INTERVIEW NO. 1
DATE: April 15, 1980
INTERVIEWEE: Ralph Parker, also Evelyn Parker
INTERVIEWER: Kenneth West
WEST: Can I ask you, Mr. Parker, first, are you a native of Flint, of this area? Were you born in this area?
PARKER: Well, I was born right here in Swartz Creek. I was born the 4th of May 1911. I went into Fisher Body and worked the 2nd and the 13th of ’34. And it was hard to get a job. You didn’t hire in the front door. You had to have somebody in there, whatever you was going in. Like I was an apprentice metal finisher. I had a brother-in-law that was a metal finisher, and he give me like a referral. And you would take this down there and go in that line, and you would hand it up to your personnel director, and he would come out and give this note. Well, the general foreman, by the name of Douglas, wrote this referral out for my brother-in-law. He says he’s a good kid. He likes to work. Well, that’s what we’re lookin’ for. So this is the way you would get in the factory. If Douglas is recommendin’ this guy, he’s all right. He’ll work. So this is the way it would... Now, you would go in there and work. Now I was an apprentice metal finisher, and this is.... You would work with the old-timers that were metal finishers, and they broke you in. They learned you. And I worked for foremans down there that, when they told you something, you couldn’t understand. They were foreign. I mean real foreign.
WEST: Were they Polish or Hungarian, do you know?
PARKER: They could have been anything, mister. Anything. Maybe Germans. See that was the Fisher Brothers. And they never hired colored people. They had no more use for colored people than a rattlesnake. They was one colored man in Fisher Body in the front office, the custodian, that shined the brass rails and cuspidors and so forth. And I’ll tell you more about him later on. And that’s as far as he ever went. Now, when you got in this job, and you had to go to the bathroom----there was no such a thing, they didn’t even know what a relief man was, see----you just took off on your own and you come back and you caught that job, if it was down there 200 feet from you and worked it back. And my operation on the upper backs was Number 6. It’s all piecework, mind you, no daily. They paid us 45 cents an hour for an apprentice metal finisher, and you stayed on that rate until you could pull enough tickets to make day rate. Piecework twice. And you couldn’t pull this ticket before you started your job. You had to finish that upper back. Go round to the front of the job and my operation was number 6. And you pulled this ticket and you put it in your pocket. And, at the end of the day, you would fill out your own timecard, worksheet, and your tickets would be on there. Now, if somebody stole that ticket, whether it was the company or even the people that you was workin’ with, mister, you finished that thing for nothin’. And if you didn’t have enough of those things to show up that you was tryin’ to make day rate, “What’s the matter, fellow, don’t you want to work?” And they wouldn’t take you to the office, by no means. You had no connections with the front office at all. They would just take you by the arm: “Come on, fellow.” And take you right out to the lights that was facing Saginaw Street, and you would look out there, and as far (I was in the South Unit) south as you could look on the Hemphill Road, or as far as you could look from goin’ the other way, they’d still be lined up to Atherton Road. You could just politely tell you, “Now, fellow, there is somebody out there could do this.” And that’s all. There was no second chance. Now, after we got so we could finish (this was in 1934, this is the first year your little Buick 40 Series come out), always, at the beginning of the model, you started from scratch. There was no piecework price set. They would give you, maybe a regular finisher, 60 cents an hour, although he’d been maybe finisher for ten years, as far as that goes. That didn’t mean a thing. And he would start all over in on a new model, see. Now, when I got so I could solo on my own----there was 43 of us hired in and they kept 13 of us----
WEST: How long did it take for you to...?
PARKER: Just about a month. They figured, well, we’ll give him about three weeks and he either wants to work or he don’t want to work, see. Now, here’s what happened in 1934. They started pressing out the old mobiles’ loose panels. This was quarter panels, doors, and lower backs, deck lids, and what have you, see. And they put us young fellows over there on that. And this was in the North Unit in Dock 10. You would finish that panel. And my badge number was 1092. And you’d take on a piece of chalk and you’d mark “1092” and you piled it on the dolly. And, after that dolly got full (everybody else’s is piled in there too), the inspector would come along and feel this. Now, if that panel wasn’t any good, didn’t come up to his qualifications, he’d just bring it back over to your individual box: “Don’t finish no more, ‘til you finish this one.” And put it back over in the pile there. This is how you got your pay.
WEST: At the end of the day they counted up how many you had...
PARKER: Yeah, how many you’d had, see. Now, when I got where I could solo alone and everybody also same thing, it would run about $1.05 an hour. In fact, they had three shifts on it, and I was on the graveyard shift, the third shift, as a new man, and they were having an awful lot of trouble. Now this happened along about the last part of April or the first part of May. They got talked around. We would talk there. These people in the 3-B area (this is your little Buick 40-Series), this is where they took the people that even broke me in and put ‘em in this department to get this little Buick 40 a-goin’ and paid 60 cents an hour. Well, naturally, they was ready for war right there, see.
WEST: How much had they been making before then?
PARKER: Well, these guys would be up, like I say, maybe $1.05, $1.10, South Unit, on Buick Centuries or Buick 80s and 90s. See, the big job. This was the first year for the little 40 job. It was a new job come out altogether. And this thing rubbed off all the way back into the pressroom. Everything was piecework, piecework. They didn’t know what day rate was then. You had to make it first to prove it. And then they set it accordingly. Now things got a little rough, a little rough.
WEST: Was it tough making it at first with the changes? Were the changes such that it was hard to do?
PARKER: I finished metal down there. It was good thing that I had good people to learn from, and that metal would come out of those dies and it’d look just like the elbow of a stovepipe. And you would pack this all up, finish it off, grind it, finish it, smooth it out. Twenty-five cents a panel. That was tops.
WEST: How many could you do in about an hour, then?
PARKER: If two got two an hour, you was doin’ good. There was just no way you could make it, see. And we was gettin’ pretty well dissatisfied, and we’d listen to the older fellows down in this 3-D Unit, on the little Buick Special. That’s talkin’, talkin’. At lunch break we’d set down on----we didn’t have no benches or anything else. You’d just set down on a little old dolly or a pile of scrap lumber or anything you could set your hind end on and eat. And you’d be talkin’. And you’d be talkin’ to a stoolpigeon and never know it. This one inspector was from Pontiac. I know this to be a fact. And this other guy that was...he used to take these panels. They’d come from the press, and they had flanges. They would go around. They didn’t shape this all in one shot, you know. You put ‘em in a buck and you flange this over, right on just like air hammer. That’s what it was, just like a jackhammer, only it was smaller. And they flanged this. And then they’d have a guy come along with a pair of tin shears in this buck and trim this to size. Well, this man, by the name of Willard, was a shear man, see, and he come over there and set down, and everybody’d be talkin’, you know, and come to find out this guy was right out of the front office. We just talked to the wrong people. So, when the time came, we went out. And he knew everyone of us was loaded. And we went out.
WEST: Metal finishers? Just from that department.
PARKER: Just metal finishers. Now, when we come back in after we stayed out just one week, and we come back, the AFL backed off and left everybody holding the bag. And they was a lot of people fired. In fact, one of ‘em was Ray Cook. He had a restaurant right across from Fisher 1.
WEST: Oh, yeah. Did he have the restaurant while he was working in the shop, too?
PARKER: [inaudible]. And there was several others mixed into it. I can’t figure... I had congestive heart failure here and there’s a lot of things right now I can’t think of, but maybe ten minutes after you’re gone it will come, hit me.
WEST: Well, if it does, you can give me a call. Were there Hungarians and Poles involved in this walkout, too?
PARKER: Oh, everything, everything. No blacks. There wasn’t a Negro in Fisher 1. They had no need for them. And one other thing: When you hired in, they asked you if you were a Protestant or a Catholic, if you lived in the city of Flint. “Well, we can’t hire you. You’ve got to live in Flint.” “Well, I’m just rentin’. I can move to Flint, if that’s what’s botherin’ you.” And that was the end of it right there. And the guy spoke up, and he said in the front office (I think his name was Don Keene; I’m not sure), and one of the personnel fellows in there, and he said, “If Douglas wants this man, he must be good enough.” And that’s how I got into Fisher 1.
WEST: What difference did it make if you’re Protestant or Catholic? Why did they ask that question?
PARKER: This is the big question right here. I’ll let you figure this one out. The Fisher brothers were German, Roman Catholic. Not that I’m against the Catholics or anything like that. And everyone of these supervisors in there were Catholic, everyone of ‘em. And, like, if something went wrong----maybe they’d been a breakdown or something----and they shut it down. Us guys was out. The guy that couldn’t hardly talk English was still there.
WEST: Did you get laid off when you got back after the walkout in ’34, then?
PARKER: Yeah, just previous, just a very, very short time. In ’34.
WEST: But you had gone out?
PARKER: Yeah. Now. When they called us back in, and I don’t know how long it was, just a very short time, they took everyone of us guys that set down there and was discussin’ this strike with these guys down in the plant, or in 3-B, just like that. “We’ll transfer you over to wood mill.”
WEST: Bodies were still made of wood, a good deal of it.
PARKER: We went over to that wood mill, on the night shift, and at that time there was a 48-hour week. They worked you nine hours a night, and, mister, you better get up Saturday morning and be back in there at ten o’clock and work ‘til one to get them other three hours. Then you know what they wanted to do with them three hours? They wanted you to donate ‘em to the I.M.A. Bull. This is straight. Now. I tailed in a machine over there, and my guy that was the operator, he was the same boat as I was, only he was a Duco painter. At one time he was a striker. And you would get these jobs. And you’d have to truck a half a dozen bodies or loads of lumber out of the way to stock up your machine so you could run it. I tailed a machine over there, a big sticker, that spit out 112 board feet a minute. It had to spit out 112 board feet a minute for me to get 70 cents day rate, and the operator’d get a dollar. Well, the heads would go dull on the machine. Four heads, top, bottom, sides. And you just couldn’t cram her down through the chute. You just wouldn’t go, see. So we’d take the heads off, and you would truck the whole aisle full of stock on the dollies to take it down to the tool room in the basement 9 and have ‘em re-sharpened. And they paid one dollar for this change. And if you could make that trip in two hours’ time, you was doin’ good.
WEST: But you did get some time paid for that down time.
PARKER: We got nothin’. We got one dollar for that changin’ of that head. That was it. I worked there all the time that I worked in that wood mill until they went back on the all-steel bodies. This was in ’37. The ’37 models was all steel.
WEST: That would have come out, then, in the fall of ’36, wouldn’t it?
PARKER: Right. Right you are. We tried to get out of there. Several of us tried to get out of that old wood mill, and we went to the front office. Clyde Heeney was head seniority man, or so-called seniority----they didn’t even recognize seniority. But he was personnel director or whatever you want to call him. And he said, “If you don’t like it, you can quit.” Now in 1935 and ’36, they was takin’ men right in off the street and breakin’ ‘em in metal finishers. And here they already had finishers that had made piecework and had made day rate, and when we got out of that, when they went and discontinued the wood frame in these bodies and they went to all-steel, we got transferred back over in the North Unit in what they called the Door Department. Everything was stitched to weld, spot-welded together. They burned holes right clear through them doors, the spot welders, first thing, see. Too hot. Well, we’d finished them doors out.
WEST: So you were metal finishing then.
PARKER: I went back on metal finishing, yes. And you know what they paid me? Fifty cents an hour apprentice, all over again, ‘til you got....
WEST: Were there quite a few, then, when the all-metal bodies came in in ’36, were there quite a few earlier metal finishers who had transferred over from the wood shop, then?
PARKER: Oh, I couldn’t say how many, but quite a lot of ‘em.
WEST: I’m interested, because this takes place just months before the Sit-Down Strike.
PARKER: Yeah. There would be, well, let’s say that all of these fellows, they got their hind end throwed in this wood mill. Finally got back on when they couldn’t hire enough finishers off the street. That’s the way it was. And you talk about hot in those factories. It was unbearable. No fan. They didn’t even know what a fan was. And it was a little rough. And, man, I mean that thing would get hot. And once a place got hot in there, it stayed hot. No way of coolin’ it off.
WEST: Dusty? Was it?
PARKER: Oh, dusty. Another thing I want to bring up was when I was in the wood mill, I’d seen fellows cough and cough and cough. It wasn’t so bad where I worked in the sticker line, what they called the sticker lane, although it did chew up the wood pretty fine when it went through the planer. But the band sawyers was right behind us, the next operation. They would be cuttin’ off pieces, you know, different sizes would fit in, like contours, or stuff like this, or corners. And the band sawyer, he would have a little jig go onto the band saw. Well, that stuff there was just as fine as smoke. In fact, you could look around there any time and here this haze would be there all the time. I knew one man in particular, Ellsworth Sage. He was a band sawyer, and he died. And evidently they must have cut him open. And they said he died with tuberculosis. His lung was completely black.
WEST: I’ve talked to some people in the Paint Department, and they claim the Paint Department was bad, too. Did they go out in ’34, too?
PARKER: Oh, yeah, you better believe them. That whole thing went down.
WEST: So I’m interested, then, in this strike in ’34. The metal finishers were dissatisfied because of having to start all over again with the new model, the 40s, coming in.
PARKER: This is where this one fellow came from that I worked with, see. Joe Dufour. He was a Duco painter, see, spray painter.
WEST: Right. Now I’m interested in what happened during that week when you were out. Can you recall some of the events of that strike? You didn’t win anything, obviously, did you?
PARKER: No. We went down there every time that the shift could start, see. There were three shifts where we was. We would go down there. Now they didn’t even know what a picket line was, see. What they would actually do it would just gang up right around there, just like a big wedge.
WEST: Outside the gate?
PARKER: At the gate entrance. Now, when they thought they could get away with it, first thing you know here come a bunch of Flint police on horseback, right out there. And I was one of ‘em that was runnin’ clear to the river door and tower. And God only knows how many got their heads busted open. That’s the way they tried to break it up.
WEST: Where did you meet?
PARKER: We didn’t actually have any... We would either talk with one another in the plant----we had no union hall whatever----you just paid... In fact, I paid the AFL two dollars, but I never got a receipt for it to belong to it, the AFL, see. That’s what was in there.
WEST: They didn’t take the lead, though, in this strike in ‘34?
WEST: You say it lasted about a week?
PARKER: Just a week.
WEST: Early in May?
PARKER: Yeah, it would either have been the later part of April or the first part of May. In fact, we was out playin’ ball, just about the spring of the year now, see. Maybe a little bit later. And I had worked from February, you see, up until that time, as a greenhorn, and hundreds of other ones, too, as far as that goes.
WEST: Who were your leaders? Did you have people who were taking the lead in that strike?
PARKER: Actually it’d be hard to say who the leaders was. I can’t remember just...
WEST: Anybody come up from Detroit?
PARKER: Not at that time. Not at that time, that I knew of. They could have been there, but I didn’t know anybody was. We was way out at the tail end of the list here, way out at the third shift. And we would come up there, and your second-shift people would be all congregated out here on the street, see, or the same thing if you started in the morning. We would stay over some times, you know, and come home late.
WEST: Which shift started the strike, then? Did they close it down, then, and walk out?
