DATE: April 17, 1980
INTERVIEWEE: Cecil Hendricks
INTERVIEWER: Kenneth West
WEST: You took part in that 1930 strike, then. Do you remember the efforts to form that...?
HENDRICKS: Well, not very much, only that we were unaffiliated, and we were a small group. Well, I mean just that one shop, you know, and I don’t remember what membership was. But he was our president.
WEST: Yes. What sort of a man was Comstock? Do you...?
HENDRICKS: I never got that well acquainted with him. Really he didn’t work in my department.
WEST: What department was it that led that, took the lead in that strike, then? Do you recall, sir?
HENDRICKS: At that time?
WEST: Yes, in 1930.
HENDRICKS: No, I don’t.
WEST: You were working on the line then, were you?
HENDRICKS: Yeah. I started there in 1927.
WEST: That’s interesting, because when you started in 1927, you were working on wooden bodies.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yes, up ‘til ’34, I think, when all-steel...
WEST: All-steel bodies. Did that make quite a transition, quite a change, in your way of working, then, changing from wood to metal?
HENDRICKS: Well, some. You didn’t have... For one thing, where you had to drill holes for screws, you had to use high-speed drills instead of carbon drills, you see, for the wood.
WEST: I see. Was it more intense, the pressure, then?
HENDRICKS: Well, no. At that time it hadn’t to where they were speedin’ up so much. But year after year, it gradually worked up to it, see.
WEST: You think the speed got more intense over the years before the strike?
HENDRICKS: Oh, yes. Yeah. And then not only that, we were on piecework up to the time of the strike. You understand that. And every time a new model would come out, why, the piecework rates would be cut from what they was the year before, so, in order to make the same money, naturally you had to work a little harder.
WEST: In other words, when the model changes came around, you’d drop back to the original sort of rate, did you?
HENDRICKS: No, well, after with the model change, we’d be down, you know, to change model. Then when we’d start up, we might have worked two months before we knew what our piecework rates would be. We worked day work up to that time, or hourly.
WEST: I wonder. Was it tougher to get your efficiency or your production up when you moved to metal? Did it take a longer while to adjust to that at all?
HENDRICKS: No, I don’t think so.
WEST: What was your particular job?
HENDRICKS: Well, I started in and I put in carpets and robe rattles. I worked that a couple of years. That would have been in the rear-seat compartment, you know, where the front seat wasn’t in yet. And I think it’s four or six grommets you put in there that the carpet snapped down on. Yeah, the front seats were in, too, because I put the robe rattles on the back. Do you remember when the robe rattle...?
WEST: No, I’m not too familiar with that.
HENDRICKS: Well, it was just what it says, just a...
WEST: A rig to put robes on. Were you working on that, then, at the time of the strike, ’37?
HENDRICKS: No. ’37 I was working on rear quarter windows, I believe. Put a little window that went in the rear.
WEST: Right. Did you work with teams then on that? I’m just wondering how the work force was organized, whether you could get to know certain people pretty well on that line.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yes, yeah, yeah. Oh, yes.
WEST: Well, you went on strike, then, in 1930, and there are a number of names that I, as I say, picked off out of the newspapers. These were people who signed the bylaws for this Flint Auto Workers Association. And there was a Roy Carlson, William Pollock, and a couple of Setteringtons, Mrs. Lulu Setterington and Douglas Setterington. Did you know any of those? Do any of those ring a bell? It’s been so long.
HENDRICKS: Nobody that...
WEST: Jack Lindgren, Russell Barrett, Tracy Heath.
HENDRICKS: Tracy Heath, I knew him. He was from our department.
WEST: I see. So there were some from your department, then, that...
HENDRICKS: Well, at least one. I don’t recognize them other names.
WEST: What was the essential grievance, then, that brought people out in 1930?
HENDRICKS: I don’t know if I could put my finger on it, to tell if it was this or this.
WEST: Was it wages or conditions?
WEST: The strike, of course, was a failure.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yes.
WEST: And it must have left a chilling...
HENDRICKS: It did. I’m awful sorry that I didn’t... I’ve lost my membership card that I had at that time, ‘cause that would have been a good one to keep. But, over the years, I don’t know how them things happens.
WEST: Well, that would have been that independent association, wouldn’t it?
HENDRICKS: Oh, yes, yeah.
WEST: Because the AFL comes along.
HENDRICKS: The AFL come along in ’34.
WEST: Did you join the AFL, then, when it came along?
WEST: Had there been any unionism in your background, in your family, before?
HENDRICKS: No. No, I was raised farming. Farmers from Illinois.
WEST: What brought you, then, to Flint?
HENDRICKS: Well, in search of a job.
WEST: Your family moved then?
HENDRICKS: Well, no, just me and my wife.
WEST: I see. You were married then.
HENDRICKS: Yes, I had one child at that time.
WEST: I see, and you came in 1927.
HENDRICKS: I came in 1926, really. I worked at Chevrolet a year before I came to Fisher, or approximately a year.
WEST: I see. Now how were you approached, then, first about joining that AFL union? Do you remember?
HENDRICKS: Oh, I don’t remember.
WEST: They talked to you about it on the job, or?
HENDRICKS: They’d be pretty careful how you’d talk to you, because that was an unheard thing in the....
WEST: You weren’t too open, then.
HENDRICKS: No. That’s right.
WEST: Were there people, then, that you knew you couldn’t trust, couldn’t talk to?
HENDRICKS: There always was until we got recognition and won our strike, yes.
WEST: I wonder if it was possible to detect those people. Some fellows have talked to said you got to know almost instinctively who you could trust and who you couldn’t.
