DATE: July 3, 1978
INTERVIEWEE: Sidney Batz, 2822 Cherokee, Flint, Michigan
INTERVIEWER: Jay Flowers
FLOWERS: My name is Jay Flowers, and what’s your name, sir?
BATZ: Sidney Batz.
FLOWERS: Sidney Batz. Mr. Batz, where do you live?
BATZ: I live at 2822 Cherokee.
FLOWERS: Mr. Batz, were you involved in the Sit-Down Strike of 1936?
BATZ: I was.
FLOWERS: Were you involved attempting to form a union prior to 1936?
BATZ: I was.
FLOWERS: How far back does your involvement begin?
BATZ: 1933, if I remember right, ’34 or along in there.
FLOWERS: In the early ‘30s and late ‘20s, GM started a program of welfare capitalism or a welfare program for its employees. Some of the more popular programs were the housing program, the employees’ savings and investment plan, a group insurance and a recreation and educational program, as well as a recreation facility, under the I.M.A., the Industrial and Mutual Association. Do you remember any of those plans?
BATZ: Oh, yeah.
FLOWERS: Did you participate in any of them?
BATZ: Yeah, the savings plan and the I.M.A. See, we had to join the I.M.A.
FLOWERS: You were forced to join it?
BATZ: Fifteen cents a week was taken right out of our checks.
FLOWERS: You had no say whether you wanted to join that or not?
BATZ: I don’t think so. I know that they took fifteen cents a week, pretty sure it was a week, out of our checks. Now, you could get a lot of benefit out of that, if you used it. I myself, I used it.
FLOWERS: Did most of the employees use...?
BATZ: A lot of ‘em didn’t. I used to go up to the I.M.A. and basketball and stuff like that, and I participated in sports deals and the shows every Sunday. They had marvelous vaudeville shows down there.
FLOWERS: Do you feel that the company was looking after your welfare by instituting these programs?
BATZ: Yes, I think so. They had to give us somethin’ for our money, and I give them credit. I think it was all right at the time.
FLOWERS: So you participated in the programs, and you believed then and you believe now that they were a beneficial program.
BATZ: Like I say, the people had to take advantage of it or it was no good to them.
FLOWERS: But you were forced to participate in some of them. You were forced to pay fifteen cents a week.
BATZ: I’m pretty sure we had to sign up. They come right around and had a sign up for it.
FLOWERS: The foreman?
BATZ: Yeah. At that time.
FLOWERS: How much were you making at that time to pay fifteen cents a week?
BATZ: Well, let’s see. I started in at one time in the maintenance department, and I was in there, and I was learning the trade. I was getting 50 cents per hour, and tops was 67, I think.
FLOWERS: Was that on piecework?
BATZ: No, no, in maintenance first. Then I left there. I got mad. Do you want to know why I left there?
FLOWERS: Yes, I’m curious. Why did you leave there?
BATZ: Well, we worked for... There was no time-and-a-half or anything like that, and I went in the morning of this one particular time. I went in on a Saturday morning. We worked all day Saturday ‘til twelve o’clock Saturday night and went home and was back into work at seven o’clock Sunday morning. We worked right straight through until six o’clock Monday morning.
FLOWERS: Without a break.
BATZ: Well, just as far as walk to lunch. And the superintendent, which I did not like at all (the plant engineer, really), and he said, “Go out and eat your breakfast and come right back in.” I went out and went home and went to bed.
FLOWERS: Do you recall the year?
BATZ: And I would be in at noon, and he called me right in the office, started jumping all over me. I told him exactly what he could do with his job.
FLOWERS: Were you fired then or did you quit?
BATZ: Well, he wrote up my time. I told him what he could do with it, and he wrote it out, so you could either call it fired or quit. I was fed up with it.
FLOWERS: From maintenance, where did you go then?
BATZ: Then I went to work at a gas station for a while, and then I went to Fisher 2. But then I went back in 1931 and went to the employment office, and they said the only job we got that we can give you that you will accept, ‘cause I knew Don Teen pretty well, and he says, “Sid, I got a job in the salvage, but it only pays 35 cents an hour.” And that was right during the hard part of the Depression. So I said, “Well, I’ll take it.” Well, he said, “Well, you won’t come back here and want me to give you somethin’ else, now?” I says, “No, Don, I’ll take it and be satisfied.” So I went to work for 35 cents an hour, and for two weeks work I can remember I drew less than fifteen dollars in one week.
