signed every check. Every check that was over one dollar I signed. And I wouldn’t sign it unless it was for something and went to the people that got it. Because, you see, when it was in the union fund, we were afraid it would be stopped, you attached. So I had my personal account, my personal account. And, incidentally, there’s a member of the University of Michigan or University of California, head of the Art Department, here in L.A. Her name is Olga Richards. She’s the head. She was my secretary, and she was the one that looked at every check before it was sent to me for a signature.
NL: And she’s here in California.
RT: She’s here in California. She was here in California. Where she is now. . .Maybe she’s retired now.
NL: But she was at the University of California. Where?
RT: At UCLA.
NL: At UCLA, in the Art Department.
NL: We’ll look her up.
RT: Yes. Her name was Olga Richards. Her husband was Gene Richards, a worker. By the way, he was another guy at Buick. Gene Richards’s father is the father of Buick Motor. . . He built the first Buick motor.
NL: No kidding.
NL: For old David Dunbar Buick himself.
RT: That’s right. He designed and built the first motor.
NL: I’ll be. . .
RT: Gene Richards.
NL: That’s good.
RT: I forgot what plant he worked in, but he. . .Gene. . .his wife was my secretary, my first secretary. She was a very good gal. They were Russians.
NL: Bob, I want to switch to something else now. As I say, we’re kind of shooting snakes at random here. I’ve got some questions about the other union. . .well, the other unions in Flint at the time. And we started off before, before we got on tape, about the bus strike and the bus, trolley car strike, which began before the Sit-Down and ended afterwards. It didn’t end ‘til March. Did the UAW ever intend to organize the drivers as part of the UAW? Or. . .they of course had their own federated local, didn’t they?
RT: No, they didn’t.
NL: They were unorganized in Flint?
RT: They were unorganized.
NL: So when they went out in November, or whenever it was, in Flint or early December, they had no union at all.
RT: No union at all, except I didn’t have time to work on them. But we organized them from an organizational point of view. And finally, later put ‘em into the transportation union, whatever the hell that was. But the strike went along so long that during the strike and after the strike I had a hell of a time getting them back to work. Did you ever know how I got them back?
RT: I don’t know whether if this is still the thing. We had a ten-cents-an-hour increase for them, for recognition of their grievance committee and their union and the whole business. Except I couldn’t, they wouldn’t accept that kind of ten cents. So I worked out a compromise with the bus striker’s committee. All right, suppose that we take one day’s toll, one day’s take from the buses for the union, and we divide that up among every man that belongs to the union that works under the transportation. They finally bought that after a week or so of trying to work out some kind of compromise that would get them back to work. They did that. And what we did. . .incidentally, Dorothy helped in this, too. I set up a committee to go down and see all merchants that agreed to go out and put something in the box for the drivers. So J. C. Penney, the big stores, all of them took a check, some kind of a check (I don’t know what it was), and put it in there so that the drivers split that money up, that take for the day, from twelve o’clock to twelve o’clock at night. That was the money that they took. And those buses were just loaded that day. And the big shots, the businesses went out and put money into the box. So they had a hell of a lot of money that day. But one of the reasons I had trouble gettin’ them back to work is because of the guys that had individual bus runs themselves in their cars. Do you know about that?
RT: The strikers. We had strikers, both bus drivers and GM strikers, that had cars who would put a card in their window, saying “North Saginaw.” Anybody in North Saginaw could ride that and put anything they wanted into the cup. And they were making so goddamned much money I couldn’t get them to quit. Ten cents an hour wouldn’t help ‘em at all.
NL: It was a jitney service that paid off.
RT: Oh, it really paid off. Some guys had the east, over on another run, East Saginaw or whatever the hell the streets were. I’ve forgot what the streets were. They had different streets. South Saginaw bus would go once a day, you know. They’d go out there and take a whole load. They’d hurry back and get another load.
NL: When did this, kind of jitney service. . .did that start before the Sit-Down?
RT: Jesus, I don’t know.
NL: The reason I ask the question. . .
RT: I think so, because they didn’t. . . Yes, it started after the Sit-Down, while we were on strike. So the strikers didn’t have. . . Well, maybe some of the bus drivers. . .Maybe it was started. . .a few of ‘em started before.But it got so goddamned big, that everybody had a different run to take. If there wasn’t any run to some place, they’d make one, you know.
NL: But the reason I ask that, Bob, is. . .now that you mention it. It means that strikers, whether they were bus strikers or GM strikers, not only those driving the cars, but those who, let’s say the average rank-and-file guy who didn’t have a car, had a means to get around town.
NL: He could get downtown to the Pengelly Building, and he didn’t have to have a car necessarily, because the jitneys were gonna run, and he could pick one up.
RT: And he didn’t have to pay anything, except if he wanted to, into that cup.
NL: So you had an internal―in terms of the city―an internal communication network.
RT: Right, right. We had buses going every place that the city buses went.
NL: Did you, as the organizer, or the UAW, play any role in organizing the jitneys or laying out the routes?
RT: Well, I met with Fred Stevens, who was the president of that committee. And we worked out. He says, “Some of these guys want to put their cards in their cars.” I said, “Let ‘em go ahead. That’s fine.” And from then on, Fred took over, and he organized the whole thing, Fred and Dorothy. They made sure. . .sometimes there were two buses going to the same place at the same time, you know. So Dorothy would keep the guys spaced better. I don’t know what they did, but they did a damned good job, so good that I had a hell of a time gettin’ ‘em back to work. I had to almost hit ‘em on the head. And I had to work out a special deal. I still don’t know.Sometime you should ask and let me know if they still have that day. Once a year they were supposed to have that day.
NL: What day?
RT: That the take would go to the people.
NL: I don’t know, but I’ll check it out.
RT: Check it out.
NL: I will. Another question: Was there a tactical connection between the bus strike and the Sit-Down Strike? In other words, there was some writer, some people have felt that efforts might be made to forcefully break the strike, the bus strike. And then the autoworkers would walk out in sympathy. Anything to that?
