INTERVIEW: March 5, 1980
INTERVIEWER: Bill Meyer
INTERVIEWEE: Louis Gancsos, Sr. [At his residence in Flint, Michigan]
MEYER: Okay, I think we're running. Refresh me again, which plant were you in?
GANCSOS: In Fisher 1, Grand Blanc.
MEYER: Fisher 1 in Grand Blanc.
GANSCOS: Fisher 1 up on Saginaw Street there.
MEYER: You were working there when the strike broke out.
GANSCOS: Yes, I got hired there. I don't remember, '36, I believe. When was the strike about '36, '37?
MEYER: Right. Last couple of days of '36 broke out.
GANSCOS: I was just a new employee there, just out of high school. Well, I actually spent a year, six months in the CC camp. I don't know if you're familiar with that.
MEYER: The Conservation Corps.
MEYER: Think we need some of that today! So you had just hired in?
GANSCOS: I had a month; I hired in in September. I worked at AC for a few, actually three months, when I was in high school yet, just kind of a lucky break in a hiring spurt. And I took advantage of it and then when I got laid off there and things went down. Then the CC camp days. Then come back into Fisher 1 and that was it.
MEYER: Where was the CC camp?
GANCSOS: Well, it was all over the United States, but the particular place I was in was across the straits in Trout Lake, just on the other side of St. Ignace.
MEYER: So what do you remember about the day the strike started? Do you recollect that? What shift were you on?
GANCSOS: I was on the first shift and Mother was in the hospital about that time, so I was one of the few people who was in and out of the plant in the sit-down, which is not quite common. You know, once you got in, you stayed in and the rest of them...after the police came around...begin to be kept outside on the other side of the street. But as I look back on it now, it doesn't seem like the wages was a primary cause for the strike. Working conditions...things that today a person working wouldn't be aware of...couldn't even understand. For example, we had no seniority, no fringe benefits whatsoever, and the boss, well, he was the boss. What he said went and there was no questions. Well, there were some bosses that were more humane than others, just like all people anywhere. The general characteristics of people came out, their selfishness, and working for themselves. And I don't know how many people today are aware that in an organization as big as GM that some of the people in the higher positions actually took people from GM plants to their cabins to paint and build sidewalks and they were paid by General Motors payroll. This is the kind of supervision you had, so when you have those kinds of people you can imagine your working conditions are not going to be as good as where you have the protection we have now.
MEYER: We've heard that sort of thing before in our interviews. Do you recall any particular incidents where workers were asked to...
GANCSOS: Yes, I don't like to say it. My dad was one of the people who had gone for his superintendent to work on a garage or driveway. I don't recall now. And then in the secondhand information as you're in the shop the way it was more obvious is when Friday would come along and we'd have overtime (we didn't have time and half pay then). It was just overtime, more work. And we were glad to get it. But as I was standing on the end of my job, the boss would come by and point to Joe and say, "Can you come in tomorrow? And Mike or whoever was there would come by me and miss me. So I figured, well, maybe my turn comes next week. Next week and next week and next week you could see the same pattern. Then, as you kept your eyes open, Mike was bringing in eggs for the boss and Joe was wining and dining him and they got the overtime. Now this was not true of every place, but this was the type of conditions that prevailed in the shop.
MEYER: So the reward for these favors was overtime.
GANCSOS: Right, and the better jobs. And layoffs were done in pretty much the same pattern, too.
MEYER: If a supervisor asked somebody to work on his house and he refused, what would be expected? What might happen?
GANCSOS: In that case I don't know of any. The only person I know is one person mentioning it to me, that he said he wouldn't do it and he was shortly laid off after that. And he did get hired back in and he was never asked to do those things again. But there again, it is strictly the character of the supervisor, I would say. Undoubtedly there was some good people there who played the ball game nice.
MEYER: But when the supervisor asked the worker to do this work, personal work for him, was the idea that the supervisor would be paid for this?
GANCSOS: Well, let's say you were the boss and you bought a place out in the country here, and you were gonna put up a garage and a driveway. Well, if you could get me to go out and work on your driveway, well, my God, that's...
MEYER: Was it for nothing?