FLOWERS: And they were taking fifteen cents out of that for these programs at that time.
BATZ: Yeah, I’m pretty... Now, wait a minute. Oh, I’m not sure at that time. See, this is when I worked there the first part. But I imagine they were. I don’t remember just when that was stopped.
FLOWERS: In 1933, there was an act called the National Industrial Recovery Act. Do you remember that act?
BATZ: Slightly. I just can’t place it just what it was now.
FLOWERS: Okay, that act, as I recall, gave workers the right to organize with any union they so desired. However, it was not a closed shop. It was an open shop.
BATZ: The company union.
FLOWERS: That’s right, and it allowed the company’s union to continue. Were outside unions formed after 1933? Was there a formation of unions? Did other unions try to get into the shops?
BATZ: Yeah, you see I think it was AFL, I think, tried to organize at first. And then there was, oh, there was a lot of fightin’ in between. The UAW was in there, and I think it was the AFL. Seems to me there was one other, and I can’t remember what it was. Just can’t remember what it was. Seems to me there was one other one was in there, trying to arguing, fighting to get in.
FLOWERS: On March 25th, in 1934, President Roosevelt upheld what was called “union pluralism,” which meant that, of course, that the company could maintain their union, by indicating that 7(a) was not a closed shop law. Do you recall any discussion at that time about the President’s decision to allow companies to continue their unions? Was there discussion among workers?
BATZ: Well, there was discussion on this set-up on the company, and I know one fellow in the mill, and I can’t think of his name, he was elected as our spokesman, or the company appointed him. I can’t remember, but I think he was elected by us. And, oh, he done the negotiations with the company and the workers, but it didn’t do a heck of a lot of good, I’ll tell you that.
FLOWERS: He was a company man.
BATZ: Well, he wasn’t a company man, but he didn’t accomplish anything, because whatever he asked for the company just kind of ignored it. All they wanted was a little goodwill feeling between the fellows and the company, and then they’d turn around and give you nothin’ anyway.
FLOWERS: What were the major difficulties, as you recall them, in attempting to form an outside, industrial union during the 1933-34...? What were the problems that the people faced that were trying to organize?
BATZ: Well, like I say, now, at one time there I was makin’ 35 cents an hours. The guys that were workin’ on the line, and they keep speed up the lines, speed up the lines. This was on piecework. And it got so that you couldn’t make a living hardly on piecework, because they had time-study men come in all the time, cuttin’ them jobs and cuttin’ ‘em here and cuttin’ ‘em there all over. They just cut the hang out of ‘em. I know in the mill, wood mill, I worked in there. Now, we had a group that worked on the lock-board line, but we watched our step all the time. We kept only so many, and then we’d slow it down, because... And other guys who I knew, they got so that they couldn’t even make a dollar an hour and workin’ their head off, where we averaged between a dollar and $1.35. Now that was in ’35, still wood bodies, ’34 or ’35.
FLOWERS: There were still wooden bodies at that time. What was your position then?
BATZ: I worked on the lock-board line running a router, a wood router. And we had a group of fellows, right in our group. We held it down, but some of these other guys, they got hungry, and they’d get 30, 40 dollars ahead, and they’d turn it all in at once. Well, then what happened, they come right out and cut the jobs, see. We never did. We never kept any, and in some weeks they’d make maybe 150 dollars.
FLOWERS: Did the men kind of keep each other in line that way?
BATZ: Like I say, our group, there was probably about twelve fellows, where the lock-board line started, and we held it right down. We had a nice group of fellows. But some of them other ones, oh, brother, they’d cut the livin’ daylights out of ‘em.
FLOWERS: When did you become interested in the United Autoworkers to represent you?