RT: No, no, the strikers, they began organizing about the same time. So we had about the same people. For instance, Fred Stevens, who was one of the leaders of the bus drivers, would often meet with us in GM, you know, and would know what was going on in GM. We had no connection between the two, but they supported one another. The bus strikers supported the strikers in the Sit-Downs and the Sit-Downers. And the people on the outside, the Flying Squadron, supported the bus strikers, you see. That’s when this DeLong guy was shot. There was one bus striker shot. I don’t remember what his name was―Bud, or something. Earl? Earl, Earl.
NL: Earl DeLong. That’s right.
RT: But Earl and Fred did a bang-up job, too goddamned good. I told them, “Jesus Christ, turn it down, turn it down.” After I’d helped them to negotiate this damn thing for ten cents. We only got a nickel, you know. And here we got ten cents for them, and I had a hell of a time gettin’ them back to work.
NL: There was another strike on at the same time.
RT: Standard Cotton.
NL: Standard Cotton.
NL: And the only couple of people that we’ve been able to find anything about over there were a couple of guys named Thrasher, Thrasher brothers.
NL: John was one, and Fred or something like that, Frank.
NL: Standard Cotton apparently went down before. As I understand it, it went down before the Sit-Down Strike, and it lasted a long time, too.
RT: Well, it lasted because of the fact that they couldn’t. . .You see, they provided cotton for the rest of the GM bodies. I GM didn’t take the cotton, they had to stay on strike. But Thrasher brothers were SP members, SPs, Socialist Party. And Reuther was very interested in Standard Cotton. Well, so was I. And so we’d help them wherever we could.
NL: But there was no joint kind of effort. Did you meet with them very often, the people over there?
RT: We supported them. Yes, we met with them and supported them and gave them food. And we took care of the problems they had. Wait a minute. Now here comes Rudi.
TAPE NO. 4
DATE: December 15, 1978
INTERVIEWER: Neil Leighton
INTERVIEWEE: Bob Travis, Los Angeles, California
NL: This is an interview with Bob Travis on December 15, 1978. You know, we mentioned the steward system in the plants. And it’s really kind of an approach to industrial democracy.
NL: A lot of people have written about it back then, and so on. Am I right in saying that you essentially saw industrial democracy as a decentralized approach?
RT: Right. Decentralizing. . .
NL: Allowing local unions to have a lot of autonomy.
RT: Yeah. Like, if the Teamsters had one steward for each twenty members, they could determine what was going to go into that contract and elect their own negotiating committee, what a different place that would be!
NL: Yeah. When we look back on the Flint situation, you have finished the strike, and you had put together from the beginning, when you first came in, you had to put all the people together, because you didn’t have very many, 122 into one thing called Local 156. And yet, from the end of the strike, for the next six, seven months that you’re in Flint, there’s a lot of pressure on you to break that local up, which occurred. Because that’s what we’ve got: 659, 699, 581, and so on. What was your position on that?
RT: We’ll break it up once we break General Motors. We didn’t break it until after the strike.
NL: Right. No, I know, that’s why I say after the strike. You had Local 156. You had to do that during the strike. But afterwards did you see, right from that point on, that you were gonna have to break it up by divisions that parallel General Motors, or did you want to keep Local 156 as a big, single local?
RT: No, I didn’t want to keep it that way. I wanted each local union to have its own executive. And actually, in Chevrolet, we had added what we called (what the hell was that?) “delegated body,” from different plants, you know. And we elected, I forgot what they elected (the CIO wasn’t in that). But I proposed it before I left. You can’t have a meeting of 26,000 people at Chevrolet in one local to have a local meeting to decide a problem, a policy. So on policy questions, we had a delegated meeting. It was something like the shop steward system, you see, but less. It wasn’t one for twenty. I forget what the figure was. I think it was many more than one per twenty, maybe one for fifty or maybe one for a hundred. I don’t know. But the local, the Chevrolet local, decided that. They have a delegated body now. I don’t know whether Buick does or not. They do have?
NL: No, I don’t know. I don’t know.
RT: Because Chevrolet does have a delegated body, I think, and on policy questions, they can call this delegated body together. You see, for instance, if they were gonna have a strike, they would have to call the delegated body together and get an agreement for or against the strike before the Executive would vote it, you see.
NL: Bob, do you see the structure of not only the UAW, but some of the other unions? Now, one of the reasons that they’ve become so hierarchical, so centralized, is that they gave in to a convenient way of organizing, which was organizing themselves along the same way that the plant or the industry that they were dealing with was organized.
NL: It was a convenient way to approach it. They could do it as a parallel fashion. They didn’t have to. . .
RT: Yeah. You know, we weren’t sociologists. We weren’t schooled in the ways of attempting to spread democracy or thin it out. But they’d know how to thin it out. We didn’t. And they thinned it out, and we did the same thing. We loved them to influence us by thinning the democracy down to nothing.
NL: Did you run into a problem after the. . .no, you left Flint in August of ’37, the end of the summer. And that was it. I mean you were pretty well finished with Flint, then.
NL: So what went on after that you didn’t have much control over. By the end of the summer, had you been able to see. . .? Well, we mentioned, before that tape got all messed up, the question of wildcat strikes and that they didn’t come off, because you were able to establish discipline, drawing on your own experience in Toledo, of what happened when that type of thing happened, that the company would pick up and move, or a number of problems. There was some pressure for wildcats, though, over local grievances, right, from guys?
RT: Yes, yes, yes.
NL: And was there occasional roughing up of a foreman now and then?
RT: I imagine so, but. . .
NL: Did the foremen, by and large though, straighten out?