GANCSOS: Oh, yes, yes. Well, there were cases too, where the men were paid, their regular payroll, but taken from the shop to do these jobs. And, well, you know, really...
MEYER: So they might have been either taken off the payroll or a percentage that GM would pay them or as an outright free laborer.
GANCSOS: Right. Now even today you will hear rumors of people who are supervisors building a new home, particularly more so in the skilled trades type of work, where they have electricians come in and do their wiring as a favor for them. But a lot of times it is more of a real friendly basis, too.
MEYER: A real favor.
GANCSOS: Let's not forget it; some of the supervisors----hell, some of the workers----I worked with were worse than the supervisors. But on the whole it's not that prevalent and nowheres near that prevalent. I shouldn't even compare it. But I'm just saying that there are isolated cases of that even today.
MEYER: What were you doing in Fisher Body? What was your job?
GANCSOS: When I first hired in there, on a door line. Strangely enough, forty-three years later, I'm practically still on a door line. But at that time, well, for example, here: Where the door handle went in----today they're all pierced on the line as they're going through the pressroom----we used to have to pick the doors up. They were all assembled, and they weighed about eighty, ninety pounds. Put it on the drill press jig and drill the hole for it and then hang it back up on the line. That was my job, because I was almost six foot and about a hundred and seventy pounds. Talkin' about a hundred and seventy pounds... When I first looked for work during the Depression (you've heard the word "depression" before), you went out and they opened employment, people stood at the employment offices as early as six o'clock and earlier in the morning waiting to be one of the few lucky ones to be hired. And most of the time about seven or eight o'clock they'd come out and say "No hiring today". You can imagine. It's hard to imagine things like that today. I remember going to AC one time. I even jumped the fence to get into a group that were going into the interview room. See, they took them from the outside to the interview room and then assigned them. And I jumped over a fence to get into that group. And he wanted people for a motor block line. And he says, "All men a hundred and seventy pounds and more come over here." And so I go there, puff up my chest and straighten out. Now you've seen these shows where a stockman goes up to a cow or a horse and feels the legs. Well, the guy didn't put me on a scales. He just come up and grabbed me by the leg above the knees and says "Get out of here. You don't weigh a hundred and seventy pounds!" That was it. Then I worked at Central Wholesale for a while and in the process of delivering foodstuffs throughout the city, one of our stops was AC. And I learned the route (the back door, the way the trucks go in) to the employment office. And when I was trying to get a job there one time when the front door says "No Hiring" and you could see some people were in there. And to avoid standing outside in the cold that long I took the truck route and snuck in the back to set in the waiting room. Some fellow comes there and wanted to know how I got there. (Apparently they had their people picked that they wanted in) And I told him that I just come in. He said no, he knew I didn't just come in. He wanted to know how I got in there and he asked me my name and address. Then he told me that if I didn't tell him how I got in there they'd blackball me. Now I don't know if you've ever heard that term. They would blackball me from all General Motors, not just AC. So I told him that I used to come here with the Central Wholesale truck and just come in the back door over the railroad tracks rather than go which way it was now. The facts were out. He told me to get out and never, never try that again. And I didn't. Looking for a job was rough during the Depression. And when you did get a job you had no choice. You done what you were told. And you had the expression, when the boss would take a man to a window and show 'em the people in the unemployed line, and say, "Well if you can't or won't," (as they'd mostly say, not "can't") "they will." That made you work a little harder. I had that happen to me once. I think it was more of a jokingly matter, because my boss was a pretty good egg, and I guess he was just trying to spur me on, probably a psychological way of trying to get more out of a man.
MEYER: When were you first aware of the union?
GANCSOS: The union I was not aware of so much in the shop itself, as I was on the outside activity. Some of our neighbors had come up from Pennsylvania from the coalmines. And I guess they were in the union. John L. Lewis, I believe, was the...and they were recruiting on the outside. It was more of a donation basis like they would for a political campaign now. And knowing these fellows real well and living close to 'em and understanding what they were saying I actually had a union membership in the shop before the union was accepted.
MEYER: So these were former coal miners who were working in the shops?
