DATE:  Feb. 28, 1980
INTERVIEWEE:  Robert Severance
INTERVIEWER:  Kenneth B. West
 

SEVERANCE:  I don’t know how much I can help you, because it’s so many years ago, you know.

WEST:  I know it has been, but I wondered if we could start by getting some personal background, perhaps.  Are you a native of Flint, Mr. Severance?

SEVERANCE:  I was born and raised in northern Michigan, Onaway.

WEST:  I see.  And when was that?  What year was that?

SEVERANCE:  Well, let’s see.  Born in 1916.  And I graduated from high school in 1935.

WEST:  1935.  In northern Michigan you graduated?

SEVERANCE:  Yes.

WEST:  And when did you come to Flint, then?

SEVERANCE:  Right shortly after.

WEST:  What brought you here?

SEVERANCE:  Looking for work.

WEST:  You were looking for work.  Did you get notice, then, that they were hiring in the auto plants?

SEVERANCE:  Yes, rumors.

WEST:  Someone tell you that, then?

SEVERANCE:  Yes.

WEST:  And where did you hire in at, then?

SEVERANCE:  Fisher 1.

WEST:  Fisher 1, and in what job?

SEVERANCE:  I hired in Materials Department.

WEST:  What specifically did you do there?

SEVERANCE:  I started out by unloading trucks and boxcars.

WEST:  And what were your wages then?

SEVERANCE:  Fifty-five cents an hour.

WEST:  Fifty-five cents an hour, and was that straight-time?  You weren’t paid by the piece.

SEVERANCE:  Yes.

WEST:  Were you at that same job at the time of the strike?

SEVERANCE:  Yes, but I’d moved up a little better.  Well, I still wasn’t supervision, but...

WEST:  Where were you working, then, at the time of the strike?

SEVERANCE:  I was working in the same department, but I had gotten up to what they call a “checker,” a stock checker.

WEST:  I see.  What did that involve?

SEVERANCE:  That paid three cents an hour more.

WEST:  And what were the conditions like, where you were working?

SEVERANCE:  Uh, the conditions were okay.  The people we worked for were okay, except that they knew that they had us where they wanted us.  If they didn’t like us, all they had to do was replace us.  They’d say, “You’re all done.”

WEST:  You had a foreman then.  What sort of a man was your particular foreman?

SEVERANCE:  I had a good foreman.  I say a “good” foreman.  He was a good foreman of those days, but he was just like the rest.  He had a little bit of authority; he liked to use it.

WEST:  How did a man get to be a foreman then?

SEVERANCE:  Uh, you wouldn’t like my words.

WEST:  Well, that’s all right.  Just tell it in your own words.

SEVERANCE:  Naturally the man had to be capable.  And he also had to play a little footsy with supervision.  In other words, it was “yes, sir,” “no, sir.”  You couldn’t speak your own mind.  You might have some thoughts of your own, but you didn’t agree with what supervision was doing or what other parts of the plant was doing, but if you thought it didn’t suit the company, you didn’t say anything about it.

WEST:  I see.  Otherwise your job was not a particularly difficult one.  Was it physically?

SEVERANCE:  No.  The only difficult part was, like you say, was physical.

WEST:  I see.  Moving parts.

SEVERANCE:  Any fifth- or sixth-grader could have done it mentally.

WEST:  I see.  It was considered, then, unskilled work, because you were just a very young man.  Were there many people that came down to Flint from the northern part of the state?

SEVERANCE:  I think there was a large portion that came from the area that I was from, that came to Flint, Pontiac, and Detroit.

WEST:  I see.  Were conditions not good up north, then, to get a job?

SEVERANCE:  Well, there were no jobs.

WEST:  This was Depression, of course.  What did your parents do, your father?

SEVERANCE:  Well, my father was originally a lumberjack.  And then when the Works Progress Administration, the WPA, why, a lot of the families that qualified, if they had a large enough family, could get a job on the WPA.  And my father never had a... I think he had about a third- or fourth-grade education.  And he was hired as a supervisor, because he had been supervisor in the woods.  Evidently, I gathered this.  And, yeah, he had a good job, as far as the times, at that time.  Now what his pay was, I would say it would probably have been 20 dollars a week.

WEST:  That was WPA work.