PARKER: I would say both times it was started on the night shift.
WEST: So you were one of the first to walk out, then.
PARKER: I know it was the second shift in ’37. And I’m positive it was the second shift, ‘cause when I went there that night to go to work, it was already out, and they told us. And I don’t know. There was a lot of names there. I knew these fellows. And it was careful who you talked to.
WEST: But it lasted, you think, about a week.
PARKER: Not any more than a week.
WEST: Did any of the fellows try to go back, then?
PARKER: No. No. This is the funny part of it. Nobody tried to scab it, see, or to break the line and go in. They wouldn’t. They knew they was after something, and they knew they had to have better conditions, but they didn’t have leadership. This is why they was lackin’. I could tell you something, right here now, that you might call me a liar, but you go ahead and call me one. I have actually seen people take a sandwich, go in the bathroom, in the toilet, and I mean not just settin’ there on the seat. He’d have his pants down, everything, eatin’ a sandwich with one hand. Mister, that ain’t bull. That’s straight.
WEST: ‘Cause of the speed-up on the...
PARKER: Well, not only speed-up. No relief man, no nothin’, see. Whenever you left your job, mister, you just had to catch it back up.
WEST: What was your relation with your foreman. generally, in these days?
PARKER: Not close. None of ‘em was close, that is, none of ‘em that we ever knew of. Now, actually the stools probably were. They were close, but so many times, not so much on the first strike. I don’t know about that. But in the second strike, ’37, it didn’t take long to catch up with these stools, ‘cause they would go after work, and maybe you’d see ‘em at night. And they’d be, a guy’d be out there maybe to a beer garden or something. There’d be the foreman with two or three of these guys. It didn’t take long to smoke ‘em out after that.
WEST: So you could get to know who the stoolies were.
PARKER: Yeah. Yeah. But in the ’34 strike, mister, we was completely blind. If we’d had organization then, mister, we could have had something. But we didn’t. We knew what we wanted, but I don’t know what happened. They always said the AFL sold us out, but that isn’t so. When you go into something like this, mister, you either make it or you don’t. You don’t leave it to some guy down there in an office somewhere. You’re only as good as the bunch that’s right there.
WEST: Did you meet outside south along Dixie Highway at all?
PARKER: I never did. But we did in parkin’ lots, see. And they was always somebody watchin’ in, police or somebody, see.
WEST: But they’d always break you up, then, when you...
PARKER: They didn’t have much of an area to park in on private property. We’d always park in behind the beer gardens, you know, and the restaurants and stuff like that, vacant lots.
WEST: Well, you went back, then, after this short and unsuccessful strike. Did it leave a bitterness on the part of some of the...
PARKER: Oh, you better believe it. You didn’t trust nobody after that. And this is what I say. When this ’37 deal come up, I had got burned and burned good. And I just stayed back out of the way. I knew a lot of the guys. I knew a lot of ‘em I had trusted.
WEST: Did you drop your membership in the AFL, then? Stopped paying dues?
PARKER: Oh, yeah, that was the end of it right there. I just paid that two dollars once and that was all there was to it, right there. We never got a receipt for it or nothin’ to show for it. But I’m sorry today that I joined the CIO, UAW-CIO, in the first day of October 1936. This is before the strike. And I had my receipt, and I don’t know what I’ve done with it. I’ve lost it or something. I’d give anything today if I’d have saved it.
WEST: But you were wary of getting involved.
PARKER: Oh, yes.
WEST: When did you first hear about the CIO starting to organize in the shops in Flint?
PARKER: Well, I think probably John L. Lewis.
WEST: Did you know Bob Travis in town, or Wyndham Mortimer?
PARKER: Not too well. I knew Bob.
WEST: What persuaded you to join in October of ’37, then, if you say you were wary, you’d been burned once?
PARKER: Well, I was bitter about what had happened here in ’34. I was ready to get a chance to fight back, but I knew if I got out on a limb, I might get dropped again, just like I did before. We was young, bold, back in there. I was 25 years old. That made a lot of difference. And we had nerve, but we didn’t have leadership. That’s all we lacked. But God only knows, if we’d have had...
WEST: In October, when you joined, was there a promise that you would have that leadership that you didn’t have before?
PARKER: No, I don’t think there ever was. No.
WEST: How did you come to join in October? Do you remember precisely?
PARKER: Yeah, you better believe it. We would talk in the Door Department in lunchtime, see, at noon.
WEST: You couldn’t talk, I guess, on the job.
PARKER: Oh, no, no, no. You was there to work. Mister, you start... I finished on one side of the door right on with the guy on the other, and if you was talkin’ back and forth, first thing you knew you had a foreman right down there. “What’s the matter? Something wrong with the job?” Just like they watched. They watched closely.
WEST: So you talked when the machines were shut. Did you eat lunch, then, on the job?
PARKER: Oh, yeah.
WEST: How many people would you say that you got to know pretty...? First-name terms, you know, sort of a group that close together?
PARKER: I couldn’t begin to... A lot of ‘em, see. And these same people were the ones that got hurt in ’34. We knew who they was talkin’ to then, but they was other new ones come in that we didn’t.
WEST: Did you talk to these new ones about the earlier events in ’34, and, I don’t know....”
PARKER: Now, I want to stress one man in particular, a man by the name of Johnny Cadrick [sic]. He helped me break me in finishing in 1934. He was in South Unit body line.
WEST: Johnny Tadrick. Not Larry Tadrick.
PARKER: Well, I know Larry and I know Joe. I worked with the whole three of them boys. And Johnny helped break me in, and then when we got shifted around, and I got over in the North Unit again, in ’36. When we got organized there, and this strike come about,
WEST: ... that would have been in the summer of ’36.
PARKER: No, actually I didn’t know Bud Simons too well. But, anyway, this Johnny Tadrick, he broke me in and helped break me in, besides my brother-in-law Harlow Nimphie, Johnny Duris, hell of a lots of other ones, Harold Landon, over in Huron-Holly Road, old preacher, Harvey Pinkston, God only knows how many. And, anyway, we organized in ’36, and we elected the steward system. This is what we settled for.
WEST: That was in October, of ’36.
PARKER: Right. Now. We knew what we wanted, and when we had the steward system...
WEST: Excuse me. Can I ask you who it was that recruited you into the union, then, into the CIO union in October?
PARKER: Yeah. Paul Treadway. He was a very active... But the only thing with Paul----he was a Martinite, the Homer Martin outfit, and on the other side of the fence, see.
WEST: That was later, after the strike.
PARKER: Well, it was all about the same time. See we still had these two factions in there, the AFL and the CIO. And they kind of kept this thing so you didn’t know which way to go, see. This is what was the holdback.
WEST: How did this Treadway, then, argue you back into the union? What did he use to appeal to you to get to it this time?
PARKER: What you need is skilled trades, see, AFL. Now he said if you had this metal finishing in the skilled-trade groups, you would have a lot higher a rate than CIO. All the CIO done was organize a group of people, production people, or the industrial congress. And he says, “This isn’t good. This isn’t what you need. You need at least the AFL.” I said we had already got burned good with the AFL some way or other. They just dropped us. They wouldn’t carry us. Well, then, I can’t tell you just when John L. Lewis come in the picture.
WEST: Would have been about ’35, I think.
PARKER: And I didn’t know John L. Lewis from Adam. He’d been branded a commie, you know. Anybody who was doin’ for the laboring class always was “commies.” And, you know, after you got a gunshot like this once, you hesitated to who you said anything to. You didn’t trust anybody. And this is what make it slow goin’. And actually I can’t tell you who organized it, but evidently they was much better organized on the night shift. Whether they had less interference from management or not I couldn’t say that. I don’t know. But, in fact, they come out ahead of us on it. And the people who had been into a strike before wouldn’t scab it. They knew what it is. They was just waitin’ for somebody to grab the thing by the handle and start with it.
WEST: You came in, then, in ’36. You had meetings, then, did you then, through October, November?
PARKER: Yeah, yeah. We met different places. In fact, one of ‘em was right across from Fisher Body. There were two banks over there that kind of went dead during the Depression. And I think one’s the old Union Industrial, and I don’t remember who the other one is. But, anyway, some beer company had leased this one bank building right across from the main office. And down below, in the basement, is where we had meetings. Now, what we gonna do, and... And this might have been----I won’t say for sure; I don’t know----this could have been probably the first time that I ever seen Bob Travis.
WEST: You say they told you what you were gonna do. What did they say you were gonna do?
PARKER: They’re gonna tie this place up. We’re gonna be recognized as a union.
WEST: Did they talk about this strike being a sit-down strike?
PARKER: No. Nobody ever mentioned sit-down strike that I can recall.
WEST: So you’d have thought it would be an ordinary strike, walking out, as you’d done before.
PARKER: No. I think what actually happened----I don’t know-----if there was so many people that had been mistreated, just like me and thousands of others in there, that they wanted something, but they didn’t know just what they wanted. They knew General Motors wasn’t gonna give it to ‘em. And I think when they seen such a force, have seen it act so quick----you might say right out of a clear sky----but when they pulled that whistle down there that night, it was just like that.
WEST: Did you have quite a few men in your area, then, metal finishers, who were organized in the union?
PARKER: Yeah. There was 44 of us in there, and we had every one of ‘em. Forty-four metal finishers and every one of them had a receipt, every one of them. And this is what they done. They made sure this time that they’d got the majority of this department, whatever it would be welders, whether it would be torch solder men, whether it’d be finishers, or painters. They would get this thing a hundred percent before.
WEST: I see. What you’re suggesting, then, is that the organizers singled out certain departments, certain groups of people, that they worked on.
PARKER: This is right. And it worked very satisfactory.
WEST: Were there some departments that weren’t organized, then?
PARKER: If there was, mister, I don’t know where they was, ‘cause I could tell you something. When we had these wildcat strikes, this Johnny Tadrick I’m telling you about was chief steward. And the regular steward was Claude Severn in our Door Department. He had so many----44----finishers, so many grinders, so many repairmen. They would go into the superintendent’s office (body shop superintendent, not the front office), and they would go in there and they would bargain. And if they didn’t buy it, if the company didn’t buy it, or management didn’t buy it, all they done was just come out and just put his hands up like that, and every man put his tools away in his toolbox and out the doors he’d go. Within ten minutes, the pressroom knew about it, and every department in Fisher 1 knew about it. And the Chevrolet Manufacturing knew about it, Fisher 2 and the Buick. And they said, “If you need help, we’ll go with you.” And [illegible] come back in on the night shift, on the second shift, and everything was settled. Everything. If you needed more men, or if you was after something else, they bargained that way.
WEST: Getting back to the period before the Sit-Down Strike. Do you remember when it was talked about that you’d sit down in the plant? You say not at first.
PARKER: I can’t tell you that and be honest about it. I have never heard the word “sit-down.” “We will strike.” “We will go out.”
WEST: But they didn’t tell you that you were gonna sit in.
WEST: Had you been reading in the papers about sit-down strikes elsewhere? Had you been thinking about what you might do? ‘Cause it was wintertime and it’d be cold to go out.
PARKER: This is right. No, I wouldn’t say so too much, no. Now, like back in ’34, when I first hired in, see, we would go to Fisher 1 lookin’ for a job or down to Chevrolet. And the way they actually done their, no different from one place to the other where they were hiring. Down on Chevrolet there, on Kearsley Street, where it turns and goes up to Asylum, the main office of Chevrolet was there. And they had a big cyclone fence right around there, a chain link fence around there, with a gate. Now there would be hundreds of people lined up out there lookin’ for a job. They would open them gates and go around to the back end. And, I’m telling you, if you fell down, it was just too bad, ‘cause they trompled you. It was that thick and that rough. And you would get around there and stand and wait for the personnel manager to come out. He’d say, “Sorry, men. No jobs today.” And you’d already spent two hours down there in zero weather tryin’ to get a job. And it wasn’t any different than Fisher 1. The same thing.
WEST: Can you describe the events of the day that the strike was pulled? Was it pulled on your shift, then?
PARKER: No, that’s what I say. Pulled on the second shift.
WEST: Did you know there was...?
PARKER: I knew it was comin’, but I didn’t know when. I knew it was comin’, ‘cause we’d all talked this strike amongst one another. This is where... Management got it firsthand. That’s why we didn’t last that first time. We lost. And, like I say, I was on the third shift when that first strike come in ’34. And that was pulled on the second shift by the people down there on the little Buick 40, and we backed ‘em up.
WEST: That was in ’34.
PARKER: ’34. Now, in ’37, I was on the first shift, when the second shift went on strike. We was pretty sure it was going to happen, but nobody----I don’t think nobody----actually knew the minute. This Bud Simons, I wish you could talk to him. He was the guy that pulled the cord.
WEST: How did you first discover, then, that the strike had taken place?
PARKER: Well, probably because I belonged to it, and I knew it was a hundred percent.
WEST: But I mean did you go to work, then, afterwards and find out that they had been sitting down, or how did you get word?
PARKER: Oh, no, we just kept posted. We would go down there once in a while and look. And we couldn’t really understand why these people were on the inside, actually. We didn’t.
WEST: Why they sat in.
PARKER: Yeah, why they sat in, ‘cause they had enough people on the outside. There wasn’t anybody there who’d break that line, ‘cause they’d knock his head off, see. It was just that plain. Well, actually why they come in there and took over that property I don’t know. They got an awful black eye for doin’ it, ‘cause there was a lot of machinery damage, a lot of bodies damaged.
WEST: Was there?
PARKER: Uh-huh, yeah. A lot of it.
WEST: Did you sit in?
PARKER: No. No. That’s what I say. I was gun shy. I wasn’t so eager to... I would go along with ‘em, but I would stay back and do what I could do the most.
WEST: Did you go to the plant, then, after the strike was called and talked to the guys who were in?
PARKER: Oh, yes. Yes. I went there that night on the third shift, and they’d already called the strike on the second shift. Over my dinner bucket, a guy right there in the clock house, and the guy took my lunch out and took it back in to eat.
WEST: So you gave him the lunch.
PARKER: Mister, I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut there was a camera on me when I done it.
WEST: You think so?
WEST: Were you married at the time?
PARKER: Oh, yes. Yes, I was just startin’ out. Yeah, I was married in ’32, see. Had two little kids, and one of ‘em died with pneumonia.
WEST: Where were you living then at the time?
PARKER: Right here in Swartz Creek. Just east of town.
WEST: So you had a long ways to commute every day. Did you have a car then?
PARKER: I had a Model A Ford Roadster, gold.
WEST: These were Depression times, so I’m wondering how things were like even before you hired in in ’35. You say you were married in ’32. Did you have a job during the Depression or were there periods when you were laid off?
PARKER: Yeah. See, in 1932, and a little bit after that, President Roosevelt set up this CWA. Not WPA.----CWA, Civil Works Administration. We went down to Flint, and we registered. And I think it was right down there somewhere near the old Pengelly Building. It could have been the Pengelly Building. I don’t know.
WEST: That would have been in ’33, probably.
PARKER: Yeah. And we got an application in there, see, to work. And then they come out here and clean ditches out. I was cleanin’ ditches out.
WEST: In Swartz Creek.