HENDRICKS: Well, unless it was just like a fellow says, “I had a hunch,” you know, that... That’s not always reliable, either, but, no, I don’t know really if there was any way you could tell.
WEST: So you joined the union, then, in ’34. Was that before the walkout, then, the strike in ‘34?
HENDRICKS: You’re talking about the Sit-Down Strike.
WEST: No, I’m talking about the strike in 1934. Did you join the union before that strike?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, yeah.
WEST: Did you have an idea that it was coming then, that ’34 strike, or was it pretty spontaneous?
HENDRICKS: Well, we kind of figured it was coming, and that was... We didn’t get anything there, either. It didn’t amount to anything.
WEST: How long were you off then?
HENDRICKS: Seemed to me like about a couple of weeks.
WEST: Was it similar in the way it happened to the ’30 strike? Was there a similarity between the ’30 and the ’34 strike in terms of having meetings and getting it broken up by police?
HENDRICKS: Yeah. I’ll tell you. The cops chased us all over half of Genesee County at that time, trying to break up... There was somebody out here, oh, it was about ten miles out on the Dixie, and he had a, oh, maybe two or three, maybe he had several acres there, and he said, “We’re havin’ a meeting out to his place.” Well, they tried to break that up out there. There was a... They had mounted police there, up around the shop there. I remember a little of that. But Flint didn’t have no mounted police. They must have been imported from sheriff’s posse or... I don’t know where they came from.
WEST: But they charged the men then.
HENDRICKS: Well, yes, and tried to break up the place. So we was chased around quite a bit.
WEST: Did you yourself experience any harrowing escapes?
WEST: So that was broken up too, that ’34 strike. Was Scavarda still police chief then?
HENDRICKS: I believe he was. I believe he was.
WEST: Any leadership that you got from out of town? Did people come up from Detroit, Toledo, and that, to give a hand?
HENDRICKS: Not in... Yes, but I don’t remember who they were. See, ’34... Francis Dillon, he was the organizer.
WEST: Yes, he would have been the AFL organizer then.
HENDRICKS: He was AFL organizer, and, of course, the CIO hadn’t came into being. That was the fall of ’35, if I remember. ’35, I believe, at the South Bend convention.
WEST: Right. Did you know a man named Phil Raymond, or hear of Phil Raymond up from Detroit?
WEST: He was supposed to be a member of the Automobile Workers Union. Allegedly it was a Communist-affiliated organization.
HENDRICKS: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned his name, because I probably wouldn’t have recalled it. Yeah, Phillip Raymond.
WEST: He came up then. Did he give speeches then, do you remember?
HENDRICKS: Yeah. My brother’s got a picture of a large gathering. Well, it would have been about a mile south of the shop. And it was one of our meetings.
WEST: In 1930?
HENDRICKS: ’30 or ’34, and I don’t remember which it was.
WEST: Well, so in ’34, then, you didn’t get anything either. Did you get any support? This interests me. Fisher 1 walked out. Did you get any or count on any support from Chevrolet, Buick, any of the other plants?
HENDRICKS: We made a march over to Buick, and, believe me, that’s a long walk over there and back. We had sore feet. And we tried to get them guys over to Buick to come out, but they wouldn’t have nothin’ to...
WEST: They wouldn’t come out.
WEST: Now in ’37, when you had the Sit-Down Strike, Buick didn’t sit down.
HENDRICKS: No, Buick didn’t go on strike. Course they had to shut down on account of the lack of bodies.
WEST: Was there something about Buick, then, that made it more difficult to organize than Fisher or Chevy?
HENDRICKS: No, I wouldn’t hardly think so. The only thing was that it started at Fisher. You see it really started at Fisher 2 a couple of days before it did at our place. But previous to that, I think it was Atlanta that had a sit-down.
WEST: Yeah, they had a shutdown at Atlanta. Apparently at Cleveland, too, they had some difficulty. Did you get any help in the Sit-Down Strike in ’37 from any of the boys at Buick who were organized? The plant didn’t shut down until later, but I wondered if you had any help.
HENDRICKS: ’37, no. You mean financial help, or?
WEST: Well, manpower, in terms of flying squadrons, or that that would come over to help.
HENDRICKS: Not that I remember. If there was, I’ve forgotten, but I don’t believe there was.
WEST: So you had disappointments, then, in 1930 and in 1934.
HENDRICKS: Yeah, in ’34, and we thought they never would get the...leave a bad taste in their mouth, they’d say, you know. Never would say, the people to this day, and it’s probably true, maybe not be, but the AFL sold us out, see. Whether true or not, there were enough people that believed it. They paid dues for maybe a few months, same as I did, six months or so.
WEST: But you did join the CIO, then.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yeah.
WEST: What sort of appeal would the CIO make to a person like you, who had been through it in 1930? You’d been through it in 1934, and here you’re getting geared up for another round, you know. They must have had to try to assure you that it’d be different this time.
HENDRICKS: I’ll tell you, it was a... I would think that it was the industrial union, you know, as opposed to the craft union, which AFL was famous for, and still is, for craft unions.
WEST: Right, and, of course, John L. Lewis must have... His personality must have played a...
HENDRICKS: Well, they loaned us a lot of money.
WEST: Did you know, first of all, Bob Travis and Wyndham Mortimer?
HENDRICKS: I didn’t until it started, until we started to...
WEST: And when did you join the CIO?
HENDRICKS: I joined, well, about two months previous to the Sit-Down, approximately.
WEST: And how did you join, specifically? Did someone come around and talk you into it, or did you hear about it and just join, or what? I’m just interested in the mechanics of how a person would be into it.
