INTERVIEW: March 24, 1980
INTERVIEWERS: Bill Meyer and Neil Leighton
INTERVIEWEE: Elden Coale
COALE: They was gonna fire a bunch of us, see. And my General Foreman stuck up for me or I would have been fired too. But he told the Assistant Plant Manager, "I know this man you've got wrong." He didn't have nothing to do with that because he was workin' for me on the job at the time. And that's all that saved my job, too. See, they was gonna fire me, too. And, heck, I didn't even have anything to do with it. And I think Al Cook was one of 'em that they let go then. I'm pretty sure it was Al Cook. There was some more of them, but I don't remember all their names, to tell you the truth about it. But some of 'em got fired, some of 'em got back and some of 'em never did get back. But my General Foreman told them that I wasn't in it, so I got back to work.
LEIGHTON: This was in '31.
LEIGHTON: When did you hire in?
COALE: 1928. February 1928 I started in Fisher Body. And we tried to organize in '31. Well, we started in '30. '31 we got quite a few members, but we didn't get goin' good, you know, until '36 and '37, when we had the strike.
MEYER: Fisher 1 is the only GM plant between your first hire and the sit-down strike. Is that the only one you worked in or did you work in others?
COALE: See, I left there when they shut down for war production, to change over to war work. I went on construction, worked twenty-two and a half years on construction with the riggers and machine removers and then I went back in the Chevrolet as a millwright and worked there until '74 and retired in '74.
MEYER: But up to the sit-down strike, Fisher 1 was the only one.
COALE: Oh, yes, I was there 'til 1934, wasn't it, when they started to switch over to war work?
MEYER: You mean '34?
COALE: No, '44...'43 is when I went out. When they shut down in '43, that's when it was.
MEYER: What part of Fisher 1 did you work in?
COALE: I was in the body shop when I started. I started puttin' on drip molding at the start. And then from there I went to the assembly over on the other side, on the final assembly. And I worked there the rest of the time I was there, in the final assembly in the south unit. I was steward for a while; then I was chief steward. Then I was committeeman; after that I was committeeman of the cut and sew sewing room, final assembly and CV. I don't know how many years I had that, but I had that for a few years. And then we had the strike.
MEYER: Was that your first main employment when you started to work for GM or had you had much previous?
COALE: I worked on a farm in Illinois. And I came up here. My father-in-law, Marie's dad, came up to Detroit. He went to work for Ford and then he come over here and went to work for Chevrolet, so the family come up here. And I came up and went to work at Fisher Body, at Fisher 1.
MEYER: So the only work you did before the factory work in the auto plants was some farm labor down in Illinois.
COALE: Yes, worked on the farm.
MEYER: And your family was a farm family.
COALE: Yes, we farmed a three-hundred-sixty-acre farm and two one-hundred-acre farms...about a hundred-acre farm.
MEYER: Did your family stay down there or did they come up here?
COALE: Yes, they stayed down there.
MEYER: They stayed down there.
COALE: I have a brother in Holly. He worked at Fisher Body and he went out of there when he was only forty-six years old. He got poison in his lungs from sprayin' rubber dough, on the inside of the trunk, you know. And he's never been able to work since.
MEYER: Did he work there at the time of the strike?
COALE: No, no. Well, he was there at the sit-down strike, yes. But he didn't stay in; I stayed in. He didn't.
LEIGHTON: What's his name?
COALE: Bill Coale.
MEYER: What was your first exposure to something called a union? You started working here in '28, came out to an auto plant...
COALE: Well, in 1930, we started talkin' it up and tryin' to organize. In '31, then, we got quite a few members. But it was A F of L then and it never did go over too big. I mean we didn't get very far with the union that time until later on.
MEYER: What was involved in talking it up? You know you say you talked it up.
COALE: Well, now you see when we first tried to organize there even in '36, for the sit-down strike, we tried to hold meetings across the street in Stapleford's hotel in his parking lot. Well, the cops come out there and run us out of the parking lot, see, on the mounted police, run us out. So we went out past Bristol Road. There used to be a big dance hall out there.
LEIGHTON: Called the Cow Shed, wasn't it?
COALE: Yep. So we had meetings there. I was at that meeting and I was at about every meeting we had at that time. And then they run us out out there, so we went...
MEYER: The police ran you out out there?
MEYER: Out of the Cow Shed?
COALE: The Flint police come out there and run us out and it wasn't even in the city. That's the best part of it.
LEIGHTON: Now this is '36 or is this 1930?
COALE: No, 1936. About '35, '36 we tried to organize.
MEYER: This is a later organizing drive.
COALE: So there they run us out of there, so we went out thirteen mile out of Flint to a farmer's place out there. I don't remember his name, but the brick house still stands out there.
MEYER: Now this is the one you were telling me about over the phone, I think.
COALE: Yes. The boys couldn't believe it was there yet, see, and I knew it was there, because every time I went by there I remembered that house. But because two extra lanes had been put in there for that turnoff to go down on the Dixie, see, they couldn't believe that was it. And then there's houses there that wasn't...it was a farm then, see. There's a big barn in the back. So I took 'em out there and finally convinced them. Another fellow that lived out there had been there all of his life, and he remembered the meetings we had out there.
LEIGHTON: I'll be darned. Do you remember anything about the farmer?
COALE: No, I don't. I don't even know his name.
LEIGHTON: The reason I asked, I'm going to tell you is why would a guy like that take a risk in having a whole bunch of folks meet on his farm?
COALE: I don't remember what the score was on that. But he let us have meetings there.
LEIGHTON: You don't remember whether he was an old Wobbly, IWW fellow? Does that ring any bell?
COALE: Yes, I think he was; I'm sure he was.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any...?
COALE: I don't remember what his name was, because I know when we were out there talkin' to this man out there, he told us that he belonged to that.
LEIGHTON: And the farmer...he's not there anymore?
COALE: No, no.
LEIGHTON: He's gone.
COALE: But this man still lives there that remembered us having the meetings there. Oh yeah. I could take you out there sometime and you could talk to him. He even remembered the meetings that we had over there at this farm.
MEYER: Going back to '30, you were talkin' about the union trying to get something going. These were workers, other workers like yourself?
COALE: Yes, just the workers.
MEYER: What kind of leadership was there? How did you guys start to get together?
COALE: Actually there wasn't much leadership to it then. We just made up our mind we was gonna organize. Things kept speedin' up the line all the time, see. And...
MEYER: Mainly talking to each other and that sort of thing?
COALE: Yes. So we just decided we was gonna try to organize. And we got quite a few members then. But they used to speed that line up, and I've had one thing I'll never forget is they'd tell you that if you didn't want to do it there was plenty standin' at the gate. And they usually had 'em standin' there, tryin' to hire you and that would do it if you didn't want to do it, see.
MEYER: What do you think your main problem with organizing was at that time? What was the main difficulty in the early thirties in getting membership built up?
COALE: Well, unions were pretty new then and I don't know exactly what to tell you there. But I know it was kinda hard to get started. Done a lot of talkin' and gettin' together in peoples' houses and things like that. And I know if you see Bob he can tell you a lot about that, because he was in it all the way through.
MEYER: You mentioned harassment from the police. What about difficulties on the job or harassment from General Motors in terms of organizing? Did you feel the need to keep your membership secret?
COALE: Well, they didn't like it a bit when we first started to organize there in '30 and '31. We had to keep it very quiet then, what we were doin' about our meetings and things. We was even afraid to wear union buttons at first, really. A lot of 'em wouldn't wear 'em at all. Some of us wore 'em; but they didn't like it.
MEYER: Did anything happen to people who wore union buttons at that time, do you remember?
COALE: I don't think anybody got fired for it but we got orders to take 'em off. Some of us didn't; some of us went ahead and wore 'em anyway. Even up to '35, '36 there when we was organizin', they still didn't like that idea of us wearin' them union buttons.
MEYER: Do you remember the '30 strike at Fisher?
COALE: I was right there.
MEYER: Okay, that was a walkout.
LEIGHTON: What happened? It took place in the summer of '30, didn't it?
COALE: It was warm, but I don't remember just exactly. I know that we went out.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember why you went out?
LEIGHTON: You ended up parading didn't you, making a march up Saginaw Street? And the police were on horseback?
COALE: The working conditions is what we were after. That was the main thing, the working conditions.
LEIGHTON: Was it the speed-up on the line?
COALE: Speed-up was the worst. They'd speed that line up every time your head was turned. We watched it and watched it, but they'd keep speedin' the line up. And if it was supposed to go sixty an hour, they'd have it going' sixty-five or seventy. And that was the main thing, the speed-up.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember in that strike any guys comin' in from outside town to talk to you?
COALE: During the big strike, yes.
LEIGHTON: No, no, no during the 1930 strike when you walked out and you walked up Saginaw Street. Now, do you remember there was a union that was trying to organize you by the name of the Auto Workers Union, not the UAW, the AWU?
COALE: Yes, I remember that, too, but not too much about it. That's been a long time ago, but I remember it.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any women who were organizers in there?
