INTERVIEW: May 29, 1980
INTERVIEW: Bill Meyer
INTERVIEWEE: Robert Gibbs [At his residence near Grand Blanc, Michigan]
MEYER: Well, one thing I was interested in hearing more about and starting off with, perhaps, is what you were talking about over the phone yesterday regarding getting fired. But maybe a way to get into that is if you tell me a little bit about how you first got hired or how you first started working with GM.
GIBBS: Well, first of all, I lived in the Bendle High School area since 1930, when my people come here from Virginia, really. And my dad hired in the Fisher and he was lucky through the Depression part that he was able to keep working, periodically, you know. And we had enough money to, well, I can remember him gettin' the good wages in them days, like forty-two and a half cents an hour. And he was a journeyman electrician.
MEYER: He was skilled trades.
GIBBS: He was a skilled man; he was a journeyman electrician. And through all the years, he carried a AFL card for journeyman electrician. And management, according to him, and I have to say, 'cause he told it to many people, that they knew that he was a AFL man. And why they kept him hired, I'll never know to this day, but I guess he was a good electrician.
MEYER: Did he come up specifically to get a job in the plants?
GIBBS: He came up because originally we lived on a farm, southwest of Roanoke, Virginia. And farmin', at that time, I guess to him, it didn't appeal to him, I reckon. And he went to work for the railroad. Well, at that time, the railroads were quite active, union-wise. And he joined the union and he worked hisself up to being a fireman. And he was on some little run. I don't know where it was, goin' to the coal minin' towns, and they used to haul the cars back. And he and the engineer got in a fight over how they wanted the fire heated up or stoked or whatever they do, you know. So the engineer was the boss and they fired him on the job, 'cause he didn't like the way he was doin' it. So my dad took his shovel, which you had to buy in them days, and the train set on the track. Well, I guess it was on the main line and they was goin' to a little dinky line up on the hill somewhere. And they were supposed to get off of it. But bein' he couldn't fire the engine and there was no place to buy a shovel, the train set there. And they fouled up several trains comin' through, I guess, the way I understand, while he was blackballin' off the railroad and anything else that had to do with the job. Well, there was no place down there he could get a job. So he heard of work in Charleston, West Virginia. And he went there and he got on as a glass blower, somethin' like that. And he didn't like it, 'cause it was hard on his lungs. And then from there, he heard of work in Toledo. And he went to Libby-Owens and he got the same kind of stupid work. And he didn't like that. And then he heard about work in Michigan. And then he come to Michigan and he stayed there about six months before he sent for my mother and two other brothers. And that was in 1930.
MEYER: He hired into Fisher 1 at that time?
GIBBS: Somewhere back in there.
MEYER: Anyway, Fisher 1 was where he came.
GIBBS: Oh yeah, Fisher 1. Yes, this was at Fisher 1. And so after about, I guess, I don't know how long, six months or so we came up here and we settled in Burton Township, in the Bendle High School area. And us boys all finished school there, graduated, and in the fall of the year, why, I put in an application for work. And that's when I got hired in, in the late fall.
MEYER: I was just curious about your father, for a moment here. How did he learn his trade, coming from the farm? How did he get to be such a good electrician?
GIBBS: Okay, before he did that, he worked for the telephone company and the high-tension wire companies, stretchin' lines through the Appalachian Mountains.
MEYER: Oh, I see, okay.
GIBBS: That's where he picked it up. That's where he picked up his work.
MEYER: Did you have any other relatives other than your father, in the plant?
GIBBS: Well, I had a brother that worked, a twin brother that worked, also. He got hired in two years after that. It took him that long to get hired in.
MEYER: Two years after...
GIBBS: After I did. I got hired in in 1936. And he got hired in, I think, in 1938 or 1939. I don't know which.
MEYER: So, out of high school you applied for a job at Fisher 1. And you got hired when, that summer or fall, do you remember?
GIBBS: Late fall, probably in November.
MEYER: Late fall, November perhaps, when you got hired in. Do you think it meant anything or helped at all that your father worked there already?
GIBBS: No, not at all. I had a high school buddy that graduated a year ahead of me and he was a flunky in the office when they were gonna run over applications. And he happened to throw mine out. And then he hired me. That's the best to my knowledge.
MEYER: You had a high school buddy that kind of helped you.
GIBBS: Yes. He got hired in there in the office for miscellaneous typin' and stuff, you know. And he got me in.
MEYER: Now, where did you work when you went in in November?
GIBBS: Well, I'll tell you what. I got hired in 'cause I was good and healthy. And the first job I had was on the oil sand deck. No wait a minute, pardon me. That was after the union got me back. The first job was in the body shop in the south unit, workin' the convertible line, puttin' on the felt moldin' around for where the convertibles are. I think I had to drill somethin' like eleven holes, chip the solder out and put some rivets in that went around for the thing that goes with the front end that used to go back, you know. And that was my first job.
MEYER: It was the South Body Unit, putting trim work on the convertibles.
GIBBS: And that was for sixty cents an hour.
MEYER: Now, tell me about your encounter with the union. Before you worked there, did you have knowledge of the union through your father?
GIBBS: Oh yes, I had knowledge of the union.
MEYER: Of course you knew about the AFL, because your father had been active in that. But what about the CIO?
GIBBS: He wasn't too favorable with the CIO. He always thought it was too leftist and radical, but he always believed in the A F of L. He carried the A F of L card 'til he died. And after he was there for a while, he got promoted and became part of management. I don't know what year, probably 1938 or somethin' like that, 1939, maybe.
MEYER: Did he sit down during the strike?
GIBBS: No, he didn't sit down.
MEYER: He just left for the duration.