HENDRICKS: Well, I’m gonna tell you right, if I can. No, I ain’t sure if we went over across the street and joined or if somebody in the shop signed me up. I ain’t sure if I’ve got my first receipt where I joined. It was a dollar...Dues were a dollar a month for a long time, you know.
WEST: Right. But they... Somebody on the job, then, was involved in it.
HENDRICKS: I think it was, but we had to be mighty careful about...
WEST: You still had to be very careful on the job. Was there a time before the strike at all, when you could be more open about your union affiliation? I’m wondering. In later November apparently there were a couple of quickie strikes and one that was called over the discharge of the Perkins brothers.
HENDRICKS: Yeah, that was in the body shop. And...
WEST: Did you hear about that?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, we heard about it, but that was not in our department, see.
WEST: What did you feel about that, some of the men when they heard about that?
HENDRICKS: Well, naturally, we thought that was a good start, a good sign, you know.
WEST: Think you got some more to join the union after that?
HENDRICKS: Well, I believe they were a few joining, but the guys were pretty cautious, you know.
WEST: What sort of a relationship did you have with your foreman then, on the job in particular?
HENDRICKS: Oh, not any particular kind of relationship. They were trying to get more line speed out of us all the time, you know.
WEST: Would you say that the line speed was the main thing that attracted people to the union, as you look back on it now?
HENDRICKS: Well, yes, and attitude of not all supervision, but they most of ‘em, the top supervision anyway. They told us, they’d say, “Well, if you don’t like it, why, there are plenty of guys out there lookin’ for a job.” And there would be every day.
WEST: No job security at all.
HENDRICKS: Oh, no. Oh, no.
WEST: Were you...You started in ’27. The Depression came in ’29. Did you maintain a job? Did you keep a job?
HENDRICKS: No. I was laid off. The longest I was laid off was in ’32. Laid off in April and went back in the fall. I was laid off for six months.
WEST: I see. That was longer than the normal layoff, then.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yeah, yeah.
WEST: How did you make ends meet then, when you were out of work, with no paycheck coming in?
HENDRICKS: Go on welfare.
WEST: You did go on welfare. How did that operate, that welfare system?
HENDRICKS: Well, we were in the township, outside the city.
WEST: Oh, where were you living then, at that time?
HENDRICKS: I was living on Shoemaker. So we got a grocery order from the supervisor. I got three dollars a week.
WEST: The county----township supervisor?
HENDRICKS: Yeah. No, I got $3.50 a week, and my neighbor----I had three kids----and my neighbor, he got three dollars a week, and he had two kids. We went out and worked a day each week to pay for that.
WEST: Where did you work?
HENDRICKS: It was make-work, like WPA, somewheres in the township, gradin’ a road or puttin’ in a storm sewer, or work like that.
WEST: So you drew on that, then, for about a few months.
HENDRICKS: Well, about six months.
WEST: There was no Federal welfare program, then, was there? That would have been about ’32, ’33.
HENDRICKS: There was Red Cross flour. And that’s the only thing, I think, that was from the Federal government that I recall.
WEST: Later on there was the WPA and the CWA. You didn’t get involved in that, because you were back to work then, and when you got back after that six-month layoff, you continued to work pretty....
HENDRICKS: We didn’t work very good, I’ll tell you. I remember once in ’36, prior to the Sit-Down Strike, we only worked three days a week. I believe it was three six-hour days. Eighteen hours a week. That’s pretty skimpy. That went on for some time. But I was on the night shift when the strike came on.
WEST: Did you have any idea that the strike was coming?
HENDRICKS: No, I didn’t know it was comin’ that night. I kind of had heard rumors.
WEST: But there were rumors. You felt that a strike was coming.
WEST: Did you know that it would take the form of a sit-down, because your previous strikes had all been walkouts?
HENDRICKS: No, no.
WEST: Had you heard of a sit-down before, in the papers?
HENDRICKS: I can’t say that I have. I may have. I don’t want to say that I had, because I don’t remember, but I think probably I’d read of it.
WEST: But when the strike came, it was something of a surprise to you that you were going to sit in, rather than walk out?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, it came at the noon hour, see, and they just didn’t start up the line after [...]. The foreman pushed the button, but nobody went to work, see.
WEST: Did the line move, then?
HENDRICKS: The line moved a few jobs, but nobody working. They shut ‘em off right away.
WEST: How did you get the word not to...?
HENDRICKS: Well, the guys that were in on it----and that wasn’t me----evidently they didn’t trust me, or I wasn’t in, anyway. I don’t know if they didn’t trust me. But they come back and said, “Everything’s down. We don’t go back to work.”
WEST: Were there some who tried to work?
HENDRICKS: No. Well, I don’t remember. I don’t believe so.
WEST: Was it pretty well organized afterwards, or was there a period of confusion, when nobody seemed to know?
HENDRICKS: It took a few days to really set up committees and everything so it’d operate smoothly.
WEST: Right. But a lot of men left, then, did they, right away?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, right away that night.
WEST: Was there any way to determine who left and who stayed? Did you get the word that some of you union guys stay and non-union workers go, or? I wonder how it was determined, who stayed and who left.
HENDRICKS: Well, them that wanted to leave, they let ‘em leave, because, I tell you, they put the key men on the gate, and, you know... But, of course, there was plenty of ‘em that wanted to leave, and they did.
WEST: No effort to keep ‘em in, then, if they wanted to...