RT: Oh, yes, by and large the foremen. . .many of the foremen were in agreement with us. But we, when there was a foreman roughed up, that would be a highlight that they would publicize. But we would play it down, and we would tell the other guys, “Take it easy. Calm down, and cool it.” And in many cases, we would agree that maybe we should do something drastic, but in a disciplined way. For instance, if we had a stoppage in some place, we would stop some. . .we’d never stop, because 25 guys on the line, 20 of ‘em belong to the union and five didn’t. We didn’t stop with the other five. We didn’t make them guys stop, ‘cause we were on a deadline, you see. We had six months. And we couldn’t upset the apple cart there. But, for instance, if some foreman cussed out a worker or made a worker go from this job to that job and cut his pay or something like that, then we might stop. But it was only on something that would be worthwhile that we could do it, and where we were in a good position of making management responsible for it, because of the management’s or the foreman’s action, you see, and where we always prepared ourselves. Background. . .here’s why we did it. Because this guy said he was a son of a bitch and he made him do this and that and the other and speeded up the line and this and that and the other, too fast or something like that, then we had a good argument. But some crappy reason we didn’t allow.
NL: Okay. I think we didn’t get it on the other tape, but did you, by the end of the six months in Flint, . . .I guess you were still in Flint by the end of those six months.
NL: Had you signed up overwhelming numbers in Flint itself? Now, just Flint.
NL: Did you have any time by that summer of ’37 to look around and see what kind of an impact the strike had had on not only the membership in those things you could measure, but, let’s say, acts of violence in the plant?I don’t mean against General Motors. I mean man against man.
RT: We didn’t have too much of that. We had some of that. Some of the hotheads would take on an anti-union bastard and knock the hell out of him, but. . .
NL: Well, I mean, even like before. Even two fellows, not union or anti-union, but two fellows might, just because of the pressure of working under the condition, . . . Or did you notice much of a change in the working conditions in those six months?
RT: We slowed the line down, we increased the pay five cents an hour. We always had the right. . .during that time, you see, our grievance committee was recognized. We would have so many grievances throughout the plant that we would go through. . . I would sit down with Roy. Maybe there would be 150 grievances to take before management, and we’d pick out maybe one issue that would cover 25 of them. One issue that was speed-up, one issue that would cover another 25 or fifteen, and we’d try to cut down the problems so that if we could settle one grievance, we would have the possibility of settling about fifteen or 25 in one. And so when we went into negotiations, that’s when we would make it short. Maybe we’d have six or eight grievances to handle, but we’d have many, many more grievances, you see, that were overlapping.
DATE: December 15, 1978
INTERVIEWER: Neil Leighton
INTERVIEWEE: Bob Travis
NL: This is an interview with Bob Travis on December 15. Bob, we talked about Standard Cotton and the Thrasher brothers, and you mentioned that you occasionally met with some of the guys from over at Standard Cotton, and you helped ‘em out during the strike with some food and all.
NL: But was that about the extent of it, or was there a lot of . . .?
RT: No, they had troubles there. You see, that had the police there tryin’ to get ‘em out of the plant. They had tried to sit in. They had difficulties. We had to send people over to help them out. The Thrasher brothers were very good guys. We met with them on their contract. You see, I have a notion that it was owned by some of the officials, the sub-officials, in GM, you know.
NL: Ah, so they were lookin’ to make some extra money?
RT: So they ordered cotton from their own company, you see, for their own benefit, individually. GM didn’t own it, but it was some of the officials, but I could never prove that, see.
NL: Well, the guys had trouble over in the plant. They were tryin’ to sit in, and they didn’t have enough horses. Was that it?
RT: That’s right.
NL: So you had to send some guys over to sit in the plant with ‘em.
RT: No, to help them out with advice and with negotiations, and I forgot what else.
NL: Do you remember who the fellows were you sent over?
RT: I think Les Towner.
NL: Les Towner.
RT: I think so. And Roy. . .
NL: Roy Reuther.
RT: ‘Cause he was interested in that, because they were Socialists, and I knew that he would be willing to help.
NL: That’s right. You told me that the Thrashers were SP.
NL: You also had to coordinate getting food over there.
RT: I think Dorothy took care of that. I’m not sure. I know that I asked somebody to make sure that they were taken care of with food and so forth. But I think Dorothy took care of that. Or maybe Genora may have been involved in that, too, Genora and Dorothy both, but I asked one of them or both of them. I don’t know which one now, but to make sure that somebody was covered, you know. And we helped them out in that quite a bit.Their management was a hell of a lot rougher than General Motors!
NL: Oh, really?
RT: Oh, yes.
NL: Did they turn off the heat on ‘em, or?
RT: Yeah, they wanted to. In fact, they had a pitched battle out there a couple of times. But they held out very good.
NL: Did you end up negotiating on a contract, or did they just fall under the general agreement?
RT: No, they didn’t fall under it. They had to negotiate a contract of their own. That’s why I believe that it was somebody other than General Motors, you see. I think it was the guys inside the GM plant that would be ordering the orders, you know, that come down and say, “Order from Standard Cotton.” I think that they still wanted an open shop, if they could get it, because they didn’t settle until after GM did, you see, because if it had been a GM national strike concern, you see, we could have settled that right at the same time. But it wasn’t, you see. That’s what made me believe that it was the down-the-ladder executives in GM that had money in that.
NL: I see. So it wasn’t what they call now a wholly owned subsidiary.
RT: No, no, I don’t think so.
NL: Switching gears from Standard Cotton, were there any other strikes that went on in Flint during the course of the Sit-Down?
RT: Yes, there was a foundry off Dort Highway some place (I don’t know where it is now), a foundry that used to supply, partly, for GM. They made other stuff too. The foundries, we had those on strike. And we went out and settled that during the strike, which meant that it wasn’t GM, you see. It was settled before or after the settlement. They were all being settled at the same time. We figured it wasn’t belonging to GM. And we had the Flint Trailer Coach Company on strike.
NL: They made trucks, semi-trailers, semi-truck trailers?
