INTERVIEW: MARCH 4, 1980
INTERVIEWER: KENNETH B. WEST
INTERVIEWEE: ELIZABETH PICHOTTE
WEST: Mrs. Pichotte, you said you hired in at nineteen.
PICHOTTE: When I was nineteen years of age. That was 1932.
WEST: At AC.
PICHOTTE: At AC, and I had worked there for forty-one and a half years before I retired. So that was five years ago, going on six.
WEST: What were you doing then, at AC?
PICHOTTE: All the years that I had worked there I had worked on...well, for one period of time, about eighteen and a half years, I took care of all the salvage for eleven lines. And then that was the first eighteen years of the time that I spent there. And then later on then I went out into the area and worked on special projects, that is, like, for instance, speedometers for police cars and things like that. I mean it was all projects that were different than what line work would be.
WEST: But at the time of the strike you were working on salvage?
WEST: What did that involve?
PICHOTTE: It involved all of the salvage that came from eleven different lines which would be the first shift, the second shift as well as the third, when they had a third shift going. And everything that was rejected from the lines would go in to this area. And then at this area we would repair them, tear the parts down. And the parts that were all right, we would set them back on the line. And the parts that were, of course, no good then I was responsible to send them out to wherever area they belonged to for salvage.
WEST: That required a certain amount of skill, didn't it then?
PICHOTTE: Well, at that time more or less, yes, because I had to lead a group of girls, and I had to read blue prints, which was part of the job.
WEST: I see. Had you been trained for that sort of thing before?
PICHOTTE: No, no I had not. I had a supervisor at that time they weren't foremens, they were just straw boss leaders. And he was more or less, oh, sort of a man that took over and taught each one of the different girls that worked and would teach them the fundamentals of working with those parts.
WEST: I see. So most of the workers with you then were girls.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes.
WEST: But the men were the supervisors.
PICHOTTE: The supervisors on the line at that time.
WEST: What sort of a supervisor did you have? Was it tough? Some of the men report that they were driven pretty hard?
PICHOTTE: Well, by the time that I had got in there it was a little bit different than when my husband got hired in. For instance, he was six years older than myself, so he went in the shop six years before I did, which there was a difference.
WEST: In '26, then?
PICHOTTE: Yes, and see that was a different period altogether. And at that time if, for instance, they would tell them they had so much work to do. And if the work was coming down the line sometimes they'd run into problems if they couldn't do what was expected of them. They'd say, "Well, now you do it or else. There's a whole line of people out there waitin' for your job." And so this was what put the pressure on the people in the factory.
WEST: Your husband hired into Fisher 2 then?
PICHOTTE: My husband started at Buick. And he worked there for two years and eight months. And then they had a layoff. And they laid off all the single men, even though he had almost three years of time there. And they laid him off. And after that he went to work for General Motors at Chevrolet. But he also played ball for them. He played for Buick Majors when he worked at Buick.
WEST: Oh, baseball.
PICHOTTE: Yes, and then later on he played for Chevrolet. And so then he stayed right there until the time when he was sick and he could no longer work. See, he went out on disability in 1963.
WEST: I see, but he worked then at Chevrolet.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, Fisher Body, Chevrolet Fisher.
PICHOTTE: It used to be Fisher 2.
WEST: Fisher 2. What work did he do then at Fisher 2?
PICHOTTE: He worked on the polish line, the Duco polish.
WEST: Metal polish work.
WEST: That involved paint, then?
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes.
WEST: Did he paint then and then polish?
PICHOTTE: No, he just polished and then later on he went on repairs, where they repaired things that come off the line that were defective in any way. Why, then, he'd help repair.
WEST: And that was line work, was it then?
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes.
WEST: Was he paid by the piece then?
PICHOTTE: At one time everyone worked at piecework. But fortunately, when I went to work, when I went to AC, we worked on efficiency, which was a sad thing, because now you could work on efficiency, and here's an example. When I hit the salvage department we would take all the parts. Say, for instance, we would run Chevrolets, we run Pontiac, we run Oldsmobile, we run parts for Dodge. We run a lot of parts for Chrysler, by the way. So we would go ahead and tear all the salvage down. Now one day they had maybe three lines running. And then one day they'd be running Pontiac or they'd be running Chevrolet or they would be running Oldsmobile or whatever. See the lines were all mixed to what they were running. There were very few parts that were made off the line. Just the big cars like, for instance, the big Chrysler and Buick had one part that was made off the line, and Cadillac. But the rest all involved line work. So when we tore the salvage down, we would take the good parts that we had to feed back into the line. Now we worked on efficiency. We could work ever so hard Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and by Friday they would change the line and they'd add everything. That is, for instance, I'll put it this way. Whatever there was left over of the production at the end of the week, they would fill in one. And some it would be maybe Chevrolet, Oldsmobile or Pontiac or whatever it might be to go on this line. Well, then you'd take all this salvage and fill in that line. On those days when we did that we would make higher efficiency. But by the time we got our pay, they would take it away from us.
WEST: How did they do that?
PICHOTTE: Well, we would run into another week. We were getting paid for two weeks, see. We were getting paid every other week. And the efficiency went in at the end of the second week. By the second week then we were dropped right back down to nothing.
WEST: How did they justify that? Were there breakdowns or something on the line?
PICHOTTE: No, that was just the way they did their business. And see, by working on efficiency, if we could work at a consistent production rate, then at the end of the week we could have made our money, which would have been twenty-eight cents an hour. But by doing it like they did, we could work like crazy Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday, no matter how much we filled in that line, we got no credit for it because they would always manage to fill it in the first week of the period, the pay period. The second pay period they'd cut us right down. Well, when they figured the efficiency back, then we would get paid for just the minimum wage.
WEST: How much were you taking home then? What did it average out per hour?
PICHOTTE: When I first started there I was making fifteen cents an hour. I worked ten hours a day for a dollar and sixty cents.
WEST: That was plus the efficiency or did that include the efficiency?
PICHOTTE: That included everything.
WEST: That's very low.
PICHOTTE: That was very low. We had no vacation period time. We had no medical days off, none whatever. If you were sick, that was just too bad. You got no compensation for it. And at that one time when they did have insurance you got paid fifteen dollars a week. But that was later on. That wasn't when I first got hired in. That was quite a number of years after I'd worked there.
WEST: Was there anything like equal pay for equal work? Or did you notice that men got more?
PICHOTTE: No, there was not. See, well, the men, of course, had different jobs. They had like stock handling jobs and setup and like that. They were, of course, paid higher. But now they didn't have line foremens in those days. They had straw bosses. Now they made, I think, a nickel more an hour. In some instances maybe ten cents an hour more. It all depends.
WEST: How were they chosen, the straw bosses?
PICHOTTE: At that time, before I got in, I couldn't tell you. But at the time when I got into work they were chosen by whether they were qualified. Like myself, I was qualified for what I was doing. That was why I was chosen. But now some of the rest of 'em...the girls that worked for me were just the girls that would work on the line. But see, a lot of 'em couldn't read blueprints, which made a difference. And even a setup man had to read blueprints, because that was part of his job, see.
WEST: Were you taught to read blueprints on the job?
PICHOTTE: Like I say, from the man that took several of us under his wing. This man was an engineer, by the way, for General Motors. And then he come back into the factory proper to work. I don't know what had happened. But at any rate he come back and worked with just the ordinary work crew. And so he was the one that taught us.
WEST: I see. We have heard from talking to the men particularly that oftentimes the foremen would demand that the workers do favors for them. You know, cut lawns, do extra jobs for them in order to keep their job in the shop.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, that was very, very, very common. And another thing that was common that a lot of people----I don't know whether they've told you or not----but the people that lived out in the country (I know this for a fact), they would bring in all kinds of fruits, vegetables, especially in the Buick, to hold their jobs. This was a must or they didn't stay on the line or work.
WEST: Did you experience any particular, or did the girls experience any particular, harassment from, you know, the men supervisors?