HENDRICKS: No, no, they wasn’t gonna keep ‘em in. Of course, they would be no good to you anyway, if you had to guard them and keep ‘em inside. That would be like the Berlin Wall. You’d have to fence ‘em in. No, them that stayed, they stayed because they wanted to stay.
WEST: Now, according to what I understand from the earlier interview, you stayed in for about three days.
HENDRICKS: I stayed in about, near as I can remember, three days. I know I had tickets bought for the New Year’s dance or somethin’ and couldn’t go to that, of course. And so I’d already paid for ‘em, and after it was over with, I can still remember bein’ in there at night and hearin’ that New Year’s Eve and hearin’ the whistle blowin’ at midnight, you know. I remember that. And he said he could give me back my money. I said, “I’ll tell you what.” His name was Sammy. I said, “Sam, if you go and join the union for that money,” why, I said, “I’ll donate it to you.” And I think he did.
WEST: That’s one way to get him into the union. Was he in the shop, then, sitting down with you?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, yeah.
WEST: That’s interesting. There were some people who didn’t belong to the union at the time who did sit in?
HENDRICKS: Oh, yeah. There were more perhaps, I would say there were more who didn’t belong...
WEST: That were still sitting in, though?
HENDRICKS: Well, yes, because they joined up then, of course, when they seen that the strike was gonna be somethin’ that would go, you know. That encouraged others to join.
WEST: Right. Now did you hold meetings, mass meetings in the plant, soon after the strike was called, to get things planned?
HENDRICKS: Yeah. To get back to this, I stayed in three days, and then they wanted me then----I don’t remember what day it was, what day of the week it was... But they paid off in payday. Course the guys had the checks a-comin’. So me, along with two or three other guys (I don’t remember now who they were), the strike committee asked to go down there and talk to these people as they came in, to come in and help us out, see. And so I was delegated to do that.
WEST: Did you have a car then?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, I had a car.
WEST: Do you think that may have been one reason why you were picked to do that, ‘cause you did have a car and could get around?
HENDRICKS: No, I don’t know why I was picked to do that. But then I went for about three more days. They had pickets in the cars too, you know. You got to remember this was cold weather, and I had a Model..., a V-8 Ford and the heaters weren’t famous in them days for puttin’ out heat. They hadn’t got ‘em perfected yet. And I liked to have froze. The three days. I said, “Nuts to this! I’m gonna go back in there.”
WEST: You went back in there. What did you do in the plant then, after you got back in?
HENDRICKS: Well, really I’ll tell you. The time hung heavy on your hands. But we had a three-hour picket duty out of the twenty-four. And the rest of the time...
WEST: Were you outside then?
HENDRICKS: No, inside.
WEST: Inside, but guarding the...
HENDRICKS: Yeah, chores. We had a... Of course you know that they had a window opening there.
WEST: Yeah. Did everybody need a pass then to get in and out?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, I think they did. I’m pretty sure.
WEST: You mentioned that you had an autograph of Helen Wilkinson. Did she come into the plant, then? How did you meet her?
HENDRICKS: Well, she came in with a group.
WEST: Did Miss Wilkinson speak to you at all? Did she say anything?
HENDRICKS: No, she was in there at night, and she wanted to see, I guess, what the conditions were.
WEST: Did she make any comment, then?
HENDRICKS: Not that I recall.
WEST: Was she an elderly woman, then?
HENDRICKS: I would say I’ve took her to be about a middle-age woman. Near as I can remember I would say she was maybe 45 to 50.
WEST: Were there reporters that came in too, that you remember?
HENDRICKS: They weren’t allowed in. Inside, no.
WEST: Sheriff Wolcott, though, got in.
HENDRICKS: Yeah, well, I want to tell you about. I well remember the night when Sheriff Wolcott---his heart was with us, but he had his job to do----and so his job was to read the riot act to... We were to vacate the property. He knowed we wouldn’t do it. I stood close to him, like from me to you, when he was readin’ that in the basement there. Well, we had a basement, well, a cafeteria there, and locker rooms, at the north end of the plant, and that’s where he came in there and read the riot act to us.
WEST: Did he call off the names of some people to leave?
HENDRICKS: I don’t remember. I think the papers that he had named certain ones of the leaders, if I remember right.
WEST: But he was not really hostile to you, then, in the same sense that Wills and some of the others...
HENDRICKS: Oh, no. Oh, no. Not that these city police. The city police, they were anti-union.
WEST: Yeah, I know. You mentioned that there was a time that things got pretty scary there. Can you describe about when that was?
HENDRICKS: Well, we had rumors that they had a vigilante group, and this George Boysen, he was supposed to have been... He was mayor at one time. And that was union-haters and them that wasn’t in sympathy with the strike, businessmen, and... But they were all cowards. You know how that always goes, you know. They could have stormed that place, or the Flint police, sometime or other, taken it, if they’d known how few there was in there.
WEST: Numbers got pretty low there. Do you remember how low they might have gone?
HENDRICKS: No, I don’t remember, but I know there wasn’t too many left in there. But that was remedied after that. They wouldn’t let... Whoever would give permission for ‘em to go out wouldn’t let that many go, see.
WEST: I see. So they made a conscious effort to keep people in the plant. When the numbers got low, was that fairly early on in the strike, or?
HENDRICKS: Oh, I’d say about midway.
WEST: About midway through the strike. Well, that would have been after they had that Battle of Running Bull, at Fisher 2. You heard about that, did you?
HENDRICKS: Over at Fisher 2. Yeah, I was home that night. That was one of the few nights, toward, near, well, I’d say that was in the last part of the strike, or nearing the end. Not too far, if I remember right. And I’d got permission to go home, and I didn’t know anything about it ‘til the next day. I didn’t happen to have the...