RT: No, made like today, the trailers back of automobiles. But it was a small trailer, and one of the girls that helped us during the strike, her father owned it, and she was a Communist. And her name was Barbara Wilson.She hated to do that to her father, but she wanted to make sure that she was okay. So she helped to organize the plant itself. But it was a small place. And there were other strikes? Let’s see.
NL: J. C. Penney’s, that went down afterwards, wasn’t it?
RT: No, during the strike.
NL: That went down during the strike.
RT: Yeah, ‘cause, you see, transportation was off their business. They were down. And, oh, what’s the power company there? Consumers Power. We had those on strike. And we had the five dams, power houses on strike.
NL: Where were those dams located?
RT: On the Au Sable. Five of ‘em.
NL: Okay, up above, north.
RT: Had Charlie Killinger in charge of those.
NL: I see. Charlie had been your chauffeur?
RT: No, he was the passer out of the paper.
NL: That’s right, the guy with the ten children, and you sent him out distributing the paper.
RT: Yes, and he called me and said, “Jesus, you know these guys are talking about opening the floodgates on these dams on the Au Sable if Consumers Power won’t negotiate. And that’s when I wrote the famous telegram, “Hold your water,” because Mort had gone to Washington to meet with Wilkie and Consumers Power, you see.
NL: Wendell Wilkie.
RT: Wendell Wilkie was the attorney for the Consumers Power, for their Southern company.
NL: Commonwealth and Southern.
RT: Yes. And Mort went to Washington and settled that strike in Washington with Wilkie. And he considered Wilkie a good guy.
NL: Now, did you eventually have to pull the guy. . .there’s something about pulling the guys off of the dams up there?
RT: No, just “Hold your water”.
NL: “Hold your water” and that’s all.
RT: That’s all. I wanted them to stay right there, but hold the water, for Christ’s sake. It took five years, you see, to back the water up in that dam. That was the “hold your water”.
NL: So that strike was settled then, after the Sit-Down.
RT: Yeah, it must have been because Mort was in Washington. And we settled it for all of Michigan, you see. Consumers Power in Michigan. I don’t know whether it’s still there or not. But they had power companies in Jackson and all over.
NL: Oh, they’re still there. The state’s kind of divided between Consumers Power and Detroit Edison.
RT: Consumers Power, if they still have that contract, that was the one. That was the original contract that was negotiated in Washington with Wendell Wilkie and Mortimer. We had ‘em on strike, of course, in Flint, too, you see. We had Consumers Power in Flint, the workers in Consumers Power on strike. And that’s what Charlie Killinger had with the dams, you see, on the outside. So we had pressure from the dams and the guys in Flint. Now the rest of the places in Grand Rapids and Jackson I don’t know anything about. But they were scared to death of us, and they had a right to be. Five years, you know.
NL: Did you have any kind of long-term objectives for the UAW beyond building a strong union, to get better wages and conditions for the workers, let’s say, as you got into the strike? What I’m thinking about is these long-term objectives, in addition, you know, building one great union, kind of the CIO, that model. But did you and maybe others (and if so, who were they?) every think about how turning this victory. . .?
RT: A revolution?
NL: No, nothing quite that grand. I don’t know. If you did, fine. But I’m thinking in terms of maybe creating a labor party or at least making the UAW a very strong force in local government and state government. And I mean directly.
RT: Local and state, yes. You see, in state, we supported Murphy, before he was elected, you see. During the election, we supported Murphy and not very vigorously, either. But we did it through Henry’s paper and through our meetings. We were more so against. . . We didn’t know Murphy, other than Maurice Sugar knew him and could vouch that he was an okay guy. But he was never tested, you see. It was a question of state against Fitzgerald. That’s what we did mostly, vote against that son of a bitch, Fitzgerald. And naturally we were for Murphy. But in Flint I wanted more workers on the city body to have a voice in what the hell was happening in Flint, because it was their city. That’s as far as I ever went.
NL: That’s as far as you got. Were you still in Flint when the UAW put up the slate of three, maybe four people, for the school board?
RT: Yes, I don’t know. I was in Flint for one person for the school board, a black woman.
NL: Ah, a black woman. You don’t remember her name?
RT: No, and she was gonna be elected. I don’t know where any more.
NL: Did she make it?
RT: No, she got defeated. We were a little bit premature, you see. But we campaigned for her, and I guess we got a pretty good vote, but we didn’t make it. But then the city council, the one guy that had been elected to the city council for the company union who was, to begin with, anti-union, they traded during the strike, rolled over to us, you see. I come out for him then, too. And I’ve forgotten whether we had any more guys on the council. But I was after Bradshaw, the mayor. I’d like to see that son of a bitch in. . .
NL: Did you get him?
RT: I don’t remember.
NL: What about Barringer? He quite not long after?
RT: Barringer, he was the city manager. He was discredited because of our making a fool out of him.
NL: How did you make a fool out of him?
RT: Because he was the guy that the rest of the people in Flint blamed for the winning of the strike. You see, he could never get over that. Even though the strikers were against him, the other people were against him, too, because they said, “What the hell, he’s no good. He can’t do anything.” I don’t know whether that incident of him trying to kill me. . .no, that was Bradshaw. If that was a factor in the defeat of Barringer, I don’t know. But, anyhow, they blamed it all on the whole administration. But the strikers didn’t vote for Bradshaw or Barringer, either one. They said one was as bad as the others, because we said, Barringer, you know, Bradshaw was a former Buick guy, and so was Boysen. And the whole thing, we made our publicity in such a way that the whole thing was a melting pot of General Motors executives, you know. They’re making the decisions and spending the money. How the hell are you gonna. . .? You pay the taxes and they spend the money. I’ve forgotten it, but. . .
NL: Did you get rid of the police chief, do you remember?
RT: Yes, I think so. I don’t know who replaced him. Let’s see, Wills. He was a big blowhard. Of course, he was another one, just like Barringer, another one of the guys that fell by the wayside as a result of the whole. . .