PICHOTTE: In some instances, yes, they used to. Yes, they did. But later on that became so well known that they were just a little bit afraid to, really. But another thing that we had when I worked for General Motors was...if I tell you this, you're not going to believe it. We had a restroom that had no doors, none whatever...a ladies restroom. There was no paper to wipe...no way. You couldn't even wash your hands. That's right.
WEST: When you started?
PICHOTEE: When I started for General Motors.
WEST: Did it wait on the union to improve?
PICHOTTE: Yes. What we did before that, was the girls would buy, would take cretonne from home and take nails and put it on the different stalls to cover them. That's right. Before the union come in, it was really rough.
WEST: There must have been agitation to change that.
PICHOTTE: It was, it was, yes.
WEST: I'm surprised that it wasn't changed as a result of complaints that I would think the women would have made.
PICHOTTE: Well, you know what they would tell you? There's a line out there waiting for your job. No complaints. That was prevalent throughout General Motors. And that is one reason why the union had to be. I mean people had to organize. They had no chance whatever. We were actually considered slave labor.
WEST: Did you eat in cafeterias then?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes. And another thing they used to do was if...like I started to tell you in the beginning that they would run so much of their production like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. If they had a breakdown...now if there was a breakdown on the line, they would send the girls to the cafeteria. And you waited there maybe sometimes two, three hours. Then they would bring you back and maybe that line would start. And if it broke down again, then they would send you home. But you had to wait in that cafeteria. You could not leave the premises.
WEST: With no pay, of course.
PICHOTTE: That's right. No pay. No pay period. That was it.
WEST: Now you mentioned the line-up of people who were looking for jobs. And, of course, that was the time of the Depression.
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes.
WEST: And so that would have aggravated the situation.
PICHOTTE: Yes, it did.
WEST: Did you continue to work during the period pretty steady after you came in in '32, or were you laid off?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes. I was never laid off.
WEST: You were never...
PICHOTTE: I was never laid off. I was never laid off and I was never transferred. But you know why I was never laid off?
PICHOTTE: Because I worked like a fool. I made it my business to make my living. That was the only living I knew how to make, because there were no jobs anywhere else. And once I got in there I had to work.
WEST: Was there any envy or jealousy or tension among the people who worked there that some could work faster than others could and would set a pace that was hard for others to keep up?
PICHOTTE: Not in my particular area, because everyone worked hard. I mean everyone worked hard for the simple reason they wanted to keep their jobs, because if a foreman came along and felt that you were not qualified or he thought you were goofin' off, out you went. And they would replace you. See, there was the difference. There was no one to go to. You were on your own. You either had to perform or you were out. And see, it just so happened that I was one of those lucky people that was brought up to feel that I had to earn a living, which I did.
WEST: How old were you when you came into...
PICHOTTE: General Motors? I was nineteen.
WEST: Nineteen, that's right. And were you living at home?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes. Yes, I was living with my parents.
WEST: Where did you live at this time?
PICHOTEE: I lived on Leith Street. In fact, my brother that is retired from General Motors still lives in the house that my parents had owned.
WEST: Oh, I see; that's interesting.
PICHOTTE: See, we all worked for General Motors.
WEST: Were you helping to support your parents?
PICHOTTE: Oh no, not then, no. No, I was living at home. I was supporting my own little girl. See, I was married and I was divorced. I was married when I was eighteen and then I had my little girl when I was nineteen. And shortly after that I went to work.
WEST: But you were the breadwinner then for...
PICHOTTE: For my daughter, yes. But my mother took care of her when I worked.
WEST: When did you meet your husband?
PICHOTTE: I met my husband in 1935. It was during the Depression years.
WEST: Did he continue to keep his job, too, at Fisher 2?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes. Yes, he stayed right on. Even though things were rough, he stayed right there. Of course, he used to get laid off when they had model change or anything. Why, then he'd get laid off and he'd be off sometimes three, four or sometimes five months. Sometimes they were off longer than that. I can show you paychecks that he had had, I mean stubs from, not paychecks, but I mean income tax, where one time the most they had earned was fifteen hundred dollars a year. See, because they didn't work full-time. And they weren't makin' the wages. There was no such thing as a vacation.
WEST: No, no, no, but he was not laid off for long periods of time.
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes.
WEST: He was?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes. During 1955 they were laid off. And during 1948 they were off quite a while after the war.
WEST: Well, I was thinking of the period before the strike in the thirties.
PICHOTTE: Oh, they were laid off. Yes, at one time he was laid off for eleven months.
WEST: Well, what did he do then?
PICHOTTE: Nothing. There was no unemployment, no nothing. There was nothing to do.
WEST: He had to pick up a job then somewhere else.
PICHOTTE: Yes, odd jobs was all they could do.
WEST: When was your husband born?
PICHOTTE: My husband was born in 1907.
PICHOTTE: In St. Charles. He was born in St. Charles, Michigan. And see, his father was, of course, a miner up there.
WEST: Yes, I wanted to...his father worked as a coal miner.
WEST: And was related to the O'Rourkes?
PICHOTTE: No, they were just friends. They both worked...Mr. O'Rourke, Francis O'Rourke's father and my father-in-law both worked in the same mine in St. Charles. That is how they become acquainted. And then, of course, they moved down here. And so that's how come Francis went to work for General Motors, see.
WEST: I see. When did they move to Flint then, your husband?
PICHOTTE: When my husband was seven years old they came to Flint. And then my father-in-law worked for General Motors until...
WEST: And so he, of course, never worked in the mines then?
PICHOTTE: Not my husband, no. He always worked for General Motors.
WEST: Were they union-conscious, then, in the mines in St. Charles?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes. See, I was from a background of unionists, too. My father worked in the coalmines.
WEST: Oh, I wanted to get to that. Where was that?
PICHOTTE: My father worked in...I'll show you where. You want to shut that off for a minute.
WEST: So you were born in Congo, Ohio.
PICHOTTE: And this was a coalmining town.
WEST: I see. Well there is a number of...they look like rather small houses.
PICHOTTE: They were. They belonged to Ohio Coalers Company.
WEST: Ohio Coalers Company.
PICHOTTE: Ohio Coalers Company owned it, and they run two mines there which was one and two for...oh up until... Let me see, we came to Flint in 1929 and then later on they made a strip mine out of it. And they were still mining out of it up until about four years ago and then they quit.
WEST: Did your father come to Flint then, in '29 to work in the auto plants?
PICHOTTE: Yes, he did. Before that my father, when he came from the old country, he came to Pittsburgh. And then he worked in the steel mills. And from Pittsburgh then he came to Congo.
WEST: Oh he came from Belgium?
PICHOTTE: No, my father came from Hungary.
WEST: Hungary, I see.
PICHOTTE: My father came from Hungary.
WEST: What was your family name?
WEST: Mazek, I see. And he came to the United States first to Pittsburgh, worked in steel and then came to Ohio and then to Flint. Did he get word then that they were hiring people?
PICHOTTE: No, when they went out, to begin with they had problems, the same as what they had in the automobile factories. Now they had these mines that were unsafe. And they put in complaints. They belonged to the union. Well, they tried to break the union is what they did. So they let the mines deteriorate. And by letting the mines deteriorate, they didn't bring any timbers in or re-timber them or anything. They became very, very dangerous. And the people went out on strike and refused to go back in there. So when they refused to go back in there, they let them completely deteriorate and then they shut them down completely. And we were actually forced to leave there. Now the people that stayed, they lived there but they went elsewhere to work. Their families would live there but they'd go maybe to Cleveland, Columbus or wherever. They went all over to work. Well, my father said he wouldn't do that. He just picked up and left and he came to Michigan. There was no job offers of any kind. He just came here with the hopes of getting a job. And he did. And all my brothers got into General Motors and worked for 'em until they retired.
WEST: Where did your father work?
PICHOTTE: My father worked at Buick. And so did all my brothers. I had three brothers that worked there.
WEST: I want to get into that, because we've discovered that of course Buick did not strike. And it is interesting to compare the conditions at say Fisher 2 or Fisher 1 and Chevrolet with conditions in Buick. Why? Apparently the union had more difficulty organizing Buick than they did other places. Is that true?