PARKER: Yeah. Now what would happen. They would give you 120 hours a month, 60 cents an hour, or 50 cents an hour----60 dollars a month to live on. Now, if you had a lot of kids, you could get surplus food, you know, potatoes or oranges or anything like that. We didn’t, so... What happened it was so many come on at that time, if they cut from 120 hours down to 80 hours----and we never had a physical examination, see, from ‘em----so one time they come out here to Swartz Creek and had us all line up in the guy’s place over here, and they go run physicals on us, see. And so, when it come to me, the guy says, well, “What’s your welfare number?” And I says, “I don’t know.” I don’t got the billfold number. He says, “You certainly have or you wouldn’t be here workin’.” Well, I said, “Do you mean the time that I went out there to the supervisor here and got a three-dollar order, grocery order, that was welfare?” He said, “Yes.” Well, I says, “I don’t know what the number is. That’s the only one I ever got and he give me a job.” Well, he says, “You haven’t got enough kids.” He says, “We got people that’s got six and eight kids that ain’t workin’.” I said, “That’s no fault of mine ‘cause they got six or eight kids,” but, I says, “Just as sure as the world, if you lay me off, I’ll be back there after another welfare order.” And they didn’t lay me off. They kept us. And we cleaned out ditches. And, then, like I say, it got a little better and a little better, but not much, you know. I do recall, oh, one thing that President Roosevelt said in 1932 or 1933, when he told Wall Street. He said, “You will either release this money or,” he says, “I’ll make new money. It won’t be worth a dime.” And they did. It finally, gradually, picked up slow and slow.
WEST: Were you, then, working with the C.W.A. from ’33 until you hired into the shops in ’34, then?
PARKER: Well, pretty close to it. There might have been a little lapse in there.
WEST: How did you get word that they were hiring again in ’34?
PARKER: Well, like, my brother-in-law or anybody that was workin’ in the factories, you know, would say, well, “They’re hiring.” If you worked in Chevrolet, well, “They’re hirin’ in Chevrolet,” or “They’re hired in Fisher 1,” and, “we’ll get a referral for you. We’ll get an order for you,” ‘cause that’s the only way you could get in, see. ‘Cause they had people by the hundreds and hundreds that was already on welfare, and they were tryin’ to get them off the rolls, but they couldn’t, see.
WEST: You were able, during this time, to keep up the payments on the house, then.
PARKER: Well, I was rentin’, just five dollars a month rent.
WEST: So it wasn’t too bad. Were any people around here, did any people around here lose their homes?
PARKER: Oh, lots of ‘em. Farms, everything. We didn’t have anything to lose. We were startin’ out.
WEST: Did you have land, then, around here?
PARKER: No, just rent. Just house rent was five dollars a month.
WEST: So you depended pretty much on buying food, then, from the markets and shops.
PARKER: Yeah. In the meantime, I had worked out here to the Crapo Farm. We’ll get laid off. You’d only work maybe four or five months in the shop, and, bang, down she goes, see. And you’d be off five, six, seven months, and then they’d call you back if they thought about it. And I worked out here at the Crapo Farm, ‘cause I was born and raised right here, and I’d worked there before. We’d go out there and work for $1.75 and our dinner, ten hours a day. And me and Indian Jim Davis would load hay. They had a tractor pullin’ a wagon and a hay loader.
WEST: This was during the off-seasons.
PARKER: Yeah, in the off-season. Now, we’d load 42 loads of hay a day. I’d take the front end of the wagon one time, and the next time he’d take it, for $1.75 and our dinner. Well, I felt sorry for the Crapos, ‘cause when they settled that estate up out there, they was only worth 53 million dollars! There are some Indian relics over there.
WEST: Where was this Crapo Farm, then?
PARKER: Right out west of town, here. Right on Hill Road and Seymour. It’s 1600 and ...
WEST: Descendants of the old Crapo family that would...?
PARKER: Oh, yes, originators. I’ve got nails from there that I’ll show you when we get done. But kind of gettin’ off the path, there. And we had a lot of pride. We wouldn’t go on welfare at first. We just rode it out and rode it out, and it kept gettin’ worse and worse and worse. In fact, in 1930-31, I worked over there at the pickle house, and you would go there at seven o’clock in the morning. You’d have a half an hour for lunch, a half an hour for supper, and you stayed there ‘til all those pickles was taken care of. And that’d be two o’clock the next morning. No overtime. Thirty-five cents an hour. And another job I had during the Depression there like that was worked extra man on the railroad. Her father was express agent over here, and I worked on the section gangs. Two men put in twenty ties a day, take the old ones out, put new ties in, re-spike it, re-tamp it, $3.36 for eight hours, 42½ cents an hour. But it was better than welfare.
WEST: Was your father living?
PARKER: Oh, yeah. He worked for the Genesee County Road Department 35 years before he retired.
WEST: Did he keep a job, then, during the Depression?
PARKER: Oh, yeah. County, that was about the only thing that was goin’. At one time, you know, when it got so bad in ’35, they issued scrip. They paid them guys by scrip, and they had to spend that scrip in that week. No holdin’ it.
WEST: Did you go to school, then, here in Swartz Creek?
PARKER: Swartz Creek, yeah. I’m shamed to admit it. Her and I started goin’ together when we was fifteen years old. We married when we was 20 and 21. She’s a little bit older than me, by six months. And I got kicked out of school. I was in the ninth grade. I was just startin’ the ninth grade, rather. And my uncle Ed Parker had a threshing machine up in here, and back in ’26 and ’27, along through there, they were hiring people in these factories like mad, you know. They didn’t even have to have an education. All they had to do was mark an “x.” And they’d take ‘em in. That’s where a lot of these foreigners and everything come from. And my uncle Ed, he went to the school board, and the school principal, old Scolley, and he said, “I’d like to get Ralph for about three or four weeks.” He says, “It’s been rainin’ so much,” and he said, “This grain is in the barns now, and it’s got to be threshed, or it’ll sprout.” So he made some kind of a deal with the school board, the teacher there, and they said, “Yeah, we’d let him stay out.” And they paid me a man’s wages when I was fifteen years old, see, which wasn’t too much for doin’ a man’s job. And, after that, I’d lost interest. I didn’t want to go to school anymore. And on the 11th of November, him and I got in a fight. Two guys, Wayne Keyworth and Joe Stefik, had kicked an old booloss. We used to have an annuum out there where we hung all our cloaks, and they hit the kid in the face. And right away he blamed me for it. And I says I wasn’t even out there a minute. I said, “Let’s stop and reason this thing out.” He may just as well grab at my throat. I hit him just once. He had a pair of glasses on, and I hit him right... through the chair. It’s a wonder I hadn’t a-blinded the man. I would have give anything to this day, tellin’ you, I would have give anything, if he’d been man enough, and my dad, to just beat hell out of me, and I’d have went and learned something. I had guts and backbone, but I didn’t have a brain to go with it. I was as strong as a bull. I only had a 28-inch waist and weighed 162 pounds. But it was all muscle, even solid through the head.
WEST: But a lot of people quit school early in those days, much more common than now. That’s right.
PARKER: And I want to tell you something else here, if it doesn’t foul this thing up, about how when we first went in the factories, they didn’t have any cloakroom or lockers or anything like that, see. They kept these clothes----you’d go in there with a jacket or whatever you was wearin’, overcoat, mackinaw. And they had long poles on a coat hangers, like. And they’d push ‘em up like that. And they hung up over you in this toilet area, stools and urinals and everything else all around there. And that’s where you kept your clothes. Lots of fellows went----I probably wasn’t wearin’ good enough clothes, or they’d have stole mine----but so many fellows went out of there with a new jacket or a new mackinaw. At night he’d go to get his coat. Gone. Somebody just pulled it down and wore it out. In the dead of the winter. And this is some of the conditions that brought this union about. Stuff just like that. They’d taken it down there to the window and rubbin’ your nose into it.
WEST: Were you asked sometimes to do any favors for the foreman?
PARKER: Yeah, I’m goin’ to tell you about this, too. Not me. I actually know this to be a fact. These foreigners----not just because they’re foreigners----would actually hear ‘em sayin’ to the foreman, “Come on. I got something in the car for you,” when the line was down, see, goin’ home. I followed one guy out one night. I parked over across the street. And he did. He had a half a hog in there. Or they’d have a big chunk of meat. Or they’d have chickens. Or they’d have a gallon of whiskey, homemade booze. This ain’t bull, mister. This is the facts. “I got something in the car for you.” That’s the guy that worked, not me.
WEST: No one ever approached you about doing anything for foremen?
PARKER: No, I don’t think I ever that close to a foreman. I didn’t hate ‘em or anything. I went in there. I wasn’t afraid of work or anything like that.
WEST: I’m wondering how they would recruit the stool pigeons, you know.
PARKER: Well, now, that’s something right there I would give a lot to know right today, just how in hell they did. They took these stool pigeons, ‘cause they was there.
WEST: You were never approached to snitch or anything like that.
PARKER: I knew of one. We would watch him after we got where we had a union meeting. We would watch these guys close. Now you and I, maybe three or four of the other buddies had all finishing right here together, would be settin’ down talkin’, talkin’ union, of what we needed, what we wanted. Pretty soon, here come a guy, be workin’ right with you, walkin’ right off, get right in on the conversation. We learned after a while... We’d start talkin’ about fishin’ or huntin’. This guy wouldn’t stay. But we had to learn the hard way. This is how we found him out. And then they got to checkin’ the five of the fellows that lived in Flint close, would check these different beer gardens. See, 3.2 beer was just out then. Yeah, there’s a foreman. I know one old foreman that run up and down the street, when we was on strike that first time, with two fifths of whiskey in his pocket, old Frank Mason, tryin’ to get ‘em to go along. They wouldn’t do it.
WEST: Now, during the strike of ’37, you said you didn’t decide to go in the shop. Did you do anything for the union on the outside?
PARKER: Yes, I did. What they used to do, they would come out and solicit. Now Bruce Malott----I don’t know whether you know Bruce or not----well, Bruce could tell you. They would come out, these guys that was gun-shy from the ’34 strike, see, and maybe I’d give ‘em two or three dollars, different times, to help families, you know. And this is how we contributed to it. They knew we wasn’t scabbin’. They knew we wouldn’t go in there and scab on ‘em. And, matter of fact, I don’t know of a man that ever went in there and scabbed either time.
WEST: But you contributed, then, money and things to the...
PARKER: I could tell you something else, too, but I wouldn’t dare to... You would be surprised at the number of times, after we got organized, and these speed-ups would come. And every once in a while, like that, here would go a line. Stop. I could tell you something, mister, but I don’t dare to.
WEST: Well, I wish you would, if you could just keep it at this period of the strike. Now you were living out here in Swartz Creek. Were most of your neighbors friendly to you and to the strikers? Did you encounter any hostility?
PARKER: No, no. I’m glad you brought this up. Now, we were branded Communists. That’s all there was to it.
E. PARKER: My folks were not...
PARKER: When you was on strike, even the man that carried grocery store up here for you, Clarence Duke, and I done business with him for a long time and my credit was good. I’d go up there, and maybe he’d have you down for 20, 25 dollars at the most, and he’d say, “Go down there to the Commies and get your groceries.” Yeah, this is their attitude.
WEST: Did you have trouble getting groceries?
PARKER: Oh, yeah, you’d have trouble getting groceries. There wasn’t nobody carryin’ a man that’s on strike. I’ll tell you where it leaked out. The Hamady Brothers. This is what built Mike Hamady. This is what built Hamady’s chain store. Mike carried ‘em.
WEST: He carried ‘em.
PARKER: You better believe it. He carried ‘em. I don’t know how many groceries he contributed to the food line and the soup kitchen and stuff like that. You better believe it.
WEST: And the workers, then, patronized him after the strike.
PARKER: And, right today, I don’t care what the price of his meat is. I buy from Hamady’s, although old Hamady’s don’t have nothin’ to do with it anymore. You don’t forget those things.
WEST: But some of the local stores around here were...
WEST: And your wife mentioned that her parents were hostile.
E. PARKER: Oh, yeah. My dad belonged... But yet he was hostile.
WEST: Your dad? He belonged to what?
E. PARKER: The telegraph union.
WEST: The telegraph union, but he was hostile to it.
E. PARKER: Well, he went to...
PARKER: See, that was AFL, see. CIO is something different.
WEST: What would his attitude be, then? That you just couldn’t win?
E. PARKER: We would get nothin’.
PARKER: Well, I don’t know. I actually don’t know. I think if the truth is actually known, that they didn’t know just how much power they’d had behind it... It was the men that’s won. It wasn’t just a few organizers that was leadin’ ‘em. It was the men theirselves that was demanding the stuff, and they would go to limits to do it. Now they was a lot of cases where man and wife would actually pretty near split up. She rode hell out of him, you know. I think the man’s name was Reverend Cole. I’m not saying for sure. He had talked to these people (he was for labor; not everybody was for labor) and tell them: “It’s a hard struggle. It’s worth it. It’ll be worth it some day. But you can’t do it alone. You’ve got...”
[END OF TAPE 1]
PARKER: ... He was the head of the AFL, see, the railroad, see. Now, he could see the engineer, the conductor, and the brakeman, but he couldn’t see that guy that was drivin’ in the spikes to keep that train on the tracks. They couldn’t see them at all.
WEST: There was no union for people like you that were...
PARKER: No. No. Well, there was the AFL, sure. Sure. Better believe it.
E. PARKER: Didn’t you have to pay dues?
WEST: Did you pay dues?
PARKER: Not into the railroads. See, I was extra man. If I would have been a regular crew member, see, like the sections. Used to have a section. The men would be four to six people, and they would have so many miles of track, and they would patrol this track and keep it repaired. And then, when it come to summertime, they would take extra people on, maybe five or six more people. They knew it’d work with a regular old section man and put in ties. I got a souvenir right here.
WEST: Oh, the scar on your hand.
PARKER: That was from spiking all, this right here. Instead of keeping out here on the end, where it belonged, it would slide back in here and it bruised that on the inside. Oh, I got paid a lot of money for that, $11 a week.
WEST: Compensation from the railroad. For how long?
PARKER: About four or five weeks. Do you know what happened after that? They laid me off.
WEST: What was the situation in the auto shops for people who got hurt on the job? Because I understand that some of the jobs pretty dangerous on the presses, lose a finger or that...
PARKER: You’re lookin’ at one right here. I’ll tell you about something. I had been a lead binder, what they call “finish grinders.” They paid us the same money as they do...
WEST: Is this after the strike?