SEVERANCE:  Yes.

WEST:  You didn’t think to get... Well, you couldn’t qualify then.

SEVERANCE:  Well, I qualified shortly after that, because, when I graduated, I was eighteen, and I came down here, and, like I said, I went to work in 1935.  And things got a little bit slow, but this was before 1937, and I went back to Onaway.  Then I worked on the... I got a job there as a tax survey on the WPA.

WEST:  That was when, around later ’35, ‘36?

SEVERANCE:  It was a little between ’36 and ’37.  Now, like I said, it was so many years ago, that it’s hard to...

WEST:  Right.  But so you were laid off for a while, later in ’35 or ‘36.

SEVERANCE:  Yes.

WEST:  When did you come back to Flint again?

SEVERANCE:  Uh...  The reason I came back they started, Roosevelt got the unemployment insurance into effect.  And that made me uneligible, of course, for WPA.  But my unemployment insurance amounted to more than what my wages were on the WPA.  I think at the time, the rural tax thing, I was getting fifteen dollars a week, with one child.  And my unemployment insurance was sixteen.

WEST:  You were married then, were you?

SEVERANCE:  Yes.  I got married soon as I got out of high school.

WEST:  I see.  Did you have difficulty at all making ends meet during those years?

SEVERANCE:  When I look back now, I think it was difficult, but I didn’t think so at the time.

WEST:  Did your wife work?

SEVERANCE:  No.  No.

WEST:  So you came back then down to Flint after you lost your job with the WPA.  Where did you live at the time of the strike?

SEVERANCE:  On Seventh Avenue.

WEST:  Were you buying?

SEVERANCE:  No, I was renting an apartment.

WEST:  Did you have a car?

SEVERANCE:  Yes, I had a 1932 Chevrolet.

WEST:  Any problems making payments on that?

SEVERANCE:  Oh, yes, certainly.  I had payments for twelve dollars a month, and once in a while I would have to ask to get one set over.

WEST:  And the fellow would do it.

SEVERANCE:  Well, I bought the car through General Motors, from General Motors, and the bank, they were fair enough. If I’d get a little behind, they would help.  Why, they would go along with me, because I always kept my payments up to date as best as I could.

WEST:  Was there any unionism in your family at all?  Was your father involved with unions?

SEVERANCE:  No.  My father, I remember my father talking about it, of rumors of it being in the lumberjacks, in the woods, when they were cutting timber, of unionism.  Talk, just talk.

WEST:  Well, the IWW actually would have probably been active, wouldn’t they?  They were active in the copper mines in the Upper Peninsula.

SEVERANCE:  Yes, but I think this was a little bit before my father’s time in the woods.  I think the copper time was in the late 1800s.

WEST:  Yeah, before the First World War, at any rate.  I know they some difficulties up there.  When you came down to Flint, then, first in ’35, there was a small union among the autoworkers, wasn’t there, an AFL union?

SEVERANCE:  There was a union, but it was camouflaged.  They didn’t want too much... Nobody wanted their names known if they had anything to do with it.

WEST:  You’d have been in danger of losing your job?

SEVERANCE:  Well, there would be no danger at all.  You just would have lost your job.  When I hired in at Fisher Body, we were lined up from the employment office, which was about halfway of the building at this time, back down as far as Atherton Road.  And for several days I was in this line.  Finally I got a chance to talk to the man at the gate, and I was hired.  And I was also taken in and briefed and orientated, if I had any intentions of having anything to do with unionism, or any organization, let them know now, because they wouldn’t need me.

WEST:  Oh, they talked to you, then, when you got in.

SEVERANCE:  Oh, yes.

WEST:  Did they do that to many of the fellows?

SEVERANCE:  Well, there was probably two hundred people the day I was there.

WEST:  And they just had a big meeting, then?

SEVERANCE:  Well, they just, just a gathering, like I would step out here on the porch and there’d be a bunch of people out there, and they said anybody that has unionism in mind need not apply.

WEST:  But that was the AFL union, I think it was, at that time.

SEVERANCE:  I don’t know what it was then.

WEST:  My understanding is that the CIO began to come in and organize in about the summer and fall of ’36.

SEVERANCE:  I believe so.

WEST:  Wyndham Mortimer and Bob Travis.  Did you any of those?