PICHOTTE: Well okay, there is a reason for it. For the simple reason that Buick was too large, okay, for the amount of, you know, for the amount of people that they wanted involved in the strikes, because they didn't know for sure whether they could make a go of it or not. And so they had to find the smallest plant that they could, at that time, organize. Although I belonged to the union and my family belonged to the union, but nobody knew that we did. They were all organized, my brothers and all. They all belonged to the union. But they pulled these strikes at different places in order to make it effective. Now if they had called out Buick, it wouldn't have no effect. They had to call out Fisher Body because Fisher Body was makin' the bodies. Chevrolet was makin' the bodies for Chevrolet. And this was the reason for it. We were only a parts plant at AC so we could have held 'em up if they would have had us go out on strike. But they, at that time, were considering building another plant, which was finally built in Milwaukee, where then that would have thrown us right off the track. I mean it wouldn't have done us any good to go out on strike because they had an alternate plant to make parts.
WEST: Right, right. So coal mining is in the tradition of both sides of your family, both your husband's and yours.
WEST: Did you father and your father-in-law know one another then, at all?
PICHOTTE: No, because see my folks came here, like I say, in 1929. We moved here in '29. My folks came here in '28, but they didn't meet until after my husband and I met.
PICHOTTE: But of course the backgrounds were similar because they both were from the old country and both were mine workers.
WEST: When your father came here in '29, of course there was no union among autoworkers.
WEST: Did he think that there ought to be a union?
PICHOTTE: Yes, he did. The very first thing when he came up here, he of course went to work and he realized that things were rougher than what people would admit. Everyone had to work and that was the reason why the factories were the closest place that people could get a job and make a living. It wasn't much of a living, really, when you stopped to think, by today's standards. But at that time it was a beginning. And everybody worked and slaved for it. And they made the best of it.
WEST: Now did your father join the union? How long did your father work after he came to Flint?
PICHOTTE: Oh my father got a job...he wasn't here I don't think two weeks 'til he had a job with General Motors. He and my brothers all had a job. But it was after...I just don't remember how long after they'd come here before they began to organize. But they were organized a lot before 1937 because I belonged to the union in 1934.
WEST: In '34.
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes, I did.
WEST: That would have been an AF of L local.
PICHOTTE: Yes it was, yes it was.
WEST: It was a federal labor union, I understand.
PICHOTTE: Yes it was.
WEST: What sort of a union was that? Was it effective?
PICHOTTE: Yes, it was at that time. Yes, it was. But again they had to merge with another union to make it effective, because the A F of L, in its field at that time, was different than what we had here.
WEST: Do you recall who the leader of your local at AC was back in '34?
PICHOTTE: Well, actually it would have to be in 1935 or '36 in there, when they first organized it. It wasn't brought to light until after the strike went on. And then we had Bob Meyers and the different ones that are there. And like the man that's in charge now, oh, what is his name? You've probably seen his name quite often.
WEST: Oh, gee, I should know, but I don't.
PICHOTTE: The regional director...they all worked at AC when I did.
WEST: I see. But there was a union, then, in '34. What sort of things did they agitate for?
PICHOTTE: Well, I'll tell you. In 1934 when we joined the union, when I joined the union, they didn't know we belonged. Like I say, we didn't dare admit that we belonged because had we admitted, then we would have been fired. So we had to keep it cool and keep it quiet. And after they had the Fisher 2 strike and then the union was recognized, then we could come out into the open and admit that we belonged. But it would surprise you if I told you that we paid union dues for a long, long, long time voluntarily.
WEST: Before anything was done.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes.
WEST: Could you not protest any of the conditions, then, that you worked in?
WEST: Was there a company union at all?
PICHOTTE: Yes, there was and the woman that they tried to have organize there that they wanted a company union, I knew her real well. Her name was Hazel Anderson. And later on then she...I don't know whether she didn't want to join our regular union or what happened, but she finally quit. But the company did have her soliciting, really for membership in the union.
WEST: But you didn't join.
PICHOTTE: Oh no, because I knew better. I knew that...for instance here's an example that people don't realize. I don't know whether it's ever been brought up before or not. But at one time General Motors would allow us to buy stock. I was a participant in the stock plan. They had that at Buick. They had it at Fisher. They had it all over. And they would let you take this money out in the stock plan and when there was a layoff, they would lay off these people until their stock plan money was used up. They were forced to withdraw it. But I, for one...I worked for a man...I don't know whether he recognized that there would be a union or had been a unionist before, but he told me, he said, "Don't take that money out. Keep it in there and force them to pay you your dividends on it or the full amount." At that time if you put in a dollar, you got back two. So I kept mine in there from 1935, when I began to take it out, '34 or '35, in that area, which they were allowed to have us do, take it out. But I was only allowed to take out seven dollars a month. Out of my meager earnings, I would let them take that much out thinking I could make a gain, you know, which I did. So I let it in there and then in 1941 I took my money out, which paid off. And that's what we built our house out of, because I had bought a lot and we could use that for a down payment on our house, over by St. Joe's hospital.
WEST: But a lot of them couldn't.
PICHOTTE: No, because they would force 'em to take it out. And I kept sayin', "No, I'm not going to take it out." And then when they'd call me up to ask me how much I had in stock and if I wanted to cash it in I'd say, "No, I don't know where it is at." And I didn't cash it in. I wasn't the only one. There was quite a number of us that our foreman actually...at that time he wasn't a foreman, he was a straw boss. And he said, "No, just give 'em an excuse." He couldn't see why we had to turn 'em in.
WEST: No. Why would they do that?
PICHOTTE: Well, I don't have any idea. I don't think anyone else did either. But that's one reason why the union would never go for the stock plan.
WEST: No, of course not. How did you get into the union? Did someone approach you?
PICHOTTE: No, we voluntarily went to a meeting down at the Pengelly Building, where the old Pengelly Building... You probably heard of that. Well, okay. Everyone down there, they were invited to a meeting.
WEST: From AC?
PICHOTTE: Not only from AC, this was from all General Motors. Anyone that wanted to go, but it was just kind of an underground thing, let's say, because this one would tell that one. They didn't want to give it away, because they didn't want anyone to squeal on anyone that they belonged to the union, because it meant your job. We knew that. So you had to be real, real careful who you asked or invited to go because that was one of the things.
WEST: I was going to get to that. There must have been union spies then, planted by the company.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, there were. Yes there were, and you had to be very careful. If you were going to pay your union dues, which lots of times now there is a lady that worked at AC that collected. And we would pay it to her and she would give us a receipt for it. And for a long long time she would just give us an ordinary receipt and sign it because there was absolutely no form or anything. It was just a receipt, you know, that was given to you and she would recognize that we had given it to her and then she would account for it. And this is the way it began. But it was a hard, trying time, believe me.
WEST: My understanding is that that A F of L union went into something of a decline.
PICHOTTE: It did.
WEST: By 1935, and that many workers became discouraged because of lack of proper...
PICHOTTE: Yes they did, because they didn't have the leadership. See, everyone was afraid to take that first step. And see, then when they organized the union, that is the CIO, then they had by that time enough in the membership, that is people that were interested in the union that they knew that they had a backing. See, this is what it had to be, because a few people could not swing it. We had to have a majority.
WEST: Then in '36, or, I guess, starting in '35, but particularly in the summer of '36, I understand the CIO formed earlier began to come in to push for organizing. And Wyndham Mortimer came in.
PICHOTTE: Yes, I knew him.
WEST: You knew Wyndham Mortimer.
WEST: What sort of a person was he?
PICHOTTE: Well, I didn't know him personally, but now I knew the Reuther boys, because my husband and I used go to the different places where, you know, we would get together when they had sort of group meetings. And we used to go to them. So I knew the Reuther boys.
WEST: Oh, you went together to these group meetings.
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes, yes.
WEST: So the meetings weren't just confined to particular plants.
PICHOTTE: No, and finally then when it became apparent that we were going to have one full union which would be comprised of all the different locals, that is, I mean the different factories...
WEST: Local 156, I guess it became.