WEST: Was there fear, then, at Fisher 1 that the cops might come down on you?
HENDRICKS: Well, I know that one time they barricaded with steel plates up in the windows along the street, facing Saginaw Street. You understand where... Did anybody point out to you where the window entrance was? It was in the North Unit.
[END OF SIDE 1]
WEST: I see.
HENDRICKS: They had kind of a patrol, they called... Young, husky guys.
WEST: The “flying squadron”?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, it was similar to that, but they patrolled that, I was going to say, every hour, but it was every... It wasn’t quite that often. To see that they did stay within. And the first three days, or four (I can’t tell just how long), the plant protection were still in there. But then they finally run them out.
WEST: Were there times when you got a lot of support in from outside, from Toledo? Toward the end of the strike, there must have been a few. Judge Gadola got the injunction out.
HENDRICKS: We got from Toledo and from Detroit, if I remember right. I think Chrysler sent some.
WEST: Did any of the boys in the plant have any guns?
HENDRICKS: I never seen any, but I always believed that there were some in there, from what I ...
WEST: Well, I was thinking things got so desperate in there and so fearful, that it would have been natural for some to got in on that type of thing.
HENDRICKS: No, I never seen any, but I always thought that there was. I still think that there was.
WEST: Was there any cooking done in Fisher 1?
HENDRICKS: Very little. I want to tell you about that. First few days, well, ... See, they had kitchen facilities in there that they, when the plant was runnin’, that they used some. And then the cooking after that, after they got organized, in the setup across the street, this Mary Turner----no, Hook, Ray Cook----he donated a dressing room. And there was a cook come up from Detroit supervising, and that’s over my friend, I told you his name is on there, he worked in there. And they prepared food and bring it over.
WEST: But I was wondering if you had any...I’ve heard some people suggest that they did cook breakfast there, coffee, eggs, that sort of thing.
HENDRICKS: I believe they had coffee, some of the time anyway. I tell you, the first three days we had bologna sandwiches, and that was...
WEST: It took just awhile to get organized.
HENDRICKS: Well, that’s right. And they were mostly...sent out a bunch, or several guys anyway, moochin’ or beggin’, you know. And there was lots of that stuff was donated. And doughnuts and coffee and bologna sandwiches.
WEST: Now, during this strike, you were in most of the time, as you say, and your wife wasn’t working. Did the family have trouble at home making ends meet, then, when you were...?
HENDRICKS: I tell you, my wife, she never talked against the strike, but she knew we was in it for... I made the remark to her, I said, “I tell you, if we don’t win this,” I said, “I’m sure we’re gonna win it,” but I said, “If we don’t win it,” I said, “Well, we’ll have to leave this town,” because we had no job, you know.
WEST: In ’34, though, you had been on strike, and you’d lost, but...
HENDRICKS: But we weren’t that long a time.
WEST: I see. But this time, in ’37, the situation was more bitter, was it?
HENDRICKS: You asked how I got along. Well, I don’t think we had over 45-50 dollars saved up ahead of time. She was a great one. It always worried her when a layoff was a-comin’. She’d squirrel away a little money, you know.
WEST: Well, it occurs to me that those layoffs would have been, in a way, a help for this period, because wives and families would have been used to that periodic layoff, so you would get in the habit...
HENDRICKS: But of course that was comin’ just then, that strike. And it was...
WEST: No, you didn’t. Did you get credit, then, from the local grocery? You were living out of town then. Did the local grocers carry you...?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, we always lived out of town. Well, I believe they did. It seemed like they did. The corner groceryman, anyway.
WEST: Were the neighbors around you friendly, or were they anti-union?
HENDRICKS: No, they were friendly.
WEST: Were most of the neighbors workers in the shops too?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, uh-huh.
WEST: So your wife wasn’t harassed, then, by the Flint Alliance people or the vigilantes or anything like that.
HENDRICKS: Oh, no, no.
WEST: Were your children going to school then?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, they were going to school, third grade or second grade. Yeah, they were goin’ to school.
WEST: Did they ever talk about remarks that the teachers might have made about the strike?
HENDRICKS: I don’t remember
WEST: Because some I understand were friendly and a number were not, and I just wondered if it came through in the attitudes they might have taken towards the...
HENDRICKS: I don’t recall. I don’t recall. Perhaps there was.
WEST: Well, the strike, then, is settled on the 11th of February. Did you notice differences in the shop after the strike?
HENDRICKS: Oh, yeah, quite a bit of difference.
WEST: Can you be particular about what changes there might have been?
HENDRICKS: Well, for one thing, we went on day work instead of piecework. And we had a committee set up to take care of any grievances.
WEST: Yes. You were made a steward, then, shortly after the end of the strike.
HENDRICKS: Yeah, shortly after. I think that’s 20th, in February.
WEST: Yeah, the 24th. So it would have been less than two weeks.
HENDRICKS: Less than two weeks.
WEST: What was your particular job as a shop steward? Can you describe?
HENDRICKS: Well, a steward, they called ‘em committeeman later on, but a steward is in a certain area, same as a foreman.
WEST: You represented, then, a certain number of men. How many men would you say you were responsible for?
HENDRICKS: Oh, I don’t know. I’d just have to take a guess. I don’t know. Oh, maybe a hundred.
WEST: But few enough so that you could be pretty familiar with those men that you represented, knew what their jobs were.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yeah, mostly right in your own department, see.
WEST: Were you expected, then, to collect dues from ‘em?
WEST: ‘Cause you didn’t have the check-off then.