COALE: Yes, there were some women in there, but I don't remember their names, now.
LEIGHTON: A woman named Louise Morrison.
COALE: Yes, I remember the name.
LEIGHTON: A guy named Phil Raymond?
LEIGHTON: Did he ever talk to you or?
COALE: I talked to him, yes.
LEIGHTON: What happened to you on the walk up Saginaw Street?
COALE: Well, I'll tell you that's one. I don't remember too much about that part of it.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember the police?
COALE: I was in it, too, but I don't remember too much about it.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember the police at all?
LEIGHTON: What did they...? A guy named Caesar Scavarda?
COALE: Yes, and he was a cheat. But I don't remember just exactly what happened now. I know the police was in on it and tryin' to bust it up. And I don't remember, maybe they did bust it up, that march.
MEYER: What was the effect of the strike on you? Did you keep your job after that?
COALE: Yeah, yeah.
MEYER: You didn't get arrested or anything or...
LEIGHTON: Did you get a raise?
COALE: No, not back then.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember how you went back to work after the walkout?
COALE: No, I don't remember that.
LEIGHTON: It's a long time ago.
COALE: I don't remember that part of it.
MEYER: There was also an action in '34...was that in trim?
MEYER: Did you get tangled in that one, too?
COALE: No, I wasn't in that; I was downstairs. That was on the third floor, trim shop. We had quite a little set-to there about that, but I was downstairs in final assembly and they was on the third floor, the trim shop was.
MEYER: Now you were a union member through this whole period. Obviously in 1936 in the summer and the fall, things begin to change, organizing begins to pick up.
COALE: Yes, a lot; it picked up a lot.
MEYER: When did you first realize that all of a sudden we're into a new situation here, and that the union is becoming alive? And you've been a member of the union now five, six years and all of a sudden '36 comes along. When did you begin to notice this increased organizing?
COALE: Well, the more people that joined the easier it was to organize. See then it wasn't so hard. Now you take in '30, '31, then it was darn hard to get someone to join the union, see, because they were scared. They were scared to join, to tell you the truth about it. But then it got pretty easy there before the sit-down strike. Now my department there, after the strike I had every one of 'em belong to the union, every one of 'em.
MEYER: What do you think might have helped organizing '36 that you didn't have in '30 and maybe that would help kind of overcome that fear and get the people to join?
COALE: Oh yes, it helped a lot, I think.
LEIGHTON: Well, what was it about the '36 organizing drive that might have made a difference?
COALE: Well, see we had more union organizers around then, a lot more than we did before.
MEYER: The influx of organizers helped, like Travis.
COALE: You're not a-kiddin'.
COALE: The Reuther boys done a lot.
MEYER: Do you remember Mortimer coming to town?
COALE: Oh, yeah, sure do. Homer Martin. I knew all of 'em.
MEYER: Did you meet Mortimer when he first came to town?
COALE: Yes, I was in the first session they had the meeting with him.
MEYER: Where was that?
COALE: I think we had a union hall then. I believe it was...where was it now?
MEYER: Pengelly, maybe?
COALE: Yes, that's where it was, I think it was, Pengelly Building. Yeah, I think that's where it was.
MEYER: What did Mortimer tell you people when he came into town? You were the union people in the town at that time. How did he present himself and his goals and what he was gonna to do?
MEYER: Well, I don't remember just exactly what. But I know those people done a lot to help us organize; I'll say that much.
LEIGHTON: Let me, on this same topic, I'll clip back a little bit. In that period from 1930, from 1928 to 1936, what department are you in? Are you in final assembly then or are you in...?
COALE: When we first started organizing in '30 and '31 I was workin' in the body shop.
LEIGHTON: Okay, in the body shop. And did you stay in the body shop up 'til the strike?
COALE: No, I was in there about, oh, a couple of years, and then I went to the final assembly.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Who were some of the people you remember from final assembly? Guys that worked close to you.
COALE: Oh, there was Sid Batz, and Harlan Niemeyer was my foreman.
COALE: Harlan Niemeyer, one of the best foremen I ever worked for.
LEIGHTON: He was kind of sympathetic to you; you mean he took care of his men.
COALE: Yes, he was a good man. And there was K. Y. Johnson and Roy Carroll. When you want to think of 'em, you can't think of 'em, see.
MEYER: Peter Schmitz, do you remember him? I think he was on final assembly.
COALE: But I think he was in the north unit, if I remember right now. I believe he was.
MEYER: You may be right.
COALE: They called him Smitty.
LEIGHTON: Now torch solderers, those kind of guys, they wouldn't have been on final assembly, would they?
COALE: No, that was in the body shop.
LEIGHTON: In the body shop. Now, guys like Joe Devitt and Bud Simons, they weren't there yet, were they, when you were still in the body shop?
COALE: I think at that time they were down in what we call the center, down in the center part there, in between the north and south, I think.
LEIGHTON: Did you meet those guys before the strike?
COALE: Oh, yeah.
LEIGHTON: You mean well before the strike, or just about the time of the strike?
COALE: No, just for a little while before.
LEIGHTON: So you didn't know, let's say Joe Devitt, Bud Simons.
COALE: I knew Joe Devitt, Bud Simons and...
LEIGHTON: No, I mean, but before that. You would have met 'em in '36, maybe.
COALE: No, I knew 'em before that.
LEIGHTON: Oh, did you?
LEIGHTON: Do you remember when they came over from Grand Rapids? They hired in from there.
LEIGHTON: There was a fellow named Jay Green.
COALE: Yes, I knew Jay Green. Heavy-set fellow, knew him well.
LEIGHTON: A guy named Clayton Carpenter, knew him from the trim shop.
MEYER: Were these the kind of people that Mortimer met? You were talking about meeting Mortimer when he came into town. Did he meet with these...was this the core of people in Fisher 1?
COALE: No, I don't think so. Not then, I don't think they were the ones that he met with, really, any more than...not as much even as some of the other fellows.
LEIGHTON: Were these the guys though that you first came in contact with in that period who were really pushing, really pushing to organize? Or were there some other guys? Now you obviously...you're already ahead...
COALE: You mean that worked in the plant?
LEIGHTON: Yeah, that worked in the plant and in this period, you know, as you said, you had made a shot at organizing in '31 and it didn't kind of work out.
COALE: Well, I would say the main ones in the plant was, oh, Al Cook, Bert Harris, Bud Simons and Green and, oh, we mentioned him there a minute ago...
LEIGHTON: Clayton Carpenter?
COALE: Clayton Carpenter.
LEIGHTON: Do your remember a guy named Parish?
COALE: Yes, sure do. Bob Keith was helping a lot, Jerry Aldred.
LEIGHTON: Oh, yeah, forgot about him. And you met these guys, though, a couple of years before the sit-down strike?
COALE: Oh yeah, I knew 'em before the strike ever come on.
LEIGHTON: Did you go to meetings with 'em up at the Pengelly Building and so on?
COALE: Yep, sure did. Almost everyone they had down there, I went.
LEIGHTON: Did you guys have kind of jobs assigned to you from the Pengelly Building at that time, now, early on of trying to go out and recruit some other guys and then report them?
COALE: Oh, yeah. Everybody was. You know they was tryin' to get all of us to help get members in, see.
LEIGHTON: Who did you turn the cards over to? Did you have them sign little cards?
COALE: Yes, but I don't remember who was takin' care of 'em.
LEIGHTON: The fellow named Green, was he the local A F of L guy then? I'm not sure if it was Green, either.
COALE: I don't know if it was Green, but it might have been.
LEIGHTON: There was a Green who had been in the national.
COALE: I don't remember right offhand just who we turned the cards over to.
LEIGHTON: This was still in the Flint Federation days, right?
COALE: Yeah, right.
LEIGHTON: And the number was eighteen...three thirty...something like that; I can never get it straight.
COALE: I've even forgot what it was now. I've got buttons here, if I could find 'em, and a lot of stuff from back there. But I can't find the darn things. I've got a lot of union buttons from even when we first started to organize, '30, '31. But I'd like to find 'em 'cause I saved one for each month for a long time, see.
LEIGHTON: Are there many guys in that period '34-'36 coming around handing out stuff, a lot of pamphlets?
COALE: Oh, yes, there was a lot of stuff handed out. There was a lot of trouble over some of the stuff they handed out because some of it we didn't like.
LEIGHTON: What was the nature of some of the stuff you didn't like?
COALE: Well, there was some Communist stuff mixed in with it.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember who passed that out? Could you identify who was passing it out? There must have been a lot of left-wing stuff floating around in those days.
COALE: Yes, there was; there was quite a bit. And we tried our darnedest to keep it down but it was hard to do.
MEYER: Where would these be passed around? In the plant, you mean?
COALE: Yes, anywhere they could.
MEYER: Wherever workers would collect.
COALE: They used to try to pass 'em out outside and we had some trouble over it outside there one day.
LEIGHTON: Oh, really. Do you remember about when that was? Before the strike still?
COALE: Yes, before the strike.
LEIGHTON: Were they guys that worked in the plant?
