INTERVIEW: March 7, 1980
INTERVIEWER: Neil Leighton
INTERVIEWEE: Ingvald Bjaland and James O'Hara
BJALAND: Well, anyway, in those days, Vince Okopien, he lived across the street and he had quite a bit of property over there. He worked at Fisher Body. But all these supervisors and everybody, all these farmers, you know, they'd bring stuff. They'd hang it up in his garage, big bushel baskets of cabbage and turnips and half hogs and quarter beefs. And that's the way these farmers would bring it over there and hang it in his garage. And that's how when during layoff, that's how they kept their job, see. And this was some of the things that we brought up that the union was against.
LEIGHTON: Did the farmers tend to get hired first, then, after a layoff?
BJALAND: Oh, they never got laid off.
O'HARA: They were more or less buying their jobs.
BJALAND: They were buyin' their job by bringing this stuff in to this Okopien guy. But that was the center, across the street there. They'd bring it in there and then they'd tell the supervisor to pick it up over there.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see. So you had a center across Saginaw Street.
BJALAND: Yes, across the street. Okopien was his name.
LEIGHTON: Okopien. Was it a restaurant?
BJALAND: No, he owned an apartment house and he had some sons. They were in the trucking business. He was a Hungarian, I think. But anyway we had a lot of things like that happen. And then there was this Catholic deal and the Masonic deal.
LEIGHTON: Oh, what are those, 'cause I've heard very little about them?
BJALAND: Well, first, for a while there will be a clique of all Masonics, see. And then when it comes to layoff, the supervisors...it wouldn't make any difference whether you were a supervisor or what you were. Well, you would get the ax, see. Then pretty soon they'd have new superintendents come in the plant, or a new plant manager. Then it would be Masonic. All of a sudden all the Catholics would be wiped right out. And then they start all over again. But was just one after another; it was either Catholic...there was some foremen changing Catholic to Masonics, you didn't know which they were. And they did this deliberately to keep their job, see. But this was some of the things what made the union strong and come up in the first place.
LEIGHTON: Oh, this was what caused them to get together.
BJALAND: Yes, everybody was buyin' their job this way, you know.
LEIGHTON: When did you hire in at Fisher?
LEIGHTON: Oh, so had you been working at any other plants in Flint?
BJALAND: I worked thirty-five years for Fisher 1.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see, okay. Did you come to Flint from...?
BJALAND: Well, I came from Norway when I was ten years old.
LEIGHTON: Oh, you did.
BJALAND: Came over to Canada; was there a year and then came over here and I started workin'.
LEIGHTON: You came right over to Flint.
LEIGHTON: What about you, Mr. O'Hara?
O'HARA: Well, I come from Ohio up there during...I hired in during '36.
LEIGHTON: Oh, right before.
O'HARA: Well, I was in there when it started.
O'HARA: It was a pretty secretive deal at that time, there. And so I hired in just about a month before it really happened.
LEIGHTON: Were you hired in on the shop floor or on supervision?
O'HARA: No, I was on production.
LEIGHTON: Where in Ohio did you come from?
LEIGHTON: So did my family. I grew up in Cleveland, but my folks were from Akron originally.
BJALAND: Well, about that time you couldn't beg, borrow, or steal a job around there.
O'HARA: Sure couldn't.
BJALAND: So I think that had a lot to do with it at that time, too. If you had a job, you'd take care of it.
O'HARA: Yes, they used to say, "If you don't like the job, why, there's a whole line of people waitin' outside the window." That's the old saying in Fisher Body 1.
BJALAND: If you can't do it, they'd show you, take you to the window.
O'HARA: Show you a line there, waitin' in the employment line, all the way down Saginaw. That's the truth, too.
BJALAND: And things like that had the tendency of creatin' the union.
LEIGHTON: Sure. You got hired in in '34.
LEIGHTON: And you mentioned right in on supervision to start with?
BJALAND: No, I was on the spot weld line. I was a relief man for about a year. I worked there one year. I think I was about nineteen when they put me on the supervision. But I was the youngest supervisor in General Motors at that time.
LEIGHTON: Yes, I was going to say that's kind of unusual.
BJALAND: Well, it is, especially those times. They wouldn't hire supervisors unless he was in his thirties.
LEIGHTON: That's one of the main reasons they were having so much trouble finding any.
BJALAND: Yes. Now it's the other way around.
LEIGHTON: You mentioned spot welding. Did you have that trade already when you hired in? Did you know it or did you just pick it up on the job?
BJALAND: Well, I was kind of a troubleshooter. I ended up bein' in charge of all the repairmen in Fisher Body, plus replacement of supervisor or general foremen when they went on vacations. And any problems that turned up in Buick Motor Company, I'd run it down or trace it down to the shifts or to the supervisor whatever they had. But this is somethin' that you're born with; it's a Norwegian habit. But I was born with a mechanical incline, so I knew every department like trim and vinyl. I was also in charge of maintenance during the war and also a tank machine, because I knew every type of tool and carbo that there is. But this is somethin' that you don't learn in books; you're just born with it.