PICHOTTE: Yes, yes, and from then on it kept spreading and it became a full union.
WEST: Well, those Reuther boys...apparently Victor and Roy were then more active than...
PICHOTTE: Yes, than Walter. He came in later on. But the two younger boys, Victor and Roy, they were really the two key people, because they knew organizations and there is no way no one can take that away from them.
WEST: Where did you hold your meetings then? You said you went to these meetings.
PICHOTTE: Oh they had different places, down at the Pengelly Building and different places. But now sometimes they'd even pick out a nightclub some place. And some of the group would get there and they would discuss their...oh yes, really.
WEST: Was there much talk of union at the plant?
PICHOTTE: You didn't dare.
WEST: You didn't.
PICHOTTE: No, because it had to be real, real quiet, because you never knew who was going to squeal on you. If they squealed on you, you would lose your job. See, that was one of the things everyone was afraid of. And that's why I say, even with myself I was afraid to admit that I belonged to the union, although I belonged to the union long before the strike ever came into effect, a long time before.
WEST: Did you know Bob Travis?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes.
WEST: What sort of a person was he?
PICHOTTE: Those people I wasn't in that close touch with them. Now my husband was, because he was more or less in the organization field with them. You know, in the group that was in the plant itself.
WEST: Was he a member of the union then?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes.
WEST: Did he talk to you much about the conditions in the plant that brought him into the union?
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes, because we discussed it for the simple reason that we were both involved in it. Although where he worked was a lot...they had more pressure on them than where we worked. And yes, we discussed it a lot. In fact, that was common among all of us that would get together, the different people that we associated with, because it was of common interest and that's why we more or less discussed it.
WEST: With the unionism in his background...
PICHOTTE: Yes, and mine also.
WEST: And in his family too, then it would be natural that he would move into the union. Did he talk at all about his foreman? I'm interested in the relationship between the men and their foreman. What sort of a...
PICHOTTE: Well, to begin with, years ago they had a lot of pressure from the foremens, a lot of pressure. And that was part of the reason why they had to organize, because of the pressure from the foremen. And the foreman got his orders from higher up. And so it just come right down the line. And when it got down to the man on the line, the man on the line was put under heavy pressure. And just working alone under the conditions that they had to work under it was hard for these people to make a living. Because really they had no...nothing was convenient. See, later on they were forced to put in like the waterfalls to take away the fumes and things like that in the paint areas. Before that they didn't have that. See, the union forced them to bring in a lot of safety standards which they didn't have before.
WEST: Was your husband's job then, dangerous?
PICHOTTE: My husband, yes. Yes, my husband died with lung cancer. Yes, when he died he, of course, had an attack in 1963. And he was sick for six years, and then he developed cancer. I had an autopsy of him, and his lungs were full of cancer.
WEST: Do you think that was the result of something from the job?
PICHOTTE: Yes, I think that had a lot to do with it, because I could name you two or three other men that worked in the same area that died with the same problem.
WEST: How would that come about then, breathing dust?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, see polish where they worked. Oh yes.
WEST: I see. Did he complain about that?
PICHOTTE: Well, they all did. But, like I say, they had these waterfall things to take out the dust and that. But when you worked in areas like that there is no foolproof protection. Let's put it that way. You're bound to get a certain amount of that dust, regardless.
WEST: Was he tired a lot?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, yeah, because they had to work so hard.
WEST: And was it hot?
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes. You didn't have no system of any kind. And of course, you can understand where they baked the paint on the bodies that there's terrific heat there, because they have to bake it on. And see, then of course the men polished it off.
WEST: So he joined the union then in '35, and then it went into something of a decline. Did you just transfer your membership then into the new CIO group when it came on or did you let your membership in the old A F of L lapse at all?
PICHOTTE: Oh no, no. The majority of us, we kept on in the union. We didn't let it lapse. But then some of them withdrew, but not all of them. There was a majority of 'em, I'm pretty sure, stayed for the simple reason they had to or they wouldn't have been able to bring these people together and make such a showing, because there was quite a number of them that did belong to the union. And like I say, they belonged from all the different plants at that time.
WEST: Right, right. Now when the strike came in late December of 1936, did either you or your...he was your fiance at the time...have a premonition that there was going to be a showdown?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, we knew that.
WEST: You knew that. How did you know?
PICHOTTE: Well, for the simple reason that the men were determined that they were going to make a stand. They were going to fight for their rights, now or never. And they made up their mind they were going to sit in the plant and let come what may.
WEST: That's interesting, too, the decision to sit in the plant. How was that decision arrived at rather than to walk out and conduct a conventional strike?
PICHOTTE: Well, because they found out before that when they had a strike before, during the time when the AF of L was, you know, organized, it wasn't effective. They had to make a showing by sitting in the plant itself. They were protecting their jobs because they felt...and I'm sure someone else has told you the same thing...that if they left the plant, their job would no longer be there. They were sitting there to protect their job as well as to organize the union or have the union be recognized, that is, so that they would have something to stand on. And that was the only way that they could do it by sitting in there. There was no other way.
WEST: Were you aware of sit-downs elsewhere that had taken place?
PICHOTTE: No, because I never remembered them, a sit-down, because I had never been involved. Like for instance, in the coalmines, they just didn't...if there was a strike on, they just didn't go to work. They didn't sit in the mines. But now in the shop, that was a different thing. That was altogether different.
WEST: I just wondered how the idea came of sitting in?
PICHOTTE: I really don't know. I've often wondered how the idea came of sitting in? I do know why it began that way because like I say, the people felt...the men felt that if they sat in there, they have to be evicted. And then everyone would know that they were being thrown out of their own jobs. Because they felt that was...they were hired to work and they were doin' a good job. They were really over-working themselves and getting no credit for it. And they felt that that would be the only way that they could show that they were in business. They wanted to work. It wasn't the idea that they didn't want to work. They wanted to work, but they wanted better working conditions and they also wanted the protection of their own jobs.
WEST: What was the trigger that brought the strike to Fisher 2? You know, there were these grievances and the apparent determination that you were going to have a confrontation with General Motors. But do you recall what the specific thing was that brought the strike at Fisher 2 when it came on?
PICHOTTE: Well, I think that they were using that plant as how shall I say? They were putting pressure, more pressure on that plant than any of the other plants. They were forced into it because they had no other alternative.
WEST: Apparently the strike was called at Fisher 2 before Fisher 1. They were the same day, but Fisher 2 sat down in the afternoon and then Fisher 1 went out in the evening.
PICHOTTE: Yes, but before that, if you will notice, they had at one time had a strike before, in one of the other plants.
WEST: Yes, and in Cleveland, too.
PICHOTTE: And they were more or less just forced out of that. And when Fisher 2 sat in, then, that's when they made up their mind that they were going to sit in there no matter what. And at one time and at one point in that time when they were sittin' in there, there were less than twelve people holding that plant.
WEST: That few?
PICHOTTE: That few. I have the names of them here, if I'm not mistaken.
WEST: Oh, you have. Well, that would be wonderful, because we know that the numbers got very low, both in Fisher 1 and in Fisher 2.
PICHOTTE: Yes, and the reason for that was by the time that they had sat in there all of that time, the men began to get pretty weary. And they were bringing in food to them because the union made arrangement through the different ones, like, for instance, there was a restaurant, a Greek restaurant right on the corner north of where Fisher 2 is. And the men used to go there and eat all the time. And that man was good enough to send them coffee, doughnuts, and sandwiches and whatever he could sneak into the factory, see. And that's how they made it. And that's when people would take food to them and they'd put it in a bucket and hoist it up, you know. Really.
WEST: Could you repeat, for the sake of the record, how it was you postponed your marriage?
PICHOTTE: Well, at that time, my husband felt that they were going to go out on strike. And he didn't feel that I should be involved, because if they didn't make it, then my job would be jeopardized. So we put it off until after the strike was over. And that was the reason for it, because, see, I was holding the job down at AC, and then if they hadn't won, my job would have been jeopardized. That made the difference.
WEST: Why do you think that would have been the case? Because your fiance was in that plant?