COALE: No, some of 'em were from Chevrolet.
LEIGHTON: Oh. You don't remember who they were?
COALE: It was Communist stuff. So we had a big fight out there in front of the plant.
LEIGHTON: Oh really. Were they newspapers or pamphlets?
COALE: No, they were just handbills they were passin' out.
LEIGHTON: I guess that's one of the things we're in the dark about. To you that's kind of part of the whole thing. I was born eight months after the strike, so I'm really green as grass looking back at that. And of course, the political activity is really intense. You know, you got the Left and all the variations in there. You mentioned Communist. But could you pretty well spot that stuff that was Communists, Socialists, Socialist Workers, Proletarians? These are all names. Or was it all pretty much just left-wing stuff?
COALE: Well, pretty well left-wing, I guess you'd call it. It was easy to spot it. You'd read that literature and you could easily see. And they had some slick ways about gettin' you to come to these places, see. That's the way we found out about it. We went to some of the meetings.
LEIGHTON: Oh, where did they hold these meetings?
COALE: Somebody's house. One of 'em would have a meeting at their house, see. And I'll tell you; you'd be surprised how slick they can work it to get you to listen to that stuff.
LEIGHTON: Could you describe how the thing might go? 'Cause I really don't have any idea. We've heard people met in peoples' basements. But we stop at the door; we don't know what went on inside. We don't know how the message was put, whether they were successful, that type of thing.
COALE: No, I wouldn't say they was too successful because we begin to realize what it was soon as we got some men to go to the meetings. In fact, I was one of them myself. They had different ones, you know, to get in and go to the meetings and let on like they was interested in the deal.
LEIGHTON: Did they have a speaker at the meeting?
COALE: Oh, yes.
LEIGHTON: Was it a guy from another plant, or your plant or was it from out of town?
COALE: Well, usually it would be somebody that you didn't even know, from out of town. And sometimes it would be someone that you did know, too.
MEYER: The handbills didn't have any label on, did they?
MEYER: The appeal of the handbill was to organize...?
COALE: Well, they was tryin' to get a foothold in the union. We even had some of it right in the plant even when we was havin' the strike.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember who the guys were who were pushing that?
COALE: Well, that I just wouldn't say.
LEIGHTON: Were there large numbers of people that went to the meetings? Were they held in houses or in basements?
COALE: Yes, in the houses, usually. Not a big crowd, no, but as many as they could. But it wasn't as easy as they thought it was going to be. Wouldn't too many go; but we'd always get someone to go to see what was goin' on, see.
LEIGHTON: Did they try and recruit you into the party or was it just to join and sign a card?
COALE: That would lead up to it, yes.
LEIGHTON: Okay. I just wondered whether that was part of the pitch, or the main thing was just to organize.
COALE: That was exactly the pitch. But there wasn't none that I knew of that went that far with it. We just went to see what was goin' on and then we tried to stop it in the plant.
MEYER: During the sit-down was there a problem between socialist workers and ones who weren't? Did that ever surface as a problem while you were sitting in?
COALE: There was some left-wingers in there, but still we were all workin' for the same thing, see. But still it was goin' on, right in the plant.
MEYER: But as a practical matter, for the time being, during the strike you kind of buried the hatchet as a tactical move.
MEYER: During this period where things get a little more intense in '36, your organizing effort begins to swell. What were you and your fellow workers talking about in terms of tactics, and having a strike and what kind of a strike it would be?
COALE: Well, I'll tell you we were actually striking more for working conditions than anything else. We made up our mind we just had to do something, because they kept speedin' the line up all the time and makin' it rougher for us. And we decided we would organize. So a lot of us all worked together on the thing and finally we got organized and had the strike.
MEYER: But when do you think you began to realize, to be aware, that a strike was really going to happen here? Or you might turn it around and put it this way: when the strike broke out, was it a surprise?
COALE: Not to me, 'cause I figured it was comin', knew it was comin'. And we all wanted it to come, 'cause we were tryin' to find out something, some way to get them to come to terms a little bit with us.
MEYER: So, by the time the strikes breaks out, it's no surprise that a strike was going to happen.
COALE: No, it wasn't.
MEYER: Had that just been something that you had been conscious or aware of for quite a few weeks or a month or quite a while?
COALE: For longer than that.
MEYER: A few months...aware that things were building in that direction.
MEYER: Do you recall specific discussion of it being a sit-down strike instead of a walkout? The previous things you'd been involved in in '30 was a walkout.
MEYER: Do you remember them talking about "Should we sit in or should we not?"
COALE: I don't remember how that part of it come about. But I know we all decided just to stay inside.
MEYER: On the particular day...you remember the people saying to stay inside. But you don't remember a lot of previous talk about the issue, should it be a sit-down approach or a sit-down tactic?
COALE: No I don't; I don't remember.
LEIGHTON: You knew the strike was coming, but you didn't know exactly when. You didn't know until the day it hit that it was gonna be that day...is that right?
COALE: That's right, that's right.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember November '36, before the strike, about a month? Do you remember two brothers gettin' canned? They got fired; named Perkins. Think they were in the trim room; wouldn't swear to that but I think they were. Think it was second shift. Did you work first shift or...?
COALE: No, I was first shift.
LEIGHTON: Apparently they were fired for wearing their union buttons, but they obviously had been agitating a little bit. And the guys in that department sit down; they just refused to go to work until the company goes out and brings those two guys back to work.
COALE: I remember that, but for some reason I can't remember their names. Yes, but I just can't place 'em. And I remember when it happened and all about it. That was the north unit, wasn't it?
LEIGHTON: I think so.
COALE: Yes, sir, in the north unit.
LEIGHTON: I think it was second shift; it was at night.
COALE: I'm not sure...I'm tryin' to think...that was either paint or trim shop, but I'm not sure which it was.
LEIGHTON: I think it might have been trim.
COALE: It was either paint or trim shop, but I can't...I know I knew them, but I can't...for some reason that name don't ring a bell.
LEIGHTON: That's all right. The thing is you remember that really gave a big boost to the strike.
COALE: Yep, sure did.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember the guys talkin' about it, after that?
COALE: Oh yes.
LEIGHTON: 'Cause they sat tight and they didn't budge and the company had to get the city police to go out and bring these two guys back to work. And they brought 'em back to work and they'd already changed clothes. One guy had taken his girl out to the movies. They had to take 'em back home, change into work clothes and bring 'em back. Of course, it was a big victory. You worked first shift. Do you remember one time at lunchtime...would have been between...well, it might have been October or November, maybe December, but it probably would have been a little better weather. Guys would have come outside at Fisher 1 and Bob Travis comin' up to a foreman in front of a whole bunch of guys and just chewin' him out. A lot of guys were there watchin'. You might not have...you might have missed it; you might have been somewhere else. It was just a shot in the dark, that's all it is.
COALE: I just can't say exactly. Seems to me like I think it was there at the south unit, though.
LEIGHTON: Did that make any impression on you, with him doing that, if you remember?
COALE: I remember a little bit about it, but I can't...
LEIGHTON: Do you remember, did Bob ever come around to the plant and talk to the guys like during the lunch hour, or outside the gate?
COALE: Oh, yes, they did.
LEIGHTON: I mean before the strike, now.
LEIGHTON: Did you ever hear him talk then?
COALE: Oh, yes.
LEIGHTON: What did he do to kind of get you fired up; do you remember?
COALE: Well, not necessarily, I don't know exactly what they done. But them organizers were all pretty good at that...gettin' you fired up. All of 'em, and we had a lot of 'em around there.
LEIGHTON: You mentioned on the strike committee...not the strike committee, but the fellows that had been active in organizing and so on...you know Bud and all these guys. And you mentioned, did you know Vic VanEtten?
COALE: Oh, yes, a tall fellow.
LEIGHTON: Did he work in your department?
COALE: No, I forgot exactly what department he worked in.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember Bert Harris?
COALE: Yes, sir, sure do.
LEIGHTON: Nobody could forget Bert, 'cause he was rather big.
COALE: I knew all of them fellows. All of 'em...Jay Green, Vic VanEtten, Bert Harris, Bud Simons, all of 'em.
LEIGHTON: Did Bert work in the same area?
COALE: No, Bert worked down in the pressed metal. And if I remember right, Jay Green did too.
LEIGHTON: Did you remember anything about Bert Harris? Was he ever talking to guys trying to get 'em organized?
COALE: Oh, yes, Bert was quite an organizer.
LEIGHTON: Was he?
COALE: Oh, yes.
LEIGHTON: I can imagine he could be.
COALE: He was quite a talker. And Bud Simons, he was quite an organizer, too.
LEIGHTON: The strike itself, starts. Where are you when the decision to have the strike?
MEYER: Well, you said you were on first shift. The strike broke out on second shift. When were you first aware the strike was on?
COALE: Well, if I remember right, I was to the union hall when it happened, waitin' for it to happen. I think I was to the union hall.
MEYER: You were at the union hall when you knew.
COALE: We went in; a lot of us went in through the window.
MEYER: Then after you heard that a strike was on, you went back and got in.