SEVERANCE:  I knew Bob Travis, but I didn’t know...

WEST:  You did know Bob Travis.  How did you meet him?

SEVERANCE:  Uh, I didn’t know him personally.  I knew him as a man as something to do with organization, and I feel that he was a good organizer.  And he was also called a Communist.  Course that’s the first thing... You go back far in history.  Any organization that the working people, they started “cry wolf” and Communism.

WEST:  When did you join the union, then?

SEVERANCE:  I didn’t join the union during the Sit-Down Strike.  It was afterwards.  I was in favor.  Now I did give donations, 50 cents or a dollar, whatever I could, before that.  But as far as to carry a card, I didn’t.

WEST:  You didn’t.  Why?  Were you fearful, then, of being laid off?

SEVERANCE:  I can’t say I was fearful, for the simple reason, I believe, that nothing can be done without organization in a situation like that, because no man can stand alone.  And I believed in this.  And I guess I may have had a little fear of having my name known too much, that I had given donations, or...

WEST:  Were there spies, then, in the plant?

SEVERANCE:  Oh, yes.  Yes.

WEST:  Did you recall any incident at all involving them?

SEVERANCE:  Nothing that I could prove, things that I knew, but things that I couldn’t prove.

WEST:  But they were around.  And some of them, I gather, were in the union, too.

SEVERANCE:  They worked both ways.

WEST:  Now you were working then in Fisher 1.  Were many of the people who worked around you union people?

SEVERANCE:  Yes, there were, I would say approximately, of people who worked around me, maybe 25 percent were interested and wanted the union and the other 75 percent were satisfied with what they had.

WEST:  Now how many people would you get to know on a personal basis around where you worked, that is, people you perhaps talked with and eat lunch with and know on first-name terms?

SEVERANCE:  Gosh, that’s hard to say.  I had a lot of friends, and a lot of these people I knew by a nickname.  Say their real name, I probably would never had heard it.

WEST:  I’ve run into that, that a lot of people were just known by their nicknames.  But what I’m trying to get at is whether there were groups of people within the plant, you know, that would know one another and talk, like teams, sort of a natural group that would work with you.

SEVERANCE:  Like cliques?

WEST:  Yeah, in a sense, though the job itself might make for teamwork, or make for people working close around you.

SEVERANCE:  Well, we had...I think they called ‘em infiltrators.  And they came from both sides.  They came from the company side and they came from the union side.  And some we knew; some we didn’t.  But the ones that we knew that were on the opposite side, we didn’t say too much to for the simple reason that we might lose our jobs.

WEST:  Did you talk unionism at lunch and that?

SEVERANCE:  Very little.

WEST:  You were apprehensive.

SEVERANCE:  Hardly anybody talked it.

WEST:  Did you have any premonition, later in the year, that was a strike coming?

SEVERANCE:  I had a premonition that something was going to happen, but I didn’t think it was going to be as great as... I thought that we’d have a strike, but I thought it would be just like it had been in past history.  It would last two weeks, and everybody would get hungry and go back to work.

WEST:  Was there talk that there might be a sit-down strike?  Because traditionally most strikers left the plant and picketed.

SEVERANCE:  Well, the only time I can remember anything like that, I can remember people saying was the only way to have a strike to keep them from taking our jobs was to have a strike and stay on their jobs so that nobody else could take ‘em.  So therefore I guess that’s where the sit-down came from.

WEST:  Do you think the strike could have been successful without using that technique?

SEVERANCE:  No.  No way, because there were too many people standing on the streets that wanted our jobs.

WEST:  I see.  You couldn’t have held out, then.  What was your experience when the strike was called?  How did you experience that particularly?

SEVERANCE:  I knew within a couple of days something was coming to a head.  And there was a group of fellows came through the shop, through the area, through different departments, said, “Shut it down, men.  This is all of it.”  They says, “We’re on strike, and we’re closin’ it all up.”

WEST:  Did everybody close it up?

SEVERANCE:  Oh, yeah, everybody.

WEST:  Or were some reluctant to shut...?

SEVERANCE:  I don’t remember... Course, like I said, I wasn’t on a machine.  I could go most anywhere I wanted in the Materials Department.  But I don’t remember anybody reluctant enough to say, “No, we’re not gonna do it.”