GANCSOS: Well, they were people, not necessarily coal miners, but people from the coal region was what I was aware of. I imagine there were some from Detroit too, from the other factories, where the movement hadn't gotten started, but was going.
MEYER: And they were working in the shops, too? And is that where you first joined?
GANCSOS: Yes, that's where I first joined. That's where I began to get more involved and active. And another thing that you want to bear in mind, now: One of my supervisors that I'd known over the years---I worked in General Motors for forty-two years before I retired----and this fellow, when I went on the inspection, which was in the early forties, I've known him since and worked for him quite a few years and we got quite close for worker and supervisor. And one day during a White Shirt Day----I don't know if you know what that is. It's the annual anniversary of the strike. We were kind of standing around and chatting----my God, that's a lot of difference than the way we worked-----we didn't stand and chat in the old days. Well, anyway, Henry says to me, "Louie, if you had it to do over again, would you do it again?" I looked at him and I thought a while and I says, "Pat, if I was twenty-one years old again and didn't have a family, wife and children, I probably would. But knowing what I know today I think I'd be afraid to go through that again about losing a job and everything else."
MEYER: At the time of the strike you were not married?
GANCSOS: No, I was single then. There were older people there, but most of the people who were in this plant itself were the younger ones. It's understandable, because the others had the family responsibilities and while there were some of them in there too. And some of the things that happened at...what would you call it? Ironies of life? A couple of friends I grew up with there in the North End, Joe and Mike Butash. Mike was a worker in there; well, Joe had been a worker in there too. Was in the strike with me. And when the National Guards came, his brother Joe was on the outside carrying the rifle and picketed down where the old Central High School used to be. Now that's kind of a...a brother carrying a gun against another brother on the inside. Then when our Fred [sic] Murphy stopped the ordeal...one of the most memorable nights of the strike was the night when they come in with ultimatum, you know, "get out or we take you out". Now I don't really remember who read it but since then talking to people Bud Simon claims that he took the ultimatum out of Sheriff Wolcott's hands and read it...
MEYER: This was the injunction. The injunction was read by Wolcott.
GANCSOS: It was supposedly read by Wolcott, but Bud Simon claims he took it out of his hand because Wolcott couldn't read it. Maybe he was talkin' about Chevrolet at that time. But Bud was in our plant. So I don't really remember whether Bud's just puttin' that on as part of a show or whether he really done it. I mean these are the things that you lose out on unless you can get more people to remember. To me, I was so----well, let's be honest about it----scared. When there's people outside with rifles and I was supposed to go up to the northeast corner of the plant and take hinges for my weapons, the comparison there is ridiculous. So when they read that ultimatum I...let's face it...that plant inside which is a hurly-burly bunch of guys playin' cards and shootin' the shit you know, jokin'...it was like bein' in a funeral parlor. Everything just quieted down; you could hear a pin drop momentarily. We knew it was a serious situation and most of us knew that we didn't like what might be.
MEYER: Then what happened at that point then?
GANCSOS: Well, our friend Murphy, who was governor, and through some legal action he put out a piece of something that kept the National Guardsmen from coming in. I don't recall what the technical terms are.
MEYER: Well, that was the original...I think the original Black Injunction that was kind of...
GANCSOS: Yeah, and one of the jokes that came on many years after that...I bought old Judge Black's place uptown...they used to say, "If Judge Black's ghost could see Louie Gancsos in there in his place what a time he'd have!"
MEYER: You bought...
GANCSOS: I bought Judge Black's old house uptown. It was one of the first new houses built in the city of Flint. God, the work I put on that place.
MEYER: Well, how did the workers...
GANCSOS: How did we feel about it?
MEYER: You say they all kind of quieted down. Was there then a meeting or discussion about what they would respond to the action?
GANCSOS: Well, naturally the leaders were in the little group by themself and they give us the pep talk about staying in and we'll win and so on, but mostly before this discussion started it would be just, you know, if I was a worker with you or you were my kind of buddy, we were sitting in the plant playing cards. Well, what do you think is gonna happen? Do you think they're really gonna come after us? And then it would become from twos and fours to bigger groups.
MEYER: Okay, that was very shortly after the strike began, too, I suspect.