LEIGHTON: Did you have a car in those days?
LEIGHTON: In '36? So you drove back and forth to work. Did you live out in Holly?
COALE: I did then, yes, in '36. I was drivin' back and forth to work; there was four or five of us ridin' together.
LEIGHTON: And you were the guy with the car.
COALE: We'd change off drivin'. One would drive one week, and somebody else would drive the next. I think five of us were ridin' together.
LEIGHTON: So during the strike, like goin' from the union hall that day the strike breaks out, you could drive back down to the plant. What I'm getting at, if you didn't take public transportation, the next part of it doesn't mean anything to you because you had your own car. A lot of fellows say, "Gee, I don't remember how I got around town." And you tell 'em, "Well, did you do a lot of walkin' during the strike?" This is for fellows who weren't sitting in.
COALE: Well, I know I was drivin' that day; I'm sure of that.
LEIGHTON: Okay. You spent the whole time then, in the plant?
So you went down, crawled in the window. Did somebody give you an assignment then, when you came in the window, or pretty soon after?
COALE: Pretty soon after I was in there, I was put on special patrol. I remember, it seemed to me there was like sixty of us, but I'm not sure. There was quite a few.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember some of them? Just the ones near you, mostly.
COALE: Yes, Clarence Lischer and Gil Mosher and I think Sam Bertram. He ended up, though, bein' our barber inside the plant. See, we took over the cafeteria and we cooked our own meals and we had a barber in there. He was our barber during the strike; and he was a good one, as good a barber as I ever went to. He's up to Oscoda now.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so he's still alive. Okay.
COALE: He was a real good union man.
LEIGHTON: Was that B e r...do you remember?
COALE: B e r t r a m. Bertram.
LEIGHTON: Oscoda. Okay.
MEYER: What would you do on patrol? What was the main job...the main patrol job?
COALE: You mean the patrol when on strike?
COALE: Well, we'd go all through the plant, in every department, every hour we'd patrol the plant and make sure that there was no supervision or anyone that wasn't supposed to be in there. If in there, well we would get 'em out of there. To see that they wasn't puttin' nothin' over on us, we'd patrol the plant every hour.
LEIGHTON: Did you run into any of that?
COALE: Oh, yes.
LEIGHTON: Did supervision kind of sneak back in?
COALE: Some, a little bit, yes.
LEIGHTON: Really. I wouldn't think they'd do that.
COALE: Once in a while we'd have a little trouble, but not very much, not too much.
LEIGHTON: What did you do with 'em if you caught 'em?
COALE: Get 'em outside.
COALE: The worst I seen was one day the head of the watchmen...the head watchman, the plant protection almost run a man down. We went in and got the car and took it right outside. We took enough men to push it outside.
LEIGHTON: This was out in the yard?
COALE: No, this was in the plant, right inside, under the main office.
LEIGHTON: No kidding. And he drove his car in there?
COALE: And he drove right through. See, they was lettin'...I don't remember how it happened now, whether we was lettin' someone in that was supposed to get in or what. But he almost run over one of our men. So we went up and got him and took his car and put it right outside. He had the brakes locked too, but we got it out of there.
LEIGHTON: What did you do with him?
COALE: He didn't come back through. Well, we took him outside a little rough.
MEYER: Do you remember some plant security people being allowed to stay in?
COALE: Yes. Some of the men were allowed to stay in the power plant.
LEIGHTON: Why did you let the plant security guys stay? I'm curious? Do you remember any decision made on that? Were they guys that you knew that were sympathetic?
COALE: No, that wasn't it. They, I think, I'm sure, though we let a few of them stay in.
LEIGHTON: Was it to watch over something?
COALE: That part of it I just couldn't say.
LEIGHTON: When you went on patrol, did you have a definite shift that you pulled, like you would in the military...four on, four off or four on eight off?
COALE: Yes, I think eight on...we was on eight hours and off eight hours. But every hour we patrolled.
LEIGHTON: Okay. On a typical round, what would you check? What were some of the things they had you look for?
COALE: Well, to see if there was any supervision in there doin' our work or anyone in the plant...was the main reason...that wasn't supposed to be in there.
LEIGHTON: Did you patrol the whole plant, the whole shootin' match?
COALE: Complete plant. Every department.
LEIGHTON: Top to the bottom.
COALE: Every department.
LEIGHTON: And so you had the whole plant, then. In other words, when that plant went down, the union was in charge of the whole thing from the ground up.
COALE: Well, we had our headquarters in the north unit, main floor, north unit, see. But we patrolled the whole plant, the special patrol did.
LEIGHTON: Were you responsible at all...meaning the patrol...for escorting the women out, you know from the cushion room and things like that. Or did you get back a little late for that?
COALE: No, I wasn't there, then.
LEIGHTON: 'Cause that was one of the first things they did.
COALE: Yes, that was the first thing they done.
LEIGHTON: Did any women stay in the plant at all for a short time?
COALE: No, they were all gone. I think maybe they'd come in and speak, stuff like that, sometimes.
MEYER: Do you remember it was only a few days after the strike began...do you remember the day that Sheriff Wolcott came in?
COALE: Yes, he come in there and tried to get us to go out.
MEYER: What do you remember about him?
COALE: Well, he was scared to death; I'll tell you that.
MEYER: Everyone seems to remember that particular thing.
LEIGHTON: The quaking sheriff.
COALE: He had a rough time talkin'.
MEYER: A little dry in the mouth.
COALE: I think he got his car turned over, over at Chevrolet, if I remember right. But I remember him comin' in there and talkin'.
MEYER: Did he read this injunction?
COALE: Oh, yes.
MEYER: What was the reaction of the workers after he read the injunction. What did they do?
COALE: Well, we said it didn't worry us a bit, 'cause we wasn't figurin' on goin' out until somethin' was settled. We'd made up our mind that we was gonna stay there until somethin' was settled.
LEIGHTON: On this round that you made, this security round, by the time you get assigned, do you remember who was in charge of the special patrol?
COALE: No, I don't.
LEIGHTON: You didn't have a guy that you reported to?
COALE: Well, yes, there was. There was someone in charge of it, but I don't remember who. I believe Bob Keith can straighten you out on that.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did you have officers? Did somebody give you rank?
COALE: Oh, yes.
LEIGHTON: So that on patrol you had like a captain or lieutenant or somebody like that?
COALE: There was someone in charge of every operation.
LEIGHTON: Did you have a little thing you pinned on you so everybody would know that?
COALE: We had armbands.
LEIGHTON: And it said, what? Patrol, or?
COALE: I don't know what it said on it, but I know the special patrol all wore armbands. I know that.
LEIGHTON: What did a typical patrolman wear? Did you have any special equipment? Did you have a club...billy?
COALE: Oh, yes. Everybody that went around the plant had, most all of 'em had, a billy club and blackjack.
LEIGHTON: Those blackjacks, by the way, are beautiful. I'd give my right arm to somebody who had one to spare.
COALE: Saved this one after the strike. Had a smaller one than that made out of patent leather. We found one patent leather up there we cut up. Trimmed it...it was red patent leather.
MEYER: Did you make that?
COALE: Yes. That's where I learned to braid.
LEIGHTON: What did they put inside...lead?
COALE: A piece of solder.
MEYER: Were the patrols that you're talking about, was this the same group of people who were protecting the window? We talked to some people who talked about protecting the windows from people getting in? Do you remember that as one of the chores?
COALE: Oh, yes. We went down in the layout...not in the layout, but in the wood working shop and turned our own. We had one man in there (I forget who it was now) that worked down there. And we turned our own billy clubs out and then braided the handles. I didn't keep my billy club; I wish I had it. But I kept the blackjack. That's the one I carried on strike patrol.
LEIGHTON: I'll be darned. Did you have any problem with weapons in the plant?
COALE: I didn't have any, but there was lots of 'em in there.
LEIGHTON: Were there?
COALE: Oh yes.
LEIGHTON: Hot heads bringing them in, was that it?
COALE: Well, they just had 'em in there in case it come to trouble. We didn't intend to go out, now, I'll tell you. And there were lots of weapons easy to get to.
LEIGHTON: Everybody had their hunting gun and that sort of thing?
COALE: No, no, but there was a lot of guns across the street in Bivens' place, kept in the basement.
LEIGHTON: Oh, they had stockpiled them over there?
COALE: Yes, for whoever needed them. See, we called Detroit one time when we were down kind of low inside and we heard they was gonna try to run us out. And we called Chrysler and in less than two hours, I think, we had around two thousand men up there from Chrysler.
LEIGHTON: Who brought 'em up?
COALE: Well, they come up themselves, come right out of the plant, left the plant and come up, because we was real low on men at the time.
LEIGHTON: How low did you get, do you remember?
COALE: I don't know, but we was a lot lower at times and they knew about it outside, I'll tell you that.
LEIGHTON: Did you get down as low as twenty-five?