LEIGHTON: How did they pick you for supervision after your year as a spot welder?
BJALAND: Well, the only reason is, the only choice they have is a fellow who can go in and do every job on the line. That automatically can make you a supervisor, because the man that can't do everything, why, he'd never make a supervisor.
LEIGHTON: So in '35, then, you're a supervisor.
LEIGHTON: In what department?
BJALAND: Body shop.
LEIGHTON: Body shop. And the body shop is...
O'HARA: The start of the whole thing.
LEIGHTON: Yes, I was gonna say, that's where it all starts. What were the conditions like in that body shop then? Were the guys dissatisfied already? Could you tell it?
BJALAND: Well, we had a lot of problems. We had line speeds and people couldn't keep up and if you weren't in A-1 shape and you were sick or anything it was just too bad. You didn't keep the job; that's all. Or if you were absent too much or took time off, you would just get fired, that's all.
O'HARA: You really had no security whatsoever.
BJALAND: You had no security whatsoever. I mean you're done. Either you could do it or you couldn't. If you had to fall on your face, you still had to do it, you know. And it wasn't like it is now. I mean, if you want a relief, the only way they could get relief you had to call a foreman to take your place or somebody. There was no relief men or nothin' there at first.
LEIGHTON: How did it work? Were you responsible for the line speed from '35 to '36?
BJALAND: Well, we're responsible to the extent that we've gotta keep the line goin', whatever they set the line at. The management sets the line for the production speed. But it's our job to keep the line from stoppin', you know, get hung up with a spot weld gun or stop the line or somethin'. There's so many things where a guy gets behind, he can't get the stock on the job and they shut it down waitin' for the job, see.
LEIGHTON: And did management come along and tell you to speed up the line sometimes if you were behind?
O'HARA: Yes, we used to have that on the sub-assemblies. We'd get behind and they'd speed up the line. Sometime they'd do it. But we did raise the line, too.
LEIGHTON: Did the guys on the line ever do anything to try and slow it down?
BJALAND: Oh, yes. They've taken files or tools to put in the gears that dropped down in the conveyor lines. They've done everything.
LEIGHTON: What you'd call sabotage.
BJALAND: Sabotage. Well, we used to find...one time there we had more trouble with files dropped down in the chain.
LEIGHTON: This was before the strike?
O'HARA: Not necessarily.
BJALAND: I've seen that happen after the strike.
O'HARA: That's what I mean. But they used to have----they still have----two methods of operatin' that line. They have a manual and I don't know what the other one is. One will pull the line faster than the other way. And actually what happened there and is still probably a problem today. Your maintenance checks your lines before the line really starts. So they run the job down a couple, maybe two or three jobs down, which throws everybody out of kilter there. And that's one of the fallacies today in regards to a lot of the jobs, because you start at a certain position. You're supposed to, but at least two or three or jobs are out of your position.
LEIGHTON: I see. You mentioned the sabotage on the line and so on. Did you have any other clues that somethin' was goin' on on the shop floor in your department, in '35?
O'HARA: A lot of people at certain times would have a regular set-down. Maybe they'd just like to sit there. We've had that happen.
LEIGHTON: Even before the big strike?
O'HARA: Well even after that.
LEIGHTON: Yes, I know after, but did they do it before?
BJALAND: I don't think so.
O'HARA: Not too much.
LEIGHTON: They would have gotten fired, wouldn't they?
BJALAND: They didn't do it before.
LEIGHTON: But did you ever see them with a union button or passin' out a piece of literature?
O'HARA: That was a pretty secretive deal prior to the strike.
BJALAND: They used to do that later on in years, but not at that time, not at first.
LEIGHTON: So what I'm really tryin' to get at is whether you, as a supervisor, could tell anything was goin' on. Or did you know some of these guys personally?
O'HARA: We knew there was somethin' goin'; we knew 'em personally. But there was nothin' you could do about it, I mean. You know it's goin' on, 'cause we had two factions there. We had the CIO and what's the other one?
BJALAND: CIO and the A F of L.
O'HARA: Yes, and a lot of times you get 'em fightin' amongst themself. In other words, a lot of times you'd better not stick your hands in your pocket walkin' across the street. Because somebody'd nail you or you'd get right in a fight right on the curb goin' across the street. When we got started we had a lot of problems amongst our own people.
BJALAND: It wasn't safe to walk across the street.
O'HARA: No, it wasn't.
BJALAND: One faction would chase you with a club or somethin' and the union halls were adjacent to one another.
LEIGHTON: Now that was after the strike, though, wasn't it? That was after the sit-down.
BJALAND: This was after the strike, yes.
LEIGHTON: In the period before, though, you don't have any idea what's comin' on until when? Did you know, let's say, when Mortimer came to town?
O'HARA: Well, we knew they organizing, because they were doin' it outside and they were takin' dues, and you were payin' your dues.