NL: But these guys fell. It really wasn’t so much of kind of a plan on the part of the strike leadership to go after ‘em and throw ‘em out.
RT: No, no, no.
NL: It was just kind of. . .they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
RT: You see we had such a problem. We only had six months to consolidate our place in the shops as a result of the union agreement. In six months, we didn’t have time to take on the city administration. We had to take on GM executives in the shops, and I didn’t want to muddy the waters with too many issues.
NL: Okay, I see. We talked a little bit about this, this morning at breakfast, and I’m kind of interested in it. And that is, after the strike when the International, I think the Executive Board, wanted to take. . . this must have been at the convention in ’37, was it the Executive Board that went after Wyndham Mortimer?
NL: And by implication they were after you, too. And that’s when you were taken out of Flint.
NL: And there are some writers and some observers, even at that time, who were critical of you and Henry Kraus and Dale, was it Robert Dale?
RT: Ralph Dale.
NL: Ralph Dale, for not making a stronger fight to hang on within the UAW. And you mentioned, you know, that this was the question of whether Mortimer would become president or R. J. Thomas.
RT: No, that wasn’t it.
NL: Oh, that was ’39.
RT: Yes. Martin had promised Reuther and me the Ford organizing committee job.
NL: That’s right. Okay, we’ve got that one. Okay, maybe I ought to jump to that election in 1939, the election for union international president.
NL: And that we between, it was boiling down to. . .
RT: Thomas and Mortimer.
NL: That’s it. I’m sorry.
NL: And that was when Hillman was pushing to install Thomas?
NL: Okay, and Murray as well?
RT: Yes. Hillman wasn’t there, but Murray was.
NL: Okay. And some people, you know, were kind of critical at the time that you guys didn’t make a stand and push. And in one case, in this Kieran’s (Roger Kieran’s) thesis, he mentions, in an interview that he had with Will Weinstone, that Will Weinstone admits that he thought this was a mistake, in the long run, looking back at it, that this was a mistake.
RT: Yeah, it sure was a mistake.
NL: I know you told me this morning you thought that, you know, you should have and that’s when you. . .
RT: It changed the whole labor movement of the United States. We had Harry Bridges and Fitzgerald from UE and the rest of the guys that were kicked out, went back into the CIO, if that hadn’t have happened. Because they never could. . .if Mortimer had been president. . .
NL: I guess what I’m getting at was it the CP who was pushing the idea to go slow and back R. J. Thomas, right?
NL: Okay, and it’s at that time that you split with the CP.
RT: I broke, yes.
NL: Okay. Let me see what else we’ve got here. Oh, this is an incident. This is kind of an unrelated incident. We talked a little bit about Henry Kraus yesterday, and there seems to have been an effort by Mike Gorman. Do you remember Mike Gorman, of the Flint Journal?
RT: Yes, he was the managing editor.
NL: Yes, he was, and a very good friend of Alfred Sloan.
RT: Oh, he was?
NL: Yes, we’ve got a whole series of correspondence, “Dear Mike,” “Dear Al.” And there seems to have been―someone mentions (and I don’t know; I don’t know the account here) that Gorman, sometime after the strike, made an effort “to bring Travis into the establishment.” Did Gorman ever talk to you? Not during the strike, now, this is afterward, maybe when you came back to Flint to sell real estate, or anything like that?
NL: No truth to that. He never offered you a job or anything?
NL: Okay. I wanted to ask you on this question of the press. Despite the fact that he would have been light years away from them, did Henry Kraus get along well with the other guys from the press? You know, from the New York Times or the Post, or wherever it was? Did he have good press relations? He knew how to do that.
RT: Yes, he had good press relations, except I was the one that kicked over the traces a number of times. For instance, I said that we wouldn’t allow any press reporters to report anything of the strike in this―even in my office―without a Guild (Newspaper Guild) card.
NL: Oh, yeah. Now the Newspaper Guild was what?
RT: That was the CIO. It was the Newspaper Guild, you see.
NL: Okay, I’ve got it now. It was a CIO affiliate, right.
RT: And Louie Stark came into Flint. He wanted to come into the office, and I said, “Where’s your card?” He said, “What card?” I said, “The Newspaper Guild card, that’s what.” And he said, “I’m not a member of the Newspaper Guild.” And I said, “Get the hell out.” I wouldn’t talk to him. I wouldn’t talk to anybody that wasn’t a member of the Newspaper Guild. Then the New York Times sent in another guy, a financial editor, I think.I forget what the hell his name was. He never come in. He never attempted. He’d write all his stories out of the Durant Hotel. They were GM stories, you see. And that’s what I used, for instance, Bill. . .the AP. . .
NL: Bill Lawrence.
RT: Bill Lawrence used him to say that so-and-so was a Newspaper Guild reporter, a newspaper reporter from GM, a scab reporter from the New York Times, you know, or the name of so-and-so, and he would carry that in the wires, the AP wires. But he couldn’t, see, he couldn’t even find out what was going on.
NL: I see. So you had the ability to cut the New York Times right out of the picture.
RT: Yes, yes. But they wrote pro-GM stories for GM, out of the Durant Hotel.
NL: But was Henry normally not your personal link, but the guy who accommodated the press, took care of ‘em, showed them around, even the Guild fellows?
RT: Yes. If I didn’t do it, he did it.
NL: Okay. But the only contacts with the press came through you and Henry.
RT: Right. Well, Mort was there. Roy was there. We’d involve Roy, Vic, or Henry, or me, us four. We would make the. . .
NL: Those were the only authorized statements.
RT: Yes. Occasionally they would quote Ralph Dale in Buick and so forth and so on, which was all right. I didn’t mind that.
NL: Well, you couldn’t keep that tight a rein on them. Did you ever give the guys in the plants instructions on how to deal with the press?
NL: ‘Cause I would imagine a lot of ‘em never had much practice.