BATZ: Well, in 1936 is when I become interested in ‘em, and that’s when I joined into it. That’s when they... You see, when they pulled the strike in 1936, of December, I got hurt. And I was in the hospital for three weeks and durin’the time I was in the hospital is when they walked out. We were talking that all up, and when I... The job that on the line at that time, there was two of us doing, well, I know it was 50 jobs an hour. And when I come back to work, after the strike, it was four men doin’ the same work. In other words, that’s how much... I had the superintendent or the boss come around tell me, when I first went in there, clean up the job with rubber dough. And they had a big box, oh, maybe six foot long, and take the oleum and wipe the rubber dough off. They wanted it in that box. I had to go out, clear around that car, and clean everything. And I was goin’ down the line farther all the time, so I just had to throw it on the floor, the dirty cotton. He come along, and he said, “You got to keep this dirty cotton up off the floor.” And that was Heremsky. And you got that thing on now?
BATZ: Well, any way... [pause] ... three blocks they’re tryin’ to get jobs. I seen that man take him over to the window and say, “If you don’t want to do the job, we can get somebody. There are a lot of people out there want to work.”
FLOWERS: Did that fear put you people back to work?
BATZ: See, that was in ’35, ’36, early part of ’36, before they walked out. But I was so surprised when that man didn’t fire me. Evidently that’s what he wanted, somebody to talk back to him. That’s the only thing I could figure.
FLOWERS: There was an awful lot of discussion in the early years, ’33, ’34, particularly in ’35 and ’36, about the United Autoworkers being Communist. Did you hear that kind of talk?
BATZ: Oh, yes, there was a lot of that talk.
FLOWERS: Did you really care?
BATZ: Well, I cared, yes, and I think everybody else did. But I don’t think it amounted to too much.
FLOWERS: Do you think that Travis and...?
BATZ: I know Travis and Frankenstein [sic, Frankensteen].
FLOWERS: Bud Collins [sic, Simons]?
BATZ: Bud Collins.
FLOWERS: Do you think that they were inspired by Communist doctrine?
BATZ: I don’t think so. Truthfully I don’t think so. There was a lot of talk.
FLOWERS: Do you think that that was a General Motors ploy to try to discredit the union?
BATZ: I think that’s what the whole thing was, more than anything. I don’t think any of ‘em was Communist, because I never heard anything on Communists, didn’t know anything about it. But they was sayin’ that there was Communists was startin’ all this, and I don’t believe it. Now, it could have been. Now, at one time they said Reuther, you know, was a Communist, because he went over to Russia and studied over there. But he was a long ways from bein’ a Communist, I’ll tell you that.
FLOWERS: Did you ever attend a local, national, state group meeting at that time?
FLOWERS: Were you ever involved in it?
BATZ: No, I didn’t.
FLOWERS: Where were the meetings held locally? How did you men get together?
BATZ: We had ours right there across from Fisher Body. Had a building right there. That’s the only one that I can remember that where we had any meetings or anything.
FLOWERS: You never had to meet, like in beer taverns or in secret...
BATZ: I didn’t. Now there might have been some of ‘em did, see. The leaders and things, they might have.
FLOWERS: Who were the leaders at the time?
BATZ: Well, there was... Course there was Travis. And Frankenstein was down here. And, oh, gosh, there was so many of ‘em that...
FLOWERS: You ever heard of the name Mortimer?
BATZ: Mortimer, yeah, now I heard that name, Mortimer. But I can’t remember just... I remember the name. But there was a lot of individuals, some of ‘em that... I think some of ‘em, couple of ‘em was president of the local, but I couldn’t, I really wouldn’t want to name who they were, either, because there was very much interested in it. I wish I could figure out some of them fellows that won, but of course a lot of ‘em are gone now.
FLOWERS: There was a newspaper, or a weekly bulletin that was published by Travis or Mortimer. I can’t remember which one. Did you subscribe to it?
BATZ: I’ve seen a few issues of it.
FLOWERS: Were they persuasive?
BATZ: Persuading people to join and, well, just workin’ on ‘em. That’s trying to install something in in their mind to where they could organize. But, of course, Reuther was the one that...?
FLOWERS: Which Reuther was that? Roy Reuther?
BATZ: Well, both. Walter and...
FLOWERS: Walter, too?
FLOWERS: He was very active up here in ’36?