PICHOTTE: Because I belonged to the union.
WEST: It was known then?
PICHOTTE: It was known then, oh, yes. By then it was out in the open more or less.
WEST: I see. Was there any thought when Fisher 2 went down and Fisher 1, was there any thought that AC would also strike?
PICHOTTE: Well, not to my knowledge. They had, at one time or another, talked about it. But that was when, I say they belonged to the AF of L itself. And then they...I don't know why...but they didn't have a strike. They had had one strike before that, before I went to work there. But I can't tell you because it was at the other plant. It was a long time ago, long before I went in there.
WEST: I see. Do you think that there was enough union sentiment, enough strength at AC, to have pulled a successful strike?
PICHOTTE: At that time, no, no, because there was quite a number of people worked in there. And there was too many people that didn't want to get involved. And those that joined the union, like myself, would have gone out with the rest of 'em had they been asked to go out. For instance, if Fisher Body had to have extra help, why, then they would have called on AC to go out. Now what number of people would have gone out, that I don't know.
WEST: Weren't women more difficult to organize than the men, do you think?
PICHOTTE: No, they were not. No, they fell in line with the men because they realized...most of 'em's husbands worked in the factory and the pressure that was bein', you know.
WEST: You mentioned that many of the women had husbands working in the plants. Was that usual, would you say, that a good percentage of the women working at AC had husbands working at other plants?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, they did. At that time, most families two of them worked. This isn't new in the industry. I mean people think today there's two people working in most families. That has been common for a long, long time. Only it's been more in the blue-collar workers than it has among the white-collar people. See, there's a difference. And now that women are coming out into the field and they're going into different professions and like that, which, years ago, everyone flocked to the factory. That was the only place they could go, you know.
WEST: Right, right. Now your father, and you said some of your brothers, were working at Buick and they were members of the union. Did they talk about going out?
PICHOTTE: Well, at one time I guess they did think that they would have to go out, you know, pull Buick out. But they thought, no that would be too many people that would have to be without jobs. See, they took the lesser factories, with the lesser people. And yet it was a key. I mean a key factory and that's what would force the rest of 'em to go out if they had to, but they really couldn't afford to pull out all the plants. There just was no way.
WEST: Right. I wonder if they had the strength at Buick, in terms of union people?
PICHOTTE: There was quite a few of 'em organized over there. Oh yes, there were. But I think Fisher Body...well, they were highly organized. I mean they had the largest percentage of them that were organized. The same way with Fisher 2 and Chevrolet. There was another key plant.
WEST: Right. Did there come a time at either AC or Buick when you were, in fact, laid off because of the strike at other plants? You know, you couldn't get the work. Did AC continue during the whole strike?
PICHOTTE: No, no they continued working.
WEST: And Buick?
PICHOTTE: Oh yeah, because see now AC was a parts plant. So they were replacement parts. At that time they were all, most all replacement parts. And there was a lot of cars on the road so they needed a plant for replacement parts which they still do.
WEST: Now was your husband sitting down inside the plant during the whole time?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes. The only time that my husband left that plant was the night that they had the fight.
WEST: Oh yeah, Running Bulls.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes. He stepped on a box. They had a wooden box piled up that had materials in them, nuts and bolts, okay. So the night that they were going to have the riot, they were going to open up these boxes to use. They had no guns in there. Everybody said they had guns. They had no such thing as guns. That was one thing they would not resort to. But they had these nuts and bolts that they used for the body bolts, you know, in these boxes. So his buddy was going to open up one and he opened it up and he had a sliver in his eye. So they took him out through the back. They cut a hole in the wire fence and they took him to Hurley Hospital. And they took care of him there and he called my home. Of course, it came over radio, of course, everything that had happened, you know. We thought for sure that he had got shot because they were shot at really. From outside, see, by the police. But it wasn't. He had a sliver in his eye and they took him to Hurley Hospital. They took care of him and he was there about five hours. And he called my home to tell my...I wasn't home but my dad talked to him and said he was all right. And he would go back into the plant because he didn't dare go home, see. Each one of those places was being...they were under surveillance, so he couldn't go back home.
WEST: So he went back to the plant then.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, he went back to the plant.
WEST: By then had things...?
PICHOTTE: Well, they were still in. They were still fighting. They were still fighting because there was just a...he got there. Well, they knew that this was coming up. They had been tipped off that they were going to have a riot.
WEST: Well, apparently the plant security or the company shut off the heat and wouldn't allow food supply. And then a group of men went down and forced the guards to open the gates so they could get the food.
PICHOTTE: Everything, yes. That's right.
WEST: Was your husband involved in that?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, he was right in there. Oh yes, every bit of it.
WEST: Did he tell what he did, particularly, during that time?
PICHOTTE: Well, for one thing, when the police broke in there, he had a policeman friend of his, was a good friend of his too, by the way, that was on the police force. When he broke into the plant, they had this men's rest room. Now this man come in with his guns on and they locked him into the rest room until all the melee was over and then they let him out.
WEST: These were the company?
PICHOTTE: No, the city police.
WEST: The city police. Because I wondered whether the city police got inside the plant or not.
PICHOTTE: As far as I know, just in that immediate area downstairs. But that time they come down because they were blocking the doors, see, the main entrance. That's right.
WEST: Now your father and your brothers were working at Buick, but they were strong union people. Did they ever come to give assistance and picket or that sort of thing?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, they all did, from all the different factories. There were times when you would be surprised how many people there were. Now in the plant itself they didn't have any outsiders. They held down that plant themselves. At one time somebody said there were people from other plants. That was not so. They, the men that were in there themselves, held the fort. They did not leave.
WEST: But they got help outside with pickets and that?
PICHOTTE: Outside pickets and help.
WEST: On the night of this, the Running Bulls, did your father and your brothers from Buick get involved in that?
PICHOTTE: Now my brothers were down there but they didn't get involved in that way. They were all down there. All of us were down there.
WEST: Oh you were there too.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes.
WEST: What did you see happening?
PICHOTTE: Well, I'll tell you. What I know was going on at that time was across the street from Fisher 2, up in the windows, they had some journalists up there. Okay. That's where they were surveiling. They were taking pictures of who was in there. That's right. And they could tell by the movement of those...from that upstairs windows, across from Fisher 2, which was the Chevrolet side ('cause this was Fisher 2, that was the Chevrolet side). They could look right into the plant with those high beams and they could tell who was in there. And the men had to maneuver and run back and forth to make believe there were more people in there than there really were.
WEST: How many were there, do you think, at that time?
PICHOTTE: The night before that happened?
PICHOTTE: There weren't too many, I'll tell you. I can't tell you how many, but not too many because like I say the men were weary and they cut this hole in the fence and they would let them out. And they would come back and they would let them out and they would come back.
WEST: I heard that some of the men from inside the plant went out to get reinforcements to try to get some of their buddies to come in to the plant then, too.
PICHOTTE: That I don't know about. But I do know that they had a call...they had what they called a "Flying Squadron". And they would go out and bring in the rest of the crew, like men that belonged to Fisher 2. You want to understand there was a lot of people that had families. The men didn't expect those men to stay in that had large families. They were needed at home. So a certain amount of them, after they stayed the first twenty-four hours or whatever, they let some of those men go home because they did have families. But then the remainder of men that stayed, they held the fort.
WEST: What did your husband do when he was in the plant? I understand they had certain people assigned to certain jobs.
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes they did. They had to police the area. Everything had to be kept clean, because if they didn't, then the state would order 'em out of there. So they had to keep everything clean. They cleaned the restrooms and they took care of...they had these bodies that you can see. Probably somebody showed you pictures of them, where they slept in the bodies. Well, they would take those bodies out and take all those things out of 'em and start all over again so that they wouldn't have any health hazards. Oh yeah.
WEST: Was health pretty good inside the plant?
PICHOTTE: Yes, yes, it was. Because I think that the morale of the men, knowing that they had a lot of people behind them, I think made a difference. Had they been let down and people not periodically coming in droves, I would say, to come down there to picket, it would have made a difference. But they did. They had quite a lot of help from the other locals. And they had the assurance that if they needed help, they could call upon the other people.