MEYER: January second, I think was the injunction.
GANCSOS: Glad you got those things there, because I don't remember them.
MEYER: Well, how long before the strike had you become a member of the union?
GANCSOS: I believe I had one of those memberships even before I got hired. And then after I got into the plant they still were not...well it was illegal...and if you got caught soliciting for the union you were without a job. We weren't recognized; so that was very quiet on the inside. It was only to the people that they could trust or when the bosses weren't around; so that was very limited. Most of them was on the outside then.
MEYER: You don't recall or do you recall any particular communication among union members inside the plant before the strike?
MEYER: It was all very clandestine at that time.
GANCSOS: Right, I knew. I'd heard rumors about it. I'd heard talk about it, but as far as actually being involved in it, no.
MEYER: What about outside the plant; would there be meetings or would there...?
GANCSOS: Oh, yes, they had their meetings, but most of those meetings were...give you an illustration of how when our boy was growin' up. This was after the strike, when we moved from one part of town to another, and he was complaining that nobody paid attention to him in school. So I just jokingly said, "Well, you just tell the kids in your class that you wonder what's going on over at your house because every Thursday night everybody goes down in the basement and they pull the shades down." And my wife...now I was just saying this to be funny...I mean, I was not involved in it, but this is the way that that stuff was on the outside. They did kind of go to secret places and had to be careful, because the police and GM had its ways of following this stuff too.
MEYER: Do you remember any of these meetings of that sort?
GANCSOS: No, I didn't go to any. I knew that they were going on...not all the meetings. But in some cases we heard that there was going to be a meeting or some of the guys were going to go. But I never got into that higher echelon or the organizing end of it.
MEYER: Yes. When did you first know that the strike was on? Do you remember?
GANCSOS: I think it was about the day of the strike.
MEYER: And how did you find out?
GANCSOS: Well...there would be...
MEYER: You were on first shift. I think it broke out on second.
GANCSOS: Right. There was a kind of sensitive feeling that something was going to happen. The meetings had been a little more prominent, more people were going and a few little rumors to the effect that they were going to strike, nothing concrete. It was just like when they talk about that there's going to be layoffs in GM, you know, now. It was just a kind of feeling in the air.
MEYER: And had you gone home from work then?
MEYER: Then how did you hear about the actual sit-down? Over the radio or just when you went to work the next day, or?
GANCSOS: When we went back I found out about it. Then we went across the street in groups, you know. And I don't recall what day I went in. Wish I'd have saved that old card of mine when I used to punch in cards on 'em. And the fellows that I used to go to work with were more aggressive and one of 'em was in the so-called "goon squad" and he was going in the plant and I went in with him.
MEYER: You went in with him and would this be the next day, do you think?
MEYER: Now of the forty-four days of the strike, how much of the time were you inside? Do you remember?
GANCSOS: I would estimate about half.
MEYER: About half the time staying overnight and...
GANCSOS: Yes, after I had found out that I could go in and out I would go out for the weekends more occasionally, you know, because there was a way of doing it. Then I guess I abused the privilege a little, like a sick leave.
MEYER: When you talk about the day of the strike, workers kind of collecting across the street there at the small headquarters I guess they had. What was kind of the talk at that point? Was there talk about...should more people go in...or shouldn't the people go in? Or was there talk about tactic or strategy?
GANCSOS: No, no, they just wanted reassurance from the group that they were gonna support it. And things came up like eating and they would go out and collect the food from the neighborhood grocery people and cook it in one of the restaurants across the street. There was a soup kitchen for us. Then you could begin to see more the groups that were active and the ones that were indifferent and those that were anti. It begin to show up.
MEYER: Do you remember a lot of people like yourself deciding to go in at that second or third day or go back in?
GANCSOS: It was mostly the people that you lived around. Life was different then. We didn't have this transportation and you didn't get around the whole city. Your community was your area that you spent for most of your activities. So when Frank Fiki went in, I went in; I waved to some guy I knew there, Markanovich, and they'd call someone and this was the way it went on.
MEYER: Now, did you live near the plant?
GANSCOS: No, I lived in the extreme north end of the city when the plant was. Actually I was in the city limits, I believe, at that time.