RT: No, and I told ‘em that “anytime the press comes to tell the goddamned truth, that’s all. But don’t lie and don’t let them ask you the kind of questions that would confuse you. But always tell the truth.” Because if they lied, they would have jumped on the hell of them. We’d jump on them. And we’d use Bill Lawrence to jump on ‘em if we had to. Any story that they told a lie about, we’d refute it through the Associated Press through Bill Lawrence.
NL: Because Lawrence was a Guild man?
RT: Because Lawrence was a Guild man, yes. He was just out of school, and he was a good kid.
NL: In organizing this strike and carrying it off, and in the three plants, but particularly Fisher 2 and Fisher 1, you must have had some skilled workers. We talked earlier today with Rudi. And you must have had some skilled workers. Did you have any problems with the skilled workers wanting to be treated differently?
NL: So, they were desperate by the time you got to December.
RT: Only to the extent at Fisher, where we had the press men, you know, pressing things for panels and things like that and dies. They were represented by Harris.
NL: Bert Harris.
RT: Bert Harris, you see.
NL: The Legionnaire?
RT: The Legionnaire. Sometimes we had problems with Bert Harris. Maybe he was right about our attempt to separate these two groups, and we didn’t take them into account. I thought, well, maybe I should give it more thought, you know. And if I did, I would go out and talk to these guys individually and convince them that they should join in the whole. . .the overall. You see, some of ‘em wanted to―well, they were―some of ‘em had been MESA.
NL: I was just going to ask you. Had they been to the MESA?
RT: Yes, some of ‘em had been with MESA.
NL: And that had collapsed around ‘em, hadn’t it?
RT: Well, it had just about collapsed, because here they were sitting in the plant with the UAW. And they weren’t so articulate about their rights as MESA, because now they were members of two unions, you see. So I didn’t push too hard against them. And I recognized their grievances. I said that they should get more money and so forth. But Bud did, too.
NL: He did?
RT: Yes. But I was afraid of Bert using this, you see, to advance the interests of Black Legion, so I’d be very careful about the whole thing.
NL: How would he have used it to advance the Black Legion?
RT: Well, he would support the guys who were former MESA, that they wanted more money and they wanted this and they wanted that. I don’t know whether because they wanted it or that it raised legitimate questions.Whether Black Legionnaires or not, I didn’t want them to get the idea that I was against that, you see. So to enhance Bert Harris’s ability to influence them for the Black Legion, I wanted to reduce his possibility of proselytizing for the Black Legion on the basis of the legitimate grievances that they had with money and skilled workers.
NL: Aha. The question of skilled workers, then: Did they ever consider themselves, oh, I guess they’ve used the term “the aristocracy of labor.” Did you ever notice any of that, particularly?
RT: No, not during the strike.
NL: Not in the auto industry.
RT: Not in the auto industry during the strike. You see, they were captive workers, and they were in the skilled trades because of the fact that they worked for General Motors the same as the rest of the guys. Had it been individual shops. . .we still have problems. In Ford, for instance, there’s always a skilled trades department, you see, in Ford. But I don’t know whether they have a separate agreement or what. But in the last agreement they were considering going on strike in Ford.
NL: Yes, I remember reading about that. You mentioned, Bob, that you were in favor of the skilled workers getting more money. What happened to the notion? Or did it get lost along the way, or was it necessity, to the idea of “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs”?
RT: Well, I proposed that they perform according to their abilities. And it’s obvious that in the ability in the assembly, there was two persons together and screwin’ them up is a hell of a lot different than taking a diagram and making a die out of a block of steel. So I think that their abilities should be. . .
NL: Okay, we’ll leave the skilled workers.
RT: The apprentices, you see.
NL: Oh, what about apprentices?
RT: The die workers mostly were made right there in GM, as a result of their apprentice program. And they had to go through an apprentice program that paid less money than the assemblies go, you see. And that’s another basis for the higher pay for the skilled worker than the assembler or the ordinary worker.
NL: I see. Bob, I want to kind of go to the end of the strike and the period after it, but before I do, I got one last question on this part, and then we just have a couple more, and we’re finished. In your dealings with General Motors, right from the time in October, when you got sent up there, not dealings with General Motors, but concerning the strike, and you read the Security Exchange Commission Report, and you studied that. And that’s a stroke of genius. But in your studies and so on, what did you notice about, or did you uncover anything concerning the du Pont affiliation with General Motors? At any time did you find the du Pont Corporation, their executives, calling the shots?
RT: No, I didn’t find that during the reports, but I did find out how General Motors used these other plants to make money. They must have kept two books of costs. For instance, in Guide Lamp. Guide Lamp never made a dime for its operations, because all of their production went from Guide Lamp to Detroit. And Detroit would charge Guide Lamp with a certain amount of money for a lamp, and they could only produce it for so much, you see. And then they would put that lamp on the car and who knows how that other set of books, you see, would make the profit on that lamp. That was theirs so they wouldn’t have to pay taxes on that. Oh, they only made one tax on a car. That was the only tax they paid. You see, the rest of the plants all operated just losing a few dollars or making a few dollars, you see. But they never allowed GM or Delco Remy where they had the generators, you know, and the starting motors and all of the motors that they had there. And they’d just make a few dollars out of Delco Remy. How did they keep their head above waters? But then, when they went to send it to Cadillac, how much they charged for the one to the government, they would say that they charged Delco Remy so much money for the generator. And then they would bring that generator and put it on the car.And then they would price the car at so much money, know, so high, that they never broke that down. Don’t you see? And that’s where they made their money. And they didn’t have to pay high taxes for Delco Remy or Guide Lamp or any of these places. That’s how they did it. That’s how they made billions, millions and millions of dollars. And they always paid their big plant managers lots of money, because they had their financial guys in each place, you know, deciding what the cost of production was, and they would tell them what the cost of production was, quietly. And then they could raise it. If the cost of production was fifty dollars, they could raise it to a hundred dollars, don’t you see? And they could only make one profit on the car. The rest of these damn plants, even the assembly plants, didn’t make any money, never made money. The corporation itself made the big money. And that’s how they did it.