COALE: I don't think we ever got that low; I wouldn't say we didn't. But I don't remember ever bein' that low, but we might have been. But we was down this time and we heard they were gonna run us out. So we called Detroit...the head guys did...called Detroit, Chrysler. And we had a couple of thousand men up there in just a little while.
LEIGHTON: Was that after the Bull's Run over at Chevrolet?
COALE: Yes, that was after that. The Battle of the Bull's Run.
MEYER: You say there were some people keeping weapons in the plant.
COALE: Oh, yeah, there was some of 'em had 'em.
MEYER: They would keep 'em secretly; you'd never see 'em.
COALE: No, they didn't carry 'em where you could see 'em, none that I seen. But I knew that they was in there. But they didn't mean for everybody to see 'em.
MEYER: Do you ever remember of any point of forty-four days in Fisher, at any point when you were worried about order breaking down among the workers or any point where it actually did break down?
COALE: No, I know I never was worried about anything like that. But I know we got down to where we was worried that they might kick us out of there. And that's one time when we called for help, see. And we could usually get lots of people in in a hurry, but not enough, we didn't think if they were really gonna try to take us out.
LEIGHTON: Did you make any other preparations in case they did come after you?
COALE: Oh, yes. There were lots of gallons with door hinges, layin' on the roof, all the way around.
LEIGHTON: Were there?
COALE: It would have been bad if they had tried to get us out; I'm glad they didn't, 'cause there would have been a lot of people killed. Now that's all there is to it.
LEIGHTON: You had the hinges. What else did you have up there?
COALE: I don't remember what all they had but I do remember the door hinges. They had gallons of 'em settin'...see there's a ledge up there they were settin' on. And there was guns handy where they could be got to in a few minutes. And I'm glad that didn't happen. I really think if hadn't have been for Governor Murphy that we would have got run out. They had the National Guards right there at the edge of town and State Police and everything else. And I think they would have got us out of there one way or the other if it hadn't been for Murphy.
LEIGHTON: Did the Guard come down to Fisher 1 at all? They were in town.
COALE: They were right there at the edge of the plant, yes.
LEIGHTON: So they came down there, too. We know they were all around Chevrolet.
MEYER: But apparently at Fisher they didn't control people coming in and out.
LEIGHTON: You could come and go, whoever had to.
MEYER: See at Chevrolet, they did.
LEIGHTON: Say a stranger came up to the plant...not a stranger, but an outsider. They had to get a pass to get in?
COALE: Yes, they sure did.
LEIGHTON: And who issued the pass?
MEYER: Would it have been someone inside or somebody outside like Travis?
COALE: Oh, we had the union all over there then, see, right across the street. They was issued over there.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see. Do you remember, whose restaurant was that?
COALE: It wasn't a restaurant. It was right next door to the Q-T Restaurant there.
MEYER: Well, somebody told us there was a basement in the restaurant that was a hall.
COALE: I guess there was a restaurant upstairs. Yes, I guess that's right, too.
LEIGHTON: A place named Ray Cook's Cafe, is that right?
COALE: Yes, Ray Cook's, Ray Cook's. That's right. You're right.
MEYER: That was kind of the headquarters of the whole Fisher operation.
COALE: See, he was a general foreman in there, too, at one time, Ray Cook was.
LEIGHTON: Oh, was he? He wasn't at the time of the strike, though?
MEYER: Before he ran his restaurant.
COALE: Yes, he used to be my general foreman at one time in the body shop.
LEIGHTON: Is he the guy who turned his restaurant over to the union for a kitchen across the street, where they brought in the chef from Detroit?
COALE: Yes. And I'll tell you another place that was awful good to us. Johnny's Restaurant there, right next to the Midway. That's where we had our extra stuff if we needed it, in his basement there. And he spent every time he had and then got killed a couple-three years later crossin' the street. He done a lot for us. He went broke, actually, by helpin' us people at Johnny's restaurant there.
LEIGHTON: You say he got killed crossin' the street. By a car, you mean?
COALE: Yes, it was an accident. He just walked across when he shouldn't have been walkin'. He got off the streetcar, I believe, and walked across the street and got killed. It was an accident.
MEYER: Did you feel in Fisher 1 or did you have any specific knowledge in Fisher 1 of any people...how shall we say...infiltrating this sit-down, you know, people who were informers in the plant? Was there worry about that or specific knowledge about that?
COALE: That's one of our jobs, too, the special patrol, on that, to check who was in there and who wasn't. And if we wasn't sure, they didn't stay long.
LEIGHTON: Did you find any stoolies sittin' in there?
COALE: Oh yeah, we found a few.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any of them?
COALE: No, I don't remember any names.
MEYER: What would you do?
COALE: They took 'em out.
MEYER: They took 'em out. This is one thing I've always been curious about. How do you identify a stoolie? Did you know 'em ahead...
COALE: At that time, see, it wasn't like it is now. They wasn't changin' all the time. At that time, I think I knew every person that worked in that plant. I believe I knew almost every person that worked in that plant and it wasn't hard. But now they've changed so much, see, with many comin' and goin'. But then I knew almost everyone that worked in the plant. And it wasn't hard, really.
MEYER: So you would know that so and so was not sympathetic.
COALE: If there was anybody in there that we wasn't sure of, we'd check.
MEYER: You might remember a couple of months ago so-and-so was complaining about the union. And here they're a sit-downer...and what are you doin' here?
COALE: That's right. And we'd check everyone we'd see. If we didn't know for sure who it was, we checked and would find out who they were and what they was doin' in there.
MEYER: I see. That raised an interesting point. You might not be able to shed much light on this, because you said you were down at the Pengelly when the strike broke out. But the people we've talked to have different impressions of the people on the second shift who were there...have different impressions of what it was like when they called the strike just after the lunch break at second shift. Some people have recollections of being told to leave. Other people have recollections of being asked to stay in and sit down. Do you know how that worked at all? Do you have any recollection?
COALE: I don't because, see, I wasn't in there. See, I was on the first shift and I wasn't in there at the time.
MEYER: When you made the decision later to go in what did you do...did you just go in or did you check with someone?
COALE: Well, I checked with them at the union hall there, talked to 'em there. They wanted everybody to get in there at the time, you know, as many as...
MEYER: So the union hall on their first day was kind of a place where they were getting people organized to go in, or checking people to go in.
MEYER: At the same time, there were a lot of people who they didn't want in.
MEYER: So the union was kind of a "sorting," as it were.
COALE: Everybody carried some identification...a strike card.
MEYER: When did you get the strike card...after the strike began?
COALE: After it began. I got one here some place. And it shows every mark...every day, every week I guess it was, every week. But I can't find 'em right now. A fellow wanted some union buttons the other day. He got in an argument about some of the union buttons, what they had on 'em. Four thirty-six and thirty-seven, about bein' A F of L affiliated with...let's see how was it? Something about the American Federation of Labor. But I couldn't find 'em to show him. I've got 'em, but I don't know where they're at right now. And I've got some newspapers here from the sit-down, a lot of pictures in it which I would have liked to have showed you. But I haven't found 'em; I was lookin' for 'em when you came.
MEYER: Aside from your patrol duty, what else do you remember about life in the plant during the sit-down? How did you spend your time?
COALE: Well, we'd set around and read something if we had anything to read, played a little cards, not much, though. I didn't, anyway. Some of 'em did. We went to the cafeteria when we went to eat, slept on cushions. We had cushions laid out to sleep on. They made a pretty good bed.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember the "kangaroo court"?
COALE: Yes, sure do.
LEIGHTON: What was that all about?
COALE: Oh, just like any other "kangaroo court."
LEIGHTON: What did they deal with? As a patrol member you wouldn't have taken a stoolie to the "kangaroo court," would you?
LEIGHTON: That was too serious a matter, or what?
COALE: There wasn't any on my shift, anyway, on my patrol.
LEIGHTON: I mean, if you had serious problems, a couple of guys fighting or something. Would they go to the "kangaroo court"?
COALE: I wouldn't say. I don't remember too much about it, but I know they had one. I know we had a "kangaroo court," but I don't remember a lot about it.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Was there a crew for cleaning up? Sanitation crew?
COALE: Yes, but I don't remember just exactly how it was run, but we had a crew for everything.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Do you remember any of the other crews...what kind they were? Did you have a cooking crew?
COALE: Oh, yes, we had certain ones that done the cooking. And like I say, Sam was the barber.
MEYER: Did you have some musicians?
COALE: They had some music in there sometimes. There were a lot of different ones in there that played different instruments and had 'em in there. It helped out to pass the time.
LEIGHTON: If a visitor came to the plant, was it your job as patrol to escort 'em around and show 'em what's what?
COALE: We didn't take 'em around through the plant.
LEIGHTON: You didn't.
COALE: They'd come to the north unit, but we didn't take 'em through the plant. I don't remember ever takin' any of 'em through the plant.
LEIGHTON: Nobody got a tour. So they would just sit there and interview whoever...or talk to...
COALE: Just come in to the north unit.
LEIGHTON: Who did they talk to when they came in?
COALE: Some of the head guys, you know, the guys we figure at that time were the head of our union, like Bud Simons, or some of 'em guys, see.