GIBBS: Oh, come to think of it, he was management durin' the strike, come to think about it.
MEYER: He was management during the strike.
GIBBS: Yes, he was a foreman durin' the strike, 'cause I remember my mother drivin' him over and lettin' him off and goin' to work, 'cause they had to go in to go to work.
GIBBS: Durin' the strike he used to walk through the picket line.
MEYER: At Fisher 1.
GIBBS: At Fisher 1, and it never bothered him.
MEYER: Was there any work to really be done, do you know?
GIBBS: No, he was just a maintenance electrician to the extent that...
MEYER: Oh, it was maintenance work, then.
GIBBS: Yes, light bulbs or if there was somethin' out. I don't really know what all, you know.
MEYER: But as an electrician, his normal job in the plant, even before the strike, was...
GIBBS: Yes, he worked in the pressroom, wirin' up the presses, you know.
MEYER: So he was actually working on the machines and not on the cars themselves but maintenance on the machines. And during the strike he would probably come and watch over the electrical equipment.
GIBBS: Yes. And I've heard him talk after that. In fact, durin' that time people would ask him, "Aren't you scared to go in?" He'd says, "No, they know who's on whose side." I remember him saying that. So all I can say is that some people must have knowed that he carried the card or somethin'. Because the union...
MEYER: He wasn't scared because they knew that he was an old union person.
GIBBS: Well, it could be, but I don't know. But I know that he carried his AFL card and he never ever was bothered goin' in. He used to go in alone. My mother used to stop; we was ridin' in the car sometimes, over there. And he'd get out and go in and there'd be two hundred guys in the front of that place sometimes. When he'd go in, why, they'd always break the rank and let him go through. But others they wouldn't let go through. Why, I never knew, really.
MEYER: What's your first encounter with the union or with the CIO? Did you say that you joined with the CIO?
GIBBS: Yes, I joined the CIO. My first encounter with them was sittin' on a box eatin' my dinner at lunchtime and some guy come up, "Hey, kid!" And I didn't pay no mind to him 'cause I didn't know who he was talkin' to. And, well, I really didn't know nobody much except the two other guys that was workin' with me, 'cause they kept me pretty busy. And so he says to me, "Do you want to join the union?" And I said, "No." And he said a few other things, you know. And I said, "Well, how much is it?" And he said, "It will only cost you a dollar." And I said, "No, I ain't got no money." So he pestered me for, I think, close to a week or two weeks.
MEYER: Do you remember who that was?
GIBBS: No, I don't remember who it was. It was just a guy. He wasn't really a big guy; he was kind of skinny, medium height.
MEYER: But he was a worker in the plant.
GIBBS: He was a worker and skinny and medium heights and light hair was what he had.
MEYER: It wouldn't have been Bud Simon?
GIBBS: I don't even know what Bud Simon looks like.
MEYER: Do you know the name?
GIBBS: Yes, I remember the name of Bud Simon but I think he had dark hair.
MEYER: When you said "skinny" I thought of Bud Simon.
GIBBS: I think he had dark hair; I do very casually, because I wouldn't have said dark hair if I hadn't known somethin', you know.
MEYER: So he kept on for a couple of weeks.
GIBBS: Yes, so in order just to shut the guy up and I wasn't really for or against. And I just thought, well, I'll try it. And a little piece of paper about that long, an inch and a quarter wide or an inch and a half. And it had my name and my address. But I paid a dollar. And it made me a member of CIO and you get a little button. And that's all there was to it. He says, "You'll hear from me when we need you." So I didn't think nothin' more about it. And so about two weeks later, my boss come back and he showed me that little piece of paper and he says, "Hey kid, is this you?" I looked at it and I says, "Yes." He says, "Do you know what you done?" And I says, "No, I don't know." And he said, Well, you joined the union, didn't you?" I looked at it again and I says, "Yes." He says, "Is that your signature?" I says, "Yeah." Well, he says, "Don't you know better than that?" I says, "No, I don't know better than that." And he said, "Well, I ain't got time to talk to you now, but I'll be back for you later. We gotta go to the front end."
MEYER: Now, is this a foreman?
GIBBS: This was a foreman, yes.
MEYER: And about how long after you joined, did he say this to you?
GIBBS: Well, I probably had been workin' three weeks, or four weeks then, and he said he'd be back. Then an hour and a half later, 10:30, I'd say, in the morning, he come back up there and tapped me on the shoulder and he says, "Put your tools over there." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "Well, you and I gotta take a walk." So I put 'em over there and I said, "Well, maybe I ought to put 'em away; somebody'll get 'em." He says, "No, just leave 'em there; nobody'll hurt 'em." So I just shrugged my shoulders and went on, cause just like I said, I was green. So I went on up there with him and I don't know, he said a few words, maybe one way or another, but he was pretty friendly about everything until we got down there. When we went through the door down there he waved this little thing in the air, you know and he hollered a guy's name, "Joe," and says, "I got another one." That's his exact words.
MEYER: Who was he hollering it to?
GIBBS: The personnel manager, I think, down in the office. He was kind of short and heavy set.
MEYER: So you went down to some office where there was...
GIBBS: The employment office. Went to the employment office, down in the basement underneath of the main office at Fisher 1. And that's where the employment office used to be. And I went down there, and of course it was lined up with people trying to get hired in and out the door, you know. Hell, they had a line there, probably seventy-five guys long, right outside the door then, you know. So everything stops while all this goes on. He took the little piece of paper and he looked at it. He called me, "Son, is this you?" I says, "Yeah." He says, "Don't you know better than that?" I said, "No." He says, "You know what you done?" I says, "Not really." He says, "Well, you joined the union. How come you joined the union? Don't you like your job?" I says, "Yeah." "Well," he says, "this is a serious problem." He says, "Look at all these people tryin' to get a job here and you join the union." Now he done all this real nice, you know. And he says somethin' to the other guy about me, did I work good or so on and so forth like that. The other guy said, "Yeah." Well, he says (I remember him sayin'), "What do you want me to do with him?"