BJALAND: No, it's a pretty hush-hush deal, really.
LEIGHTON: Yes, I know.
O'HARA: Because you didn't dare, you didn't dare work out in the open at that time, or you would get fired if you were involved in any way at all. You just wouldn't have a job.
LEIGHTON: Did management ever include you in on those days on...you know, call you aside and say, "These guys are trouble makers or this is going on, or we've got a report that this guy is in town, you gotta be careful."?
BJALAND: Oh yes, we used to get that.
LEIGHTON: So they'd take you aside and kind of brief you on what's goin' on. Did they ever give you any special instructions?
BJALAND: Well, that was the worst part of bein' on supervision. They was always callin' meetings. This has been goin' on since the time things got started.
LEIGHTON: Well, you were the guys in the middle.
BJALAND: Yes, but this had been goin' on. That's the worst part of bein' a supervisor, those meetings. You don't know whether you'd be home and they'd call you any time of the night or day at home or weekends. You don't know, if they have problems or if a strike come up, well, you're called in and you gotta go in.
LEIGHTON: Did they ever give you any instructions to do any special things or bring in any...
BJALAND: Oh yes.
LEIGHTON: What would some of those have been back then?
BJALAND: Right now I can't think...well, one was we had to make sure we wrote everything down. We had to keep a log and write down anything that happened.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did they point out guys to you that they knew were troublemakers? Did you know the guys in your department, let's say, that management would say, "There's a..."
BJALAND: It was more the other way around. The supervisors knew, but we wouldn't go to management and tell them. We kept it to ourselves, you know. But that's somethin' that you just couldn't do, you know.
O'HARA: Well, I don't think there was too much of it, for the simple reason like was pointed out before there. If you didn't do your job, why, out you went, so you didn't encounter too much of that.
LEIGHTON: Right. Well, the supervisor, particularly the position you held back then, you were right in the middle of things.
BJALAND: Look, a supervisor could lose his job just as a man workin' there, see. So we're in the same spot as a man workin' there. You know, when we get too much trouble with the people workin' for us, we're gonna lose our jobs before they even have a union. So you can see where we're settin'.
LEIGHTON: Yes, right.
BJALAND: We're settin' just the same place they are.
LEIGHTON: What was the difference back then between the pay, let's say, for a supervisor and for a guy on the line?
BJALAND: At that time it was about twenty-five percent more, I'm pretty sure. I'm not sure, but it seems like that.
O'HARA: Well, the way I understand it, they made twenty-five percent more than the highest employee that worked under their jurisdiction.
LEIGHTON: What about layoffs and stuff? Were you affected as much?
BJALAND: Well, no.
LEIGHTON: You would work through the layoffs then?
BJALAND: Well, I happened to be one of the lucky ones and I was never laid off, but I know a lot of foremen in the body shops who got laid off. Like I say, I was all around then and I always stayed through. In that other place, I played the fence. I didn't belong to the Masonic, I didn't belong to the...
O'HARA: Knights of Columbus. But what happened after that though, if there was a layoff of any extent whatsoever, if a supervisor come off a production line, he'd go back on a production line. They have kept a lot of their young supervisions on supervision and put the older ones back on the production line. They have done that.
LEIGHTON: And that too, before the strike?
O'HARA: That was afterwards, because they still had seniority on the production line, because they come out for production line. If they hired in on supervision, if there was a layoff, well, they were out.
LEIGHTON: I see. In those days before the strike, did Fisher 1, and in your department in the body shop, did they hire any Pinkertons, any detective agencies or that type of thing to come in on the floor to keep tabs on anybody?
BJALAND: I don't believe that.
LEIGHTON: There wasn't any of that in your department, anyway.
BJALAND: No, I never saw any of it.
O'HARA: They could have had, but you weren't aware of it.
BJALAND: They had plant protection.
O'HARA: Yes, I know. I think they had spies around in there, really, guys checkin', goin' through departments and everything.
LEIGHTON: But the supervisor wouldn't have known that, except if you had seen a strange face or something, that's about the only thing.
BJALAND: Well, if you want to know the truth...the whole thing...most of this thing was handled, if there was anything known. If a guy wanted to find out anything, a spy in there, he wouldn't go in the plant. He'd go to the bar where all these guys from the union would hang out. He would go in there. He couldn't find out anything if he walked in the plant, because everybody was too busy working. All he'd have to do is go to the local bar somewhere where they are, and he'd find out everything he wants to know. That goes for a supervisor or anybody else. A supervisor can go with a bunch of guys in a bar and learn more in five minutes than you can in the plant in a month.
LEIGHTON: Did GM ever encourage you to do that?
O'HARA: They forbid 'em to go in the bars there for a while.
BJALAND: We went anyway. Well, a lot of fellows at work meant a lot to us and they were good people. In fact, a lot of these people ended up bein' supervisor. But we were forbid to go across to the bars. They didn't want us to mingle with the working people.