HENDRICKS: No, the check-off was several years...
WEST: I wonder whether it was difficult to get...
HENDRICKS: Yeah, it was. You always had the same ones that would be behind. They were delinquent.
WEST: I guess after the strike was over, a lot of men joined the union who had been holding out before. Did some still stay out? Did you have to use any “persuasion” to bring any in?
HENDRICKS: There would be a few. Tried to persuade ‘em by peaceful means. Could be and then we might have to talk to some of ‘em, and some of ‘em would be scared even with that, you know. Oh, I know we used various methods on ‘em. The same tactics don’t work on everybody.
WEST: Can you describe one or two of the methods that you might...?
HENDRICKS: Well, for instance, some guy, he wouldn’t join. Some guys was trying to get him to join. They’d pretty hostile about it. They talked pretty mean to him, you know. And that would just make him all the more determined not to join, see, ‘cause you didn’t have to. And I know this was goin’ on, as steward, I knew it was goin’ on, but I’d let these other guys... So after that went on for a while, he was pretty mad at some of these guys, you know, for usin’ him like that. And we’d talk to him and he’d tell me. And I’d tell him, “Well,” I said, “I don’t believe in the guys using him like that.” You know, talk nice to him, and I’ve got more than one to join that way, see. The other tactics didn’t work, so he just went the other way. He’d say, “Well, I’ll join,” he said. “I’ll let you sign me up. But,” he said, “I’ll be damned if I’ll let them other people.” He’d made up his mind already, see. Sure.
WEST: Now did you have any wildcat strikes after the...? What were the causes of those wildcats then, would you say?
HENDRICKS: Well, it would be for didn’t have help enough on some jobs, you know, for one thing. It wasn’t a case of wages. The first contract we got, I think it was one page. It covered everything, but it was mainly recognition and the right to join the union of your choice and such as that, you know. And this here roving committee, we called ‘em, well, that’s what they were, because they were all over the shop, and they attempted to...if they had any grievances that I couldn’t settle, why, I turned it over to them, see. Lots of times they settled it right on the spot. Well, I’ll tell you. The foremens, for the most part, didn’t know what else to do but to settle for whatever the guys wanted, you know.
WEST: So they were pretty compliant, then. They gave in pretty easy, did they?
HENDRICKS: Yeah. Of course they got organized after about a year or so on how to combat the union, you see, and of course they still would like to see, some would still like to see the union busted, but the right-thinkin’ ones, for the most part, I think the majority, knows that it’s a good thing for supervision, too, because every time the workers got a raise, why, the supervision got it too.
WEST: But you did have some wildcat strikes, then, over lack of relief men. Did they try to speed up the lines, too?
HENDRICKS: Some of them things I just don’t recall now what it was, but all over the shop in the next year after this here, there were a lot of ...
WEST: Did the union recognize that as a problem, the lack of discipline that might be in the shop?
HENDRICKS: Well, I don’t know if that was a part of it growing up, the union growing up, or what. I don’t know. If I could...
WEST: I’m just wondering whether things didn’t settle down. They must have after a period of wildcat strikes.
HENDRICKS: Well, I’ll tell you. For instance, the press room, when it had got settlement with the company, they didn’t say, “No, we don’t want day work,” ‘cause they would have had to have worked for less money, some of them that they were workin’ for. See, they was greedy for that. And less than a year after, we had to go on strike for four days. Then they decided that they had made a mistake, and they wanted ‘em down there. They wanted to get the same as the rest of the shop did, and that’s what we went on strike for for four days.
WEST: I see. To get day work for the press room?
HENDRICKS: Instead of piecework, see.
WEST: That’s interesting, ‘cause I’ve heard there was a big fellow, Harris, Bert Harris, who was in the press room, who wanted piecework.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yeah, he was one of ‘em. Greed, you know.
WEST: You didn’t retain the steward system as such for very long, did you?
HENDRICKS: It seems to me it was a couple of years, maybe it was not over a year.
WEST: Which did you prefer, the steward system or the committee system?
HENDRICKS: Well, I don’t know. The steward system was more like the old AFL system. Well, a committeeman, he’d have his district and do the same thing as would do the same thing as what the steward did, see. But I don’t think there was too much difference, only in the name.
WEST: After the strike again, did you take part in any efforts to organize other plants outside of town? I understand there was some conflict with the A. G. Redmond Company in Owosso.
HENDRICKS: I never got in on that. We made a trip over here one time to New Haven, over by Mount Clemens. Did anybody ever tell you of that?
WEST: No, no. I’m interested in that.
HENDRICKS: Well, there was a foundry there, and they were on strike. They was pretty near all blacks, and, boy, they were gettin’ pushed around, and they were losin’ that strike. And so they sent word out, and...
WEST: Were they part of GM?
HENDRICKS: No, I don’t believe they were.
WEST: This is a foundry, then.
HENDRICKS: Yeah, and I don’t know who they made...No, I don’t think it was a part of GM. But, anyway, on the night shift, on Friday night, after we got off of work, why, there was about three carloads of us that went down there. I know there was several carloads from Detroit that went down there.
WEST: Now what time would that have been? Was that in ’37?
HENDRICKS: No, that was perhaps two or three years after that.
WEST: I see. ’39, maybe. How did it come out?
HENDRICKS: Well, we happened to win that strike. We stayed there... Let’s see, it would take about an hour’s drive down there or a little more, I guess. And the next day was Saturday. We came back Saturday evening. And they win that strike, but they wouldn’t have. They were....
WEST: What did you do, then, to help them?