WEST:  Did some people leave the plant, then, after it was shut down?

SEVERANCE:  Yes, some people left that evening, that night.

WEST:  Was there any determination as to who would stay and who would not?

SEVERANCE:  Uh, not at that time, I don’t think, Ken.  Possibly the leaders had some that I didn’t know about, but they didn’t come to me and say, “You stay,” or “You go,” and so on.  They didn’t specify any one person or any group of people.

WEST:  I see.  So what did you decide to do, then, yourself?

SEVERANCE:  I walked around a while to see what was going to happen.  And it didn’t look good to me then, so I went over the fence and went home.

WEST:  I see.  Was it organized at all, when it was full?

SEVERANCE:   To a point.  Well, they come around to get us, say we’d meet at such-and-such a place, this group of people.

WEST:  Did you know who they were, this group?

SEVERANCE:  I knew some of them.  And some of the ones that were called Communists in my own mind I don’t think were.  I think they were just...

WEST:  Bud Simons was...

SEVERANCE:  I knew Bud Simons, Bill Motter, and what was the other fellow’s name that you mentioned?

WEST:  Bob Travis.

SEVERANCE:  Bob Travis.

WEST:  Joe Devitt?

SEVERANCE:  Joe Devitt, yes.  They were all called Communists.

WEST:  Were they, do you think?

SEVERANCE:  I was in doubt about one person, but I never did say it.  I would not say so today, because, even though his belief may have been communistic, he was a good man, and he did a lot for us.

WEST:  Did you know, was there any talk about joining the Party, you know, any dissemination of literature?

SEVERANCE:  I never heard of any Party talk whatsoever.

WEST:  So you decided to leave.  Was anything said to you when you did, then?

SEVERANCE:  They asked why I was leaving.  I said I have sickness in the family, which I did have.  And they said, “Well, we’d like to have you come back, ‘cause we’re going to be here for a while.”  Well, of course, I didn’t believe that at the time, but, as it turned out, they were there for a while.

WEST:  Did you come back?

SEVERANCE:  I came back and picketed.  That’s...  And then I went back up north.

WEST:  Oh, you picketed for a while, then.

SEVERANCE:  For a while.  Then I went back up north.

WEST:  When did you go back north?

SEVERANCE:  Oh, I probably stayed around about a week, maybe ten days.  And I went back.

WEST:  Did you follow the events from up north?  What sort of a picture did people have of what was going on in Flint up north?  That would interest me.

SEVERANCE:  The old-timers, including my father, made the statement to this effect:  “Those people got jobs and nothing to worry about.”  And he said, “They just don’t want to work.”  And so I tried to explain to my father what the situation was, and I said, “You know,” I said, “Dad, you can remember you worked at the Buick many years ago.”  And I said, “I can remember you got laid off because you refused to contribute to the Community Chest (at that time they called it----the Red Feather now, or the Community...).”  And I said, “I can remember you got laid off and never got back to work, because you refused to contribute so much out of your pay for that.”  And I said, “That’s what we’re fighting against, is things like that.”  He began to see a little different light.  And, as things progressed, I’d explain to him.  And he’d begin to see things in a little different light.

WEST:  But were most of the people up north who weren’t involved or didn’t have any background in the plants, were they somewhat hostile to the workers?

SEVERANCE:  I think so.  I think so.

WEST:  Did the sit-down bother people, trespassing on property?

SEVERANCE:  Well, they thought that this was wrong, because they were sitting on property that didn’t belong to ‘em.

WEST:  So you went up north, then, about a week after, but you remained sympathetic to the whole situation.

SEVERANCE:  Oh, yes.

WEST:  In your viewpoint, now, as you look back on it, what brought the strike about?  What were the main grievances behind the union, the organization?  What were they really trying to accomplish?

SEVERANCE:  Sometimes it’s hard to put my thoughts into words, but I believe as people thought why should we work under this situation----they called it a dictatorship, which, to a point, it did resemble one----and I heard one of the leaders say one time----in fact it was a fellow that I refused to mention his name because he did a lot of good----it’s just like the old feudal system.  And I couldn’t quite agree with him that it was like the old feudal system, ‘cause the old feudal system, like you had your little place in town and went in the fields and worked for the fellow that owned the place where you lived at in town.  And he gave you so much or a pittance to live on.  That was a lot of the opinion of the people at that time.