LEIGHTON: In those days what did you dress in when you went to work?
BJALAND: Well, we had to wear a tie.
LEIGHTON: White shirt and a tie?
LEIGHTON: Which shift did you work on?
BJALAND: I worked on all shifts.
LEIGHTON: Oh, you did. So that's why you knew so many people. Where were Simons and Devitt and Green and all those guys? Were they in your department?
BJALAND: Bud Simons was a torch solderer, a very good torch solder man. Jay Green, he was a metal finisher. Who was the other one you asked about?
LEIGHTON: Devitt, Joe Devitt.
O'HARA: He was in the body shop. He was a ding man, wasn't he?
BJALAND: He worked for a ding man. Well, that's the same thing as a metal man.
LEIGHTON: They must have started about the same time you did, didn't they?
LEIGHTON: Did you know 'em...you didn't know 'em before they came? I mean, you knew 'em just when they hired into the plant, I take it. Or did you know 'em before they came to Flint?
BJALAND: No, I didn't know 'em before they came to Flint. I knew 'em through the plant. In fact, I was a relief man, like a utility man. Everybody knew me anyway.
LEIGHTON: Did you know they were kind of gettin' ready to form the union?
BJALAND: Oh yes, we knew it.
LEIGHTON: Did you ever meet Wyndham Mortimer when he came to town?
LEIGHTON: A guy named Mortimer. Wyndham Mortimer came in the summer of '36 to Flint. Talked to a whole bunch of workers.
O'HARA: Heard that name, but I can't...
LEIGHTON: He was the vice-president of the UAW at that time. Of course, the union wasn't very much. But he came to Flint, he met with people, small groups in houses and so on. And he's the guy who brought Bob Travis to town.
BJALAND: I remember that name but I can't quite place it.
LEIGHTON: Did you bump into Travis before the strike?
BJALAND: No, I met Reuther.
LEIGHTON: Which, Victor, Roy...?
O'HARA: They were both there really; they were both around town.
LEIGHTON: Were you in the plant the night the Perkins boys were fired?
BJALAND: Yes, that was Red Perkins. That was Bill Perkins and what's his...?
LEIGHTON: I think Frank, I'm not sure.
BJALAND: Yes, Frank, Bill and Frank. I started the first ski troupe in Michigan. Made twenty-five pair of skis there at Fisher Body. We started the first ski troupe in Hadley Hills; and Bill and Frank were two of the people that I made skis for, see.
LEIGHTON: Were these downhill or cross-country skis?
BJALAND: No, this was mostly a hill ski or cross-country or whatever. But I was about twenty years too early on skis. Oh, I used to love to make them, you know, bend 'em and steam 'em in a furnace and bend 'em. I used to make...
LEIGHTON: Well comin' from Norway, skis were somethin' you grew up with.
BJALAND: Yes, my Dad taught me how to.
LEIGHTON: Jim, were you in the plant when the Perkins were fired? Were you hired in then?
O'HARA: Well, if it was prior to the strike, I was there.
LEIGHTON: Well, you said you hired in in '36 and I believe it was the early part of November, the first couple of weeks in November of '36, just before Thanksgiving.
BJALAND: You know, I haven't thought of those guys since he just mentioned Bill and Frank.
LEIGHTON: They're still there, still in Flint. One lives in Columbiaville, one lives in town.
BJALAND: Are they both alive?
BJALAND: You gotta be kiddin'.
BJALAND: They were two of the sickliest guys I knew.
LEIGHTON: In fact, one of 'em called us up.
O'HARA: Ain't that funny?
BJALAND: Well, that's way back, the Perkins boys; I'll tell you that.
LEIGHTON: So you were there the night the Perkins got the ax. What was the reaction to all of these guys in your department suddenly sittin' down, clunk? That hadn't happened before, had it?
BJALAND: No, I can faintly remember it now, but I know all hell went loose after that. That was it right there, when the Perkins boys got fired. That started the whole ball a-rollin' right there.
LEIGHTON: Why did they get fired? Do you remember?
BJALAND: Well, there's somethin'; I'm tryin' to think of what it was.
LEIGHTON: Was it for wearin' their union button?
BJALAND: Well, it had somethin' to do with the union, but I can't remember what it was definitely. I can't remember exactly what it was.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember who fired 'em?
BJALAND: No, I can't even remember that.
LEIGHTON: What happened after they got the sack? Did the guys sit down?
BJALAND: I really shouldn't answer that because I really can't remember right now.
LEIGHTON: You don't remember whether they held a meeting or...?
BJALAND: I really can't remember anything.
BJALAND: Things happened so fast.
LEIGHTON: What happened, that I know from talkin' to people, was that the Perkins were fired, I think, for wearin' the union button. And the police had to go out and bring 'em back, because the fellows in the department were all sittin' down.
LEIGHTON: And they refused to work. And Bud Simons talked to the group and got 'em all to sit down.