MEYER: Were you living with your parents?
MEYER: How did you get to work?
GANCSOS: Well, we had streetcars and buses. And I bought a car shortly after I was working, a hundred and twenty dollars for my first car.
MEYER: So you had a car at that time.
MEYER: Were you able to keep the car through the strike?
GANCSOS: Yeah, I managed to keep it. I had more trouble with the cars later on that I bought that I almost lost. Well, Dad helped me out a lot, you know, staying home and when I didn't work he would help me out.
MEYER: Your father had work in Fisher 1 also?
GANCSOS: No, he worked at Buick.
MEYER: He worked at Buick. Was he supportive of your...
GANCSOS: Yes, most of the people that I knew were from the North End. I don't know if you're familiar with the city history. The North End was the poor people, the wrong side of the track, the working people. At that time the work in the shop was looked down on. I mean if you were a bank teller making twenty-five dollars a week you were somebody. But if you were a shop worker making almost the same amount, you were nobody. And people kind of colonized by nationality groups and in working class in the areas that I was in in the North End. People there were mostly the working people.
MEYER: Were there any particular nationality group?
GANCSOS: They had all kinds of nationality groups but they all were a group within themself; there was a lot of Polish, a lot of Hungarian, a lot of----not so much Ukranian----but mostly Polish, Hungarian, some Italian. And they would all kind of be little colonies within themselves.
MEYER: What's your family?
MEYER: Hungarian. So there was a small Hungarian population.
GANCSOS: Yes, and most of them, like my parents, had drifted from the mining area and then some from the copper mines in northern Michigan. And they had had a touch of these methods of trying to organize. And they were from Europe where they wanted to get away from their problems. And they didn't want to get involved into the strike situations and unionization. And yet they were leading for the people to get their rights and it's hard.
MEYER: So your parents were immigrants. And then what mining area were they living in?
GANCSOS: In Pennsylvania. When they had trouble in the mines, he went to the copper mines in Calumet. And then when GM opened up they all figured here was the place to come.
MEYER: That was coal mining in Pennsylvania.
GANCSOS: Pennsylvania was coal mining and...
MEYER: Do you remember where in Pennsylvania?
GANCSOS: Oh, I'd have to get Dad's old Bible out, but it's in Pennsylvania.
MEYER: I'm from Pennsylvania, so...
GANCSOS: You are.
GANCSOS: I was going to ask you. Do you remember, when you were in Pennsylvania, were you in the big city of it like Pittsburgh and...
MEYER: No, Scranton.
GANCSOS: Did you get up in the morning with a nice clean white shirt and then in the evening it was gray?
MEYER: Yeah, I know that feeling. It was permanently foggy out there. So when would they have come to Flint then?
GANCSOS: I was about four years old when we came to Flint and I'm sixty-five now, so it's sixty years ago. That would be about 1920. It was about the time GM was getting past the horse and buggy, getting pretty well rolling.
MEYER: Did you have any brothers or sisters working in the plants?
GANCSOS: Brother worked at AC for a while but he was younger and he was still in school when I was in the strike. Sisters were...well, they didn't have women working in the shop then yet. There, too, the women that worked at AC were looked down on. I mean it was altogether a different world.
MEYER: Going back to the strike itself for a moment: How surprised were you when the strike broke out?
GANCSOS: Not really surprised. It was kind of exciting, something new. And to the older people it was something dreadful and terrible.
MEYER: There were a lot of these people in the neighborhood who were very active. They were another source of information about what may happen.
GANCSOS: Were you surprised that it was a sit-down strike, the fact that they sat in?
GANCSOS: Yes, very much surprised, because it was illegal at that time and you expected to be thrown out. They had tried different methods of collective bargaining, which didn't seem to go over. Apparently the company got its own men in there and had their own ways. And I presume that some of our leaders were more radical; they have to be, even today. I mean, in politics someone wants to make a name or show, he's got to be different. So the people that were the organizers of the group in Flint, of Flint people, were naturally more radical. Now the organizers that came in from the union themself, I really didn't know any of them. And they were all kind of more or less branded as Reds and troublemakers.