WEST: Right. Now I understand there was a group in Flint...General Motors, of course, claimed that it was the vast majority. The Flint Alliance it was called, with Boysen organizing a back-to-work movement. Did you experience any pressure from those people? Did you ever meet anybody who said, "Well, you know this is wrong."?
PICHOTTE: Oh, no. Now they said that. That was highly publicized, but that wasn't true, because the majority of people at that time that did belong to the union made up their mind that once they were organized, and the men that sat in, they were going to stick by them. Really, because they knew that if the company itself was trying to entice them in any way to leave the plant or anything like that or to discourage the people that were in the plant...I mean after the union was over with. Lots of times we wondered now how long is it going to be before they'll start puttin' pressure on us. Well, then they gave that up, because they realized at the time when they tried to force this alliance here that it didn't work. See, they were tryin' to force those people out of the plant.
WEST: I just wondered if at work or at home you had some run-ins or difficulties with neighbors or with people at work, you know?
PICHOTTE: No, no. No, I didn't encounter that. I don't know whether some of the other people did or not, although we had a lot of pressure from different areas outside. Like, for instance, downtown a lot of those people said, "Well, they're losing a lot of business because the people aren't working," and this and that and the other thing. And they tried to discourage it. But they didn't realize that when General Motors works and things are going good, even in those days, it was to their benefit. And if the people had to slave, they were not going to make it. No way. What they would have done really would have moved the plants out, which you know on several occasions where they have tried to move a plant. For instance, take it out of this area and move it some place else. Well, that was the common thing and they moved jobs anyway. I mean, they just...how shall I say? Oh, they would send them to different places, like the different parts and like that. Instead of doing it here, they would ship it out some place else and do it cheaper. And that was what they had in mind. They were going to try to break the union in more ways than one. But it didn't work because they found opposition wherever they went. Because after the union had organized, like in Atlanta, Georgia and the different places, why, then it became common among the factory workers to join the union for their own benefit.
WEST: Did you notice people coming up from Toledo and from Cleveland and from South Bend and other places to help?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, because they were involved too. See, they had plants there. General Motors had plants all over, yeah.
WEST: Did sound cars or other people come out to AC to talk to you?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes! Oh yes, yes, they were out there all the time. They had to stay out on the highway itself. But oh, yes, that was a common thing.
WEST: What sort of response did they get when they went out there?
PICHOTTE: Well, those of us that belonged, we didn't, I mean we just thought...I mean we just hoped that the guy next to me or the girl next to me or whoever is there... If they didn't belong, a lot of times you didn't know. You had to be kind of quiet about it. And of course, if you could trust someone, why then you would say, "Well, I've got my union dues paid." or show a union slip. But you wouldn't dare to just openly bring it out and show it like you would your pay check because that wasn't the thing to do. To openly admit, until after it got so that everyone could get to join and everyone was organized. Then it was a different thing.
WEST: Did the management ever try to organize some of the people at AC to go after that sound car?
PICHOTTE: Not to my knowledge, no.
WEST: I mention that because I talked to one man who worked at AC, I think. Archie Jones.
PICHOTTE: Oh, I knew Archie, yes.
WEST: Oh you did?
WEST: I think he mentioned that management tried to get together some of the people to storm the sound car.
PICHOTTE: At one time, yes, because they were the leaders of the union. And see, and they were going to have elections or something I don't remember. And that was when they tried to break up the union. And that's true, oh yeah.
WEST: Did you know Nellie Besson? Nellie Besson Hendricks I think she is now.
WEST: Because she was one of those, along with Genora Johnson, I guess. Well, Kermit, I guess, worked at Chevy 4.
PICHOTTE: Oh, yeah.
WEST: She worked putting together a group known as the Women's Auxiliary and the Women's Emergency Brigade. Were you ever approached to get involved in these?
PICHOTTE: No, no, no. At one time there was a group, other than that, that they organized. It was part of the Flying Squadron but I don't know what happened. They didn't get enough...I don't know what happened anyway but it just phased right out. It started and then it just faded right out. It started and then it just faded right out.
WEST: But it was different than the Women's Auxiliary and the Emergency Brigade.
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes.
WEST: They made themselves well known, of course, the Emergency Brigade during the takeover of Chevy 4 when they knocked out the windows in Chevrolet 9.
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes.
WEST: Did you remember that skirmish at all?
PICHOTTE: Oh, yeah.
WEST: Were you down there?
PICHOTTE: We were down there all the time, see. But I had to more or less stay in the background because I worked at AC and having that group that worked with me, I had to be very careful not to get involved in anything, because, like I said, it would have meant my job.
WEST: Right. But the morale at Fisher 2 now, where your husband was working, did it get pretty low at times?
PICHOTTE: Yes it did, yes.
WEST: You say it got down to as few as twelve people. When was that? Was that after Running Bulls?
WEST: Before Running Bulls?
PICHOTTE: Before, yes.
WEST: That was fairly early on.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, because the men at that time...it was during the wintertime and everyone just seemed like they were just...the job itself was pressure enough. And then having to stay in the strike was another thing. And a lot of them had their wives and children home, you know. And they just wanted to go back home just to spend a few days. So they let...finally they let all the men that had families that wanted to go, to go home. Because they felt that then later on they could come back and would get in there somehow. They just made up their mind that they were gonna hold out.
WEST: Now you, of course, were very sympathetic to your husband's situation. You know, your fiance's situation. But were there some wives who were not, do you know, who would say to their husbands, you know, "You got no business being in there."?
PICHOTTE: No, I don't think so. I think there was full understanding that they were either going to make the union or make it better for themselves because there was no other way. Things were really rough in the factory. Nobody realizes it except those people who worked there. It was actually worse than slave labor. You know, people don't realilze why we have a union. I, myself, I would never work without one because I know what it was like. I worked without one and I worked with one. There is a difference. There is a great deal of difference.
WEST: The union wins victory, in a sense, on February the eleventh. And it forces GM to sign a contract. Did you notice things different after the strike, right after the strike?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, oh yes.
WEST: In what way?
PICHOTTE: Well, by that time they begin to realize that the union wasn't fooling. They were out for business. They made up their mind that they were going to stick right in there and they were going to stay in the union. And they weren't going to disband. They thought, well, after they got the strike settled and all that, a lot of people wouldn't want to belong. Well, it's all over with now. We have it made. No way. I think that after that, more people joined than ever, realizing that it was for their benefit.
WEST: Did you recruit people at AC?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, we all did. That was a common thing.
WEST: Did people come in pretty willingly then after the strike?
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes. We had a few people that didn't want to belong, even up as far as say maybe ten or fifteen years ago. But you will find that anywhere.
WEST: You didn't have a closed shop, then at first?
PICHOTTE: No, we didn't.
WEST: Did you use persuasion to bring some of these reluctant people in?
WEST: We have heard from some of the men.
PICHOTTE: Maybe among the men, but among the women it was a different thing. If they wanted to belong, fine. If they didn't, that was their business, because women are different than men. Men would use a little more pressure, but women wouldn't; but of course, they would use words.
WEST: I see. They can, without using any physical force.
WEST: Then did you ostracize people who wouldn't? You know, just not talk to them?
PICHOTTE: No, not really.
WEST: I'm interested in the subtle pressures that you might use.
PICHOTTE: We had just one person and this person was death against the union. Just death against the union. And every time she'd get her vacation check, after we once started getting our vacation check, we always used to say, "Well, why don't you divide it among us? You don't want it. You don't pay any union dues." And then finally, she got so she wouldn't tell us. She wouldn't mention anything about it but she finally joined the union. But she held out to the very, very last. She absolutely did not believe in it.
WEST: We heard from some of the men that people who wouldn't join the union would lose their lunches at times.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, oh yes. They would put pressure on 'em, but now the women didn't. They would just harass them a little bit, but not that much, really. But when it come time for their vacation check, that was the time when everybody put the pressure on 'em.