BJALAND: Well, I don't know. My memory isn't what it used to be; I used to remember everything. You know I have a hard time remembering my own telephone number. I used to remember every telephone number in Fisher Body three stories, maintenance and Buick Motor Company. And when I retired I just made up my mind I'm going to forget everything. And I guess that's what I did.
O'HARA: That's the same way with names. That happened so long ago that you don't recall a lot of these names.
BJALAND: Well, I haven't heard the name of that Bill Perkins and Frank. This is the first time I heard it for years.
LEIGHTON: Did you hear about the Perkins thing, though at all when you came in to work the next day? What shift were you workin' on?
O'HARA: At that particular time I was workin' days.
LEIGHTON: I think this happened at night, because these guys went out to a movie and had to be...to send the cops out to look for 'em. Now your department was the body?
O'HARA: No, I worked in materials when I hired in there.
LEIGHTON: I see. So did you know Simons and Devitt and these guys?
O'HARA: Not at that time, no.
BJALAND: Not at that time, no. See, he ended up in trim and vinyl.
O'HARA: That's where I wound up at, trim and vinyl and general repair.
LEIGHTON: Before the strike or...?
BJALAND: Then he ended up bein' shop committeeman.
LEIGHTON: Right. Do you remember anything in that month before the strike? Did you go to any union meetings?
O'HARA: Well, like I said, I hired in just about a month prior to this strike. And everything at that time was secret. So I wasn't even aware of it comin' out.
LEIGHTON: Nobody came up to you and gave you a card and tried to get you to sign.
O'HARA: It was pretty much of a secret, that deal, the whole way down the line.
LEIGHTON: There were no meetings across the street in the restaurant or anything?
O'HARA: No. There probably were but...
BJALAND: We had meetings over there; I know that.
LEIGHTON: In Ray's restaurant?
O'HARA: Well, they used to have 'em in people's basements and all over. What was the name of that hotel over there...the?
BJALAND: Yes, it was down in the basement...
O'HARA: It's tore down now.
BJALAND: It was a block back from Saginaw Street; there was a hotel there. A hangout used to be in a bar down in this basement.
LEIGHTON: I see, so you did go to some meetings there.
BJALAND: I didn't, but they did. I used to go in there because I knew the guy that owned the place.
O'HARA: He had a little bar down there.
BJALAND: Nice place.
LEIGHTON: Well, Jim, did you go to any meetings in there before the strike?
O'HARA: Like I said, I wasn't even aware of it for the simple reason it was a hush-hush deal.
LEIGHTON: So where were you on the night that it all comes apart?
O'HARA: Well, like I said, I work days. And like I said, I wasn't even aware of it. I went to work the next morning and they had a picket line there.
LEIGHTON: So what did you do?
O'HARA: I went home.
BJALAND: Well, I'm gonna tell you somethin'. I was the only guy, the day of the strike when they pulled the strike, I went out and I just bought a new Pontiac, a coupe with the opera seats in it...the first one. And it was a linen cream. In those days they didn't come out with white cars, linen cream. And everybody thought I was crazy buyin' a white car. Of course, since then it's all been light cars, see. So when I came out, the gate was all pickets. They wouldn't let anybody out. Somebody tried to get out and they tipped the car over.
LEIGHTON: Oh, really? Do you remember who that was? Was it management, do you mean?
BJALAND: Yes, it was one of the supervisors. But the funny part of it, I drove up there and they saw who I was. Well, it so happened that...but they have foremen they like and they have supervisors that they don't like. They let me through and said, "Go on ahead." So I was lucky I got my new car out of there and got everything out of the parking lot. But they wouldn't let anybody else go. But I was just one of the lucky supervisors, because I happened to have some friends that was in the picket line.
LEIGHTON: Okay. But you were in the strike when they sat down. We don't know much about that. Were you in an office? So did you come out and these guys were sittin' down, or? You must have noticed somethin' was funny, I mean, with the lines all closed down.
BJALAND: Well, I'm not sure whether it was closed down the day before or the day when we went that morning and they had the picket line. The day we went on strike I don't think they put a picket line up the first day. I think it was the next day they put the picket line there.
LEIGHTON: Right. They sat down first.
BJALAND: Yes, they sat down first. So I don't think they were there that night. But when we went back in to work the next day that's the time I had trouble gettin' out of there.
LEIGHTON: Okay, so you weren't in the plant when they actually sat down?
BJALAND: Well, I imagine I was, but I just can't remember what happened. Well, that isn't just once. They sat down more than once.
LEIGHTON: Oh, they did.
BJALAND: Oh, that wasn't the first time they sat down.
LEIGHTON: But I mean this is the big one, on December thirtieth.
BJALAND: That was the big one, yes.
LEIGHTON: They hadn't sat down before that, except for the Perkins.
BJALAND: Oh, we'd had slowdowns.
LEIGHTON: You managed to get out of the plant all right. Did management have any meetings then during the strike?
BJALAND: Yes, we had meetings down at the Durant Hotel.