MEYER: Was the foreman asking the personnel manager?
GIBBS: The personnel asked him.
MEYER: Oh, the personnel manager asked the foreman.
GIBBS: Foreman, "What do you want me to do with him?" And he said, "The usual procedure." So he picked up the piece of paper and he says, "You know, you done a very serious thing. You ain't got a job no more." And he pointed his finger at me like that and he banged his fist on the table and he says, "You're fired, you son of a bitch." Just like that! I mean, his whole attitude changed, just from a nice guy to a rotten guy.
MEYER: This was the personnel manager.
GIBBS: This was the personnel manager.
MEYER: After he asked the foreman.
GIBBS: Yes. And the first thing I said to him, I said, dumbfounded, "Well, if I'm fired, when do I get paid?" "Well," he says, "you don't get no pay." And I said, "You don't mean I'm fired, really, do you?" And he said, "You're fired. You see that door over there? You got about two minutes to get out that god damn door." Just like that. And so I looked at the other guy, to the foreman, you know. I said, "Well, I got my tools and my hat and coat and everything out on the line. I gotta get my stuff." And the personnel manager looked at me and he says, "Son, you got about one minute to get out of here. You're trespassing private property and if you don't get out, we are gonna throw you out." I had looked at the door where I come out of and thought, well, maybe I can get back there, 'cause I was a good runner and I played football. I was good and healthy. So I just made a beeline for that door and all he did was stick his fingers in his mouth and whistled and he said, "Pete or Joe!" I really forget the name that he called two guys. And he just pointed to me and they was over there on me just about the time I got through that door. And they hit me on the head and hit me in the gut.
MEYER: You were tryin' to run back for your tools.
GIBBS: Yes, I was tryin' to get through the door and go get my tools, because I had on a blue shirt, bib overalls and I was still hot from workin', you know. I probably cooled off walkin' down there but I was still, my body was warm, you know, where you'd have been sweating. And outside it was about twenty degrees and it was snowin'. So you could see right out the door that it was snowin'. And them guys just picked me up and dragged me outside that stupid door and throwed me in the snow and stuff right out there. It was that big line of people right there. And I couldn't get back in. And I walked a mile and a half, in the snow, in the cold, with just my overalls and stuff like that.
MEYER: Did you ever see your tools again?
GIBBS: Never seen nothin' no more; never seen nothin'.
MEYER: Those were your tools.
GIBBS: Those were my tools and I can tell you about that, too. When I got hired in they told me what kind of work I was gonna do and they said "You'll need a clawhammer, a chisel, a yankee screwdriver, and a scratch awl. And I went to the store, a hardware, and I bought the toolbox, for $4.98 and it cost me $6.50 for all my tools. That was includin' the yankee screwdriver. So I even bought the lock, I think. For about $13.00 I was well equipped to go to work. I remember that very well. Never saw none of it no more.
MEYER: Do you remember when it was that day you said the incident you just described?
GIBBS: I think it was two or three days before Christmas because the... It was just before Christmas, and I think that could have been the last day we were workin' before Christmas, because I know they worked one day after that Christmas. Then the second day after that, then the strike was on. They only worked a couple of days.
MEYER: Well, it was just before New Year's that the strike was called.
GIBBS: Yes, a week before New Year's, yes. I think I got barred the day like Christmas Eve, before Christmas, or whatever it was, just before Christmas. And they went to work the day after Christmas and I think the next day after that they went on strike. I can't remember, but I know it was real close to that, you know. And I used to go up there and look through the window and talk to some of the guys in there after that, you know. I went over, in fact, I worked in the chow line, just helpin'. I never got no money for it, but was just talkin' to some of the union guys and stuff. And they told me then, they says, "Well, if we win the strike, you come back and we'll get you back to work." Well, they got me back to work, but it wasn't 'til the next year, you know. Well, the next year would be the followin' May.
MEYER: Well, May of '37.
GIBBS: Yes, May of '37 when I got back to work.
MEYER: Now, about the firing incident. This slip of paper was the same slip of paper that you filled out your membership on? This slip of paper that he came down with.
GIBBS: No, see the guy give me a piece of paper as a receipt for joinin' the union. Well this guy, the way I figured it out and the way they tell me, this guy was a stooge.
MEYER: The guy who took my membership was a stooge.
GIBBS: The guy that took my membership was a stooge. Now they probably took 'em off a guy or a guy turned management or somethin' that had these. Well, let's say, whatever, he was for recruitin' new members, you know. And he was doin' it for management, or else he was turnin' 'em over to management. But I had the carbon copy to show that I had joined the union, but management got the other copy.
MEYER: So the foreman, when he came with the slip of paper, it was the original, and you had the carbon.
GIBBS: Right, and I had that to show the union guys I joined the union.
MEYER: And you never really found out for sure how the foreman ever got hold of that?
GIBBS: Never did know; never did know.
MEYER: The guy may have been a stooge or maybe the foreman just took these memberships off them somehow, or you just don't know.
GIBBS: Well, anyway, he was informed in some manner. I don't know. And he had that to show that I joined, see. Somebody was in cahoots somewhere.
MEYER: Yes. Did you ever see the guy who joined you up again or know what happened to him or anything?
MEYER: What did your father think about the fact that you joined, since he was kind of anti-CIO? Did he care at all?