PARKER: Yeah, this would be after even the ’37 strike, see. And even before. You used to use a disc to do part of your finishing with, see. And I contacted lead poisoning. I weighed about 147, 156 pounds. And I went to 196 pounds, constipation. About every week she would have to give me an enema, and your stool would be like a little rabbit. And they were supposed to check us every two months in blood and urine. And sometimes it would go six months and longer before they checked it. All of a sudden they come to me, and they said your report come back from Detroit that you’ve got positive lead. It’s too high. We’ve got to take you out of there. And I thought they was givin’ me a kick in the hind end, see. And so I went to my doctor up here, and I told him. Well, Dr. Snyder says, “Well, Ralph,” he says, “I never learned this in the doctor business, but,” he says, “I’ll send you to Hurley Hospital, and they will take this what they call a complete lead count.” They cut the end of your finger open here, and they stick on an outfit that looks like a thermometer, and they let this fill so full, and they shut it off. And they determined how many parts of lead is in your bloodstream. And I couldn’t get it out of ‘em down there, and they wouldn’t give my doctor... I told ‘em I wanted him to know how much lead I had. Well, they said, “Well, let’s say that it’s got a problem. Eighty-six hundredths. One in twenty-five hundredths is fatal.” Bam! There was other people down there holding down the keep that had lead the same time as I did. And it affected him and his joints. He walked around like an old duck, see. No feeling, nothin’. The end of your fingers would be numb like this all of the time. You’d be smokin a cigarette. First thing you know it slipped right out of your fingers. Never even know it’d gone. With me, it didn’t. It went right in here, right in my stomach. Every time the weather would change from hot to cold or cold to hot, ... Couldn’t keep anything on your food. It affected my stomach.
WEST: So you were moved out of there out of that job.
PARKER: Yeah, they took me out of there, and they put me in the float. And I done everything in the float. Go maybe in the Shipping Department, where they was sendin’ stuff over acrost and helped cratin’ it up. Or I would go up in the Cut and Sew Department and work with the women that’d taken the floor mats and pile ‘em on dollies. And they tipped me off on that, oh, for quite a while. Then, all of a sudden, they come along, and they had to have finishers, and they put me back on finishin’. Doors. No lead. You can’t touch lead. You can’t work any overtime. You can’t do nothin’. Just work line time and you finish bare metal. Well, after a while, that petered out. They eliminated the job, see, and they tied it into something else. And they said, Perry Long, he was body superintendent at that time, he says, “Well,” he says, “you can go back finishin’ on lead or anywhere they need you, or you can go in that scratch booth and start grindin’ lead and brass and everything.” And I says, “Good God, man, if I got to go in there and pound a wire brush, I might just as well pound a file.” And I didn’t. I went back on finishin’. And that was the end of it. They could have cared less.
WEST: What happened? Ultimately you got rid of the lead.
PARKER: No. You never get----once lead gets in your bloodstream, it’s here. It stays. There’s no way of gettin’ it out. No way in God’s world. You never get lead out of your bloodstream.
WEST: Did you get to the point where you could live with it?
PARKER: Yeah. Now. I had always worked in what they called a hazardous area, body shop. Always in the body shops, see. And the last day of 1967, on a Friday, I went into work here from the house here, at work that morning, and I had a cold. I just couldn’t get started. And I stayed there five hours, about five hours, and the boss said to me, he says, “I’ve got your check ordered. Today’s payday.” He says, “Don’t go home. Just set somewhere until I get your paycheck. Then you can go home.” And they did. And I come home, and I wasn’t feelin’ good, and I thought I was comin’ down with the flu. So we called my doctor over here to Durand, Dr. Richards, and seen about a flu shot. And he said, “No.” He said, “You just had a flu shot late in July,” he says, “I can’t give another flu shot.” And that morning of the first day of 1968, New Year’s, I had a congestive heart failure here. We didn’t know whether we was gonna make it or not. They took me in the hospital, and they said, “Boy, there’s more wrong with this guy than just his heart. There’s somethin’ else wrong with this guy.” And they started runnin’ me through different tests, runnin’ me through a pulmonary test, and they found out I have emphysema bad in both lungs. I had been a lead grinder, a finisher. I had worked in a vinyl repair up in the ding room, and when the line would go down, they might shut it down at one thirty in the afternoon, ‘cause everything was plugged tight. They couldn’t ship any more over to the Buick. And the paint repairman would come right in this area, and this ding room wasn’t any much larger than three times the size of this house, right by the ... They knew a bump out of a quarter panel had been smashed, or a door, or whatever. And here the paint man, right on the other side of the job, sprayin’ his prime back on. And I mean it was just a continuous spot. And that ceiling not a bit higher than it is right here. No fan. They wouldn’t put no fan on to blow it, see. They’d just leave it right there, see.
WEST: Was that in the period before the strike?
PARKER: Oh, no, this was way after. My last...
PARKER: Still after this they hadn’t cleaned this all up. Now, just before I was stricken----I would say a month----they stopped them. No more sprayin’. “That man finishes his job, back on the line.” The paint repairman’s gonna do without the... He no more sprayin’ in there. This is out. But it was already too late. One man ahead of me, Clare Phillips, was an old ding man, repairman. In fact I worked with him for years down there. He went home the week of Christmas, and he went into a coma, and he never come out of it. They said he had spinal meningitis. So I said to the foreman (we called him Al Prince), I says, “Well, Prince,” I says, “it’s my turn to go to the ding room now. I’m top dog.” “Well,” he says, “we’re gonna see if we can get along without him first.” I says, “Okay.” But I says, “I’m next to move.” I was all around body repair. And the next week, I got hit. And that was the end of that right there. I never made. Now, what they done with me. It was an occupational disease. I’d worked in hazardous areas for 35 years, 34.9 years. No sick leaves. I’d been off maybe different times, maybe flu or somethin’ like that in the wintertime. No 30-day sick leave or anything like that. And I’ll.... Better shut that off. They’d found out that I had the emphysema, and I had to take a sick leave. I was in bad shape. So the first year I couldn’t even lay down. I had a big, long davenport, and I set up all like that, all with a board on the back, see. I laid down. You couldn’t get nothin’, so you had to set up. And they see we wasn’t getting any better, so in six months I applied for Social Security. So General Motors right away, they started runnin’ me through the mill. See, different doctors, first x-ray, blood, to see what’s the matter with me. I went to one guy by the name of Dr. Weber. He took care of the occupational diseases for General Motors over here on Beecher and Clio Road there. And I said, “Doc, what’s the matter?” I said, “I can’t get no air. I’m short of breath all the time.” “Why,” he says, “that’s your problem.” “Well,” I says, “I know it’s my problem, but what’s the matter?” He wouldn’t tell me. “Well,” he says, “you go in there, and they’ll run an EKG on you, harnessed up and they would pick a two step.” And I couldn’t complete it, see. I was just out of gas. So I said to the nurse, I said, “Well, you better shut this thing off. I can’t make it.” So I set down and I’d like to have passed out, and she says, “For God sakes, don’t pass out on me!” Can’t help it. I said, “I’ve got nothing to hide from you people whatever.” So the next place they sent me was a General Motors place, a guy by the name of Dr. Garbitz, and he’s in the clinic right across from McLaren on Clio Road. And I went in there, and he checked me all over, shook his head like that, put on a rubber glove, bended over, and checked you for a hernia. He went up my rectum. I says, “Doc,” I says, “I didn’t come in here ‘cause I got a hernia.” “Well, it says that’s what it says you got.” I says, “I don’t care anything about a hernia. It’s not botherin’ me.” I says, “I’m want to know why I can’t get no air here.” I says, “Man, I’m havin’ trouble.” So that was the end of that. I run along, oh, maybe six months or so, and they got me doctored up good enough to put me back in the hospital, and they operated on me for a double hernia. I was in there fourteen days, and we went back home here, and, boy, I was feelin’ good. And all of a sudden here come a form from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Wanted to know if I would claim this hernia for an occupational injury. So I took it up to my doctor, Dr. Penwell. He says, “You don’t want no part of that.” He says, “They told you you didn’t have a hernia. There was nothin’ wrong with you.” So, well, I told him, “I didn’t come down here for that. I come down here for the lung problem.” And then they sent me over to another doctor on----country doctor, x-rays, for the lungs. And I said to the nurse, I says, “I’m under this [illegible] before I went over there.” I says, “I want a complete x-ray of these lungs.” He says, “You’ll get what I tell you to get, and we’ll see.” So when I got over there, I told the nurse, “Now,” I says, “I want a complete x-ray of these lungs. I want five pictures of these lungs.” I says, “I got nothing to hide.” Whatever. So they had me in stand different places and my head’s up over like that, and I know damn well they only took two pictures. And I told my doctor about it. “Well,” he says, “I’ll tell you. It don’t matter anyway.” He says, “They could x-ray you ‘til hell froze over, and it doesn’t show emphysema.” He says, “What it is is the cells keep dyin’ off, dyin’ off.” “And,” he says, “you can x-ray that, and you can’t find it. The only way you can find it is a pulmonary test. You blow in this stuff, and it indicates how much. You either took it in or you didn’t take it in. That’s all there is to it.” So he finally got it through their cotton-pickin’ heads this old man had had it. He was in bad shape. And after I’d draw sick and accident benefit for one year, which my rate at that time was $3.59 an hour (general repair), they paid me $85 a week, sick and accident benefit. And, after one year, if you were not able to continue, they put you on your life insurance. I drawed $160 a month for 50 months, and that was all of that right there. Now, when I went over there and checked out at the union hall, and Johnny Yurko was president at that time, and he said, “Ralph, what’s the matter with you? You’re goin’ out here on disability.” “Johnny, I’ve got emphysema bad, they tell me,” I says. “I’m in bad shape.” “Why,” he said, “that’s an occupational disease.” He said, “Didn’t they tell you that in there?” I said, “No.” Jim Moran was the head of the union there for retirees and whatever, you know, but Jim never told me a thing about it. And I said, “The company sure didn’t.” “Well,” he says, “I’ll get an appointment with you at McDonald and Fitzgerald, union lawyers.” And they did. And they went out and they got all this information, and two or three times they’d call me down there, and I was in such bad shape, or I was either in... Two times I was in the hospital. I couldn’t make it. And so finally, he set it back and set it back, until we got warm weather and I could get outdoors, and he got me a hearing for Judge Ryan down here, Michigan State Compensation, next to the courthouse. And we went down there, and this McDonald read the Riot Act to Ma and I in his office, and he says, “This is the best I can do for you.” He says, “I can get you $2500 now.” “Why,” I said, “Good God! That ain’t worth goin’ to bat for!” He says, “You must be loaded.” And I says, “No, I’m not loaded, by no means.” I says, “Is this all you can get?” He says, “I’m tellin’ you. This is all I can get out of General Motors, is $2500, without goin’ to court. Now,” he said, “if you want to go to court, this is your privilege.” Well, I says, “How in hell am I gonna defy General Motors? I ain’t got nothin’ to fight, to start with.” So we accepted. And it wasn’t very much for compensation for 35 years of service and $2500. And, believe it or not, this lawyer tagged me for 400 bucks out of that 2500!
WEST: I imagine all this takes place thirty years or so after the strike. Would you have gotten anything in the period before the strike?
PARKER: No, you wouldn’t have got... You would have got a kick in the hind end. That’s all. There was no such a thing.
WEST: What I’m really getting at, I suppose, is whether things improved as a result of the strike, when you went back, if you noticed.
PARKER: Oh, brother, you better believe it. You better believe it. I’m tellin’ you [phone interrupts]. Well, right after the war (this would be 1946 and 7), we had foremans tell us (old foremans that I’ve worked for for years----not the young ones, the old ones----that were dyed in the wool; they’d been finishers sometime or other, and welders, and what have you): “If it hadn’t have been for you guys, we wouldn’t have got nothing.”
WEST: The foremen.
PARKER: Yeah. He said, “You got this cost-of-living. You got this overtime.” He said, “They used to keep us after line time. ‘We’re payin’ you 40 hours a week. It’s based on a 40-hour week salary.’” Boy, they can clean up that mess. Never get a penny for it. Now, I know foremans down there----he’s dead, [inaudible] is dead; Charlie Benedict is dead. He’s one of the old dyed-in-the-wool. Clarence Hanifan was another one. Walt Soderlund was another one. And another guy, that drownded over in Harbor Beach in a storm over there, Ted Bowers. I worked for all of these guys. They showed me their union cards, and I know the guy that was the head of their union. Fred Pelletier was superintendent of the Paint Shop. And then...
WEST: They have a union, then?
PARKER: No. Legislature acted quick. Immediate effect. And they broke that foremans’ union right there. Chrysler had already recognized the foremans’ union.
WEST: When did that foremen’s union come in, then?
PARKER: Right after the war. Right after the war. The first thing right after the war.
WEST: But it didn’t last.
PARKER: No. They never got started.
WEST: Well, that’s interesting. When you came back, right after the strike was settled, early in February, did you notice changes then?
PARKER: Oh, my god! You wouldn’t know it was the same place. In fact, what would happen. The foreman come up and wrote a man (I don’t know whether it was me or anybody else), writing, see. The guy’d say, “Give me the steward right now.” He would go get that man, steward, and they’d take it in there. All for one and one for all. That one man that they wrote, mister, they better deal business with him, ‘cause that whole department’ll go out there, just like that. All that Johnny Tadrick had to do (the chief steward), come out and put both hands up in the air, like this. This was it. This was all, right now. Not a half an hour. Right now, fellows. And everybody...
WEST: Did you have quite a few of those sit-down wildcat strikes?
PARKER: Oh, we had several of them. You know, I’m tellin’ you right now that we had lost a lot less time on so-called “wildcat” strikes, or illegal strikes, than we ever did legal ones. I want to tell you in particular about the strike right after the war. We had went back and started up on automobile stuff on the 19th day of November of that year. They called a strike. It lasted for 115 or 119 days. I was laid off, actually, laid off. On the 11th day of November I worked one night on the night shift. Out of material. Laid off. I went down and I applied for unemployment insurance. I had drawn two checks. That’s all. And General Motors protested, cut us off. Right now. That’s it. And we had...waited around, tried to get it. We’d keep our appointments so the time run out on our benefit year. That was it. So we finally turned this over to all of us that’s in there to a power of attorney. And he says, “I will fight this for you for 15 percent of whatever you got comin’.” So we all signed our John Henry, in the hall, give him power of attorney to do it. And they started it. We never got a dime out of it, not a penny. Now every one of those Fisher 1 men (my brother-in-law, for one, her... Frank Weemer, Al Campbell, Johnny Duris (God only knows how many more) was out to the Grand Blanc tank plant durin’ the war. I was in Fisher 1 all the time. They just failed to get their papers straightened out and transfer ‘em back into Fisher 1 on automobile stuff. They took every penny of it. This was nothing more than agitation. This was one way they had of fightin’. Keep these guys screwed up all the time. Don’t let ‘em get harnessed, ‘cause I’ll tell you why. Johnny Duris and I and her brother, Paulie Spaniola, myself, Charlie Ocenasek, five of us would change off drivin’. See, we’d pool drivin’, see. Maybe drive one day a week. That’s all. The other guy would drive. First thing you know, transfer back over in the South Unit, back over in the North Unit. They got these guys that was all together, got ‘em split up, so they couldn’t talk together anymore. They didn’t have that power. This is one way they had it fightin’ the Japs. I don’t know how many they pulled on me.
WEST: Now, in the period just after the strike (this is in ’37), did you take part in any efforts to organize other GM or auto plants afterwards, because there were some attempts in Owosso, I guess?
PARKER: They was already organized. We had one plant. I’ll back off a little bit on this. We had one plant that we couldn’t trust. That was the AC. I don’t know what happened over at the AC.