LEIGHTON: Okay, and you had to go down to those.
BJALAND: Yes. And I can't remember now whether it was one a week or we had to go down every day. I can't remember. We had 'em at the Durant Hotel.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember who did some of the talking?
BJALAND: We were out one hundred and one days, a hundred and five days, what was it?
LEIGHTON: No, it was only forty-four for the strike, the sit-down.
BJALAND: What was the one that was over a hundred? That was another one.
LEIGHTON: That was after the war.
BJALAND: That was after the war.
LEIGHTON: Yes. The sit-down goes from December thirtieth to February eleventh.
O'HARA: Well, it happened in '36, and they referred to it as the strike of '37, but it really happened in '36.
LEIGHTON: Well, it started a couple days in December. So you went down to the Durant Hotel. Do you remember anybody who was speaking? Any of the management?
BJALAND: No, I can't remember who was even manager right then. Was Klett there then?
O'HARA: I don't know who.
BJALAND: Well, I know Earl Klett and Sam Hawk are the guys that got together and started that retirement deal.
LEIGHTON: Did Harlow Curtice ever talk to the group?
LEIGHTON: Red Curtice. He was head of Buick then.
BJALAND: No, I don't think so.
LEIGHTON: In these meetings at the Durant Hotel, was there anybody like Boysen? Did you know George Boysen?
BJALAND: I may have, but I really don't know.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember the Flint Alliance, the back-to-work movement?
BJALAND: Yes, I'm tryin' to think of the guy that went down to Detroit in Labor Relations and I can't even think of his name. He used to do a lot of the speaking.
BJALAND: No, before him.
LEIGHTON: Well, what did you do during the strike? Do you remember, at home? Did you stay at home? You obviously couldn't get into the plant.
BJALAND: Well, I was always busy doin' somethin'. I had boats and I had barns. I was remodeling and I did a little bit of everything. But if they called me and I had to be at a meeting, I was there. It is pretty hard for me to remember.
LEIGHTON: Well, Jim, what did you do during the strike? Did you go down to the Pengelly Building? Do you remember where the Pengelly Building was?
O'HARA: Well, during the strike there, like I said, I wasn't really involved in the thing, so I really didn't do anything.
LEIGHTON: You didn't pull any picket duty or anything like that?
O'HARA: No, not at that time when it first originated. After that, yes.
LEIGHTON: How old were you when the strike came?
BJALAND: He don't even know how old he is now!
O'HARA: I think I was about twenty-three at that time. Are you older than I am or younger?
BJALAND: I think about a year. I'll be sixty-six this December.
LEIGHTON: So you didn't go down to the Pengelly Building to any of the meetings or distribute the...
LEIGHTON: Do you remember the paper, the Flint Auto Worker? That was the strike paper.
LEIGHTON: Did anybody from the strike paper ever come and see you, either one of you?
O'HARA: No. Well, at that particular time I lived about four doors from the Battle of Bull Run. You know where that is.
O'HARA: Well, I lived about four doors from there so I seen quite a few people being...well, police cars around there. I'd seen police cars tipped over. And I'd seen people shot down there and all that stuff. Bob Mamero was one of them who was shot. Bob Mamero, the one you were talkin' about.
O'HARA: He was shot. Did he tell you that? Oh yeah, he got shot. I think he got shot in the hip or somethin' like that. Yeah, he got shot in the plant.
LEIGHTON: So you lived four doors from it. Were you out there watchin' it when it broke out?
O'HARA: Well, actually I was right where it all was happening, down around the Battle of Bull Run. I was right there. The National Guards was all around there. And at that particular time I had Ohio license plates on. And on the corner of Third and Chevrolet they had that barricaded.
O'HARA: But due to the fact I lived down the street down there, why, they let me through there. But the National Guard was patrollin' that whole area in through there.
LEIGHTON: So you could get in then. What time did the strike break out at night, do you remember? I mean the Battle of Bulls Run.
O'HARA: Well, it happened quite often, really. The police cars come around there and they'd tip 'em over. There were several police cars demolished down there. So it was more or less a constant deal after it started down there.
LEIGHTON: Yes, it lasted about four or five hours, something like that, I think.
O'HARA: Well, yes, somethin' like that, until the National Guards come in. You know a lot of this happened prior to when all this stuff happened. After they come in there, why, they toned it down quite a lot.
LEIGHTON: So there were a lot of people out watching the battle.
O'HARA: Yes, there was a bunch of people down in through there. Well, all the employees would hang around there and see what was goin' on and everything.
BJALAND: More hinges in the street...car hinges all over.
O'HARA: Hinges in the street! I helped take 'em all off the roof at Fisher Body.
LEIGHTON: Oh, did you? At Fisher 1 or Fisher 2?
O'HARA: Fisher 1. Yes, they had that old roof up there loaded with hinges. And at that time they weighed what, about half a pound a piece or quarter of a pound?