GIBBS: He didn't really say anything about the CIO, except that if you was gonna join somethin', you should have joined AFL. He didn't try to influence me, because he must have knowed that it was a different type of union or somethin'. He was skilled and this wasn't.
MEYER: This was kind of a short period during which you were working there before the strike. But aside from your own joining of the union, and getting fired, do you remember any other union activities, any other talk of a strike coming up, anticipation of it?
GIBBS: Oh, yes. I remember a couple times, like I don't know if they would have had a problem somewhere. Like down one time I was workin' just chasin' stuff for some other guy, because I had to go to the stock and get the number or somethin', 'cause they wanted somethin', you know, and take it back to them and push some of them bodies around here or there or somethin'. Anyway, I was just a flunky, doin' what somebody said. And I heard it in the can, when they was in the can sometimes, you know.
MEYER: What would be the nature of this talk? Would people be talking just in general terms or specifically say when they would strike?
GIBBS: When you was around, everybody would shut up, I mean. After I was around these guys and they knew me a little bit, you know, they would talk or wouldn't talk, you know. But these two guys in particular that I remember, I'm sure that they belonged, although they never said. But they talked in front of me, you know. And I never opened my mouth one way or another to say that my dad ever belonged to anything. And they used to ask me what I thought and what I believed, you know. I used to agree with 'em. And as long as I agreed with 'em, I guess they thought I was all right, you know. 'Cause they taught me some rotten things, too, you know. But you better keep your mouth shut. Don't talk; don't tell nobody nothin'. Even if you see it, don't say it, you know. And them two guys kind of begin to wise me up a little bit. But, shit, I still didn't really realize what the hell the meanness of it was, you know.
MEYER: The danger of actually becoming a member. You don't remember actually any formal meetings or anything like that.
GIBBS: I never went to any formal meetings.
MEYER: I'd like to talk just a little bit about before the sit-down strike. One thing I was interested in; you said your father started working in 1930 at Fisher. There was a strike in 1930 at Fisher. Would he have been there for that, do you remember?
GIBBS: I remember one, seemed like to me it was 1933.
MEYER: Yes, there were others later, too.
GIBBS: Well, he had to be there then, I think, but I don't remember nothin' about it.
MEYER: Yes, you were telling me about the strike where you called it 1933.
GIBBS: When we chased 'em out of town.
MEYER: Yes, tell me a little bit about that. What was your recollection of that?
GIBBS: Well, just like we got out of school. We used to get out of school in May. And us boys all used to play ball all summer, 'cause there weren't no work. Well, I say there wasn't no work. I used to work two days down to Barney's Department Store on South Saginaw Street, there.
MEYER: Was that the summer of '33? That's how you remember?
GIBBS: Yes, we used to play ball and stuff. And this one day we were playing ball and we could hear horns honkin', you know, and sounded like people yellin' loud. I imagine they just had them big things they talked through, you know.
MEYER: Soundcar-type things.
GIBBS: It was so convincing that there was a lot of activity, that we run the two or three blocks. We just quit playin' ball to go down to see what was goin' on. Here them cops was down on South Saginaw and they were right along Bristol Road at that time. On horses were policemen in blue suits and they had billy clubs. They'd run along the road there and they'd watch this one. And guys was hangin' on cars, ridin' with some of their buddies, you know, from out of town. And the others that were with 'em, were walkin'. Well, hell, they was a-hittin' 'em and clubbin' 'em all the way down the road, you know. They'd run up a little ways with a horse and they'd come back with a club and they'd swing it and hit 'em. We seen guys stumblin' and bleedin' and everything. In fact, they was tryin' to make 'em run, I think, you know, all the way out there, instead of just walk. They just...well, if they fell, they fell. I seen a few guys fall and I don't know what happened to 'em.
MEYER: This was down on Saginaw Street.
GIBBS: This was down on Saginaw Street. It was two-lane road then.
MEYER: And they were running 'em south out of town.
GIBBS: They were runnin' 'em south, through Grand Blanc to the Oakland County line. That's what we heard later. I often heard tales about it.
MEYER: The police were on horseback; the men were just walking.
MEYER: Do you think that was '33? The reason I ask is there was a strike in May of '33 or '34.
GIBBS: Well, it might have been '34. I can't really say.
MEYER: Do you think it was May of the year?
GIBBS: It was early...yeah, it could have been May. I think we could have just been out of school. That might have been the time; I don't remember.
MEYER: And was that the one incident you remember there then?
GIBBS: That's the main one that I remember as far as the active strike went, you know. And I think that was probably...I don't know, I'd just say it might have been the last one. I know it was in the summer. And I know we were out of school.
MEYER: And that was presumably Fisher 1 people.
GIBBS: Oh, yes, indeed, Fisher 1, yeah. Yes, it was Fisher 1.
MEYER: Coming back to the sit-down itself, the big sit-down. What did you do during the strike itself? You said you worked a little.
GIBBS: Well, I just didn't have a whole lot to do. And I'd go down and just out of curiosity and watch what was goin' on. I talked to the National Guardsmen there, you know, who were out on the street in their little sandbag outfits. And talked to the soldiers standin' wherever they were standin' and lookin', you know. And some of 'em was sitting in trucks and stuff.
MEYER: You mean, mainly around Fisher 1?
GIBBS: Yes, Fisher 1. This was all around Fisher 1.
MEYER: All on Fisher 1.
GIBBS: Yes, 'cause I lived out in that end of town.
MEYER: You lived south of it, I think.
GIBBS: Yes, I lived in the Bendle School District, south of the city limits.
MEYER: What was their general attitude about being there, the National Guards?
GIBBS: The National Guard?
MEYER: What did they have to say?