NL: That’s one thing. And the other is, at the final negotiations, from February 2nd to the 11th, and after John L. Lewis comes in, one of the fellows who signs on that agreement for the General Motors Corporation is an attorney for du Pont. Did you ever run into any documents, any information, on the role of du Pont, in General Motors?
RT: Only on Sloan. He was a du Pont man, wasn’t he?
NL: I don’t know. Well, du Pont was one of the big investors in General Motors, right at the founding in 1910.
RT: Yes, I know.
NL: And Pierre du Pont sat on the Board for years, until recently, when they were forced to divest, whatever that means, of General Motors stock. They’ve always been probably the largest single block of capital in the company.
RT: Well, Mott was the largest single. . .
NL: Yeah, as a person, but du Pont as a corporation.
RT: Well, yeah.
NL: And raised quite a big block of money, for years. And I just wondered whether you had ever. . . A lot of people talk about the General Motors-du Pont connection, and it’s a mystery to some extent.
RT: Well, I wasn’t smart enough, nor was I alert enough, even to think about the connection, because I knew that whether they were du Pont or Rockefeller or whoever the hell they were, they were all together, and I didn’t take any time out to find who was what in GM other than du Pont. I noticed that du Pont had a big share of GM stock, but I know that Mott had the most.
NL: Yes, yes, that’s true. When he died, you know, he was the twelfth richest man in the United States.
RT: Is that right? Jesus.
NL: And he lived right there in Flint, Michigan. And I can’t believe the generations of people who have gone through that town and never known where it was at. I guess I was one of them.
RT: I know that he used to get a million and so, just dividend checks, every year, that he put into the Mott Foundation. And imagine the stock splits that took place. Year after year it kept mounting up and mounting up, ‘til he was getting so much money that he had to put his whole family on the list of owners of that stock.
NL: At the end of the strike and in fact a little while after that, you mentioned (and this comes from the earlier tape that you did with Sidney Fine) that Flint was in a strong strategic position to make policy for the General Motors empire after the strike. And by that you meant the UAW locals.
NL: And you made a suggestion, a recommendation, that a General Motors council―not the company, but unions―set up with representatives on it from each of the locals, and since you knew all the fellows from Toledo and a fair number from Saginaw, because you’d been working up there as well. And you wanted to put this council together for the purpose of consolidating in each situation kind of on a uniform basis. In other words, to begin to work out some uniform policies, so that apparently I guess what you mean is that each local would know what was happening in all the other places. What was so significant about that General Motors council idea?Was it ever adopted?
RT: It was defeated. Reuther was against it. Reuther, he beat me by one vote, one goddamn vote in the GM council.
NL: What did he want in place of it?
RT: He wanted what I wanted in place of it. It was sort of a test vote. I wanted a shop steward system in the GM locals, one for twenty, one steward to be recognized by GM, instead of a committee of nine people representing 26,000 people, you know.
NL: You mean a grievance committee.
RT: I told him you put that kind of a local executive in the local dealing with GM, it’s goddamn easy for them to spend millions of dollars to buy six or eight people of those nine. But they had one out of twenty men to deal with in that shop stewards, you know. I patterned it after England.
NL: Ah, yes. Where did you pick up the idea? You read it?
RT: I read it, and also I talked with this woman. . .
NL: Ah, yes, the lady from Parliament. I can’t remember her name, but I have it down [Wilkerson].
RT: I talked with her about the shop steward movement, and she was very excited about it. And therefore I became very excited. Then I wanted a shop steward instead of. . . I said that the local executive could deal with the local union business, but in terms of dealing with the company, the shop stewards would make recommendations for the negotiating committee to negotiate, you see. He didn’t want the shop stewards.
NL: He wanted the executive committee.
RT: He wanted the executive committee.
NL: Any idea what was behind his thinking, why he wanted it?
RT: I don’t know, because he thought it was too hard to control, see.
NL: I see. Reuther, in many ways, then, wanted that centrally directed.
RT: Yes, he wanted that centrally directed thing, where I wanted to open it up, you see, for the men in the shops themselves to make their own decisions and their own recommendations as to what the hell to negotiate on, you see. And the negotiating committee would come from this group of shop stewards and then the negotiating committee would have to come back and report to the shop stewards on what they got or what they didn’t get, see.
NL: And this group of shop stewards, would they. . . I guess where I’m getting confused is on the General Motors council idea.
NL: How did that work into this?
RT: Well, after Reuther beat me by one vote, many of my supporters left me. And then I got on the council. Then this guy that Reuther put in charge of GM was the guy that had me fired from my. . .a guy from Pontiac. . .what the hell was his name?
RT: No. He’s in Canada now. He’s vice president of the Canadian Railways now.
NL: Oh, no, no, he became Prime Minister.
RT: I can’t remember this guy’s name. Anyhow, he was the guy that called my foreman in this tool and die plant one day before I was to get seniority. He fired me and hired this seniority man.
NL: And when did that firing take place? That was after the strike, wasn’t it?
NL: Was it after the war?
RT: It was after the strike and after. . . You see, I was fired in St. Louis, and it was before. . . God, I can’t remember when it was. But in any case, that General Motors council was right after the strike was over, you see.
NL: Yeah, the idea of the council.
RT: The idea of the council was just like you said.
NL: Just what I said, okay. Who did you say was going to be the director of that?
RT: Well, I was gonna be the director, but Reuther beat me there, too.
NL: Oh, did he?
RT: By red-baiting and so forth.
NL: So that’s where Reuther really first shows his hand, in a sense.
RT: Well, he showed before.
NL: Is that where the split takes place, then, the split that really begins to. . .