MEYER: People like Bob Travis?
GANCSOS: Yes, Travis, and Reuther and Homer Martin, and Mortimer. See now, that's another thing.
MEYER: Remember any of those people, Mortimer, Travis?
GANCSOS: No, not really. But what I was going to say there's another phase that's forgotten by our history today that even in our organizing these, we had factions within our own groups. And to try to organize to fight General Motors when we didn't have an organization to start with was like I say, I didn't think we'd even have a sit-down because they told us we could get out or get kicked out. It was tough!
MEYER: What do you see as some of the major factions?
GANCSOS: I didn't get into it. It was just what one would say about what he wants to do...or he's wrong about it because he wants to do this. But I didn't get in on the meetings. I went to some of the local meetings of our own group of how we were going to get food and things like that.
MEYER: Well, was this during the strike, this local...
GANCSOS: No, after the strike when we begin to get organized. Even then I don't think we were allowed to collect dues in the shop after we were first organized.
MEYER: You said that you were in the plant during about half the time during the strike. When you were outside, were you doing anything to support the strike? Or did you leave mainly just to have fun or for entertainment?
GANCSOS: Mostly to have fun. I would go down in case they wanted some one to help move stuff around, unload stuff or something like that, but not in an active way.
MEYER: So you mainly left just to kind of get away from it all for a while, take a vacation from the strike. What were things like in Fisher 1 while the strike was going on? What was life like in the plant?
GANCSOS: Not really bad, you know. You had your shelter. We had our food and they would play cards and time would pass away.
MEYER: How were things run? Who ran things in there? What was the organization like? How were decisions made?
GANCSOS: We didn't really make decisions in there; we were more or less told what was coming up by the people who were organizing that you're expecting the police to come and take you out. And they would tell us that they're expecting the...like this Murphy, too; they were going to him asking for protection. I imagine they worked in the lower levels of the courts here, too. But that part was not discussed much; it was just we'll win, stay in, and that was it.
MEYER: You don't recall general meetings in the plant where issues were...
GANCSOS: Not too much.
MEYER: Did people have particular jobs or assignments in the plants, things they were supposed to do?
GANCSOS: Not really. Oh, there were people who went for the coal to keep the fire going in the kitchen detail and that's about it. And, like I say, being one of the few who were in and out I kind of got away from that and didn't get involved in that end of it myself. Otherwise, I probably would have been more of a detail for something specific and regular.
MEYER: We know that the number of the people in the plant at any particular time varied a lot. Do you know how low it got at its lowest point; was it ever really low?
GANCSOS: No, strangely enough I never paid attention to it. Looking back in the years, there were times when it seemed like it was pretty thin. I wouldn't even attempt to make a guess, because when you're speaking of a group of people and try to look back in a memory down a body shop line it's hard to say whether there were twenty, forty or sixty. But the night that we were served the ultimatum we were the biggest crowd inside, strangely.
MEYER: There was quite a number of people at that time. Yes, again that would have been shortly after the strike began. So you probably had a fairly large number at the beginning as you recall. Were you in the plant the day the strike ended, February the eleventh? Where were you when the whole thing...?
GANCSOS: Yes. Yeah, we was going out and was gonna go down to Pengelly Hall to celebrate. And we'd made an old blackjack in my idle time setting in there. I don't think we ever made them with the intention of using them; it was just kind of a show, you know, macho thing, I guess. And I remember when we left there was three of us, I believe. The first thing that came to my mind that in celebration, we might overdo it. If I got caught with the blackjack in the car, I'd have an armed, concealed weapon. And I drove past the house and threw it on the porch. Strange that some memory like that would be the thing you'd remember. But Pengelly Hall was the place we used to have our meetings and that became quite an important place for our first few union activities...guess that's what they call it, Pengelly Building. Across from the Capitol Theatre.
MEYER: Yes, as we understand it, that Pengelly Hall was where the present Skaff's Furniture Store is there at the corner of Harrison and, I think, Third.
GANCSOS: Yes. Across the street from Fisher and Wright there.
MEYER: That was a major meeting place, do you remember, after the strike or during the strike?