HENDRICKS: We didn’t do anymore than we boosted the morale up a lot and helped the picket line. They won with a few of the militant ones there. I want to say “this brother” and “that brother.” He had dropped out. He’d been in the union, and he dropped out, and they persuaded him to get back in the union, you know.
WEST: They were mostly blacks, then, in this... That interests me, because in Fisher 1, there weren’t many blacks.
HENDRICKS: No, Fisher didn’t have none, only excepting in the janitor.
WEST: But there was no sort of racism involved in this. If blacks needed help, you were out there.
HENDRICKS: They were just union brothers. That’s all.
WEST: Was that a sit-in strike?
HENDRICKS: I don’t remember. No, I don’t believe it was. I know they fed us good, and they was awful grateful to us.
WEST: What time of the year would that have been? Summer, or?
HENDRICKS: It wasn’t summer, but it wasn’t right in the dead of winter, either. I can’t...
WEST: I’m just trying to pinpoint it, so that I could perhaps go to the newspapers and find out.
HENDRICKS: I can’t recall if it had been in the spring or fall, but, as I recall, it was not summertime.
WEST: But that was the one effort, then, outside of Flint, that you took part in.
HENDRICKS: That’s the only one that I took part in, yes.
WEST: Did you make any efforts to organized AC, Buick, some of those places that had been...
HENDRICKS: No, any more than that thing brought on fire and they organized themselves, you see, I would think rather than any help from us.
WEST: Now, from what I can gather from the papers, the summer of ’37 was quite a hectic time in Flint. There were a lot of sit-down strikes outside of the auto industry. There was a strike at Penney’s and at the Durant Hotel.
HENDRICKS: Yeah, there were. I know at the time, when we were on strike, the bus company was on strike.
WEST: Oh, yes. Was that related at all to the Sit-Down?
HENDRICKS: No, no.
WEST: There was some bus drivers, I guess, that helped the autoworkers.
HENDRICKS: As far as I know, there was no relation. And then the Standard Cotton, which was...
WEST: Now that interests me, Standard Cotton. I’ve never been able to find many who worked at Standard Cotton. Tell me about that.
HENDRICKS: Well, I don’t know anybody, but they were on strike at the same time. They processed cotton for paddin’ the seats, and, I suppose, maybe mattress companies, you know, too. But they supplied Fisher Body with a lot of paddin’, and they were on strike at the same time. But I didn’t personally that worked over there. They were not a part of GM.
WEST: No, but they were very militant, I understand.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yes.
WEST: Did you ever get into the shop, into Standard Cotton?
WEST: I hear the conditions there were very....
HENDRICKS: Yeah, they were bad, from what I read. No, you asked about if they had a kitchen down there, whether they done any cooking. Not very much. I know this Clifford Jones, whose name is on there. He was one of ‘em down there. They had a lot of donations, you know, food. They had a ham come in there one time. Boy, they didn’t put that out before six or seven of them working in the kitchen there, and they kept that right back `there. I don’t blame ‘em. They had a right, too.
WEST: Was there any complaint about the food, that it was tainted or bad?
WEST: Were the boys pretty healthy inside the shop, or did some of them get sick at all? Was there any sickness?
HENDRICKS: Not that I recall. Had a barbershop set up in there, that is, they had a barber. As far as I know, he’s still livin’, but...
WEST: Is that Sammy the barber? I’ve heard about him.
HENDRICKS: Sam, Sam Bertram. Yeah.
WEST: “Bertram” was his last name, because of the people I’ve talked to, you’re the first one who can attach a last name to it. Everybody else says “Sammy the barber.”
HENDRICKS: And I don’t know if he’s still livin’, because I...
WEST: Was he a relatively young man then?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, he was a little younger than me, and at that time, I was 33. In ’37 I was three years younger than the year. I was 34, ‘cause I was born in 1903. Yeah, I was going to get a haircut there one day, and I was about ready, and they sent out an alert that everybody, you know, but it was a false alarm. We got a lot of false alarms. And they had people that was in the business of sendin’ out false alarms, to keep you on your toes or something.
WEST: You mean union people?
HENDRICKS: No, no. On the outside That they were gonna attack, or something.
WEST: One thing that interests me about the people, the men who were in. Was there any suspicion that there might be spies inside the plant, among the guys who sat down, because you had stoolies before the strike, and I wonder whether it wouldn’t be natural that maybe someone...
HENDRICKS: I don’t recall that they had any trouble with that. I know we had a little trouble with guys bringing the bottle in, you know.
WEST: Oh, you did?
HENDRICKS: Oh, yes. They had one guy there that they had to stop him.
WEST: Where would they get the booze now? Were the beer gardens not closed?
HENDRICKS: Oh, well, they hadn’t closed them until, well,... They did close them part of that time, but...
WEST: Maybe when the National Guard came in, there would have been...
HENDRICKS: I think maybe it was. Maybe it was. This was before the National Guard, ‘cause this was during the first few days of the strike. Course he was goin’ in and out. And then you had people spreadin’ these rumors that these had women in there, you know, which was never true.
WEST: No, I understand that the women were asked to leave, in fact.
HENDRICKS: I don’t know. They didn’t have many women workin’ . Well, that had ‘em in the cut-and-sew, but they never took no part on the inside. The only woman that I can recall that was inside in there durin’ the time when I was there, and she was there as a visitor, was Helen Wilkinson. But, you see, lots of people believed that, until they found out different. And that’s what these rumormongers wanted, see, and...
WEST: The papers, of course, the Journal was full of the notion that the strike leaders were a bunch of Communists, you know, radicals.