RT: No, before that. The split took place on this senator from Ohio, I think it was. Ah, I think Burch. Not Burch. . .
NL: It began with a “B,” though.
RT: Burch Amendment or something like that.
RT: No, not Burt.
RT: No. It began with a “B” anyhow. And whether we wanted to vote for or against war, do you remember?
RT: That’s when the real split took place, and from that point on, Reuther went this way, and we went this way.
NL: Now, that amendment would have come along a lot later than ’37. I guess what I was getting at is the split in the union itself, kind of the united front encounters its first real stress, doesn’t it, right here at this point we’re talking about, about the General Motors council and about the shop stewards and Reuther red-baiting. Was he pointing the finger at you, particularly?
RT: No. In our whole group, he didn’t point any individual out. But he said, you know, Stalin is trying to take over control of the union and so forth. And he did scare a lot of people.
NL: So that was right there in the summer of ’37, right after the strike?
RT: I think it must have been, yes.
NL: So the union goes through a period in which it’s so absorbed. Is this correct? Correct me if I am wrong. The union goes through this period right after the strike where it is so split internally over this that it doesn’t get a chance to. . .
NL: Consolidate. Is that right?
RT: Yes, that’s right.
NL: In this same period, after the strike, February 11, 1937, the strike’s over.
RT: Before that.
NL: Let’s say it’s February 11, 1937, and let’s say maybe it’s a couple of days before that. If you’d held a vote, as you said to Sidney Fine earlier, if you’d held a vote in the plants, the GM plants, whether the men wanted to vote for a union or not, what would have been the result? In other words, before February 11th now, a few days before, let’s say.
RT: We would have won.
NL: We would have won.
RT: Yes. Remember, we had seventeen plants, or nineteen plants, sitting down. You figure that forty percent were sitting down, sixty percent were on the outside. We’d only have to pick up ten percent or fifteen percent on the outside vote to vote for the union. And there had been so much publicity on the strike throughout America on this nineteen plants that are on, you know. Some of ‘em would have voted no, but most of ‘em would have voted yes.
NL: Okay. So if there had been, although there wasn’t in those days, like a labor relations board vote, you would have won it.
RT: I think we would have won it. If we could have negotiated with GM about total vote of GM employees, they would have said, well, “How ‘bout the plants that are not sittin’ down?” See, we would have had to rule those out. But I think we would have won, not very heavily, because there was a lot of anti-union sentiment outside the plants, you see. We couldn’t count on it. But I think we would have squeaked through.
NL: Bob, after the agreement, February 11th, you’ve got six months to sign guys up. You signed this agreement. What was it like in terms of signing people up? Was there a big onrush for those. . . Now I’m talking about the guys who. . . Obviously you had people come out of the plants who had their cards already signed. You had some people who had been on the outside. Was there a tremendous rush to sign up?
RT: No, we had the executives from each struck plant in.
NL: All over the country or just Flint?
RT: And I indicated, “You guys have got to be diplomats. You’ve got to be good union men on one hand and firm on the other and stand up for your rights, but not to the extent of argumentative problems. Go in there. . .”And I put on a demonstration. You know me and dramatics. I said, “Now look here, you guys. I want one of you up here on the platform, and I’m gonna be the union man, and you’re gonna be the non-union. I’ve got to convince you to be the union.” So we go up and I have a five or ten-minute discussion with them. “How ‘bout joining the union?” “Why the hell do I have to join the union?” Back and forth like this, you know. And each time I would counteract his arguments and give him a better argument, you see, until finally, we did this twice or three times with different groups, and even I learned a lot about the goddamned thing, because I didn’t know how to do it either!
NL: Was anybody showing you how to do it?
NL: You guys just did this on your own.
RT: That’s right, and we went in. And the same way with the shop committees. How do you take up a grievance? I did the same thing there. We had grievances right there. And I was the shop foreman, and he was a shop so-and-so, or else vice versa. And we learned right there, the best we could. But that’s the way we started. And that’s how I made sure. I said, “No swearing or no arguing or no busting heads or no fighting or this or that or the other, but actually, honestly, lay your cards on the table,” and propose that these guys show them where they will better themselves, better their family. The educational system would be better, and the town would be much better without a General Motors executive in the head of the city, you know, so our taxes would be spent for you, instead of. . . And each time, I got new ideas as we went along, you know, about what we should do.
NL: How successful was the sign-up drive?
RT: In six months, GM had to just give up, you see, except in Chevrolet. Chevrolet hired 50 or 75 guys to police the plant with billy clubs for six months, you see.
NL: Just in Chevrolet?
RT: Yes, just in Chevrolet?
NL: Why there?
RT: I don’t know, but it was because of the fascist, Lenz. These guys were supposed to go around to watch and see that we didn’t take advantage of any of these guys. We weren’t supposed to discuss in the shop, you see, during working hours. That was it. Lunch hour we could do all we wanted. But after six months, we were able to go around. Even the women, among the women in AC Spark Plug, the women did a good job over there.
NL: You managed to sign up Chevrolet, just the same, cops or no―I mean goons or no goons?
RT: Yes, yeah. Yes. Of course, I had a goon, one of my own goons, there. See, Kent Williams was one of the. . . You see, on the question of these billies, I protested it to Lenz immediately afterwards, sent him a wire about protesting the use of these billy clubs, you know, and these intimidations. If they were gonna have guards, that was all right, but no intimidation. And he got scared about that, too, I guess. And then later, when Kent reported that he knew where these billy clubs were coming from―they were being made right there in Chevrolet. And I wrote to Lenz, “I know where they’re being made. I know that they’re made in such and such a building and so and so many production per hour.” And he didn’t know what the hell was goin’ on. You know, he thought he had a tight ship. But it wasn’t as tight as he thought it was.
NL: In that six months that you were signing up workers, you must have had guys feeling their oats! In other words, here they had been for years working in Flint, and all of a sudden. . .[TAPE ENDS HERE]