GANCSOS: That was the place, as far as I know, that was basic legalized headquarters for organized meetings and activity. Up until then it was basements and maybe bars and wherever they went, restaurants where they met momentarily. But that is the first official we're going to our...
MEYER: So you remember the day the strike ended going down to Pengelly Building where some of the celebration was going on. What do you remember about the period immediately after the strike? You talked earlier about the lot of problems in the plant had to do with relations with foremen, supervisors, whatever. Did those relationships change at all? Did your working conditions change in measurable ways?
GANCSOS: Yes, where I worked at I could see the difference. It seemed to be...I don't know whether they got orders from their higher levels or the fact that we were kind of militant, but this favoritism was not as open. And overtime work seemed to spread a little more evenly. There was favoritism going on, like there is to a small degree even today. But it wasn't open and biased. Working conditions where I was working, they didn't change, because we went from piecework to efficiency method, and that efficiency method was such a conglomerate of operations that we never knew what we were making. And we finally got rid of that. I would say where I worked at that you could see things easing up. And the first activities of unionism in the shop, we were kind of befuddled. We used to have stewards and some of the more radical ones always was threatening a strike. And I guess even in the later days you had a faction there who were a little harder to control...you know international. Even today they have that problem.
MEYER: Do you remember that steward system changing at all?
GANCSOS: No, I don't remember how it changed. I had one of those little black books...we used to call it the little black book that was given to one person who was supposed to pick up the dues from the rest of the people. You had their address, phone number and checked off whether they were active union men, good union men. And I think it was illegal to collect the dues even in the shop when we were first recognized. And it seemed like in each group you would pick your own steward; they called it a steward at that time. Then there would be a group that was above them...what was that called...I don't remember now. But that method of representation didn't go over too good. The boss was still the boss, and he had quite a bit of authority and persuasion, and there was not the power of a union as we know it today, until they begin to get into more solid, compact organizing of districts and committeemen where we had the more uniform work.
MEYER: So the early organization was not that effective.
GANCSOS: It was not effective because it was a small group. I think it was one to ten or a dozen or fifteen, the steward and then there was a...I'd have to look at the old book to see what the next name was up.
GANCSOS: I think they called it committeemen. But there was no general control all the way down. In other words, if a man on the lower level had a grievance, he called the steward and the steward was supposed to go talk to the boss. One of the things that...my job...I'll never forget...I was working on the dock about that time and we had these "high boy" trucks which have the bellies between the back axle wheels. And they would put all these kegs and bolts and heavy stuff in there and put iron rods and bars across it. Then the boss would come running and say, "We have to have a keg of such and such bolts." When they said we have to have that meant we went to get it. Well, if you called your steward and says you ought to get a crane to pick up these iron bars, they're too heavy, it didn't take long for the boss to convince the steward that they needed those keg of nails or hammer unit or the trim shop was going to go down because they haven't got stuff to run. And we didn't have much persuasion to say we didn't want to pick up those hundred pound bars. This would be a good example of how it didn't work. Course at that time they hadn't gotten organized about their safety and weight limits and safety was whatever the boss considered safe, I believe. That's a poor way of saying it.
MEYER: Do you remember the factional splits in the union after the strike that began to break out?
GANCSOS: No, I didn't get that involved in the leadership, but we did have our factions, breaks. Who was it? Homer Martin and I don't even know.
GANCSOS: Reuther. There was two. I think there was about a couple of times there it was pretty serious for a while. Now the people that were in the more leadership, in the organizing, they were more serious about it; and I guess they persuaded us.
MEYER: Do you recall, while you were sitting in the Fisher 1, who some of the main leadership were in the plant at that time? Was Bud Simons one?
GANCSOS: Bud Simons is the only one I can recall. I can't even think of his name. One fellow that was very active. It seems like most of the people in the union, like myself, just plain, ordinary union members, and some of them tried to make a career or it developed into a career for them, you know. Some were more inclined to follow. And strange as it seems, if you look back in the years, some of our aggressive leaders of early days of union organizing were the men that General Motors picked for their supervisors because they knew how to control and run men. Strange. Now, like Bruce Malott was an old-timer in there and Bill Genske, of course. I didn't know Larry Jones; he was at Chevrolet. Bud Simons. That's about the ones I remember.