BJALAND: Oh, easy. And they would go right through a car windshield or window. And everybody was makin' blackjacks out of rubber hose and fill 'em up with lead down there. Everybody carried black jacks. They had fire hoses all set up all along the building.
LEIGHTON: Up on the roof?
BJALAND: Yes. And at the windows.
LEIGHTON: You went back in to work after the strike then. And that was one of your jobs, to clean up. What did the plant look like?
O'HARA: Well, there again I really don't recall, but one of the jobs we had to do was to take and haul all the hinges off the roof down and put 'em back where they belonged.
LEIGHTON: There were fire hoses up there, too.
BJALAND: I think fire hoses were downstairs on the second floor. They had 'em by the windows.
LEIGHTON: So it was just mainly hinges and stuff.
O'HARA: Well, that's all I recall.
LEIGHTON: Did you do any work on the inside of the plant?
O'HARA: Well, no.
LEIGHTON: Cushions back in place?
O'HARA: I didn't, but they probably had people doin' that. Our job was to bring the hinges down. But they probably had several groups takin' care of various areas.
LEIGHTON: When did you go back to work? Do you remember? Was it right after the...?
BJALAND: I don't remember that.
LEIGHTON: Did things change when you got back?
BJALAND: Everything changed, but I can't exactly remember what it was.
LEIGHTON: Of course, you had pretty good relationships with the guys you worked with. But did you notice some of the other guys, other supervisors you worked with? Were they happy about the settlement or were they a little up on their ear?
BJALAND: No, I think they were happy. It seemed to help. Everything that the men got, it helped the supervisors. And it took the pressure off of them. So it really helped the supervisors, I guess, as much as it did the men.
O'HARA: I think it gained the supervisors, for the simple reason every gain we had they had to give the supervisor a little better deal. So they had a better deal the whole way down the line.
BJALAND: Whenever they gave in, we had a better deal, see.
LEIGHTON: Well, what I was thinking of was the relationship with the guys. Some of the foremen were pretty tough on the men, weren't they? And that could have been some bitterness held off after the strike.
BJALAND: Well, you know, most of the supervisors were very good. It only takes one; it's just like a rotten apple in a basket. It only takes one to make everybody else sour. And if the management had taken care of those fellows in the first place we probably wouldn't have had all the trouble we had. But most of the supervisors I know were real nice fellows and treated their men pretty well. But like I say, it only takes two, three of 'em in a plant, and you can turn the whole apple cart.
LEIGHTON: Did the pace of work slow down? I mean did your job become a little easier or a little tougher after the strike?
BJALAND: No, there was rulings made how many we could run for an hour and how many men we were set up with. In fact, that's when time study come in and we figured out how many jobs per hour. That's where time study comes in.
LEIGHTON: You didn't have that before the strike?
BJALAND: You might have had it. They might have had it for their own use. But this was somethin' that you had to show the committeemen. And it takes so much time to do this, and this amount of time to do this. And if it's wrong, why, then you go out and take the shop committeeman out and the foreman or whoever is doing it. And they time-study it and they come out with an answer one way or the other.
O'HARA: Well, really, what happened at that particular time, the supervisors and the time study guy used to go out and determine how much time it would take per job. If you had a chronic bitcher on a job there, why, the supervisor to get him off his back would take him and add a little work on to the guy that wouldn't complain. Make this guy happy. They'd overload one guy, if he wouldn't complain, to make this other guy happy, so he was doing half a job and this guy was doin' a job and a half, really.
BJALAND: Now, that's what happened, yes.
O'HARA: I seen 'em load one guy up so bad that he quit. He wouldn't ever complain. And it was an impossibility for him to do the job, just to make one or two guys happy in there.
LEIGHTON: Yes. What happens after the strike? You go back to work. You're in the trim shop then, or you're still...
O'HARA: No, I'm still in materials.
LEIGHTON: Yes. What changes take place? Did you get elected as steward or do you remember the elections for stewards?
O'HARA: Well, they had a steward system at that time, yes.
LEIGHTON: The steward was what...one rep for?
O'HARA: Well, actually they called them committeeman. A committeeman had an area of about two hundred and fifty people.
LEIGHTON: That came a little later, though, didn't it? You had the steward system first.
O'HARA: The steward system come in first. And then it reverted back to the committeemen. And I think in some plants they still referred to 'em as stewards.
LEIGHTON: Yes. But the stewards had fewer people to deal with, didn't they? Isn't that one of the differences?
O'HARA: There again I don't recall just what did happen at that particular time. But the committeeman had about two hundred and fifty people. That was what he had.
LEIGHTON: Was your job easier then with the stewards, do you remember?
O'HARA: You mean afterwards?
LEIGHTON: Afterwards...after the strike.
O'HARA: Oh, yes, I'd say it was.
LEIGHTON: You knew who to report to and to work with.
BJALAND: Well, I think it was easier for everybody, for general foremen, superintendents and all the way up, so far as that goes.