WEST: Well, I noticed one thing in looking through the demands that the union had, that one of the things they were working toward or talking about was a thirty-hour week, back at that time, that early.
PICHOTTE: Well, yes, but you want to remember that after that was when the NRA came in. And at that time, see, we were working forty hours. And like I say, when I first went in there I was working fifty hours a week. See that was the limit that we were allowed to work, fifty hours. And then I one time had to work on a Saturday and on a Sunday. I'll never forget it. It was during the holidays, Christmas and New Years. And we were only getting paid a dollar and a half. That was all. There was no overtime or nothing. It was something they had to have and we had to work. It was shortly after that when the NRA come in and they made them work forty-five hours. And then after that they cut back to forty. At one time it was, I guess forty-eight and then back to forty-five and then forty hours. And that was so that they could spread the work out a little farther.
WEST: I wondered whether that might be the rationale behind the thirty-hour week, because it struck me as curious.
WEST: And a lot of people I've talked to aren't aware, seemingly, that the union did push for thirty hours at that time.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes.
WEST: Because they didn't get it.
PICHOTTE: No, they didn't. But they did get the forty hours. Because at that time, like I say, we were allowed to work or they were allowed to work as many hours as fifty hours a week and we only got paid regular straight time. And see, that was just...we were doing the work, the extra hours. And yet there were people out on the street that had no jobs.
WEST: I did want to ask you about improvement in working conditions.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, there were. See, at one time when I first went to work at AC you couldn't leave the line to go to the rest room, not at all. The first day that I got hired into AC I worked ten hours and didn't know where the rest room was. Would you believe?
WEST: That was hard.
PICHOTTE: That's right, that's the way it was. And then, like I say, when we had the restroom, there were no doors, no privacy, nothing. No toilet paper, no hand paper, no nothing.
WEST: Was there more consideration for safety, then, through the union pushing for that?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, after that there was. And then after the union came in, then we were allowed to have a relief girl. Now if you had to go, then you would call a relief girl, which I filled in for my group where I was at on salvage. That's what I would do. If a girl had to go to first aid, well then, I would fill in and take her job. If she had to go to the restroom, I would take her job. Or whatever come, then I would fill in from the group that I was at, on the line itself. So, I was kind of an auxiliary girl. But the conditions did change. It didn't change overnight. It gradually begin to change so it was a lot better working conditions than what we had before, see.
WEST: Did the foremen change their attitude, the supervisors?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, they had to. They had no choice, because I mean the pressure was on them from the union and then from the people themselves, because they knew what their rights were. They sort of built up a work pattern and then they knew what was required of them and the foreman knew what they would do and what they could expect of them, although there were times when they were still putting pressure on them. But they knew how much they could do because after all, the human body knows what it can stand. You can put pressure on it all you want to. If they can't go only so far, it's just gonna go so far. And, see, that's what they were... Before, they didn't realize that. They were just pressurin' you to a point where you couldn't work. It wasn't reasonable. So it makes a difference.
WEST: Oh yes. Now you had, apparently, a steward system coming in after the strike.
PICHOTTE: Yes, yes we did.
WEST: How did that operate? Can you describe that?
PICHOTTE: Yes, I can. A steward, if you had a problem, then you'd call the steward. And then the steward would talk to the foreman or the straw boss, whoever it might be. And in those days it was a straw boss. And then they had a foreman. And then later on they became a general foreman and then just foreman on the line, but before that they were straw bosses. Well, they'd talk to the straw boss and try to iron it out with him if there was any problems. If they didn't get to first base, then they'd go in to the general foreman. And then they would take it on. And the union stewards themselves would call a committee, the high committee. And then they would go ahead from there to try to iron it out, see.
WEST: How many people would a steward represent?
PICHOTTE: Well, in my area where I worked at one time there was about seventy people, and we had one steward in my group. And later on, we had two. But now those people worked right with the rest of us.
WEST: Now was there a difference between that steward system and the committee system that came in somewhat later?
PICHOTTE: A little different, because now with the committeeman, you go directly to the committeeman. The committeeman tries to...well, the grievance procedure is different. For the simple reason that at that time, like I say, the steward would go up to the straw boss and talk to him and go to the foreman and then if they couldn't come to any agreement there, well, then they'd go above. But now the committeeman now has a lot more authority. And so he, as a rule, rather than go into another step where he files a complaint, a formal complaint, he tries to get it done right on the job.
WEST: And the committeeman represented more people. Didn't he have charge of somewhat more?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes.
WEST: The reason I'm getting into this is that I've heard from some men the feeling that the steward system was a little better in a sense than the committee system, because the steward representing fewer people was more in rapport with the men, perhaps.
PICHOTTE: Yes, at that time, yes, because, like I say, at that time when the steward would go to the straw boss and to the foreman and as a rule they could iron out the differences right there. It wouldn't go beyond. But now they have a different system. They have it in writing. See, the complaints are in writing.
WEST: Right. What sort of grievances would be taken up with the foreman after the strike? Do you remember what some of the common grievances were?
PICHOTTE: I can tell you a lot of instances. Okay, here's an example. Like in the area where I worked, all right. They would have, say, four lines working. This is an example, four lines working. Okay, the foreman would come along and maybe he'd send a girl or two home. Then another foreman from down the other end would come along. And a girl went home; she was sick. So he would come up and pull a girl off of this line and take her down in that area, which he had no business doing. He'd already sent two people home. He had no business loaning out that person to another area. And see, these were the common complaints that happened.
WEST: Were there any wildcat strikes, work stoppages that were not authorized?
PICHOTTE: Not where I worked. Not where I worked.
WEST: We've heard that there were a number of them at Fisher 1.
PICHOTTE: They were at Fisher 1. And again they had a reason for it, because they couldn't iron out their...for instance the speed-up. The line speed-up was what it was mostly over. Now they had a regular control box which finally they put in to a control that is monitored by the union as well as by the company. But at one time, the company itself had the line going at its speed, no monitor system whatsoever. And then they would speed it up. Now at the end of the day the men would produce maybe eight, ten, twelve, fifteen cars more than they agreed upon to begin with. So that was eight cars they would lose that they didn't get paid for. The next day they'd lose eight more cars. And maybe in the next day they'd lose ten more cars. Well, you figure that out. At the end of the month, they've lost a lot of cars. And they'd send 'em home for one day and they didn't get paid. See, that was their problem.
WEST: And that would cause a wildcat.
PICHOTTE: That would cause it. Lost cars, because they agreed upon a set amount. They had, by this control on this line, they're gonna run it at such a speed. They'll get so many cars out. At the end of the day that would be speeded up preferably at a rest time or lunchtime, so nobody detected it. At the end of the day they'd have that many more cars out. Because the men on the line got smart, too. They started keepin' tab of the cars that went off that line and they could tell how they were speeded up. That's where the wildcat strikes come in. See, that makes a difference. It goes right back to the same principle that I was telling you about when we had the efficiency bit. They run them all the first of the week and the second week. And then, bingo, they would be gone, see. We wouldn't get paid for it. Well, it was the same way with that. Only at that time it begin to be on the production line rather than on efficiency like we had.
WEST: Oh, I nearly neglected to talk about the part that Francis O'Rourke played in the strike at Fisher 2. You referred to that.
PICHOTTE: Yes, he was one of the men that was the original man that set it up so that they would be organized. He was the key to the organization. If it hadn't been for Francis O'Rourke, there would have been no union in General Motors, as far as this local area is concerned.
WEST: Did he recruit your husband?
PICHOTTE: No, because they worked together. They were the best of friends. They worked in that together. Oh yeah.
WEST: Now your husband, was he Catholic, then?
WEST: And Francis O'Rourke was.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes.
WEST: I'm interested in that angle because there was a group known as the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, apparently.
PICHOTTE: That was before my husband's time. But now Francis might have been involved in that, because he was very, very much involved in that, you know. And Father Olk, by the way, was one of 'em that had something to do with that organization you are talking about.
PICHOTTE: Olk, I'm pretty sure.
WEST: The ACTU. I know it was organized, I think, before this time. And it was active...