HENDRICKS: Yeah, anybody that took an active part was called a Communist.
WEST: Was there any truth to that, though, because there were Communists and Socialists?
HENDRICKS: I don’t know.
WEST: Any literature that was disseminated in the plant?
HENDRICKS: I can’t truly say that there was any in there that was a Communist.
WEST: Did you know Bud Simons then?
HENDRICKS: I didn’t know Bud until that was...
WEST: You didn’t know him before the strike.
HENDRICKS: No, not before, no. But we needed somebody like that.
WEST: Did you know men in the paint department? Any of the Spohn brothers?
HENDRICKS: Yeah, there were four or five brothers that worked in there at one time.
WEST: What sort of people were they?
HENDRICKS: Well, they took an active part in the union. They were good union men, as far as I know. You mentioned Jerry Aldred.
WEST: Yeah. Now that brings me to another subject, and that is the split that took place within the union, some years after the strike, between Homer Martin, on the one hand, and, I guess, Frankensteen, Mortimer, and some of the others, on the other hand. Did you get involved in that split?
HENDRICKS: Well, I stayed with the Martin group.
WEST: You were with the Martin group. Well, that’s interesting. Why did you...?
HENDRICKS: Well, I don’t know. The only thing I thought we was right, see. And then when they had the NLRB election, I was an observer. Anyway, it was all in the set-up, you know. I said if CIO won out, I’d ride over and join, which I did.
WEST: Oh, you didn’t hold out, then, against them.
HENDRICKS: Oh, no, no.
WEST: Because some did, you know.
HENDRICKS: Some did, yeah.
WEST: And some left the auto industry, I understand.
HENDRICKS: Yes, that was foolish too, you know.
WEST: But it was pretty bitter, wasn’t that? Divisive, that struggle. From what I understand, there were real fights.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yeah. Homer Martin, he turned out to be a traitor. He wasn’t what he was supposed to be.
WEST: But, at the time, you felt that he was better for the...
HENDRICKS: Oh, yeah.
WEST: I just wonder if you could develop the reasons why you thought Homer Martin might have been...
HENDRICKS: The only thing is that that’s the group that started with, and we thought that these other guys were just tryin’ to bust into it, you know. I was going to see if there was anything more...
HENDRICKS: Chevrolet and Buick and AC and Fisher 1 all belonged to 156, with headquarters in downtown. Course we had a temporary office across the street there. I don’t know what year it was. I think it was next year, maybe two years after it, when Fisher got a charter of their own. But at that time it was all 156.
WEST: Was there any disagreement about whether that was a good idea or not, you know, breaking up 156?
HENDRICKS: Oh, I don’t know. If it ever...All of the members of 156 wanted to have a meeting at one time, they’d have had to have the I.M.A., and that was unthinkable in them days. Never could. We used to say, “Well, we might see the day sometime that I doubt if they would rent the I.M.A. to us,” you, which came to pass.
WEST: Well, you had----the autoworkers had paid for that, hadn’t they?
HENDRICKS: They hadn’t paid for it, but that didn’t make any difference, you see. GM controlled it, you see.
WEST: Were you compelled to contribute toward it?
HENDRICKS: Well, at one time I was.
WEST: Before the strike. Did you feel you got benefit out of that?
HENDRICKS: No, I don’t think so. You’d go down there and play pool or anything like that, you’d pay same as the others did.
WEST: Right. The UAW did some of that after it got started, didn’t they? Organized recreation themselves as sort of an alternative to the I.M.A.
HENDRICKS: Well, yeah, well, at one time the international owned that Metropolitan Building. I guess you’d know that.
WEST: No, I didn’t.
HENDRICKS: You didn’t know that? Oh, yeah, they owned that for several years.
WEST: Metropolitan Building. Where was that?
HENDRICKS: That would be right on...You know where the Hotel Durant is. Well, it’s right on this corner. On that street, let’s see, that would be
WEST: First and ...
HENDRICKS: I believe it would be. And it’d be on North Saginaw Street, on the northeast corner.
WEST: I see, and they owned it for a while. When did they own that then?
HENDRICKS: I don’t remember what year it was. And they rented out space there. Had eleventh floor for bowling. I believe it was the eleventh floor.
WEST: That was well after the strike.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yes. That was several years after we got organized.
WEST: But, on the whole, as you look back on it, you think that the experience was worthwhile, anyway.
HENDRICKS: Oh, yes. Well, I said then, I say now it....we didn’t think it was anything special then, or even now, you know. It was something we had to do. You see, GM was the best organizer we ever had. If they hadn’t have pushed and kicked the guys around, verbally and otherwise, perhaps they never would have joined the union, see. It wouldn’t have been necessary. At least it would have been a lot harder to get ‘em to join, which I had my doubts and a lot of others had their doubts after the bad experience we had with AFL. More than one said, “I doubt if they’ll ever get it organized again.”
WEST: So there was a feeling, then, that even when you went into the strike, was there a feeling that you might....
HENDRICKS: Well, of course, no, up to that time, I would think. Oh, perhaps there was still some...
WEST: Did your family support you? Were your parents living at the time?
HENDRICKS: They didn’t know much about it. My dad was a farmer and had been raised a farmer, and so was I, for that matter. And, well, there wasn’t any... I think if you’d have asked him whether they were for it or again it, they’d have to say, they’d have said probably again it. But I never heard him say that, you know.
WEST: But he didn’t tell you you were wrong, or anything. Did your wife pretty well...?
HENDRICKS: No, she went along with me on that. I’m glad she did. There were lots of women...
WEST: I asked that, because I know there were some families that were not united on that.