WEST:  Over conditions, then.

SEVERANCE:  Yes.

WEST:  ...and sort of “freedom from fear,” you might say.

SEVERANCE:  Yes.  If a foreman didn’t like you, which happens all the time, with personality clashes, with nothing against either party, you know.  They both could be right in their own thoughts.  But a personality clash, why, of course, one had the power of one, so there were a lot of people let out, laid off, and...  They never fired them; they laid them off and forgot to call them back.

WEST:  Not a great deal of difference from the point of the person who was laid off.

SEVERANCE:  That’s right.

WEST:  Were you up north when the news came that the strike had been settled?

SEVERANCE:  Yes.

WEST:  And what were your thoughts then?

SEVERANCE:  My thoughts were, well, I wondered how long it’s going to last.  Will people just get back to work and we’ll have another one, because these people have won this one?  Maybe the power will go to their head, and we may have trouble.  And, to a point, I think that is starting to happen now, this time and this day and age.  But I thought it was going to happen sooner than that.

WEST:  I see.  But did you come back to Flint, then?

SEVERANCE:  Yes, soon as I was notified.

WEST:  Did you notice any change when you got back to work?

SEVERANCE:  Just animosity between supervision and the workers.

WEST:  The foremen took a while to adjust, then?

SEVERANCE:  They accepted it, but----they accepted us as workers----but they didn’t like it, because they could say, “If you don’t like it, goodbye.”

WEST:  You joined the union, then, right away, after you got back?

SEVERANCE:  Yes.  Yes.  As soon as it was organized.

WEST:  There was no difficulty with you getting in, but presumably some of them were a little more harder to persuade to get into the union.  Was that true?

SEVERANCE:  Yes, there were... We called them “hardheads,” which at that time was wrong, because there were a lot of good people.  And like I say before, everybody should have the rights to their own opinions in America. And we called them “hardheads,” which they were not, because they didn’t believe what the thing was all about.  But after they got back in and could see what had happened before and what was happening to them, things worked on a little more happier basis.

WEST:  Did your wages increase?

SEVERANCE:  We got an increase, but, Ken, I don’t remember what it was.  It was a few cents.

WEST:  One of the things that interests me about that contract, or rather about what the union was striving for before the strike, was that there was talk, in fact, about a thirty-hour week at that time.

SEVERANCE:  Now I never did hear that.  The only thing I heard which would be in reference to that would be overtime for over 48 hours, which we could never get before.

WEST:  You didn’t get that before.  Was there less of a speed-up?

SEVERANCE:  No, I think at that time they were testing us, and I think there were more speed-ups than they’ve had in recent years.  They’d keep testing us to see how far they could go.

WEST:  And how did the workers react to that, the testing?

SEVERANCE:  They would go along with it for a while, and then there’d be another strike threatened, and they would negotiate.

WEST:  Now there were some wildcat strikes, weren’t there?

SEVERANCE:  Yes.  There were some unnecessary strikes, probably a lot that were unnecessary.  But, by the same token, these little wildcat strikes, so-called, which they were, kept the people on the toes to the effect that, if we decided to have a real strike, an authorized strike, we would do so.

WEST:  In other words, it put them on notice that you could be pushed only so far.

SEVERANCE:  I didn’t believe in the wildcat strike, but, by the same token, they had their value also.

WEST:  Were you ever laid off as a result of one of those wildcat strikes?

SEVERANCE:  No.  No.  I was never penalized for anything like this.  Excuse me, Ken.

WEST:  Sure.  Sure.   One of the things after the strike that apparently was organized was the steward system.  How did that work?

SEVERANCE:  We had, I believe it was five committeemen and a steward.  The steward was a leader for the union over a certain area, a group of people.

WEST:  About how many men would he supervise?

SEVERANCE:  It would depend on the amount of men in a certain department.  Now I couldn’t answer that.  That’s too many years ago.  But I would say he was probably responsible for 50 men, approximately.

WEST:  And he’d bring grievances, then?

SEVERANCE:  He’d bring grievances from this group to the other five committeemen, and they would take before the Negotiating Committee and the union.