BATZ: Oh, yeah, he was the one that really got us all back into the UAW, that is, really organized it right, ‘cause Reuther, I admired Reuther. He was a marvelous man. I didn’t like some of his tactics, but, as a union man and a work, boy, he was hard at it. And he run things right. He never drank and never smoked. Reuther never did.
FLOWERS: Let me ask you some more questions here. In May of 1936, the new United Autoworkers board met. They composed of, I think it was Mortimer, and a gentleman by the name of Martin, and some other individuals. And they met and they had decided that in May of 1936 that General Motors was vulnerable, that they were gonna strike it in January of ’36. And they decided that they would strike General Motors, Fisher Body, because of the fact that there were only two sets of dies for the entire bodies. One was here and one was in Toledo. Were you aware of that?
BATZ: Well, I was aware that they only had a small amount of dies. I knew that.
FLOWERS: Mortimer said that there was a “cloud of fear” hanging over the city, that everyone was fearful of their jobs, and that there was a very, General Motors dominated the city. Did you have this feeling?
BATZ: It was, no doubt about it.
FLOWERS: Were you fearful at any time, after in ’36, when you joined the union?
BATZ: Well, not as much as what maybe a lot of the others was, because, of course, I lived right out there. I worked for the old Flint Motors here, before Fisher ever took over that plant. And I helped rebuild the whole thing then. I worked with the contractors at that time before I went to work for Fisher. See, Fisher took it over in ’29. First body went out in December of 19—no, wait a minute. I’m way off the beam there. The first body went out in 1926, if I remember right. ’24 and ’25, in there, I worked for the old Flint Motor. And the first body went out of Fisher Body, Buick, in December of 1926.
FLOWERS: And you were working then for Fisher Body?
BATZ: I was working with the contractors at the time of that. And then, right after that, I went to work for General Motors, in the Maintenance Department, 192...
FLOWERS: That’s when you quit and then you came back. In 1936, according to Mr. Mortimer, there were five locals. There was the Buick, the Chevrolet, the Fisher 1, 2, and AC Spark Plug. And he claims he came into Flint and combined them into one local. Were you aware of that, called Local 156. Do you remember Local 156?
BATZ: I don’t remember it.
FLOWERS: Were there feelings of spies being in your United Autoworkers group?
BATZ: Oh, yeah.
FLOWERS: Did you know that there were spies from the company?
BATZ: Well, I didn’t know any personally, or anything like that, but I know they had ‘em, because they knew everything that was going on.
FLOWERS: In one of the books I read, Mortimer’s book, he indicated that the union dropped in membership from 1934, from 26,000, to 120 in 1936. Did you have a feeling about the drop in membership? Did you feel that all of a sudden the membership...?
BATZ: No, I couldn’t say that they did.
FLOWERS: Did you quit?
BATZ: No. But now it’s possible.
FLOWERS: That it dropped that low.
BATZ: It could have, yeah.
FLOWERS: Because of what reasons?
BATZ: Well, things didn’t operate just the way it should. And there was so much fighting in between. And with two or three different ones trying to get in there, and fighting among each other, so you didn’t know where you was at. And I don’t remember now was AFL and UAW and maybe there was another one.
FLOWERS: The Black Legion was... What was the Black Legion?
BATZ: I don’t know. Goon squads, I know that.
FLOWERS: Goon squads. Were you fearful of the Black Legion? You as an individual?
BATZ: No, I wasn’t. I know they beat the hang out of some, the goon squads did. Beat the hang out of guys that went into work, tried to go into work. I didn’t believe in them.
FLOWERS: Did you know any of the following: Bud Simons. Did you know him?
BATZ: Knew him well.
FLOWERS: Jay Green?
FLOWERS: Joe Devitt?
BATZ: Devitt. I don’t remember that one.
FLOWERS: Doc Maddock?
FLOWERS: Dick Van Ellen?
FLOWERS: Walter Moore?
BATZ: Walter who? Don’t remember them, but I...
FLOWERS: Bud Simons seems to be a vocal person. Is that correct?
BATZ: Oh, yeah. He was a good, honest union man I always said, and he worked hard at it. He wasn’t radical, but he was very stern.