GIBBS: Well, they didn't want go in and fight the guys. But orders is orders. And they was kind of hopin' that'd never happen, you know. And I know two or three times things was so tense that you thought they was gonna happen any minute. And how come again, I know quite a bit about it, because we used to go swimmin', walk from there, and there used to be what they called Lakeside swimming pool, a public swimming pool over there where the armory is, just about, off Saginaw Street. Used to be a swimming pool, a public swimmin' pool. Well, we used to over there and swim. So any time we went by there, well, we always stopped and talked to them guys and always it would be three or four boys. And we used to have a good time. And sometimes they'd say, "Hey, kid, do this; you ain't doin' nothin'," when we'd get around that union hall where they was feedin' the guys, you know.
MEYER: Was that across the street from Fisher Body?
GIBBS: Yes, this was across the street. And that's how I got workin' there afterwards a few times. I went and helped 'em. I said, "Well, I'll come help."
MEYER: So you occasionally worked in that then.
GIBBS: Oh, a couple hours is about all you'd ever do, you know. Never spent all day there. And that's where I got to know a couple of the guys. But I couldn't even remember 'em now. I know one guy that was a organizer or leader; he was from Pittsburgh, and was kinda short and light-haired. And I can't remember his name, either.
MEYER: Did you ever go into Fisher 1 at all during the forty-four days of the sit-down?
GIBBS: I was up to the windows, but I didn't really go in, no.
MEYER: You never went inside.
GIBBS: No, but I used to go up to the windows. Well, in fact, seems kind of nutty, but I told you I graduated. And I used to have a girlfriend, kinda, lived over across the Judd Road. And before that I used to carry newspapers all the time. And the next-door neighbor to her was a sit-downer. And he was sittin' down in there. And I'd go up and talk to him, you know. And he was the one guy that I knew that was in there, you know. And that's one reason why I used to go up to the window and talk. But I never did go inside.
MEYER: You didn't feel there was any great danger in going up to the window and talking.
GIBBS: No, I didn't.
MEYER: Now, after the strike, you get hired in finally in May. That's about, well, maybe I'd say a couple months after the strike's over. You said, I think, when we were talkin' yesterday, the union helped you get back in or get your job back.
GIBBS: Oh, they called me up and asked me if I wanted my job back, if I wanted to come to work, you know.
MEYER: The union called you.
GIBBS: Yes. And I said yes. So I don't know what took place between or what happened. And I went over to the shop, and the next thing I knowed, well, I was working.
MEYER: Now do you know if the union considered you officially a member all this time?
GIBBS: I don't think they knew anything except I complained to 'em and I told 'em my story. And I showed 'em my card that I was a member.
MEYER: Oh, you did do that?
GIBBS: Oh, yeah.
MEYER: When did you do that? Right after that happened?
GIBBS: No, this was when I used to go in and help 'em peel potatoes and things, see.
MEYER: Oh, okay. Then you told 'em what happened to you.
GIBBS: Yes, and then I got to talkin' to some of them guys and then I told 'em I used to work there. And they asked me questions about it. And that's how that part all happened.
MEYER: They weren't able to shed any light on why it happened, though. But you told 'em the story about how the slip had gotten back to the foreman.
GIBBS: Yes, and as long as I was truly a member. I don't know how it worked for hirin' back in or how they done it. I don't know nothin' about it. I just got hired in. They told me to go over there in the morning. And I went over there in the morning and I got hired.
MEYER: Do you remember a split in the union that occurred later on?
GIBBS: Yes I do, very well.
MEYER: A referendum between the A F of L and the CIO. You were still in Fisher 1 at that time?
GIBBS: Oh, yeah.
MEYER: And you mentioned earlier, I think, when you came back in May you were in a different part of the plant?
GIBBS: Yes, that's when management really give me the nice jobs. This is when they put me on oil sand deck. And you're sandin' the jobs down; and then you had a little rubber pad and you'd wipe it off, you know. And you had a little mop deal you had to make up, about six or eight inches long and about that big around. You'd swab the door first and then you'd take this real fine sandpaper and you'd sand the whole job down. And then you wiped it off with this little rubber wiper, you know.
MEYER: It was finish work.
GIBBS: Well, say, I guess, that was after the first paint, primer paint. You'd get the bubbles off; that's what it was for. And then it went through the finish paint after that. But anyway the blue and the green and the red and all that stuff run down your arms. All you worked in was your T-shirt, you know. Never had no shirt on, 'cause it was hot up there, even in the wintertime. And you'd cut your pants off up to here somewhere. And that's all you wore; you'd change your clothes every day. And that's what you looked like. And let's see, I can't remember it all. But wet sanders had boots. We didn't have that; we just had our regular shoes. And anyway, what you get out of that. You can't see so much now. But I've been years gettin' all that junk out of my arms, just from that paint. And it's still on my legs. You can see those pimple places. There just used to be one pimple after another, just loaded with pimples from that paint, you know. And it was twenty years goin' away. That's how they thought about safety and people, you know. And I only done it, let's see, I did it for just two, three years. But that paid a dollar and a dime an hour, top money. And I guess we never did work Saturdays. Just five days a week. And then I worked from about November maybe up to the end of April. That's all I ever worked.
MEYER: I'd like to talk a little bit about the split, there. Did you find yourself on one side or the other of that?
GIBBS: Well, I was influenced by my Dad and I stuck with the A F of L.
MEYER: Stuck with the A F of L side.
GIBBS: Yes. And that time they had several differences. The A F of L had their own stewards. And, you see, I would have had their stewards. Sometimes they would work together on somethin' and other times they didn't, you know. When they really wasn't pullin' against each other, they worked together. But when the A F of L went out on strike, well, I went out with them. And that was my first participation in anything. We was out about a week or ten days.