WEST:  Did the steward system continue for very long?

SEVERANCE:  As far as I know, it was still going in 1948.  That’s when I quit.

WEST:  You quit in ’48.

SEVERANCE:  Yes.

WEST:  What were the grievances, then, that the stewards had to take up?  Do you remember?

SEVERANCE:  Oh, yeah, there were a lot of good ones.  There were a lot of silly ones.  One fellow, for example, I always remembered, brought up this big grievance, was it, that he couldn’t handle metal without any gloves, because, of course, it was to his advantage to have gloves.  He didn’t like to use gloves, because he said he couldn’t do a good job.  Well, this was kind of a silly grievance, but he wrote it up, and it had to be represented.  But there were very few like that.  These people, it’s just common sense they shouldn’t handle sharp metal without gloves.

WEST:  After the strike, in the summer of ’37, I understand there were some other problems in Flint, because the UAW felt itself in a way...

{END OF SIDE 1]

WEST:   ... at J. C. Penney’s, and at the Durant Hotel, and there was a big one at Consumers Power.  Did you get involved in any of those activities?

SEVERANCE:  I remember some of those happening, Ken, but I don’t remember anything about them, and I wasn’t involved in any of them.

WEST:  There was a construction company, apparently, too, this was close to Fisher 1, was building a million-dollar extension on to Fisher 1, and the construction company, a company named J. A. Utley, I think was struck.  Do you remember?

SEVERANCE:  Yes, I remember that strike.

WEST:  Were you, the men in Fisher 1, prepared to help in the picket lines of that construction company?  I understood, from the papers, that there was some talk about that.

SEVERANCE:  Well, J. A. Utley did not get very much support from our people.

WEST:  There was, later on, a rift within the UAW.

SEVERANCE:  There was the UAW and there was called the Homer Martin faction.

WEST:  Right, right.  And he later took his group into the AFL, and the other faction was the dominant, CIO, group.  Were you lined with one side or the other?

SEVERANCE:  I was in favor of the Homer Martin faction at that time.

WEST:  Why?

SEVERANCE:  I thought they were a little bit less radical.  I thought that the CIO was a little bit too radical at that time.  But, since my later years, and of course I read a lot of history, I think you have to have radicalism, to a point.  But it has to be no higher point than where it can be controlled.  But I think radicalism keeps things stirred up, keeps people on their toes, where they know what’s happening.

WEST:  Well, you were in conflict with the CIO.  Were you involved in any skirmishes?

SEVERANCE:  I wasn’t involved in any.  I was very...  Well, it just so happened that I wasn’t involved.  I could have been involved as easy as the next fellow from the two factions fighting amongst each other, but I tried to stay clear of the physical end of it.

WEST:  Did most of the workers, then, get involved in this?  Were most of the men sort of polarized, into either pro- or anti-Martin?

SEVERANCE:  It ran both ways.  It was just about like it was when it first started with the original union.  There were a lot of people would not speak what they thought.  Say I talked to you today, and you knew I was a Homer Martin man.  You would be a Homer Martin man.  Talk to me tomorrow, and I would be on the other side, you’d be on the other side too.  We had a lot of that, people that wouldn’t stand up and be counted.

WEST:  But by 1940, the CIO had won the election, apparently.

SEVERANCE:  Oh, yes.   Also, even though I was with the Homer Martin faction, it got to be some real skullduggery goin’ on in the Homer Martin faction.  I don’t know what it was.  And so I felt it was just as well the Homer Martin faction lost out, even though I was on their side at one time.

WEST:  In retrospect, you...  Who were some of the leaders in the AFL group?  Do you recall any?

SEVERANCE:  With the Homer Martin faction?  I was, to a point, some part of the leaders.

WEST:  And you recruited, then?

SEVERANCE:  I tried to.  I wouldn’t buck a man, say, well, “Would you join our side?”  I would explain our position, let him make his own choice, and I would say no more.

WEST:  I see.  How far back did that split go?  It culminates in 1940, but was it evident soon after the strike that there was a growing split?

SEVERANCE:  It’s again so many years ago.  Possibly less than a year.

WEST:  Travis, now, he was with the forces opposed to Martin.

SEVERANCE:  He was opposed to Homer Martin, yes.