O'HARA: Well, I think basically what it consisted of at that time, if an employee had a problem, why, he'd call the committeeman, and the committeeman in turn would see the foreman and see if he couldn't straighten it out. And if he couldn't straighten it out, why, you'd go up higher.
BJALAND: In fact, I liked that part of it. Like I always told my foreman or whoever was working for me to try to straighten out on it before you call the committeeman. Try to straighten out your own problems, see, which the shop committee and everybody went along with. Of course, at first they were a little bit...they didn't like the idea until we sold 'em the idea. They said call the committeeman for everything, you know. Then it got so bad the committeeman was callin' all the time and we couldn't get enough relief men to cover 'em up, you know. It got to be a real bad hazard. Every time you'd turn around they'd call a committeeman. Well, we just had to stop that. We run into real bad trouble on that. So finally we had to cut it down. Either a foreman would take care of it and try to work it out or try to work out somethin'. Every little thing that come up, you just can't call a committeeman. You look at a guy cross-eyed and he'd say, "Call me a committeeman." And that's what happens, see. They overdone it, you know.
LEIGHTON: Did you have a lot of wildcats then, too, right after the strike. That same type of thing, lookin' at a guy.
BJALAND: We had wildcats, but I can't remember when or how.
O'HARA: Yes, we had 'em, but, like he said there, I don't remember just what did transpire.
LEIGHTON: The guys would just sit down on the job and just stop workin' for a while.
BJALAND: Yes, sometimes it would last an hour, sometimes it would last for a couple of days. But you'd never know; I can't remember now.
LEIGHTON: When does the troubles begin in the union? Do you remember that period? You're all members of one union then, 156 Local.
O'HARA: No, when we first originated, you had two unions. You had your A F of L and your CIO.
LEIGHTON: That's right.
BJALAND: He's talkin' about after. You're talkin' about later on.
LEIGHTON: 1935 you get the CIO formed. They break away. John L. Lewis breaks away from the A F of L and the autoworkers decide to go with the CIO. And they put in Homer Martin.
O'HARA: So you had two factions.
LEIGHTON: Yes, but the A F of L, during the strike in Flint, isn't much of a factor. It's after the strike, right? And it comes even a little later. It comes a couple years, right, when Homer Martin decides to put the UAW with the A F of L. And the Reuthers want to keep the UAW with the CIO. But right after the strike, you don't have that yet.
O'HARA: That comes in September of '39 when you get the split.
LEIGHTON: That's right. The UAW-CIO had ousted Homer Martin. The president became R. J. Thomas.
BJALAND: Who was that Thomas that was in our plant there? Remember him? That's another man that I can remember. His name was Thomas.
O'HARA: I don't know. But he split, I recall coming in '39. That's the night State Police come in and they were...I always resented that, too...the night that the State Police come in. I was workin' nights while I was on vinyl at that time. And the wife come to pick me up; she was pregnant. And the State Police came, with the machine guns bringin' up the rear there. One guy was seventy years old. This one was playing football with him. Tackled him! "Move, I told you to move!" I always resented that.
LEIGHTON: What did the cops come in for?
O'HARA: Well, that's the night when they had the break-up, when they had these two factions there. And after that it kinda settled down to one faction. But the State Police come in.
LEIGHTON: And there's a battle between the two factions, then, is that it?
O'HARA: Well, they had been battling. You couldn't walk across the street there without some guy chasin' you with a club. It's a wonder there wasn't a lot of people run over and killed at that particular time. So it was rough.
LEIGHTON: Yes. Did you ever meet Bob Travis?
LEIGHTON: Or Henry Kraus?
LEIGHTON: Dorothy Kraus? She ran the strike kitchen across the street. You (Bjaland) met Travis, you said.
BJALAND: Who's this, the other one you mentioned?
LEIGHTON: Henry Kraus. Kraus was the guy who was the editor of the strike paper. And his wife was Dorothy Kraus who ran the strike kitchen across the street from Fisher 1.
BJALAND: I remember her.
LEIGHTON: When did you meet Bob Travis?
BJALAND: God, I can't remember. Right now I can just remember the name, that's all.
LEIGHTON: Yes. Do you remember Bud Simons?
BJALAND: Remember him real well; he worked for me.
LEIGHTON: What did he do after the strike, in your department?
BJALAND: Well, he was a torch solderer. Of course, he spent most of his time in the union.
O'HARA: He was the president or the chairman or somethin'.
BJALAND: Yes, he was the chairman or somethin'. He was gone most of the time.
LEIGHTON: Can you remember anything else about that time?
BJALAND: No, the only thing I know is that you could get ahold of these guys that we mention the names and get hold of them guys and maybe they can remember better than I can, because, like I said, when I retired, I tried to forget about everything that I ever done, and I wanted to relax and forget all of it. Those were the rough old days. There were a lot of good days, too.
LEIGHTON: Well, thank you very much.
BJALAND: One thing is I haven't got my memory. I'd give anything to have my memory back.
O'HARA: Hey, that happened a long time ago, really.