PICHOTTE: Yes, it was.
WEST: ...and still is, I think, as a matter. And Dorothy Day was one of the people who...
PICHOTTE: Oh, yes.
WEST: Now, of course the people who led the sit-down strike were commonly called Communists.
WEST: That was the term...a bunch of reds occupying the plant. Were any of the people involved in the union then Communists, really Communists?
PICHOTTE: Two, two. I can't name them to you, but there are two. There are two and both of them were very well known. But they were just the exception, because they happened to be here and they infiltrated into it like they do in other organizations.
WEST: How did you know they were, that these men were Communists?
PICHOTTE: Well, my husband found out. I don't know how, but he knew. But there were two of them that he definitely knew. But they didn't work there very long and they were gone. They did not stay in the plant itself. They just kind of got out of there, for what reason, I don't know.
WEST: I raise this in part because, from what I know, Francis O'Rourke opposed the Communists.
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, yes he did, very much so. And I kind of think... I'm going back now where my husband one time told about this particular man that they knew. They were pretty sure he was. And I think they put pressure on him. And I think that was the reason why he left.
WEST: Oh, I see. So your husband and Francis O'Rourke then were anti-Communistic.
PICHOTTE: Oh, very much so! Oh yes, yes.
WEST: Now when there came the split, as there did afterwards, between the A F of L and the CIO. Homer Martin was president of the UAW. And on the other hand Travis and I guess Roy Reuther and some of the others...
PICHOTTE: They went the other way, yeah.
WEST: They went the other way. Did your husband and you get involved in that? Did you line up on one side of that?
PICHOTTE: No, because at that time my husband went along with the group that he felt...which was the Reuthers. He felt that they were going to be the leaders. Like I say, he was very, very close-knit with 'em. And he felt that they would do the better job of the two. And that was one reason why, because they were really, really sincere in their organization. They really were.
WEST: Well, then, I guess at that time, shortly after the strike, it would mean your husband did not favor Martin, Homer Martin.
PICHOTTE: No, no he did not. No, he did not.
WEST: What did he think about Homer Martin. Or what did you think of him?
PICHOTTE: Well, you have to respect their rights, all men, because for one thing they were trying to do the right thing even in there. They were union organizers. Maybe the union itself, that is the CIO, the organization that we were in would do more for the factory worker than it would for what he was organizing, because there is a difference. See now, for instance, the coal miners. They had a different tale of their woes than the man that works in the factory, so, of course, they are organized. They belong to a union, but it's a different thing again, even though they are organized. Now my father belonged to the union and he belonged under John L. Lewis. In fact, he knew him very well.
WEST: Oh he did know John L. Lewis?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, my father did. Yes, because my father was a mine representative for a great number of years in the industry there, in the Ohio Coal Company. Yes, my father was the head of the union.
WEST: I see. Did they think well of Lewis?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes! Yes, and Green, too. They were the key people in the union at that time.
WEST: Right, the key in the United Mine Workers.
WEST: Now after the strike there were a number of other strikes in the Flint area when, as I understand it, the United Auto Workers thought to use their power, their strength. And they did have that Amalgamated Local that was, I gather, the biggest local in the UAW.
WEST: They thought that they would use that to make Flint, as they put it, a hundred percent union town, and therefore there were strikes at Penney's. And do you remember any of those?
PICHOTTE: Well, this is the reason why they tried to have these people organized, because the industry itself was organized. But the local people were not. They were still working for nothing, Penney's. And they were trying to have these people, in some areas, to get a little bit more pay, because they were very, very underpaid. And being the town that it was and that is the General Motors complex that they had here, they were makin' fairly decent wages, but the other people were not. They didn't have even a wage/an hour law, I think, that covered 'em. At that time, I think, they could work for almost anything.
WEST: Did your husband or you get involved in any of those strikes?
PICHOTTE: No, no, no. We were not, either one of us, because we felt that he had done his part for our...what we were involved in. And if those people wanted to go along...if they were willing to do for themselves, they could come along and do just as well for themselves in the area of the union. They wouldn't have to have the same organization we did. But they could have organized in their own way.
WEST: Right. Well I mention that because just reading the newspapers you get the impression there was a flurry of strike activity in Flint. Penney's, the Durant Hotel.
PICHOTTE: Yes, but that was the Amalgamated Union, if you remember. They belonged to the Garment Workers and like that. That's a different union again because their rules and their set-up is altogether different from the factory program.
WEST: Yeah, there was some difference. But the UAW people, some of them, did take part in helping, because Walter Reuther...
PICHOTTE: Oh yes, because they thought that they would try to get them organized. Because see, you want to remember now that garment workers are organized. And for one thing, people don't understand and I don't know why they don't. But the arts have always been unionized. Isn't that true?
PICHOTTE: You find that the Actors' Guild----look how long it has been in existence. And they were the first to organize. And that's the only thing that kept them up where they are to make the money that they did. Otherwise, they would not have made it, so, you see, there is a reason for this. I mean people just don't understand, but there is a reason for it.
WEST: There was a Consumers Power strike, shutdown too.
PICHOTTE: Well, there was a lot of strikes after that. But, of course, that's again a different story, because that is a different field, altogether than what ours would be.
WEST: Right. Did you or your husband take part, then, in later efforts to organize other auto plants? For example, I understand there was a strike out in Owosso, against a company, A. G. Redmond. There were, of course, strike activities in Pontiac and in Ford.
PICHOTTE: No, we didn't. In fact, the man that owned the Redmond Company was a real good friend of my husband's. And he always vowed he would never let them organize. Now he had several different plants that he'd move from place to place to place. And he was out...I don't know whether they're even in business anymore.
WEST: I'm not sure that they are either.
PICHOTTE: But at one time they had a business downtown, because they used to make parts for General Motors when they were down above the Fisher Building, yeah, where the Fisher Wallpaper and Paint area is down there. Well, they used to have a whole floor there. They used to make heaters and they made small radios, car radios. And they made radio controls. And they were the Redmond Company. But he always said he would not let them organize. And I guess at one time they wanted to organize and he just moved out.
WEST: Right. I understand that he moved to Owosso and the UAW tried to organize him out at Owosso.
PICHOTTE: And then later on he moved up to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and he didn't stay there very long either. And as far as I know, they're not even in business.
WEST: Did your husband have a car during the strike?
PICHOTTE: Oh yes.
WEST: He did have a car.
PICHOTTE: Oh yeah. He had a 1932 automobile in '36, because when he worked for General Motors at the Buick, he invented the grip on the steering wheel. See, he played ball for General Motors, for Buick Majors. And that was before he got laid off. And he had that grip that's on your car today. Of course, he was on salary at that time so they didn't pay any bonus or benefits of any kind. But that grip that's on your car, your steering wheel, was his invention.
WEST: That's interesting. Now, the reason I asked that is, there was a bus strike in Flint at the time. And I wondered if you knew anybody who was involved in the bus strike.
PICHOTTE: No, I didn't, no. See, we also had streetcars at that time yet, in Flint.
WEST: I understand it was a mixture and trolleys and streetcars.
PICHOTTE: Right, 'cause they used to come right up within about four blocks from where I lived. And I could get on it, on the streetcar, and come right down by where my in-laws lived.
WEST: Oh yes, that's interesting. Well, is there anyone else that you can think of that I could talk to that is still living?
PICHOTTE: Did you contact Mrs. O'Rourke, Agnes O'Rourke?
WEST: No, I have not. Agnes O'Rourke?
PICHOTTE: You contact her. That's Francis's wife.
WEST: Francis O'Rourke's wife; she's still alive. Is she getting on in years now?
PICHOTTE: Yes, she is. And she lives over by Dodds and Dumanois on one of those streets over there.
WEST: Oh, I'll have to get in touch with her.
PICHOTTE: Her telephone number is in the telephone book.
WEST: I'll do that.
PICHOTTE: And I'm sure you can get a lot of information from her.
WEST: Oh, I would like to very much, yes. Anyone else?
PICHOTTE: Not that I know of. Now there is only one other person but I don't...(Tape ends)