WEST:  And he was, I guess he didn’t last beyond the fall.

SEVERANCE:  I don’t really know whatever happened to Travis.

WEST:  How did you feel about his role, after the strike?  He helped organize it.

SEVERANCE:  Well, I felt that he was getting a little bit power-hungry.  Now this is just my own personal opinion.  I’ve never said this to anyone else.  But I felt he was getting a little bit power-hungry.  He had served his purpose, and he wasn’t needed.

WEST:  I see.  Now did the wildcat strikes themselves play a part in that growing split, that is the feeling among some that the wildcats had to be controlled and that some of the people who were in power were not...?

SEVERANCE:  Well, something had to be done, because you can’t work with dissension.  And so they had an election.  And, of course, the Homer Martin faction lost by a pretty good margin, which was a surprise to me.

WEST:  It was a surprise.

SEVERANCE:  Yes, I thought that the Homer Martin faction would win out.

WEST:  There was, apparently in the summer, I think, to be specific, in June of 1937, I gather that there was a Consumers Power strike, and the whole Saginaw Valley was out for a while.  Did that...?

SEVERANCE:  I don’t remember any particulars about that, Ken.  After our regular sit-down strike, it seemed to get to be a fad with a lot of people.  You know, Consumers Power, even Smith-Bridgman’s.  “If we don’t like it, well, let’s just don’t accept it.”

WEST:  Did Martin take a stand against that?

SEVERANCE:  I don’t recall if he did or not, but I didn’t think, at the time, that Martin had anything to do except with industry.  Now, if he had anything to do with Consumers or the other companies around the area, I didn’t know anything about it.  I thought he was just for the automotive industry.

WEST:  When the strike was on, and before and after it too, there was one big local in Flint, I guess, Local 156.  For a time it was said to be the biggest single local in the UAW.  Later on it broke up.

SEVERANCE:  Broke up into each plant.

WEST:  How did you feel about that, breaking it up?  Was there any difference of opinion as to whether it ought to be done, whether maybe we ought to stick all the locals...?

SEVERANCE:  There was a lot of opinions.  Now, Ken, my opinion was everything could be controlled better if it was in smaller groups, like you take the Buick, Chevrolet Manufacturing (Fisher 2 at that time), and Fisher 1, it was almost too big to control as one body.  That was my opinion.  Course there was a difference of opinions.  Mine doesn’t make it right.  But I don’t know...

WEST:  I wonder if this was an issue in the factionalism that later arose, that is, whether the union ought to be an amalgamated union or broken up?

SEVERANCE:  There was quite a lot of dissension in what it should be.  It was debated back and forth, just like recently here George Meany wanted to get the CIO and the AFL and the UAW, get them all amalgamated in one big union.  I don’t believe it should be that way, because I don’t think that one man, which would amount to that, should have so much power.

WEST:  I see.  Would you say, though, that the big issue between the Martin group and the anti-Martin group, if you can, was the issue of radicalism?  That the idea that Martin was more conservative than some of the others?

SEVERANCE:  No, I don’t think it was that.  I think it was a battle for supremacy.

WEST:  Personal.

SEVERANCE:  Personal gain.

WEST:  Did you know Wyndham Mortimer at all?  He was...

SEVERANCE:  No, I don’t remember him.

WEST:  Any of the Reuther people?

SEVERANCE:  Just to talk to them.  That’s all.  Walter Reuther and his brother.  I talked to them, but not...  Just like to pass the time of day, or...

WEST:  Right.  Well, do you have anything else that you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered?

SEVERANCE:  No.  I think we’ve covered it pretty well, Ken.

WEST:  Well, we’ve tried to.

SEVERANCE:  I do think that the strike of 1937 equalized the classes of people, put them on an equal basis, the different classes of people.  Where it used to be just the working man and then the company, now I think the working man and the company is more or less all one, except, of course, nowadays they can voice their opinion, where before we couldn’t.  And I think that’s one of the greatest things that the strike of 1937 did, was to equalize the rights of the people of the United States.

WEST:  Are there any people that you know that went through that strike that we could perhaps talk to?  Are there names of friends of yours, or...?

SEVERANCE:  They’re gettin’ pretty scarce.  Well, if you’ve got a minute, I’ll make a phone call.