MEYER: Did you do some picketing?
GIBBS: Yes. We picketed and I got in the picket line. And they tried to keep some of the CIO guys from goin' in. And they didn't all go in anyway. Some of the guys would get in scuffles and fights. But I really kind of shied away from the fight part. And then when they found out they wasn't doin' nothin' or gettin' nowhere, they'd go back to work, except for the leaders. Management would take the people back, but the leaders always got fired, you know. Even if I was on the picket line, I wasn't doin' nothin'. Well, I don't know how they distinguish active and inactive, you know. I can't honestly say. But I know two days I was on the picket line out there and nothin' ever happened to me.
MEYER: But some of the leaders would get fired.
GIBBS: Yes, some of the leaders would get fired.
MEYER: What happened after the referendum when the CIO launched it?
GIBBS: Well, this brings up another interesting part of the strike, I guess. Some of the guys went back together and joined in with some of the leaders of the A F of L, became active with the CIO. And you just had your real hardcore people that wouldn't participate in it, or somethin' like that.
MEYER: The A F of L people?
GIBBS: Yeah, but in them days they still had to go up and down the line and collect the union dues, a dollar off each guy. And they would get in little scrapes, every once in a while, some guy would be twelve months behind or somethin' like that. He didn't mostly, I guess he didn't join the union, or he wouldn't join. And they'd have what they used to call "go talk to him". And they'd go up and twist his arm and sock him in the rib, scuff him around a little bit, threaten him, you know. And I know of incidents where they did it to a guy and if he didn't like that goin' on, he can get out in the parkin' lot and have him a couple buddies beat the heck out of the other guy. And then on the next night, the other guy would have about three guys out there whippin' him, you know. Yes, there was quite a bit of that went on. It went on then. And but over a period of a few years, it all simmered down. And then they finally accepted the fact that the A F of L wasn't gonna make it, and everybody was just CIO, except people that didn't want to belong to the union and pay their dollars. And they never did, but they were just on a free ride. They always thought they were smart. Well, my opinion was they were dumb. And even back in them days I wished that they'd pass a law that if you had a union, everybody had to pay, you know, because it's not fair for half the people to get a free ride at the other peoples' expense, you know, 'specially when they pay them all the same thing. If they would pay me my money that I earned by what I tried to achieve and not pay them because they didn't want to, I could see that. But I didn't want them to get what I got when they didn't participate in it.
MEYER: What do you think were the main issues that kind of separated the A F of L and CIO factions in the plants?
GIBBS: Leftists, un-American and...
MEYER: This was the A F of L's criticism of the CIO?
GIBBS: Yes. They weren't quite as radical. I mean they wouldn't do things that the CIO would do to be recognized. They just had higher standards of negotiations and respect for the other side, which the CIO did not have at that time. The CIO only knew to throw rocks through the window, pull the guys out and talk nasty and call you nasty names and this kind of stuff. The A F of L usually, to my knowledge, always had a policy or program for achievement, you know. That's the way I remember. And I joined in many of the petty sit-downs for "get another guy on the job" or pound on the bodies or quit work, didn't do my work in the shop in the support of somebody else up the line when things went wrong, to get more help on the job, you know. It took 'em from 1937 to 1942 to halfway get decently organized, really. And it really was just an era of learnin' how to be a union, see, you know, you might say. And I don't know, I was...
MEYER: You didn't feel that the CIO had really grasped the organization's problems until the early forties.
GIBBS: That's right.
MEYER: And did this interfere with the quality of their leadership and how they represented the workers, you think, or the grievances?
GIBBS: Well, no, as time went by, the A F of L picture was gradually faded, you know. But I think the biggest thing I remember after that was doin' the work with the guys and you'd say, "Well, what about this guy?" And he'd say "He's no good, he's a rotten SB or something or somethin' like that. And you'd always ask 'em "Why?" Well, they wouldn't tell you why. And then after the war was over and I spent three years in the Navy and I come back and I got into skilled trades I talked with some of these old-timers that were skilled tradesmen. And they would say the same thing about this one and that one. And after you worked around them for a year or two, they would open up a little bit, see. Get your confidence, you know. And you'd find out that Harry was an informer, and that Pete was an ex boss, and that another guy was some form of a stooge or nothin'. And these were different skilled tradesmen that were either for management or against management or penalized by management by some of the other guys. And they knew that they were informers and stuff, you know. And these people refused, after the union come in and they were all...the straw bosses and stuff lost their status and just had to be a worker, then this stuff when they were workin' with the people begin to come out, of, why, everybody hated the other guy. And they used to tell interesting stories.
MEYER: Was there particularly a distrust for the skilled?
GIBBS: Well, it was distrust of the other person, because he was a management person, or he informed against a buddy of his or informed against him, see. It wasn't a distrust for the union and things. These fellows hated each other because of their particular activities for or against the union, you know. And I found out that this guy would bring chicken every week to the boss. And somebody else would bring whiskey in. And another guy always organized a party. Or the guys that worked for the boss, every week they'd have a party at this house, or that house or some other guy's house. And hell, the boss was just like a little king!
MEYER: Was that after the strike?
GIBBS: No, I wouldn't say after the strike. This was before the strike.
MEYER: Oh, okay, before the strike, I see.
GIBBS: And they would tell me about why they didn't like this guy and what he did, see.
MEYER: Oh, I see. It was because these people did these things before the strike.
GIBBS: That's right, because they done these things, see. And they would tell what all they did, you know. And they'd tell how rotten they was, you know. And then you'd begin to see why so and so didn't like somebody else. And this was quite apparent until the fifties, you know. When some of 'em begin to retire or well, whatever, you know. And by 1960, well, that stuff had all gone, because all them old-timers were gone, you know.