WEST: Well, that interests me generally, why it was during the strike that AC didn’t get shut down, because Fisher did and Chevy did, but AC didn’t. Buick didn’t either. Buick didn’t go out.
PARKER: Well, in a way Buick didn’t. We had a lot of support from Buick.
WEST: You had help from Buick.
PARKER: You better believe it. And, like I say, we all belonged to the 156 local. That’s when John L. Lewis was there. CIO wouldn’t able to build amalgamated union. We had power, plenty of power, but we didn’t know how to use it. We wasn’t using it sensible.
WEST: Can you illustrate that?
PARKER: Yeah. Like we knew what we wanted, but we didn’t have educated people to tell us whether we was on the right track or the wrong track. Maybe you are bargaining for something here that later on is going to be no good to you. And this actually happened. I was in the North Unit. Let’s say this happened in 1938. I was laid off from the 24th day of March ‘til the 24th day of October, seven months right to the day. And you what the reason of that was? They had cancelled the Buick 40 series, bodies, and took ‘em right over here to Lansing for five cents an hour less, $1.10 an hour, and we got $1.15, I think. And took those bodies all the way back into the Buick. Now, believe that or not. Right down through Swartz Creek, on the old 78. And this is how they would get this thing, turmoil. And it was quite common. But, like I say, they had walked into it. Now, here’s another little stinkin’ deal that General Motors had engineered, and it worked well, oh, too well, their suggestion plan. Now it may not sound like much, but here’s these people that would put out these boxes, you know, questionnaires. Fill it out. Send it back in there. Let’s say you had twenty men on a job. And this skunk here would say, “Well, I can do with 18 men. It’s a waste of time here.” They can fill it all out.
WEST: This is the period after the strike?
PARKER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Yeah. There was no such a thing as a suggestion plan before. Oh, no. We wouldn’t do with a suggestion, see, the company. And they got these guys’ view of different things, see: do it this way, do it that way. They would send a foreman to another plant and see if it was workin’ that way. And they did. First thing you know they’d cut out two men here, two men here, two men here. And I’ll tell you the purpose of that suggestion plan was. These foremans were paid individually, in an envelope. Their checks was never out in the open, like ours. Never. Always in separate envelopes. They didn’t allow ‘em to play the check pool, the check serial number, like us guys. And this is where their salary was based from. This was their progress. It would start out this model with 20 men, and if he got rid of two men, mister, this was a share of the pie and don’t think they didn’t cut in on it, their stock, their bonds, and the whole works.
WEST: Well, now, what did the union do about when they’d come around to cut two men off?
PARKER: Well, they tried to tell ‘em the best way they could: “This isn’t good, fellows, you’re only cuttin’ your own throat.” And, between you and me, right today, I would actually like to know how many people was walkin’ the street because they turned in one of those suggestions for a few, lousy, stinkin’ dollars. You know, when a man gets $10,000 for a prize suggestion, that somewhere along the line, between the Pontiac and the Chrysler----or I mean the Cadillac and the Olds and the Buick and the Chevrolet----that there’s probably 20, 25 men gone, maybe more, and they got it for ten thousand bucks.
WEST: Yeah, I’m sure. I just wonder what the attitude of the union would take, though, toward this.
PARKER: Well, they tried to tell ‘em the best way they could.
WEST: But they didn’t have the power to...
PARKER: See, this is what was happening here. Now, when we first organized over there and was first gettin’ started, we never had a check-off system, see. This was strictly voluntary. And after they got the check-off system, guys would whimper, “I don’t like this. I don’t like that. I don’t want this. I don’t like that.” I don’t know why. They knew it was the only back in the head. Guess they didn’t want it. That’s the best thing that ever happened, far as that goes, the check-off system. I paid union dues down there when you didn’t get a receipt for it. I wasn’t worried.
WEST: I wanted to talk about now how you’d recruit these guys into the union that were reluctant to join, you know.
PARKER: Now I couldn’t say this to be truthful, but it was either Fisher 2 or Fisher 1 that was the first one to come out with a hundred-percent membership. You better believe it.
WEST: How did you get that hundred-percent membership, though? It must have been a little tough.
PARKER: I’ll tell you how we got it. In 1938 or ’39, we had a big split in the union. We had John L. Lewis in there, the CIO, the AFL, the Homer Martin, and they had these guys all in different directions. One would talk pretty good, you know, “Lean that way.” The next guy, he’d have a different, you’d lean this way. And General Motors wouldn’t bargain with nobody. “We’re not gonna bargain with nobody.” So the CIO asked for a labor relations election, and the government did. They come in there and they set them booths up right in that Door Department, and every man voted. I mean he had to vote. There was no other way out. You either voted for AFL, CIO, or nobody. And this is one of the happiest things I ever seen. Out of 5200 votes, only 15 didn’t people didn’t want a union, mister, and, after that, there was no holding after that. There was no demands that they wouldn’t go after. I don’t care who it was.
WEST: And did the CIO win?
PARKER: Oh, yeah.
WEST: Who did you support?
PARKER: The CIO. I knew a lot of these guys. Paul Treadway was a good AFL man. It wasn’t because he wasn’t a good man. They used to go out and have some hellish fights in these beer gardens at night and out on the street. In 1939, when we had this big split, or ’38, I had actually seen fellows that worked in the department would take sticks of solder (they’re about that big around and about that long, see----37 in length), and they’d take three of ‘em, twist ‘em up right like a rope, and, mister, if you got caught outside with one of them inside your head, you really got hurt. And that’s the way General Motors had it a-goin’, all right their way.
WEST: Why did you join the CIO, though, and not the Homer Martin group?
PARKER: Well, I got burned in ’34. No, no. No, I went out on a limb for these guys. I got my hind end throwed over in that wood mill. Not again, boys. Now you go ahead and do it. I’ll go along with you 100 percent, but I will not go in there. No, sir. I says, “I got hurt once,” and I says, “I tailed a machine that spit out 112 board feet a minute.” I said, “If you don’t think that’s work, mister, you try it.”
WEST: Now, I was thinking in terms of recruiting people. I was thinking right after the strike, when you had won, and you had the contract, but you had to get a good proportion of the membership into the union. Your wife suggested you used some persuasion, and I just wondered if you can...
PARKER: Well, I think where a lot of persuasion come is from the outside. There was ministers and people that was tryin’ to save these people from splittin’ up, man and wife fightin’ like cats and dogs. And I think a lot of it come from right there. When he brought these people back, he says, “They got a right to this stuff.”
E. PARKER: But the husbands’ wives...
PARKER: I think a lot of it come from there. Now I’m not sayin’ for sure.
E. PARKER: It’s not very much, really.
WEST: No, it’s the human interest that I’d like to get.
E. PARKER: This was the whole thing. The wives had to have played just an important part as the men did, because the wives were backing men. Well, there was some of our friends that their wives didn’t see to their husbands’ belonging to this union. So it was up to us, that really had been through it and lived through it and was educated on, to educate those wives. They, in turn, educated their husbands. And that’s how they got in. With pressure.
WEST: I see. How would you talk to these wives? Can you recall any...?
E. PARKER: Well, I usually referred to my dad’s problems, back when he was in the railroad, and I knew what he had to go through, and I knew what my mother...
WEST: He was working on the railroad.
E. PARKER: He was a telegraph engineer, or operator. And my mother had to stand by him. Well, I know there was one railroad man. Of course it was forcible then, but yet there was always this little way that you could get out of paying this due if you knew the right guy on the top rung. And so my mother would pressure this woman to woman to get her husband to join, because my dad had to join. We were sacrificin’. So this, I got this from back in the back of my brain. I thought now, wait a minute. That’s how my mother worked on this one lady. So this was how I thought I could work on some of these women. And, at first, you know, they’re hostile to you. They wouldn’t speak to you if they seen you on the street, because your husband belonged to the union, and her husband didn’t, you know. So you use I don’t know what you call it, something that the Lord has to give you, I guess. You have to use consideration, patience, understanding, and yet you have to get the point across, but yet to can’t force it. You can’t be nasty. You can’t be rude. And this is the way I worked it through. And it worked out beautiful, because it wasn’t long----those women had their husbands seeing me.
WEST: Were these neighbors in the area here whose husbands worked?
E. PARKER: Yes, yes, and then they weren’t always neighbors. They were people that my husband worked with, some of them in the shop. And they’d come out here and go fishin’ with him. And I’d say, “Well, bring your wife along,” you know. “We can visit or sew or something.” And this was how they would do it. In the five or six hours they were fishin’, I could get my point across pretty good. Now I’m not always saying that it worked.
WEST: What arguments did you use, then? Can you...?
E. PARKER: Well, the one argument that they usually told was we’re gonna have too many hardships. We don’t know what the union’s gonna do for us. And if the higher forces find out in the shop that my man belongs to the union, the first little thing they’re gonna get on him they’re gonna fire him. So this is what I had to explain, that once the union is organized and in there to stay, there can’t be no type of firing like that. They’ve got to have it. Then they can’t fire. And you would have your union to back you. Well, they would say, “That’s fine. Well, maybe he does somethin’ that the union wouldn’t approve of, and then will they back him?” Well, then, I said, “They have to go before a committee and this has to be taken up. It has to go through a legal procedure. They can’t just up and say to your husband, ‘Okay, come down the line. You’re fired, because you done such-and-such.’” It’s a long process, you know, and every time they’d have a little question, and I wasn’t too well educated. I just studied through him and from what I would hear and, of course, his brother Paul was up on this, and I always listened. And this is what I would put across to them, that any time they would come up with a question that I couldn’t answer, then I wouldn’t answer anything. Then I would wait ‘til the next time, and I would find out the answer, find out what they would do in a problem like this. Then the next time I saw her then I would put it before her, so this was the way you worked----gradually. You couldn’t just up and say, you know, well, “Your man’s a stinker. If he don’t belong, so-and-so.” No way. You had to play it, so that you didn’t downgrade your husband because he didn’t belong to the union. So I think the wives played an important part in a lot of this.
WEST: Well, that’s good. You were not the only one that was doing this.
E. PARKER: No, oh, no. All of the wives of the husbands that was thinking the way my husband was thinking on the same terms, that went through these hardships,...
WEST: Now you weren’t formally organized, though, were you? What I’m suggesting is that there was a Women’s Auxiliary and apparently there was a Women’s Emergency Brigade, too.
E. PARKER: There was at Fisher, but I didn’t belong to it. I was working at the telephone office at the time. Of course, I had to belong to a union, too.
WEST: What union was that?
E. PARKER: Well, it was Telephone and Telegraph, I guess. I don’t know. But I never wanted to get involved with anything where I had to tie myself. I’m a freelance loader. I mean it’s just like with my beliefs. I like to go out and tell people the way I believe, the way I live, the way I think, that’s right and stop right there, you know.
WEST: Right. Well, that’s very good.
E. PARKER: I know the women, the wives did play a role.
WEST: And it was effective, then, this pressure on the wives, who could then...
E. PARKER: Yes, it seemed to be. Yes, it had an awful lot to do with it.
WEST: I was wondering. Your wife suggested that one of the reasons why some of the men didn’t want to join the union was they were afraid they’d get fired. Did you have to go to bat for guys that did get fired? Did GM, then, try to still discriminate against union people after the strike?
PARKER: You better believe it, mister.
WEST: What happened, then?
PARKER: Right now. They would take a man----now this is durin’ the steward system.
WEST: Right. That was just after the strike, wasn’t it, the steward system?
PARKER: Right here. This is what would happen, durin’ the steward system. If they were ridin’ a man, whether he was a painter or a finisher or a welder or a torch solder man, and maybe they’d reprimand him, maybe give him three days off or something, for talkin’ back. This was a big thing. “Don’t talk back to that man,” see. “Call your committeeman, or call your steward.” And sometimes the language’d get pretty rough, see, and then they’d have him right over a barrel. This is what they done, agitation. And the steward would come back, or the chief steward would come back and say, “I wouldn’t fire him. Give him three days off.” That’s all we need to know. We just wanted to know how it come out. Mister, just like that right now. You didn’t have to tell a guy, “We’re walkin’ out.” They knew from what that man said. They listened to him. And they so many times that these things had been mentioned in the papers, that like Bud Simons, Joe Devitt, Fred Wiedeman, Claude Severn, this Tadrick, and, God only knows! These guys would stand up and be counted, that was never given credit for it. These are the guys that kept these fellows together.
WEST: Now a lot of accusation was made at the time in the papers and that, and you mentioned it yourself, about the “Commies,” Communists, and that sort of thing. Well, there were in fact Communists around. Were any of the people that you suspected...?
PARKER: No. Heck. Now I want to tell you something about Communism. When they branded a man “Communist,” now here’s just one incident. Bud Simons. He was branded a Communism, and they made this man stand on his Fifth Amendment. And he did. He told ‘em. Now, he says, “I have been to the meetings. I don’t like the way they do business, and I did not join.” And there were times down there that everybody turned their back on Bud Simon. I was the only one that would talk to that man. It wouldn’t scare me a damn bit, ‘cause I knew I was in there before ’37.
WEST: It didn’t bother you, the accusation of Communism, at all.
PARKER: The only thing I had to watch out was who I talked to. This is where I was very careful. When somebody like Bud Simon, Jay Green, any of them guys, or Bert Harris, God only knows how many----I wished I could keep this thing workin’ so I could think of these guys----Joe Beebe, God only knows. Mister, I mean when they would get through talkin’ with a foreman, he would say, “Okay.” And if he didn’t say, “Okay.”
WEST: It was a process of educating the foreman.
PARKER: Right now. It’s a crime that----I don’t understand this. I wish I did know more about it. Now the guy that hollered “Communism” the loudest, back in ’34, ’37, well, these fellows that went to church, not because they were Catholics, or whether this priest was poisonin’ against organized labor or not, I don’t know. I wished I did the answers for it for you, ‘cause they were the guys that was singin’ “Communism.” And another group that sung “Communism” was your schoolteachers, even to the kids, that their dads was on strike.
WEST: Oh, yeah? I wondered about that. That’s interesting. Did you...
PARKER: And your police department.
WEST: Did you know that about the schoolteachers? That’s interesting, because there were some teachers who were fired after the strike because they supported the strikers.
PARKER: Right. Just the minute you started openin’ your mouth, as I say, you had to be careful who you were talkin’ to. Now.
WEST: But the schoolteachers interest me particularly. Did you know of that?
E. PARKER: We didn’t know of any around here, but we had knowledge of it that their husbands were, found out that their husbands belonged to the union. They were fired. We didn’t know who they were or whether they were here or in Flint or where, but it was in the papers.
WEST: Your kids weren’t of school age, then.
E. PARKER: One was. We didn’t have that here, no.
PARKER: But, like I say, back in the earlier days, this was an old farming area, until, you might say, ’25, ’26, ’27, ’28, long as this automobile thing got bigger and bigger and bigger. And it went from farming, general farming, to industrial, see. Everybody was goin’ in the shops. That’s where their livin’ was comin’ from. Now what sounds so funny is all of these teachers and their principals that branded these workers and their wives both for bein’ Communists, for belonging to a labor party, and your police department was another one, today they’re screamin’ to high heavens for recognition. If they would have had the leadership we had and the guts and the backbone to go along with it, they could have had this years ago. But they listened to somebody else. If we would have listened to General Motors, “I will give you this. I will give you that.” Not GM. They’re too greedy to give anything back, see.