GANCSOS: No, the ones I would remember were the not so very active, like Steve Zarko. I lived where he did and used to talk to him and we were buddy-buddy then. Now Vic Markanovich is pretty active, but he went into the supervision end of it later. But that's about the ones I remember. Mostly Bud Simons. He's the big name that most of us remember.
MEYER: You mentioned people in the neighborhood who were active unionists and they were kind of your first exposure to the union. I think I may have asked this before, but do you remember were they involved in the sit-down. Were they in a struck plant?
GANCSOS: No, the ones that I got my membership from were not.
MEYER: Do you remember their names of some of those?
GANCSOS: Alec Blaz...B l a z. It was the family. I don't know whether it was Alec or John that I got my ticket from, but...
MEYER: And they were not in a struck plant?
GANCSOS: They were not in the strike plant, no. They were...
MEYER: Do you remember if at AC or at Buick or?
GANCSOS: No, they weren't even in the GM Plant. Now, Alec Blaz was a milkman.
MEYER: He was a milkman...
GANCSOS: A milk deliveryman...
MEYER: But you remember joining the union through him or his brothers. And they all went to work in the shops later?
GANCSOS: But at that particular time most of them were then working with dairymen in town.
MEYER: This was the UAW, the union. That's curious.
GANCSOS: Yes, CIO, I think, was the label then. And Mike Lecke, he was a crippled delicatessen store----well, they didn't call it delicatessen. It was just a little ice cream parlor that had peanuts and popcorn. He was very active in his earlier days; he's passed away now. And he used to have one of these wagons. They allowed him to go in the plants and sell gloves and tobacco and cigarettes at the gates. And, strangely enough, he was one of the union promoters. And he got a pretty good "in" to the plant with his wagons.
MEYER: Was he using his little business as a place for promoting the union?
GANCSOS: No, his business was there, but he took advantage of having the business to go to the shops. He was not an organizer, but he sure was a pusher. Now he might have been an organizer that I was not aware was an organizer.
MEYER: That was at Fisher 1 where he went with this cart?
GANCSOS: Fisher 1 and Chevrolet.
MEYER: What was his name again?
GANCSOS: Mike Lecke.
GANCSOS: On St. John Street he had the little store. And that was a place that the fellows used to meet. During the Depression we didn't have any places to go and we'd sit there and play checkers and cards and talk and that's where Alec Blaz and the Zarko boys would talk about the union.
MEYER: So they were active unionists and they were recruiting members but they were not actually working for GM. That's the strange part of it. It really is. Next time I see Alec I'm going to have to kid him about that.
MEYER: Was there strong support in most of those ethnic communities for the union?
MEYER: The various ones you mentioned, Italian, Hungarian...
GANCSOS: The parents...I guess all had been suppressed, and they were afraid that we'd get pushed out, but they supported it, definitely.
MEYER: Well, this has been very helpful. Are there any other things that I haven't raised myself that you think might be interesting?
GANCSOS: No, the only thing is that I was gonna say is all these fringe benefits that we have today that people don't even consider benefits are still fringe benefits. But they don't consider benefits are more than we ever dreamed of back in the early organization days. There was no vacation, no sick leaves; these things we take for granted today.
MEYER: Yes, over a period of forty years there are rather substantial changes.
GANCSOS: Oh, yes. Well, I don't know how old you are, but you look like a kid compared to my service years. I don't know if you remember the Townsend plan that they used talk about. It's a kind of a political program. You get what you put in for work. It was a social reform. Why, he was one of the more foremost socialist of the thirties. The wildest dreams that that man promoted as a candidate----we've surpassed them all in the shop today.
MEYER: Did people like Townsend have a lot of influence on the workers?
GANCSOS: No, it would be nice deal. But it didn't seem to...I would compare it to this Commoner today. Have you heard of him? I just picked up a couple of his TV programs, and he fascinates me. Course after I get more of it I probably don't know if I'd be as interested.
MEYER: Well, this has been very helpful.
GANCSOS: Well, I hope you have information that you can use. But that's the ground level feeling of the sit-down days.