FLOWERS: Do you recall a firing of the Perkins brothers in Fisher Number 1? Had you heard of...?
BATZ: Well, I heard about it, but I didn’t know too much about it. They were fired in what year was it, do you know?
FLOWERS: That was 1936, just prior to the strike.
BATZ: I know there was some fired.
FLOWERS: And then they were rehired, and Simons then went around, indicating that he had gotten them back. On December 26th, 1936, Fisher Body in Cleveland went out on strike. Were you aware of that, that Fisher Body in Cleveland went out on strike?
BATZ: No. Well, now, see, in ’26, course, you see, now, I wasn’t, I was up on crutches. I got out of the hospital the 24th, Christmas Eve. I got out the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and then I was on crutches for quite a long time, until after the strike, that is, I stayed on crutches, but they let me go in the hospital down there, let the doctor check me every week. And every time I’d go in there, he’d say, “Not able to walk without them?” “No.” He said, “Well, give it a try.” So I took about one or two steps, and I grabbed on the table. I wasn’t gonna be cut off in my hip. So I drawed compensation of $18 a week.
FLOWERS: So, if you hadn’t been in the hospital and hadn’t had that operation, you’d have been...
BATZ: I wouldn’t have had that 18 bucks a week.
FLOWERS: So that was quite fortunate for you, wasn’t it?
BATZ: I wasn’t gonna be cut off of it.
FLOWERS: Mr. Batz, I would now like to ask you some questions, if you don’t mind. What is your age?
FLOWERS: And your religion?
FLOWERS: Where were you born?
BATZ: Saginaw, Michigan.
FLOWERS: Can you remember your exact address in Flint during the ’36 Sit-Down Strike?
BATZ: 4325 South Saginaw, I think. My dad had the restaurant, and, if it wasn’t, it was just a block away, but I can’t tell you that one. It was 4325 South Saginaw.
FLOWERS: Do you know anyone else that we think we should talk to regarding the ’36 Sit-Down Strike?
BATZ: I tried to call Genske, over here. And he was president of our local, and I don’t remember just what year. But, if you’ll wait a second, I’ll give him a buzz. Genske, G-E-N-S-K-E, at 2910 Cheyenne.
FLOWERS: And his phone number?
BATZ: And the phone number is 742-2150.
FLOWERS: Do you know of any policemen or National Guard members that were involved in the Sit-Down Strike that live in Flint?
BATZ: No, I don’t.
FLOWERS: Did you own a car in 1936, during the strike?
FLOWERS: You did. What make was it? Was it a GM car?
FLOWERS: How many people were dependent on you during the strike?
BATZ: The wife and I and daughter. During the strike, you mean.
FLOWERS: You were able to make it during the strike because of the fact that you were getting $18 a week for disability.
BATZ: Right. And I stayed with the wife’s mother. Course she was on strike, too. Course I didn’t have an apartment to pay for or anything at that time.
FLOWERS: Do you ever have to go to the United Autoworkers for additional money for food or clothing?
BATZ: Never did.
FLOWERS: May I ask you a question? I’ve heard the term “outsiders” mentioned frequently. Could you tell me, were you aware of outsiders coming in to harass or to intimidate the union or General Motors?
BATZ: Well, there was outsiders there, but I couldn’t say who or... But we knew they were there, because they was just trying to stir up trouble all the time. Somebody was always buggin’ somebody. And course there were goon squads.
FLOWERS: What was the goon squad?
BATZ: Well, that was a bunch of bullies that was after...
FLOWERS: Were they members of the United Autoworkers or member of General Motors?
BATZ: Most of ‘em was the autoworkers, the ones that I can recall.
FLOWERS: Did you join the union because of the goon squad?
FLOWERS: Or did you join the union because you felt that was the place for you?
BATZ: I never had no trouble with the goon squad, but a lot of ‘em that wouldn’t join the union is the ones that had the trouble. I was tryin’ to get through the picket lines, and the goon squad was right there. And they’d lay a rule. They didn’t fool about it. Pretty rough. But I had no trouble, because I was in favor of the union, I guess. I don’t know.