WEST: Now there was a group known at that time as the Black Legion.
PARKER: I don’t know much about that.
WEST: Then the Ku Klux Klan.
PARKER: Oh, I know all about the Klan
WEST: The Klan. Was the Klan active at all during that time?
PARKER: Well, yeah. Your Klan was anti-labor. Your Masons was as anti-labor as they come.
WEST: You had some Klan out here, did you?
E. PARKER: Your uncles belonged to it.
PARKER: Your Catholic at that time was anti-labor.
WEST: Were you going to church at the time out here?
PARKER: Not much.
WEST: I just wondered if you had a relationship, you know, with a minister.
PARKER: No, I...
WEST: But you say you had people who were in the Klan. Your wife suggested you had relations...
PARKER: Oh, yes. Pretty near every Mason that I ever knew here in Swartz Creek and out on the farms were all Klan. Boy, first thing you know one barn would go up and fire in another one and another one and another one. Who set ‘em I don’t know.
WEST: What were they protesting?
PARKER: I had an uncle that lost a big barn up here. And they say it was Klan activity. Now what they would do. They had what they called a “little red schoolhouse.” The Klan.
WEST: Oh, the Klan did.
PARKER: Oh, yes. They were getting into the public school system. I don’t know why. I wished I’d been old enough at that time to know at that time. See, this was back in ’27, ’28, when they was active.
WEST: But they had a membership out here in Swartz Creek then.
PARKER: Oh, yeah. Big membership in Genesee County. My God, a big membership.
WEST: And they were anti-labor, were they?
PARKER: Anti-labor. Even Republican, they were nothin’ any more than anti-labor than the Republican Party.
E. PARKER: Your Masons was the biggest anti-labor group there was.
WEST: The Masons were anti-labor, were they?
PARKER: Oh, yeah. In fact, they was the ones that fought the IWW before our time, see.
WEST: Well, the Wobblies at all organized in this area?
WEST: The Wobblies. IWW they were.
PARKER: I don’t know. That thing started right down in where Bud Simons come from in Indiana. This is where this thing sprung up. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio. And I don’t know too much about it. And I’ve heard a lot about it. I know one old guy here that came from the South, Nate Crites. He was a hammer man over there to the Buick, that is, they used to hammer out crankshaft, front axles, red-hot metal, stamp. Ron Hess. And they both big Masons, you know. And they was anti-labor.
WEST: Was this during the strike?
PARKER: Oh, yeah. Piecework, see. All piecework. This is where these factories. Piecework.
E. PARKER: Well, I think everybody was. The farmers were anti-labor at that time. Nobody was for it.
PARKER: Oh, you better believe it. Fact I was laid off one time, and a man come to my door to [inaudible]. Big farm right out here.
WEST: When was this?
PARKER: Oh, this was back... It’d be ’33, ’34, all through there. ’35. I would be laid off for long periods. And it was on the farm out there, and he says, “Ralph, I want you to come out and shock oats for me.” He says, “All I can pay you is a dollar a day.” Well, I said, “Good God, Reuben, I can go on welfare and come out a dollar ahead.” I had an old Model A Ford Roadster. “Drive out there,” he says. “I can’t feed you. I can’t give you no dinner.” And, you know, them people couldn’t spend the interest on their money, and they would pay ‘em four cents a dollar on saving. But they couldn’t pay...
WEST: How did he expect to get people to work for that?
PARKER: Them type of people would let their stuff set and rot in the field.
E. PARKER: But there are some people that have to do it.
WEST: There was a group known, during the strike, as the Flint Alliance. George Boysen was the head of that back-to-work movement.
PARKER: Oh, Boysen. Yeah, I didn’t know much about them, but I knew their activity. They was a group that General Motors hired. They was stoolies. See, this is what they were. And people were hard up, you know, if they didn’t want to go union, he would buy ‘em shoes. He buyed ‘em groceries. Yeah, this is right. Boysen.
WEST: Did you have a group, then? Or did you have a telephone out here at the time?
PARKER: No, no. I didn’t have any telephone.
WEST: Or radio?
E. PARKER: We had a little radio.
WEST: I’m wondering how you got news of what went on.
PARKER: Well, radio.
E. PARKER: We had a radio.
PARKER: Now this is somethin’ I want to tell you. In 1936, Christmastime, this is the first time that General Motors ever give anybody anything. And they give us a $25 bonus. I bought a radio off of Gene Ireland, lived right over across here. That’s what he was, a radio man. For $29 and something. A Philco radio.
E. PARKER: He knew the strike was comin’, see.
PARKER: This is something else I want to tell you, too. Now, we would be goin’ down on production, now, see, maybe in twenty minutes they’d shut that line off. See, that was it. They’d run it as far as they wanted it. The sales was down, you know. And they’d stop the line right there. “Well, what’s the matter?” “A fire over to the Buick.” “A fire over to the Buick.” Well, after the guys got out, talked to the guys over there, there’s no fire over there. And this is where we got the four-hour call. We kept a-workin’ on the thing. We got two hours first. Then we got four hours. I don’t know what it is today down there, maybe eight. I don’t know. Four hour. We didn’t see nobody go home after we got the four-hour call in made. You’d stay there even if they give you a broom to help clean up the floor. “We’re payin’ you. You’re finishing... We want you to pay for the paintbrush and paint.”
WEST: Now, you had a radio then, so you tell about what was going on. There were a couple of very exciting events that took place. One was at Fisher 2, where they had the so-called “Battle of Bull’s Run.” Tipped the cars and that over. Did you go down?
PARKER: No, I stayed away from there. See, I kept my nose out of there, ‘cause I knew we was gonna get burned. But, I’ll tell you, another guy that should have been given a monument for helpin’ us. And that was the governor over here, Murphy, Frank Murphy. Everybody thought----even General Motors thought, and all the big businesspeople thought----boy, they’ll clean them rats out of there quick. Go in there, first thing you know, they was minglin’ right with the strikers. He wouldn’t send in here to shoot anybody. He was sent in here to keep somebody from breakin’ in on you and cleanin’ you out of here. They told him this. And then Wolcott, he got his nose stuck into it.
E. PARKER: Well, he got educated on it.
PARKER: He had to do his duty, you know, somebody servin’ pressure on him, served papers on him.
WEST: How come Murphy didn’t get supported again when he ran for election in ’38?
PARKER: Well, that’s a very good question. I wished I could answer that. I don’t.... Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Congress gave us the right to organize and the right to strike. And even then after that, it took same people, some of ‘em, took and throw dirt in his face for doin’ it. This is why we got our break here.
WEST: I was wondering. It is curious to me that most everyone I’ve talked to suggest that Murphy was very friendly toward labor and that in ’38, he loses support.
PARKER: Well, you had a lot of people anti-labor. See, your Republican Party was strong. Actually, you know, labor never got strong----or, I mean, the Democratic Party----never got strong here until, oh, you might say, ’32 and on. They would buy anything after ’32. If Communism could have been organized as well as it is today, in 1930 they would have took this country over, lock, stock, and barrel. Yes, sir, you better believe it.
WEST: One other incident that took place was the seizure of Plant 4. That was about February 1st, when the women went outside and hammered out the windows at Plant 9 to create a diversion.
PARKER: What happened there, you know, was that faced Kearsley Street. It faced the South on Kearsley Street. They had throwed a bunch of teargas in there to get them guys out of that old Plant 9. Plant 4 was down in the hole. Plant 5 was over here. And just across the creek, Fisher 2, and it had an overhead conveyor that went acrost there. And they was people up on there, they tell me, that had hinges (door hinges used to come in barrels and kegs) for ammunition. I guess they was a few shot in the leg. But I couldn’t tell you much about that, ‘cause I never went near it. I kept out of there.
E. PARKER: Paul could have told you that, probably.
PARKER: But, like I say there----we ought to shut it off.
WEST: Now it interests me, this model change, because the strike occurs a little while after the model change. I just wondered if that had anything to do with the strike itself and the changeover from the wood bodies to the metal, which would have made a change, too.
PARKER: Now, after we was recognized as a bargaining unit, see, in ’37, they went from the piecework to day rate. This is when day rate took ahold. Now, the new pressroom, them guys wouldn’t buy in day rate. It was all foreign, see. They wanted that piecework. I worked with guys in ’34, yeah, ’34, on the old mobile there. We was allowed $1.01 or $1.05 an hour, anyway, for seven and a half hours in three shifts. I was allowed $7.48 to turn in. We had ‘em right there in that department that was turnin’ in ten dollars and a half for that same night. And what they would do they would hold us back. Even the foreman held his money back, so it didn’t show up. And we had ‘em before that. Like when I pulled these tickets, you know, these guys would steal the tickets. Even the company was stealin’ tickets. They took them tickets at the end of the bottle and turn them in and get every penny of it, every penny of it. We never knew who got it, whether it was the guy who was workin’ with us got ‘em or GM sold ‘em theirselves. Just go around here, so I don’t finish that job. You finish that job first before you tool that ticket, mister, ‘cause you could leave him holdin’ the bag.
WEST: Well this has been very interesting. Is there anyone else that you could suggest we could talk to? You’ve mentioned quite a number of names. I wonder about people who are still alive.
PARKER: A lot of our boys has died. Bud Simons I know is alive, ‘cause I just wrote him a letter here not too long ago. He would be one of ‘em. Claude Severn is dead. Oh, yeah, I want to tell you about the Johnny Tadrick. Johnny Tadrick, a guy that helped break me in finishin’, worked in the repair hole in the North Unit. This would have been, oh, about ’37, ’38, after the strike, ‘cause he was chief steward, see. And he was buffing with the buffing motor (that’s a rag wheel, like that, 220-volt motor, high-speed 180-cycle, 220 volt, just like a 440), and this motor shorted. Killed him right there. Electric current did it. I wasn’t workin’ there that night overtime, but I was just a regular finisher, see. But my brother-in-law (he’s dead now), Harlow Nimphie, and there was several others there, he said it was like that and he was gone. Took him down there. And I doubt very much if they ever told his wife what actually happened. I knew his two brother-in-laws, Andy and Mike Gills----they were both inspectors----and they said it was murder, but they couldn’t get these guys that worked in the hole to open their mouth and say anything.
WEST: When was that?
PARKER: I would say, probably... It had to have been somewhere along ’38, ’39, along in there somewheres.
WEST: So it wasn’t long after the strike. Hmm. Think it may have had something....?
PARKER: It could have been earlier that that. Now I might be mixed up.
WEST: Well, I talked to, I think it’s, Larry Tadrick.
PARKER: Well, Larry Tadrick...Who is the man that’s got the tax outfit?
E. PARKER: Thats....
PARKER: Is that one of their kids?
WEST: One of the brothers.
PARKER: L.J. Now that would be Larry or Lawrence. He was a torch solder man. He worked right here torch solderin’ the job. I’d be in the grinding booth here, grinding the lead off.
WEST: So the Tadricks, we’ve talked to one of them. Are there others?
PARKER: Well, the other one’s dead. He committed suicide, Joe. I worked with Joe durin’ the war. I had run through the government school down here. General Motors paid for my training, armor-plate welder, hard welder. A lot of us went through that school. And I come back. I went to work down to Briggs for a while, ‘til General Motors got ready and called us back. And they said, “You can’t transfer here.” We liked it down there, ‘cause them foremans was organized. They was union, see. And they told us, “Now, you guys won’t have to pay a dime for initiation into our union,” ‘cause, he says, “You already belong,” see. But he said, “Within thirty days after Fisher Body calls you, or General Motors, you got to go. We can’t hold you. They paid for your training.” So we stayed there ‘til they called us. And we come back, and there would be lots of times in Fisher 1 when they didn’t have armor plate in there. They were holed up for something. And they had me...I was weldin’ with this Joe Tadrick, Larry’s brother, if that’s Larry’s brother, and he was a jig-and-fixture welder. He’d been there a long time, but he had never went to a government school to learn armor-plate welding, see, or chrome steel, chrome and nickel.
[end of tape 2]
INTERVIEW NO. 2
DATE: May 9, 1980
INTERVIEWEE: Ralph Parker
INTERVIEWER: Kenneth West
PARKER: This is back in 1930. They had a labor trouble there. And what was happening they were misusin’ the men, see. Bang! They took advantage of it, ‘cause they had thousands and thousands of unemployed people. And what they would do, the demand for automobiles was pretty nothing, see, and they would take and run these jobs down the line, maybe for three or four hours. They’d go over there and shut that line off. And they’d tell those fellows, “Go ring your timecard out. Bring your tools down here.” And you worked them jobs all back. And they done it for free. Now, there might have been a hitch there. I don’t know. But what happened, they had paid these people for the job. So they pulled the tickets with all the piecework, and you pulled your ticket according to the operation. Even with me, there, I got burned, oh, several times there. But they wouldn’t let you pull that ticket first and then do the job. You had to do the job first and then go around and get the ticket. If that ticket was gone, just tough.
WEST: And people might steal tickets, too?
PARKER: Oh, “might.” They always did. And what they would do. They would hold these tickets up. And just about the last week of that model, they would take these tickets and turn ‘em in to the foreman. And they paid him for ‘em. They didn’t [inaudible] of it. And this is where they would start it with the next model. And they knew just how much to cut this thing, see. And this went on for years. I worked there three shifts in ’34 on the Oldsmobile stuff, all piecework, and we was allowed, for seven hours and a half, $7.48. Now we had people in there that was turnin’ in ten and eleven dollars. And I didn’t stay over there long enough to see whether the jobs was cut. We had that strike, see. That’s when they fired me right over to the old wood mill. Cut that off, would you?
PARKER: When they’d start out a new model, see, they would never start it out with your old rate. You always went back in there with what they called the “day rate,” 60 cents an hour. I don’t care if you’d been a finisher for ten years. It was still back there at 60 cents an hour, ‘til they got ready to set up a piecework price. They just milked these guys for every penny they [inaudible] to see where they would set it. And this is [inaudible]. And then payday was bad. I’d wind up, say from here to that house across the street, and that’d be in the body shop department, according to your badge number. And this was at noon. This was at your regular half-hour lunch break, see. This is how you got your check. You had a check stub that come off the top of the timecard in them days, and you had your name signed to it and the badge number, and you lined up according to your numbers, see. And this was all through the thirty-minute lunch break. And we’ll go on a little later along with this subject here. A little later, they used to pay us off in the morning, see.
WEST: Is this after the strike?
PARKER: It would have been before the strike. You mean the ’34...?
WEST: Well, the ’37.