MEYER: You worked for GM until retirement?
GIBBS: Oh, yes. I never had another job.
MEYER: Did you retire as a worker or a foreman?
GIBBS: No, no, I never was a foreman.
MEYER: In all the time you worked for GM, did you ever think of becoming a foreman or did it ever occur to you that would be worth doing or worth trying to do?
GIBBS: Oh, it might have to the extent when somebody else got picked. You might say to yourself, you wonder how come they passed you by or somethin' like this. But I never had the urge to honestly be a supervisor, because I couldn't really do the things that they did, you know, to tell the guys. I wasn't that type of guy.
MEYER: What kinds of things, mainly?
GIBBS: Well, chew a guy out and go around and spy on him. And if he was sick for two days tell him he'd better get his hind end in here or you're gonna walk him up front. Or a guy takin' five minutes extra for a break, such as a skilled tradesman, take him up front and give him two days off, you know. And I just wasn't built like that. I'd rather be just a peon than to be a boss. So it never really interested me a whole lot. But just to the point that when some of these things would happen you would think sometimes, but it would fade away a lot faster because you know damn well you'd never have the guts for that part of it. But I did have the guts to do a lot of things with the union, such as we had several wildcats. And one day we was about a three or four day wildcat over there; I forget what it was. I think it was just 'cause it was HOT.
MEYER: Good reason.
GIBBS: Oh yeah. It was in the summertime and we was hopin' to hell they'd go out. And I worked in skilled trades, way in the back end by the powerhouse.
MEYER: When was this?
GIBBS: Oh, this was probably in 1940...maybe 1949, or somethin' like this.
MEYER: Okay, so this was later you got into skilled.
GIBBS: Oh, yes. When I come back from the Navy after World War II, I got hired in to skilled trades. And I can tell you about that, too. It's an interesting little hassle, you might say.
MEYER: About getting hired in?
GIBBS: Yeah. Well, no, I had my seniority in. And I had my job and when I come back from the Navy, I went over and talked to 'em. And they wanted to put me to work right that day. And I says, "No deal." I was gonna stay home and just have fun for a little while. You had ninety days to go back to work. So I put it off. I'd go over and I kept a-tellin' 'em, "I want a skilled trades job." And they'd say, "Well, we got a nice job for you, your old job, back." "I don't want production; I want skilled trades," you know. And this went on up and I got so I could talk with the personnel manager or anybody else that was hirin' 'em. 'Cause I'd go back every day, or not every day, but every couple or three days, because I still lived in my old house over there with my mum and my dad. Well, my dad died in the meantime, in '42. But I lived with my mother when I come back from the Navy, and I stayed with her. And so, anyway, I'd go over and talk to 'em and they'd offer me all kinds of jobs. But everything was for production. So it got up to be the ninetieth day. I was up there the eighty-ninth day. And they said, "Well, you only got one more day left." And I said, "Well, I know it. I gotta have a skilled trades job and you just ain't got none." So they called me up ten o'clock in the morning and wanted me to come to work on the ninetieth day. And I said, "No, if you ain't got a skilled trades job, I don't want it." Well, they said, "Come over and talk anyhow." Well, bein' a chicken, I reckon, I was thinkin' about it. I didn't really want to lose my job. And so I went over and talked to 'em and I was sittin' there talkin' to this guy. And some guy walked by the office and he says hello to him. And he says, "How are you doin' today?" And he says, "Well, not so good." And he says, "Well, what's your problem?" He says, "Well, I got a guy here that's a good worker, a fine record and he's gonna lose his job if he don't get a job today." And he says, "Well, what's the matter with him?" And he come through the door and he walked in and he says, "Don't you like work?" And I says, "Sure." And he says, "Well, how come you don't want to go to work?" I says, "I want a skilled trades job. And he won't give me a skilled trades job." You know, he looked at him and he says, "You got two applications for temporary help. Did you fill 'em?" He says, "No." He says, "Hire him." I looked at him, you know, like that. And he says, "Do you know anybody else that wants to get hired in skilled trades?" And I says, "Yeah." And he says, "Who?" And I said, "Well, I got a brother that's only been home for two weeks. But if you let me call him on the phone, I might be able to talk him into comin' to work. You know, I brought him back that afternoon. We both got a physical and got hired in and went to work the next day in the back. And that's the longest thirty-day job I ever had. He said it would be good for thirty days.
MEYER: And that's where you retired from?
GIBBS: And I retired from skilled trades. That's how I got in.
MEYER: But the guy that came in and kind of got you the job, he was a personnel officer, would you say?
GIBBS: He was a personnel officer over veterans. Yes, and it just happened that he was walkin' up the aisle. That's how it happened. Now where was we before?
MEYER: I know we've covered quite a bit. Just telling more of the general things kind of interested me. Of course, you were pretty young at this time, so this may not have been very relevant, but do you remember any particular, you know, the kinds of political groups that were active during the strike, or around the time of the strike?
GIBBS: Oh, they used to have the goon squads. Oh yes, let's see.
MEYER: The political parties, the Socialist Party?
GIBBS: Well, they used to have, well, the union always did have a different type of united...I can't remember all the different groups they used to have. But they used to have a lot of different organizations. In fact, after I got interested in the union, I wasn't really too active at Fisher 1, but I really became active at Fisher Grand Blanc. And that's after they moved all their skilled trades to Grand Blanc. And I became active there because it was so anti-union that I couldn't stand it. And I just got out and became active in the union really for two reasons.
MEYER: Can you think of the two reasons why you got active?