LEIGHTON: Bud Simons pretty much handled what we call "P. R."----public relations.
COALE: Quite a bit of it.
LEIGHTON: Anybody else?
COALE: Well, yes, there were different ones. Al Cook took a pretty good hand in it and there was quite a few different ones, you know.
LEIGHTON: Did you yourself ever get to talk to any of those people that came in?
COALE: Oh yes. I knew Roy and Vic Reuther, Mortimer, all them guys.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any newsmen coming at the time?
COALE: Oh gosh, they like to drove us guys nuts. There was three different news outfits in there takin' pictures at the same time.
LEIGHTON: Inside the plant?
COALE: Three different ones in there at one time.
LEIGHTON: Now they must have gotten some kind of a tour around the plant, didn't they? I mean they were takin' various places.
COALE: I don't remember takin' 'em anywhere, only up in the north unit there. I wouldn't say they didn't, but I know I wasn't on the patrol if they did.
MEYER: Were these motion pictures or still pictures?
COALE: Yes, motion pictures. That's how I got that letter...that paper from Tampa Shores, Florida, see. This fellow I was rentin' from in Holly built in Tampa Shores. So it come out in the Tampa Tribune, me kissin' my daughter through the window. My wife and daughter was there, up to the window...had a thing built up there so they could walk up there...and I was kissin' her and they snapped the picture and they come out in the Tampa Tribune and he sent it to me. I've still got it here some place.
LEIGHTON: Is that the famous...there's a very famous picture...of course there were a number of guys that happened to, but...? It's also in the motion picture. It's hard to describe because there are several pictures like that.
I couldn't tell you what state it was. And he was in there for, oh, quite a few weeks and then he decided he was gonna get out. And he took a trip and he said...he told me when he come back...he says, "I thought I was a gettin' away with mutiny. I went into a movie theatre (in whatever state it was) in this town. And the first thing I seen was a news screen with a picture of you bearded guys from the strike!"
LEIGHTON: So you got good publicity. Do you remember a member of the British Parliament, a woman? Do you remember her visiting the plant at all? Does that ring any bells?
COALE: Who was it?
LEIGHTON: A member of Parliament, the British Parliament, a lady.
COALE: No, I don't remember that.
LEIGHTON: You did mention before, that there were some people who came and spoke inside the plant.
COALE: Oh yes, oh yes.
LEIGHTON: One would assume that the Reuthers and Bob Travis and those did. But were there any other, kind of people not directly connected with the strike, who weren't maybe connected with the UAW. Did John L. Lewis ever come in while you were sittin' in?
COALE: I don't believe it; I don't remember it if he did.
LEIGHTON: A lady named Rose Pesotta...does that ring any bell?
LEIGHTON: Any local officials ever come in? I can't imagine 'em giving 'em any audience.
COALE: No, I don't remember any one but the sheriff. That's the only one I remember comin' in.
MEYER: Now you were married and had a child while the strike was on. How did they make out while you were sitting in there for forty-four days?
COALE: Well, my brother was there, too. He lived with me and he didn't stay in the strike.
MEYER: Oh, he lived with you.
COALE: Yes, he lived with me at the time. Was you workin' then, Marie?
MARIE: I don't remember.
COALE: She might have been workin' at the spring factory there in Holly; I don't remember if she was workin' while I was in the plant or not. I don't believe she was at the time; I'm not sure.
LEIGHTON: Did you own your own house down there in Holly? No, you were renting from the guy. If you only had one income and you were renting at the time...it was the Depression. Things must not have been too good.
COALE: It was rough; it was rough.
LEIGHTON: Were you able to pay the rent during the strike or did you have a pretty good landlord?
COALE: If I remember right, I did, yes.
LEIGHTON: Okay, I just wondered. Some people had good landlords and others just moved on.
COALE: Yes, I had a good one.
LEIGHTON: You lived in Holly up through the strike. Did you stay on in Holly for quite some time after the strike or did you...?
COALE: Not too long after. We came back to Flint not too long after that.
LEIGHTON: So you had lived in Flint first, when you first came.
COALE: Oh, yes.
LEIGHTON: Where did you live when you first came to Flint?
COALE: We lived on Clinton Street first and then we lived thirteen years on Leland Street.
LEIGHTON: That was after you were in Holly.
COALE: Clinton Street was the first place we moved to.
LEIGHTON: Then you went to Holly.
COALE: Yes, and then back to Leland.
LEIGHTON: Did you buy the house on Leland Street?
LEIGHTON: Still rented.
COALE: The guy rented that house to me for thirteen years for...I think it was thirty dollars a month. Of course, I done all my own paintin' and stuff like that; and he would never raise my rent, not once.
LEIGHTON: Oh, those were the good old days.
COALE: Thirteen years. Thirty dollars a month, and it was a nice five-room house...basement, furnace and everything, all modern and everything, garage. But he never raised my rent all that thirteen years because I done all my own work and everything. When it needed any paintin' done I done it myself. If it needed anything fixed, I fixed it myself. So he never raised it. Everybody else was raisin' rent, but he didn't.
MEYER: What do you remember about the end of the strike? You were in the plant the day they marched out.
COALE: I marched out with the rest of 'em.
MEYER: Marched out. And then there was what...marched down to the Pengelly Building? Was that what it was...or you marched to the different plants, was that it?
COALE: I remember marchin' down Saginaw Street but I don't remember where we went to. Remember we come out right at the north end and come out...I don't think we went downtown...yes we did, too. We had a meeting down there at the Pengelly Building. But I don't remember just exactly.
MEYER: I think there was a big meeting the day or two after the strike at the IMA.
COALE: Yes, at the IMA.
MEYER: Do you remember that one?
COALE: Yes, I was there.
LEIGHTON: Was John L. Lewis at that one?
COALE: I'm not sure about that.
MEYER: Norman Thomas?
COALE: Norman Thomas I think was there; I believe he was, I'm not sure. It's been a long time, I'll tell you. It's hard to remember all that stuff.
MEYER: What do you remember about the situation in the plant after you got back to work, right after the strike? What were things like in terms of relation between the sit-downers and the supervising foremen and between the sit-downers and some of the workers that didn't sit-down? Was there a period of awkwardness and adjustment?
COALE: Not too much, no. I think there was a lot of difference in the supervision. It was a lot better, I think, after that. I mean we got along better. We didn't have so much speed up and stuff like that. It was a lot better. But they had a little trouble, gettin' some of 'em to join, but most of 'em...I got my department one hundred percent.
LEIGHTON: They all joined up within a few days after that.
COALE: Yes. I had one man that we had to threaten to take out if he didn't join, 'cause a guy wasn't gonna work with him. So the last day when they was gonna throw him out, to get him out of there, see. In fact, his name was Cole, too. So I told him, "You'd better join the union, because if you don't, they're gonna take you out today." I said, "They've talked to you and I've talked to you and it don't seem to do any good. But you'd better make up your mind and make it up quick because you're not gonna be in here all day." So he joined.
MEYER: There seemed to be a lot of Coles. What was this?
COALE: His was C o l e...see, mine is C o a l e.
MEYER: Oh, you spell your name C o a l e and his was C o l e. Okay.
LEIGHTON: You said "take him out". I want to get straight what you mean by take out. You guys were gonna toss him out? Not supervision, I mean. You guys were just gonna take him out.
COALE: We were just gonna take 'im out.
LEIGHTON: Somebody might lean on him a little bit or show him the error of his ways.
COALE: But he joined, so that was it.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Do you remember were there any departments where getting guys to join up was pretty difficult? Or where they had a tough time?
COALE: Some of 'em did, yes. Some of the departments were kind of rough, I think.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any of them in particular where guys would say, "Hey, gee, we really got a tough time in our department."?
COALE: No, I don't remember which ones, but I know some departments were harder than others to get to join. I know that. But I think the ones that were...I think the stewards and things like that had a lot do with that. They wasn't maybe goin' at it right or workin' hard enough at it or what. 'Cause I know I was head of our department and we didn't have any trouble. We got 'em all signed up...no trouble at all outside of just warnin' that one fellow.
LEIGHTON: Right. You mentioned "steward", okay, that you were a steward, then a chief steward and then later a committeeman. To start off with, when were you first made a steward? Or how did you get to be a steward?
COALE: You were voted in.
LEIGHTON: Was this after the strike or during it or before?
COALE: That was after the strike. See, you have a steward, then you have the chief steward that's over the other stewards, too. He's the head man.
LEIGHTON: In a department? Is that right...was it organized along department lines?
COALE: We had stewards in the CV and in the final assembly, see. And then when you're a committeeman, then I had cut and sew and sewing room.
LEIGHTON: Okay, let me ask you, when you were a steward, how many people were you responsible for? How many men underneath you, just roughly?
COALE: I think if I remember right I had one line, it would probably be...
LEIGHTON: Probably forty people.
COALE: Then when chief steward you was over the whole CV and final assembly, see.
LEIGHTON: What was CV again?