PARKER: Well, yeah, this happened before ’37. Now, durin’ payday, they used to pay off in the morning, say at nine o’clock. And what would happen, they’d pay off at nine o’clock, and a lot of these guys, they misused it. They’d been bad. They’d have their wives call in that same day, see. The kid got hit with a car or something, and he was in the hospital. Anything, see, to send him home. So they took the guy home, and he always had his paycheck, see. They would have cars right out there across the street----they watched ‘em----across in the back alleys, already loaded to go north. And people, they knew a lot of the good things we had there. And so after a while they didn’t pay off ‘til after lunch. And this absentee business, the same guy, week after week, would do the same thing. If we happened to be on a six-day schedule, he wouldn’t be there on Monday. He’d take Saturday and Sunday and Monday off, see. And they’d come in with an excuse of any kind, and he’d kept gettin’ worse and worse and worse. Well, what happened to me. In 1947, I helped my uncle farm. He furnished everything and give me a third. I had thirty acres of beans in, and I went to my foreman and asked him. I says, “Now (this is just about Labor Day, see; you’d have a day off there anyway) I got to have some time off here to harvest them beans.” “Well, I can’t give it to you. Let’s give you to the general foreman, then.” Well, I got Al Less, the general foreman: “No, I can’t give you any time off.” And I stopped right there and I took the time off anyway. And on the fourth day, Labor Relations people come out here and drove right here in the yard. I was over there workin’ the beans. Then they come to the door and wanted to know where Ralph was. Ma says, “He’s gone to the doctor’s.” “Well, when will he come back?” “I don’t know.” And she said they set there for about a half an hour, right here in the driveway, and they left. And she told me when I come home late that night, around eight o’clock. And, boy, I was hot, mad. So the next day, when I went into the factory, I got a hold of a man by the name of Hughie McCombs. He was superintendent of the body shop, and told him what my deal was. And what we had to do, he said, “Ralph, if you’d had come to me,” he says, “I could have give you seven days off.” And then he said, “If you hadn’t had finished up then, you would have had three more days on your own to report in there, and you still would have been safe.” I says, “I didn’t know that, Mac, or I would have come to you.” And I says, “Who can I see about this?” He says, “See Norm Krecke.” I knew Norm. He was third man, production manager of the whole thing. And I told him what happened, and, man, he was mad. He called this general foreman in, this Al Less, and he was in there probably for a half hour in the front office, and when he come out, that guy was just as white as a sheet. Now I don’t know whether he was white ‘cause he was mad or married. They had really put a scare into him. And I didn’t get along too good with him after that. And I told him how I felt, ‘cause I said, “Al,” I says, “these Polocks make pretty good tools to work with, don’t you?” He never answered. Well, this is what happened. Now these people had to use this sick and accident benefit for years. Now, this isn’t anything new. If you was into the right church and the right group of people, you could get an absent any time you wanted, and it was okay. I couldn’t. I was in the wrong side of the church. And I’ll show you something...
WEST: But that was true in the period, then, before the strike, too.
PARKER: Oh, this is what built up this whole thing in ’37. And one time he says to me, he says (this is on war work, this is after ’37; I was weldin’, armor-plate weldin’), and went out there in the pressroom where it was, and war tanks, and they put me on a job, a bulkhead assembly, with two pieces. One piece weighed 110 pounds; the other piece weighed 70; 180 pounds altogether. And what had happened, I was a weak mind and a strong back. They was two guys, one of them by the name of Cassidy, that turned in a suggestion that they eliminated the overhead crane, the big crane, to pick this stuff up out of the fixture, see. And they got a thousand dollars for it. So when they stuck me on the job, I cut the job right in half in two, with nine pair a day. And, man, they was ready to shoot me right against the wall, see. So Orion Shaw, he was superintendent, and [inaudible], bang, they’re in trouble. I ain’t in a bit a trouble. I says, “Let’s go to the Labor Relations.” I wanted to go there and tell ‘em what had took place, but they wouldn’t let me do it. And they put me over in another bay on another job. And they just give me another job to make me shut up, but they held that against me. Now, right after the war, I turned in two applications they had on their bulletin board. They were looking for skilled help, see. Jig-and-fixture welders, tool-and-die welders. And I’d done a lot of it durin’ the war for ‘em. They wouldn’t let me accumulate in a job, if it was a different group of people, see. But I had plenty of time in there. But what they done with me, they give me within ten cents of the top rate----they went from $1.29 an hour, armor-plate welding, to $1.55, tool-and-die work, jig-and-fixture work. And they passed the buck and passed the buck. And one day I got mad about it. I put in two applications. I hadn’t heard a thing from ‘em. And I said to Ezra Gearhart (he was foreman), I said, “Ezra, go in the front office and find out what’s the matter. They don’t recognize me.” He come back out, and he says, “You want to know?” And I says, “Yes.” “What did I have to go in there for?” He said, “You cut a job right half in two.” “Oh,” I says, “they’re holdin’ that against me?” And I told him what happened. They wouldn’t take me to the Labor Relations. I wanted to go and tell ‘em what had happened, but they wouldn’t take me. And this is one thing in your suggestion plan. This is what has eliminated an awful lot of people. Some of these people I know today that had turned in those suggestions are out here walking the street.
WEST: Eliminated jobs.
PARKER: And, like I say, Marvin Black was one of ‘em. And there was just factions between the two, AFL and CIO, and I told you why we went to CIO, the Congress of Industrial Unions. The AFL was a closed shop. If you hired in in Fisher Body, and this thing would have been a trade union, like metal finishers, painters, this went into the skilled-trades group. You would have hired through the union, not the factory. You would have got a lot more money, but you’d been out of a job years and years sooner, ‘cause I’ll tell you why. I’ve seen this in the skilled-trades group. And this has been since the 1937 strike. They had welders, maintenance welders. They had maintenance people as painters. They had electricians. They had millwrights. And what happened...
WEST: And these people were members of AFL unions, maybe, or just...?
PARKER: Well, let’s say they just leaned toward... No, they still had to recognize the CIO, but the CIO did not recognize journeymen. It was not a skilled-trades union, by no means. In fact, we had people right after the war that had done skilled work in jig-and-fixture and tool and die, and they had a CIO card, and when they left Fisher 1 and Grand Blanc both and went to Detroit, they would not recognize them as journeymen, by no means. And yet they’d have twenty years’ service in. Not trade unions. That’s the way they had them. But these guys here, they had cut their own throats. They went in there, and they’d get a lot of Saturday and Sunday work. Well, the first thing you know they’d misused it so bad that GM started gettin’ outside contractors, Fosters, Utley----God only knows----Industrial Ironworkers come in here and do this changeover goin’ ... weekends, see. And they got to scrappin’ back and forth bad. And the first thing you know, whenever these guys started to retire, they never replaced ‘em. That was it. Just cut down. When I was there at the last, in 1967, you might have a maintenance welder. You might have an electrician. You could have anything from the skilled trades group. “Get back in there and get that line a-goin’!” There he was, a man that never had any grievance experiences, a line worker, or anything else, see. “Get that line a-goin’!” And they ruined it theirselves. I worked in what they call the “ding man” up there, and that’s vinyl repair. That’s where you bump out a job, just small, without breaking paint. And those guys up there, they was hollerin’ AFL, skilled trades. I said, “No.” I says, “You’ll cut your own throat.” I said, “Remember what happened under the Chevrolet?” They used to have these bodies all done on wheels and everything. They’d take ‘em out into the transport line where they was shippin’ ‘em, and they’d get fender-jammed or somethin’. They got an outside guy out of the prison shop to do that work. Stopped that. And, oh, there was a lot of things. And, like I’m tellin’ you about this absenteeism. They’d write it theirselves. That is, one guy could get it; the next guy couldn’t. Just like me, I was on the... And they misused it a lot. Just shook it off.
WEST: And you went into wood mill, then.
PARKER: This is what happened. This would have been probably ’35. And there was a man there by the name of Charlie Roberson. He come from the Buick. He was a machine operator, see. And he run the machine right next to... or Joe Dufour was the operator and that was the helper. And they was slackin’ off, see. And the man I worked for his name was Bill Hawkins, the foreman. He come along to give this guy his layoff slip. So when he come in there by me, and I says, “Where’s mine?” And he was ... Well, I says, “How come you lay off the operator and keep the helper?” He says, “What the hell do you care?” He says, “You got a job, ain’t you?” That’s just the exact words that man said. Well, I shut up right there. And they did it. It got lower and lower. I went to the back end and worked in what they called the “rough model”----cut-off saw, whip sawyers. And, mister, you better believe it. But this is what they done in those days. When you got old and you couldn’t cut the mustard, right out the door. I want to tell you somethin’ right now, while I think of it. This actually happened to me and probably hundreds of others. When they’d have a slack time and you wouldn’t be workin’, they would send you a postcard out here, just like... They would call you back for a recall, see, or interview, and it would say on it report on a certain day for a physical exam. And this was on a Saturday. I went down there and I was there probably three to four hours. It was an awful bunch of people there, see. Wait for my turn to go through. Go through the employment office and on into the doctor’s office. And I got in there to the doctor’s office, and he says, “What are you in here for?” “Well,” I says, “I just turned the card over there to the employment office there for a physical.” He says, “I examined you less than three months ago. They ain’t nothin’ wrong with you.” “I don’t know about it,” I says, “They told me to come in here, or I wouldn’t be here.” And it was always on a Saturday. And if you worked a short work week, they could pay you on a Thursday, but they wouldn’t. They would hold this ‘til Friday noon or Friday afternoon, and at a certain place and clock so numbered, pick a paycheck. And lots of people would have the chance, you know, and two dollars extra, they’d let you go north. And then they’d let you go visit your folks or something. But, no, they couldn’t pay ‘em off then. Wait ‘til the last second. Don’t give ‘em a chance to get out of town. This was just [inaudible]. That paycheck, the time was picked up on a Monday, those checks are made out on a Wednesday, and they come from Detroit. They are there Thursday. But, no, we can’t pay on Thursday. Even when you ain’t workin’, see. They’ll clean Friday. And they would set it ..., eleven o’clock or one o’clock.
WEST: To make it all the more difficult for them to get away.
PARKER: Always agitation there.
WEST: Why would they call you in for a physical, then, after you had had one just two months or so before?
PARKER: I say they would take a lot of these guys, and maybe they didn’t catch right on the job, and maybe he’d have a hernia or something, or maybe something would be wrong with his eyes. Maybe something wrong with his teeth. Go get ‘em fixed. Yeah, you got to get that done in order to come back here and get through back in again, see. We didn’t have Blue Cross or Blue Shield then. All we had was Metropolitan Life, and it paid very little for sick and accident benefits, very little.
WEST: You mentioned the effect on older people. You know, old people had a difficult time making it. Were some of the fellows you worked with up in the sixties or... What was the cut-off time for most of these...?
PARKER: Not necessarily. This is before they recognized seniority. Now they never recognized seniority until after 1937. They could take a man and do anything they wanted with him. There wasn’t a thing they could do about it.
WEST: Did they often lay off old guys, then, that couldn’t keep up?
PARKER: Oh, yeah. Always after the old guy or the guy that talked back. Get new young ones. Just like I say, they would, they was bold about it. If you had anything comin’----I’ve seen lots of guys just do the same----pull a man right outside the line and just chew his back end right out of him and then take him right there to the Saginaw Street right out there. “This guy will take your job.” And they never done anything calm over there and talked to him quiet or personal. Make a scene out of it. It was just for... Well, that was to scare the other guys into it, see.
WEST: Now you mentioned in the wood mill that they laid this operator off, but they didn’t lay you off. Did they bring another operator on, then, or did you just do his job?
PARKER: Well, I really don’t know, ‘cause I went from there on back into the rough mill, see. I was young, strong, handle lumber. I really don’t know. But I do know this to be a fact. That old fellow there, at least he was, I would say all of sixty years old at that time. Maybe older, I don’t know. I knew the guy well. But that man wouldn’t have no more of a chance than a man in the moon to go back there and handle that mother. Some of this stuff was what they called eight-footers. Two inches thick. Oak, maple. You just didn’t take it up and leave it. “Take it up by the armful.” Slivers up here. So many of those band sawyers... I knew one guy in particular, Elwood Sage, his brother lived right up here. He was in the shop before I was. And he run a band saw, and this stuff, it’s just like flour, you know. They would cut out pieces, you know, that fit somewhere. He died. They said he died with tuberculosis. But his brother told me (Dick), his brother told me when they opened him up the heck to see what he did die from, his lung was black. And I think if we’d had good medical examiners like we got today, you could fill it full of wood dust. Better rest it.
PARKER: This goon squad would be...
WEST: This is in the battle between the AFL and CIO, then, after the strike.
PARKER: AFL-CIO. And they usually hung out around taverns, you know, beer gardens. There would be this other bloc of guys that come in there. They usually wind up with a good riot. Pound one another’s heads. I’ve seen guys walk out of Fisher Body in 1939, when we had the split, would take three sticks of solder, 30-70 solder, and that’s soft lead, twist that just like a rope. You got hit in the head, you get hooked real nice. This old man was smart. He got hurt in ’34, and he didn’t tangle with this stuff. This ain’t my fight. And I kept my nose clean.
WEST: Oh, you did get hit, then, did you?
PARKER: I didn’t get hit on the head. I got my hind end run right down Saginaw Street clear to Builder Door and Tower in 1934, with the billy clubs after us, mounted police.
WEST: Oh, that was in the ’34 strike. Now it interests me in that ’34 strike that the newspapers said that before the men went out, there were some people in certain departments that sat down on the job. They were oil sanders, wet sanders, and Duco sprayers. And it’s interesting. They claimed that they weren’t paid enough on piecework and that what they did was to work very fast and very poorly and that the work they did didn’t pass inspection, so the inspectors came around and said, “If you don’t shape up, we’ll kick you out.” And so then they slowed down. And finally they stopped work entirely. And the bosses then came around and told them to get home and to come back when they were notified. Does that sound...?
PARKER: Yeah, that sounds logical, ‘cause I’ll tell you why. When you mentioned this inspection, this is where I got crap. The guy that was the inspector there on roof panels, for the Oldsmobiles, and I took my badge number on there to get paid, see, for that panel. He didn’t like it, why, he’d just stack it back over next to your bench, and “Don’t finish no more ‘til you finish this one.” And he was one of the stool pigeons. And they evidently used this all through the plants, but I didn’t have anything to do with the oil sanders, wet sanders, or Duco men or anything, ‘cause I didn’t even know any of ‘em.
WEST: Right. Right. Can you tell me, though, what was the difference between the---I know something about Duco spraying and I’ve met some people who were oil sanders and that was apparently terrible work----
PARKER: All hand work, too.
WEST: What were wet sanders, then? How did differ from...?
PARKER: Well, wet sander was water sand. You would take the job after the... I’ll give you a little better explain. Now, back years ago, it would take up what they call a body and what this was all steel, all finished, and they run this through a bonderite. And that neutralized all the acid, rubber dough, and all this stuff, see. And, after that, it went through a drying oven, and then all of this water was blowed off in the wet spots. And then they had a ground coat. And this ground coat looked just like you would take a little string just about the size of a hair, and you would spray down the spot. And this is what they called the “ground coat.” This was the adhesive.
WEST: This is put on the bare metal, then.
PARKER: On the bare metal, yeah. Then, next come the DX primer. This is the red primer. Now that red primer went through the drying ovens. And they had wet sanders. Any blemishes or anything like that, you know, get what they call overspray, too much paint on it or something like that, you know, rough and sag. They would sand this out just like this here.