GIBBS: Yes, why I got active in the union? I used to hear so many times from people that everybody that belonged to the union was rotten, foul-mouthed, no good, just plain roughnecks, and so on and so forth. And I always took offense to that, because I know a lot of guys that were union members that were peaceful and a lot of 'em went to church. And I never ever considered my co-workers, the few that were real active, as bein' that type of person. So I thought, by golly, I want to get in and see what I can do about changin' some of this image, you know. So I became active. It just was rot that seemed to be...get characterized somehow by the wrong people that everybody was rotten. And I found that most of these people that I associated with was really the same type of guy that I was. They weren't really violent. They just were honest people that was tryin' to express a thought for themselves, you know. Just wanted plain things, a better standard of livin' and representation. And they really weren't honestly violent, you know. And when I used to run into people, I used to preach it and tell 'em, "Hey, you're listenin' to somebody else; you don't have the right idea at all." It's true when you go to a meetin' you do get the more violent or unappropriate part of representation at membership meetings a lot of times, because you don't have your best union people really participatin' in that part of the thing. But I found out that a lot of the people that really held the jobs were decent people, you know. And they weren't half as bad as some people try to make out.
MEYER: You mention a lot of, you know, these people, many union people were just sincere and honest, ordinary folks.
MEYER: And churchgoing-type people. I was interested in that remark. Do you recall any particular role that churches played at that time in terms of either encouraging or discouraging union activities?
GIBBS: I never remember any activity that a church took in that sort of thing except the only thing you might say is a peaceful approach or nonviolent. And if you was a union man, you could kind of have to, I guess, go over that, because you knew what you had to do to achieve if you wanted anything. If it required violence, you were there for it, you know. And, oh, I guess the thing that used to bother some of the guys a lot of times was when the strikes would come off and they'd want to know who's gonna picket, or how you picked the people to picket, and stuff like that, you know. Well, the union committeemen and your chairmen of your different committees knew the people in the shop that they could trust most, you know. And these are the people that you picked to be captain for a day or captain one day a week on picket duty. Or you got charge of this detail or you got charge of that detail, and so on and so forth. Like you always picked people that are sympathetic or favorable for these jobs. You don't pick a guy that says a union is no good or they're rotten or I wouldn't do this just 'cause they say or somethin' like that, you know. And I always enjoyed picket duty, always enjoyed the strike time. I always prepared for the strike time. For example, how did I do it? Well, I couldn't save a whole lot of money. And I was just as poor as the other guy, almost. But we always knew that we had to have another contract. And we always had to keep our union. And these are the things that guys that were interested in the union always would think about. We can't go back to the old days. And we were ready for the breaks. We always had guys, sure some of 'em went down there and they drank. I don't know where they got their money. But we found that the drinkers stuck with the drinkers, and the non-drinkers stuck with the non-drinkers. Or once in a while you'd get a few together, you know. But most of the time it's just like you pick your own group. And that's the way I worked. I picked my people and we all respected each other.
MEYER: Another thing I was kind of interested in, since you were so young at the time of the strike and when you worked, where you had just gotten out of high school. Do you remember in high school or in your schooling generally in Flint, any talk about things like unions that came up as part of the curriculum?
GIBBS: Yes, we had. I remember havin' a class debate, union and non-union, you know. And it was kind of interesting.
MEYER: Were you one of the debaters?
GIBBS: Yes, I was a debater.
MEYER: Do you remember which side you were on?
GIBBS: Oh, yeah, I took the labor side. And the teachers never thought too much of me for that. And I always found that the teachers were so biased that sometimes I wonder. In fact, I used to preach to my kids, you know, when we used to go out on strike and stuff, you know. And they'd come home and tell me somethin' about some teacher said this or some teacher said that. I'd tell them, "You go back to school and you tell your teacher this." And you know, they'd go back and they'd tell 'em that and I'd say, "What did they say?" And they said, well, they said this. And you know, next time they had a PTA meetin' or somethin' I never failed to look that guy up. And I'd tell him, "It's all right for you to teach your kids what you're supposed to teach 'em in the book. But don't you influence my children's opinions other than what you're supposed to teach 'em in the book." I says, "I'm the guy that influences my children in all their characters and everything. And all you do is teach the book." And I had two or three rounds with teachers about that, you know, because they'd come home and tell me that how the teachers say or teach the kids in the class that their daddies were illiterate and no good to go out on the picket line.
WIFE: Excuse me, honey, you're supposed to be at the doctor at 3:15.
MEYER: Just one last thought on that and I'll let you keep your appointment. You found the teachers when you were in high school were mostly anti-union?
GIBBS: Oh yeah. They were anti-union up until, I'd say, 1970.
MEYER: Well, I'm curious why would they have had this debate? Or was that something the teachers suggested?
GIBBS: Well, I think it was because they had the big deal, like I told you about. You know, where they hit 'em over the head. And we went back to school the next year and we was havin' civics at that time about history.
MEYER: In response to that incident, to incidents like that, they decided in the school to have the debate.
GIBBS: A debate, yeah.
MEYER: Was it hard to get people for the pro-union side, or was it embarrassing to students to get up and do that. I mean did you feel awkward?
GIBBS: No, I didn't feel awkward, 'cause...
MEYER: Do you think other students did?
GIBBS: It was about fifty-fifty. Probably I would say that some of the parents had told 'em, "Don't take no sides; don't talk." Some of 'em wouldn't give no opinions, but a few would. But my dad always taught me to speak what you thought. He says, "That's America." He says, "You come from a country that bred America, be one!" I can remember him sayin' that.
MEYER: Okay, well, this has been very helpful. I'd better let you go!