COALE: That's where they do part of the...where it comes to the final downstairs...see that's where they put glass and stuff like that in it there. Then downstairs they put the molding and it's already been trimmed. See, it goes through CV and then the trim.
LEIGHTON: Okay, I just didn't know what the CV meant. So as chief steward, you had how many? You had stewards underneath you, so how many stewards?
COALE: I think I had five or six under me.
LEIGHTON: So that would make you responsible for five stewards and roughly about two hundred people.
COALE: Somethin' like that.
LEIGHTON: Now, when do you change...did they still have stewards when you went to committeeman or did they scrap the steward system when you became a committeeman?
COALE: They scrapped the steward system which I still think was the worst thing they ever done.
COALE: Well, I know my grievances were...ninety percent of 'em I settled myself instead of messin' around and goin' to the committeemen and takin' it upstairs or wherever you had to take it to get it done. I settled most of 'em myself. And I still think we should have stuck with it, but we didn't. Either way, I guess was all right. But I really thought a lot of the steward system because we settled our grievances ourselves.
LEIGHTON: When did it go out, do you remember?
COALE: I don't remember what year.
LEIGHTON: I mean, how long did the steward system last, about? Let's put it that way. Was it very long or did it just have a short life?
COALE: It was a few years, I would say. I'm not sure.
LEIGHTON: Okay. When you became a committeeman, you had to be elected to that as well, right?
LEIGHTON: And you were elected by who...the guys in the floor, in the department?
COALE: In the department.
LEIGHTON: And how many guys were you over then?
COALE: Oh, cut and sew, sewing room, cushion room...
LEIGHTON: And that included women too, didn't it?
COALE: Yes, a lot of women. All women mostly on the cut and sew then. And I had the final assembly and CV, cut and sew and the sewing room and the cushion room.
LEIGHTON: So a ballpark estimate on how many people?
COALE: Oh, I'm just guessin'. I'd say five hundred.
LEIGHTON: Did that later get cut down some, pared off a little bit? That must have been awfully tough to take care of five hundred people!
COALE: I think they finally got 'em in each, the final assembly and CV, I think was the last, all we had to take care of.
LEIGHTON: So that would knock it down to about half to around two fifty. When you become a committeeman...well, let's go back to where you were a steward. You took care of most of the problems yourself. And any you had then did you refer those up to the chief steward, those that you couldn't resolve. At that time, in that first six months following the strike, did your department wildcat very much? Did guys just say, "Hey, we've had it."?
COALE: No, I don't remember. I don't believe we had any. Now they had some, quite a few of 'em up in the trim shop there, in the south unit and some of the other departments. But I don't believe we had any; I don't believe we had one.
LEIGHTON: Any guys who were the leaders of the wildcats who would do it over and over again. Or was it just a question of guys that would get fed up? If you didn't have any, that is a tough question.
COALE: Usually there's a radical that would get that started, see. They'd get 'em riled up and then they'd pull something.
LEIGHTON: Was there much support for these wildcats throughout the plant or...?
COALE: Accordin' to what it was for; for some things, yes, others, no.
LEIGHTON: So it just varied from issue to issue.
COALE: If it wasn't something that amounted to anything, why, they'd break it up in a hurry usually.
MEYER: Do you remember the split in the UAW in '38? There was a big split between the CIO. That caused a lot of problems at Fisher 1, I guess.
COALE: Sure did, a lot of 'em.
MEYER: There was an election that ultimately settled the dispute but then there was a long dispute before that.
COALE: That was the A F of L and CIO then, see. Really, I was A F of L. So was Bob Keith, Clarence Lischer, and all of them guys were A F of L. But it went CIO, so we swung along.
MEYER: What impact did that split have on life in Fisher 1?
COALE: Oh, I think it was kind of rough for some of 'em, but it never bothered me any, I mean. I think they made it kind of rough for some of them.
MEYER: There was some picketing connected with that, wasn't it?
MEYER: Was it one side or the other...was it the A F of L side that was doing the picketing or both, or?
COALE: I don't remember which it was, but I know there was some picketin'.
MEYER: What were the main issues for those of you in the plant?
COALE: Well, some thought the A F of L was better and some thought the CIO was, see.
MEYER: The main issue from the workers' point of view was which affiliation would be the most effective?
COALE: Yes, that's right.
LEIGHTON: Why did you choose the A F of L? Let's put it that way: why did that appeal to you more than the CIO to start with?
COALE: Maybe it was because we started under the A F of L and I liked it better, I guess you would say.
LEIGHTON: Because you had been organized by the CIO, right?
COALE: No, we was organized under the A F of L.
LEIGHTON: No, no, I mean in the sit-down. But most of those guys were CIO guys, Travis, Mortimer.
COALE: Oh yeah, we all were then.
MEYER: Before that you were originally A F of L.
COALE: A F of L, see. And I felt the A F of L was what we should have and a lot of 'em felt the CIO. And finally it went CIO, so we all joined the CIO.
LEIGHTON: Did you think Homer Martin was a pretty good union leader? Was that one of the things that appealed to you?
COALE: I liked him. I liked him.
LEIGHTON: What did you like about him?
COALE: Well, I thought he was a good union leader.
LEIGHTON: Was he a good speaker? Was it the things he was talking about?
COALE: Yes, he was. He was a really good speaker, I thought.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any of the things he said that you really kind of liked, either stands that he took on issues, or things he was against that really stand out in your mind and would have led you to chose the A F of L?
COALE: No, I wouldn't say that was it. I don't know. I just joined the union first with the A F of L and for some reason I thought it was the best.
LEIGHTON: Was Martin pretty strong against the left-wingers?
COALE: Yes, he was very strong.
LEIGHTON: So that would maybe have some appeal for a lot of guys.
MEYER: Very likely.
COALE: Yes, I know it did.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember what left-wingers in particular he was against or advised you against? I'm not talking about national figures now.
COALE: No, they didn't mention names, usually, but he was strictly against it, I'll tell you that.
LEIGHTON: Didn't they both have a union hall across the street, side by side--the A F of L and CIO?
LEIGHTON: That's kind of odd. I can't imagine that. They got a civil war going and both headquarters are right beside each other.
MEYER: Right next door to each other.
LEIGHTON: Did you ever have any trouble getting across Saginaw Street in those days? What did you have to do?
COALE: Well, I never had. I don't remember ever havin' any squabble, but there was a few.
LEIGHTON: Guys would really have to make a hundred-yard dash in a hurry, is that it?
COALE: There was a little trouble.
LEIGHTON: Did the guys come after them? Did each side come after the other? Is that it?
COALE: There was some of that; every once in a while they would get into it.
LEIGHTON: Were they just trying to recruit guys; was that it?
COALE: Well, one believed in the CIO and the other believed in the A F of L, I guess you would say.
LEIGHTON: Who were the guys leading the CIO at that time, during that split? You had mentioned Martin, of course. He was president of the UAW anyway. But locally who were the big CIO spokesmen? And who were the big A F of L spokesmen? Let's say inside the plant, you know. Some of the guys who were really saying, "Come on, join the A F of L" and the other guys. The guys who would do a lot of the speaking and try to convince you to join their side or to stay with them, whoever it was.
COALE: Well, Jerry would be one of 'em and...
LEIGHTON: Jerry Aldred?
LEIGHTON: He would have been what...A F of L?
COALE: Yes. And Al Cook...
LEIGHTON: Bud Simons?
COALE: No, he was on CIO.
MEYER: Simons would have been CIO.
LEIGHTON: What about Green?
COALE: Them guys were pretty much together on everything.
MEYER: Moore, Simon, Green. Harris?
COALE: No, Harris...Bert Harris, you mean. He was for the Martin side.
LEIGHTON: And Keith would have been A F of L...Bob Keith?
LEIGHTON: Yes, you mentioned that before.
COALE: Yes, I want to give you his address before I forget it here. 3468 E. Maple, Bob Keith lives. It's just a couple houses off of Center Road.
LEIGHTON: Oh, okay.
COALE: To the left or the right it would be comin' south. And the phone number is 742-6319. Now he can give you a lot of dope that I can't, I'll tell you.
LEIGHTON: To get back to this A F of L-CIO split. I'll tell you where we're comin' from. We don't know much about what went on in Flint between '37 and the forties, other than the strikes and people have written some things. We're really lost in that period. And a lot goes on. You guys were so caught up in that A F of L, the CIO, and then Martin was eased out, and the election of R. J. Thomas. And this tremendous...you got the Unity Caucus and the Progress Caucus and we're not sure...just like the old Abbott and Costello routine. We're not sure who's on first and what's on second all the time. That's why we're asking all these questions. The CIO guys, were they...you mentioned Simons and was Devitt in there too? Were they considered the left-wingers pretty much?
COALE: Pretty much, yes.
LEIGHTON: Okay. The guys followed them pretty closely during the strike. But did they begin to fall away from them after the strike? Did kind of some hostility grow?
COALE: Well, there was a little trouble now and then, I guess. But we just had to live with it.
LEIGHTON: Did you go to any rallies or talks in town that the A F of L guys would hold or speakers come in from outside?