WEST: This is on that primer. They do this on that primer.
PARKER: They’d have a piece of real fine emery, probably 600, and this is how they done it. See? Like this here. You can feel it right here. And then after it went through that wet sand, then it went to the oil sand. This is something probably a little finer yet. I don’t know. I’m not too much familiar with that. And then your coat of paint went on it. And just to give you an example of how hot these ovens were, if a body in the line broke down, and you happened to have a body in the [inaudible], that solder on them solder joints would sag down to like butter. That’s how hot they are. I didn’t know what the temperature was, but...
WEST: You’d have to normally keep ‘em in there for a certain period of time and then they’d...
PARKER: No, no, it’s movin’ all the time.
WEST: It’s movin’ all the time. But it moved from the paint, the Duco sprayers, then, into the oven.
PARKER: Right into the oven.
WEST: And then it would come out. Was that a dangerous phase, the oven? Could any men get trapped in the oven?
PARKER: Oh, no. No way they would get in there. If a man was in there, he had no business bein’ in there.
WEST: Right. Well, that’s good, because I had wondered about that process.
PARKER: What had happened, see, even when I got lead poisoning in 1950, they had changed this grind booth, see, and run water down the side of me. Well, it stopped of lot of it, see. But before that, my God, you go in there in the grinding booth and there’d be that much ground lead right on the floor.
WEST: Now the grinding booths. Where did that come into the process?
PARKER: Well, this would be back in what they called the “body in white.”
WEST: I see. This is before then it’s...
[end of side 1]
PARKER: Well, we’ll start back with the welders, gas welders. This is the operation before. Now, after the gas welders got all through welding and whatever it needed, and this job would go into the scratch, what they call the “scratch” booth. This was a booth where they used hard stone and wire brushes. They cleaned up the area to be torch soldered with wire brushes, see. They took all that black burn off and everything. Then your next operation came, would be the tinners. These guys would have a torch and they’d pass it back and forth over one of those solder seams and get the metal hot. Then they’d take this acid brush with a sweep across there, and it turned that metal bright white, see. It took all the impurities off.
WEST: That why they called it “body in white” then?
PARKER: This would only be a strickle where it was gas-welded together, that is, weldin’ your roof to your quarter panels, door hangers, and all of this stuff, windows, and all of this that had joints. Now, after the torch solder man would tin this, the tinners that did this, then it went to this torch solderer, and one of these guys was Bud Simons, that I know. And before that was Larry Tadrick. And these guys were torch solder men. Now, after the torch solder men had it and feathered it all down with a paddle. Sometimes they would use a felt pad. They passed this heat back and forth on this, see, until your solder was just like butter. You’d pull it and make a line down across it, and this would cover your solder, see. That was your solder, see. Well, then they went into the grinding booth, and they were rough ground and take off seam solder. And after it left the grinding booth, the lead booth, then it went to the finishers. When it was all finished, it went from there on up through to what they called the bonderite, which neutralized the whole thing. And then from the bonderite it went back through there and got the ground coat on. And then from the ground coat to the primer. And then from the primer to your finish paint. And this stuff was all done before any hardware is on, see. Your doors are there, but no handles, or no windshield, or anything like that.
WEST: No, but all the parts would have to be soldered and welded together would be there. But you mentioned the grinding room and the lead that was there. That was a bad place to work.
PARKER: Yeah. Now I’m gonna start, say, back anywhere from 1934 on, up to about, oh, 1939, we had a short grinding wheel, just covered below your chin. And you could look right out here and see the lead goin’ down, see. Right down on the ground. And right down on the floor. And you take that hood off and, man, it was just plastered with that fine dust. And this is where people...
WEST: Inside the...?
PARKER: Inside the hood. They weren’t gonna keep it out. All that air was doin’ was just churnin’ it up more.
WEST: But you did have ventilation then. You had fans, did you, to...?
PARKER: Not in there. No fans in there. No. In fact, those booths at that time were all open. They wasn’t anymore than just like a bullpen. They had sides that come up here, was about six foot at the most, both ends of it open where the bodies went in and went out. In later years, they put water down through the sides and water runnin’ underneath it. And this stopped a lot of it, but not all.
WEST: And that was where people could get lead poisoning, then.
PARKER: Oh, yeah. Now, in this lead poisoning, you could work in lead safe for years. I did. I finished lead or finished all of it. And you might, say you would have ten hundredths in your blood, or eight hundredths in your blood, and this would stay metal for years. And all of a sudden, this would take off. Mine went to 86 hundredths. Then they pulled me out. And they take in there and give you blood tests, see, and then they’ll take and cut the end of your finger like that with a little knife. And they set an outfit on there. It looks just like thermometers to take your temperature with. They let so much blood run up through there. Then it said on the outside (I don’t know where it goes). When that comes back, they’ll say, “There’s something wrong. Pull this man out of here quick. Something has gone wrong.” In mine, it was too late. I’d already had it. And they tell me once it gets into your bloodstream it doesn’t come out. And it doesn’t always affect you then. It’s when you get older. Now this may be some of my problems right here right now. If they kept me off lead for three years, I finished bare metal. I couldn’t go near lead. And then when that job was eliminated, then you know what they told me? That you can go in that scratch booth and pound that wire brush with that hard stone grindin’ that brass off and them wells, or you can go back finishin’. I says, “I got to get that all finished.” Right back on lead again. Just as nothin’ ever happened. They didn’t have too much respect for me anyways. I [inaudible] them guys hotheaded, and I would talk back to ‘em. But I got hurt once there, and I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. Maybe it’s a good thing, or it done a lot of hurt. I don’t know.
PARKER: Right after the war, the foremans tried to organize and wanted a union. They seen what we got. They was after a union. And some of them old foremans, like this Charlie Benedict, Clarence Hanifan, Walt Soderlund, God knows how many... And one of ‘em I might have to kind of back off on this right here, the guy that was the head of that was a guy by the name of Fred Pelletier, and he was superintendent. Belonged to the union. Now I don’t know whether you can put this out in the open or not, but they showed me their cards. They had little cards, see, with some association that represented ‘em. And then legislature passed this law that they couldn’t belong to a union. And after that happened...
WEST: Would that union have been associated with the UAW, then?
WEST: It wouldn’t have been a UAW local.
PARKER: No. It would have been a different type. Now if you knew what those Chrysler supervisors belonged to, it probably was that same union. Now I don’t know for sure.
WEST: Chrysler, in other words, was organized more than you were here.
PARKER: See, we went down there durin’ the war. We was runnin’ armor-plate welding in Flint, and General Motors paid for our training and so did the government. And we was tied up with General Motors. We went down there after we went through school and run our test pins. And I worked for the Chrysler people, and they told us down there, and he said, well, now, these fellows belonged to the union. He says you wouldn’t have to join. All you got to do is transfer down there and it won’t cost you anything. But, he says, we can’t hold you over thirty days. When General Motors calls you, he says you’ve got thirty days to go back and protect your seniority, or you’re out of luck. He said, “We ain’t got a way of holdin’ you, no way, ‘cause,” he said, “GM paid for some of your training and the government paid for it. This is the way this manpower was set up.” And our foreman down there or not. But those foremen would come right out and talk to you. They didn’t worry to talk to and who they couldn’t. And they told us. They said if it hadn’t been for us guys, they would have got nothin’. And this is how they used to pay those guys off. Everyone of ‘em was paid off in them individual envelopes. One guy couldn’t see what the other one had. And I’ll tell you why that was. When that man would go in there at the start of a model, this was the improvement factor. If he had twenty men on to start, and somewhere along the lines, if somebody’s bone-headed suggestion or whatever, he could do away with two men. His salary was based on that. His progress was based on that. This was your improvement factor. That’s why these guys was all paid off separate. Well, it kept ‘em spread apart, see. You couldn’t...There was a few of the old-timers used to go in with the check pool [inaudible], very few of ‘em.
PARKER: I’ll give you anything that if Bud Simons was up here----I wrote him a letter; I haven’t heard back from him yet; he may be up here, and if he does, I’ll get a hold of you. That’s the man.
WEST: We’ve talked to Bud Simon, but I don’t know if we got this. You mentioned about Bud Simons and the supervisor in the North Unit, was it? Can you tell that story?
PARKER: Yeah. Scotty MacDonald. This was the first man that I worked for, when I went into Fisher Body in 1931. He was a foreman. And you couldn’t understand a word the man said.
WEST: He was a Scotsman.
PARKER: Is it runnin’ here?
PARKER: Okay. Now, after years later, see, why, durin’ the strike, or right after the strike, rather, this Scotty MacDonald come out there, throwin’ his weight, and Bud Simons was talkin’ to the committee-at-large, see, probably head committeeman. And they had backed this guy up. I’ll give one of them big, spent columns in there. And I mean they were really gonna work on him. And Bud says, “No, we got enough black eyes as it is.” He says, “Don’t do anything to hurt him, ‘cause,” he says, “boy, we’re behind the eight ball here now.” He says, “We’re havin’ an awful time tryin’ to get these guys leveled off,” see, men, ‘cause they was backin’ over.
WEST: ‘Cause you had wildcat strikes, and...?
PARKER: Oh, yeah, see. Man, all they had to do was one for all and all for one, and that was just the way it was. And I want to tell you a little bit about this strike here. Back when we had the steward system, it didn’t last long, but it was the best thing we ever had. It was when John L. Lewis was in there. And if you had trouble on the line----I don’t care if it was just one man or two or three men----they was writin’. Man, they’d go to that office, and they’d get something done about it, or----bang!----out she goes. This is when we all belonged to the 156 local. We paid a dollar union dues. Thirty-seven cents of it stayed right here in Flint. The rest of it went down to the international in Detroit. And then, after we got this political faction in there, you know, and split, General Motors says, “I ain’t gonna bargain with anybody.” And they didn’t. Not until we got the National Labor Relations Committee to set up the rules. But I’ll say one of the best things that I ever seen and probably a hundred other ones more, that when it was only fifteen out of 5200 people that didn’t want to use it, man, you couldn’t hold the men after that. You knew when you was talkin’ to that guy. If he was a stoolpigeon, you couldn’t do nothin’ about it anyway.
WEST: You mentioned the steward system, and it didn’t last long. Why did it, when did it phase out? It phased out into the committee system.
PARKER: It phased out, phased out when Homer Martin stuck his nose in it. Now who Homer Martin was battin’ for I don’t know to this day. ‘Cause that made three. They called John L. Lewis a Communist. R.J. Thomas was stuck in this deal somewhere along the line. Bill Genske and my brother Paul served for R.J. Thomas. Genske was an auditor. My brother was District Representative in the ..., Pontiac, Flint, Saginaw, Lansing. And I don’t know. It was just politics. If we would have kept our nose out of politics, we wouldn’t have this mess they got here today. I’ll guarantee you that. If they was enough of us that was thinkin’ socialized stuff, if I could have been paid for every job that I helped build----see, it was only five cents a job or ten cents a job or five cents a job. The years of service I put in there. I wouldn’t have needed Social Security. I wouldn’t have ... I’d have paid my own. And if I wasn’t there tomorrow, this absentee deal, I would be carryin’ a bunch of deadwood. What’s happened on this here, I had to do it once. I’ll explain it to you.
PARKER: One time we had two lines in the Center Unit. One line was the big sedan line; the other one was a smaller job, went to South Unit. And I was grinding lead at this time, so it’d be right around 1950. And our line wasn’t runnin’, see. So I said to this foreman, the same two guys, Joe Romanowski, the foreman, and Al Less was general foreman. I said, “You’ll need a grinder over there Saturday, on the other line.” He said, “No, we got all the people we want.” “Okay, I’m just askin’.” So, when I come in Monday mornin’, a guy by the name of Vern Hillier----he was the other relief man; I was a relief man at that time, too, a utility man. I relieved 26 men there, different operations. He told me. He says, “You know that you was to be in there grindin’ Saturday?” Oh, boy! I says, “Okay.” I went out and told this Joe Romanowski. I says “Give me the committeeman. I got a grievance here.” “So what’s the matter?” I says, “You told me you had all the men you need, and Al Less said the same thing. I want the committeeman to write you up, pink-slip you.” So he did. He wrote this up on a pink slip. And I should have been paid time and a half for that eight hours on that Saturday. And they kept stallin’ and stallin’ me. He says, “Well, it’s gone into the first step. It’s gone into the second step. It’s gone into the third step.” And I says, “Who are you tryin’ to kid?” I says, “You traded that for somethin’, didn’t you?” He wouldn’t admit it, but what they done, like this absentee that’s goin’ on today, they had a guy that tended bar over here at the corner bar. He had been off 64 days out of six months. And they was ready to fire him. They had enough on him to fire him. He didn’t have no proof comin’ in there, see. They caught him right over there at the bar. Probably guys went in there drinkin’, supervisors. And they took and they traded my time-and-a-half Saturday work, ‘cause that guy there to save his [inaudible].
WEST: In other words, they kept his job. They took care of that grievance, or that situation, but at your expense.
PARKER: This is why I say the old steward system was so far ahead of the other there there was nothin’ like it, ‘cause on a grievance procedure, and the farther this grievance gets away from the man and the odd job he’s callin’ the grievance on, the weaker it gets. Then it gets to a point where maybe there’s 25 or 30 of ‘em, playin’ here in the back, ‘cause there’s nothin’ done on it. And when they have their weekly meetings every Friday on that, they will take them and trade ‘em. Sometimes before a strike, when this comes up to a strike vote, they will have maybe three, four hundred grievances. There have been as high as five hundred unsolved grievances. That’s what brings the rank and file to a voting stage, see. They’re askin’ for somethin’.
WEST: I wonder if I could be quite certain how this trading system worked, this trading of grievances, and how that worked out.
PARKER: Well, I’ll give it to you a little better. Any time that they had a man where he was entitled to some overtime or a higher-rate job, he was out of work and out of position. They would take this and trade it for somebody that was just no good at all. He’d be off from absenteeism, absenteeism. Or maybe they had even caught this guy takin’ stuff out of the plant. They was people that took stuff out of the plant and never fired.
WEST: In other words, they’d trade certain upgrading just to keep people on the job, then, rather than....
PARKER: You scratch my back. I’ll scratch yours.
WEST: Because we’ve heard... I’ve talked to a couple of foremen who said that they thought that the strike was a good thing in the sense that it took some of the weight of their back, you know, having to deal with all these grievances and everything.
PARKER: Got any guts and backbone he’ll tell you the whole thing.
WEST: But he said another thing that he didn’t think was good was that it made it very difficult for him to get rid of some guys who just weren’t cuttin’ the mustard at all.
PARKER: Well, this is the whole trouble, see. The union is to blame for a lot of this. This is why I say General Motors uses them to bargain with. They [inaudible] right here if they’re havin’ so much trouble with their absenteeism. They’re goin’ to a doctor or a shyster and get an excuse slip to come in, and they can’t touch ‘em. Once they bring an excuse, that’s it, ‘cause they got a hundred dollars to get back in there. It was like I say, GM has brought this on theirselves. Now they don’t know what to do with it.
WEST: Well, that’s good.