COALE: Yes, both sides had rallies. Of course, at that time I just went to the one. But when it turned CIO, I went to the CIO.
LEIGHTON: Yes. Did a guy named Lovestone ever come to Flint?
LEIGHTON: He did come. Jay Lovestone.
COALE: Oh, yes, more than once.
LEIGHTON: Did he really? Was he here during the strike?
COALE: I think he was; I wouldn't say for sure.
LEIGHTON: Of course, you were inside the plant so it would be tough to...unless he came to the plant.
COALE: Well, a lot of them guys come in the plant. A lot of the organizers come in the plant.
MEYER: Do you remember Lovestone coming in the plant?
COALE: I wouldn't say for sure whether he come in the plant or not, but at that time I knew him. But I wouldn't now if I seen him. But I knew him then.
LEIGHTON: Was he the head of any kind of group...caucus or something like that?
COALE: He must have been, but I don't remember just which side he was on.
LEIGHTON: But he was mainly organizing for the A F of L.
LEIGHTON: He was an adviser to Homer Martin, wasn't he?
MEYER: But he came back later. At later times after the strike he would visit Flint a couple of times, do you think?
COALE: I'm pretty sure he was back after the strike. No, maybe he wasn't either...I'm not sure; that I wouldn't say.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember any people that were kind of associated with Lovestone in town, that identified with him or his cause or were organizers for him and anything like that?
MEYER: Going all the way back to what we were talking about at the beginning, do you remember you were talking about the meetings out at the farm. Do you remember a guy named Milton Jones?
MEYER: 'Cause he was involved in the '30 strike, too.
COALE: Yes, I remember him.
MEYER: He worked some place in Fisher 1. I don't remember which part of the shop.
COALE: I don't remember what department it was. Blackie Smith...of course he's dead now too. He was in the meetings all of them out there. Bob Keith was in 'em. A lot of these guys. Clarence Lischer, I think, was in 'em. I'm not sure now.
MEYER: Milton Jones probably would have been A F of L, too.
COALE: I think he was...I think he was.
LEIGHTON: Were some of the guys in those meetings down at the farm from other plants in Flint...Chevy, Buick?
COALE: If there was, there wasn't very many. Most of 'em were our people from Fisher 1.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember a guy in the early days named Jack Palmer? "Francis" was his real name.
COALE: That's one of the guys I had to take out there and convince about where the house is...Jack and what was this other guy's name? Jack Palmer and...
LEIGHTON: Larry Jones?
LEIGHTON: White-haired guy.
COALE: Yes, that's the two that I...and they still wouldn't believe it after I took 'em out there and showed 'em the house.
LEIGHTON: On top of that Jack has some snapshots of that farm.
MEYER: Is that right?
LEIGHTON: Yes. I'll tell you. Sometime you ought to get together with Jack and sit down. And he's been doin' some work on goin' through the old journals and so on, on that 1930 strike. Oh, he's a sharp guy. Of course, he was president out at Chevrolet there, later on. A couple of things. Before you came to Flint in 1928. You know, you grew up on a farm. You take to unionism pretty easily. Now there's a lot of people who come into Flint who don't.
COALE: I know.
LEIGHTON: Somebody in the family back in those days...?
COALE: No, I don't know. Why, I just...
LEIGHTON: There wasn't any history of unionism?
LEIGHTON: Anything you read, do you remember?
COALE: No, I don't know why; I just picked it up in the shop.
LEIGHTON: Just survival.
COALE: But I was gettin' ready and one of the first ones.
LEIGHTON: Was there any one guy had a big impact on you?
COALE: I don't think so; no, I don't remember.
LEIGHTON: Just kind of absorbed it, gradually. Not so gradually, pretty quick.
MEYER: How old would you have been then, let's say, in '28?
COALE: In '28 I was nineteen. You know when I went in there in '28 I got working papers, birth certificate and the whole works. I didn't have a birth certificate. I had to send to Illinois to get that and I had to get working papers. They wouldn't believe my age, couldn't believe I was as old as I told 'em I was. So I had to get working papers and birth certificate to get in.
LEIGHTON: In that period after the strike, you're a committeeman. How long were you a committeeman then? You were a steward, chief steward, and then a committeeman.
COALE: I'm just a-guessin'. I don't remember exactly. I'd say three, four years I was a committeeman.
LEIGHTON: When you got into the committeeman and you covered the trim room and all you must have run into Art Smith, then, didn't you?
COALE: Oh, yes.
LEIGHTON: Wasn't he committeeman at one time?
COALE: Yes, but I don't think he was at the south unit, was he?
LEIGHTON: You got me, now. I don't know, but I think he was.
COALE: I know Art Smith; maybe he was in the south unit.
LEIGHTON: He was a tack spitter.
COALE: Well, if he was, he worked up there with Archie Carpenter and Clayton and all them boys. But I just can't place him as workin' in the south unit. I may be wrong. I'm not sayin' that he wasn't. He might have been, right in the south unit.
LEIGHTON: Was there a woman still up in that room...cushion or cut and sew, who had been a supervisor even before the strike? Was she still on after the strike? Do you remember her...a real bossy baby? Nellie Compton...does that name ring any bell?
COALE: Oh yeah, I done dealings with her when I was a committeeman.
LEIGHTON: Oh, did you? So she was still there then.
COALE: She was still there; had to be. 'Cause I'm sure I done dealings with her.
LEIGHTON: Was she hard to get along with?
COALE: A little bit. She knew her business. Well, I'll tell you, it was supervision's business to be hard for us to get along with. Now Jack Pierce was the general foreman downstairs. Him and I used to go around and around. Many a day at lunch period, at the five-minute break we would get, we would always give 'em orders. I'll go tell my stewards and they'd tell the men we're goin' to the office at the five-minute break. But be sure you're back on the way back down the line before the time is up so they can't fire no one. Take the gang to the office. And Jack would come out and want to know what it was. And I'd tell him some of the things that should have been settled and wasn't settled and I wanted to know if he was going to do something about it. And I wanted to know right now. So he'd tell me to get the men back to work and he'd settle it. And we had...you know we bargained a lot and we had...we went up and down. But still I was in there on construction after the strike...I mean after I went out of the Fisher Body there when they changed over to war work during the time I was off I went down in the bomber plant and went to work. And I come back in there and Jack come down. I was workin' down in the press room. Heard I was down there and he come down to see me. And he said, "Elden," he says, "You was on one side and I was on the other. One thing I'll tell you, you can handle men. But if you ever want a job you've got it any time you come back into Fisher Body. Any time you want a job, I'll give you a job. I don't hold nothin' again' you. We was just on different sides; I was on supervision."
(A brief portion of conversation not on tape here)
LEIGHTON: Is that what happened? How did that change? Originally when you'd resolve a grievance, you dealt with the guy who had the grievance and who else?
COALE: Usually you would go in to your office downstairs first. And the top would be your assistant plant manager. Some of them went up that high. But normally, I mean, when you were still a steward.
LEIGHTON: When a steward, who was the guy from management that you'd deal with first?
COALE: Oh, you'd go to your foreman first, then the General Foreman and then the Superintendent.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Once, let's say a year or so after the strike, then what's beginning to happen?
COALE: It was easier, a lot easier.
LEIGHTON: It was easier.
COALE: Oh, yes, it was easier to get your thing settled.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did you still go to the foreman or did you go to a supervisor then?
COALE: As long as we had the steward system we went the same way.
LEIGHTON: Soon as that went out, you started dealin' with who?
COALE: The committeeman.
LEIGHTON: I mean, you as a committeeman...who did you deal with from management?
COALE: You went through your General Foreman usually, first.
LEIGHTON: Okay, your foreman was then kind of out of the picture increasingly.
COALE: Well, you'd almost always go talk to him. But he wasn't allowed to settle too much of it. You usually had to go to either the General Foreman or Superintendent.
LEIGHTON: And in the old days the foreman could handle it.
COALE: Yes. Because I got a lot of my problems settled without even going into the office. Of course, maybe it was because we had a good man in there. We had Harlan Niemeyer, and he was as good a foreman as I ever worked for. And the men all liked him and he'd try to straighten things out if he possibly could. But a lot of it he couldn't and we'd have to take it to the office.
LEIGHTON: Anything you notice that changed in town? Here you are now, after the strike, you're a union man. You're an officer in the union, at the local. In and around town were there any changes in the way the police talked to you? Any changes in city hall that you were aware of? Or were you just too tied up with the union business trying to get things straightened away?
COALE: I would say I was just too tied up with the union, because I don't remember too much change.
LEIGHTON: Did wages go up very much?
COALE: Not right away, but they did eventually, yes. But when we struck actually it was for working conditions. That's what the main thing was, working conditions. We wasn't interested right then in the wage part of it. Although they did go up right along after that, but that wasn't what we really struck for; it was working conditions.
MEYER: This has been very helpful.
COALE: I wish I could have found them union buttons, them old union buttons and my strike cards and some of them pictures out of the paper. Maybe it would have done some good, I don't know. But I'll find 'em sooner or later and I'll call you.