INTERVIEW: March 4, 1980
INTERVIEWER: Neil Leighton
INTERVIEWEE: William T. Connolly, Sarasota, Florida
LEIGHTON: We're talking about your coming to Flint. You came from where, Andover, Massachusetts?
CONNOLLY: Andover, Massachusetts.
LEIGHTON: What year did you come?
CONNOLLY: 1927 or '28. '27.
LEIGHTON: I see. So was your dad doing the work in Florida by then or did that come later?
CONNOLLY: No, he was in Flint at that time. He was established in General Motors.
LEIGHTON: I see. Did he work in the shop?
CONNOLLY: As a factory worker, yeah. He was a tool and die maker. No, excuse me. At that time he was hired in Chevrolet Motor Plant as a safety engineer. That was his first job.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so he had been doing this in Massachusetts.
CONNOLLY: In Andover he was a machine shop superintendent, but he had invented several safety devices for the machinery in the plant. And the man who was then in charge of Chevrolet in Flint used to work for my dad in Andover. So he remembered these safety devices, so he sent down to Florida for my dad to come out there and help with safety in the plant.
LEIGHTON: I see. So your dad had gone to Florida and done the work on a short-term basis and then...
CONNOLLY: That's right.
LEIGHTON: I see. And your dad was working for Smith and Dove. Was that the company?
CONNOLLY: Yes, that's right.
LEIGHTON: So you went to school in Andover then.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, I went to the Catholic school in Andover.
LEIGHTON: I see, okay. You were talking about Ireland and the Connollys there. Had your dad come from Ireland?
CONNOLLY: Yes, my dad came from Ireland in 1916.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see, and your mother, too?
CONNOLLY: Yes, well, mother's not from Ireland. Mother's from Scotland. They met in the United States.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see, okay. So by the time you come to Flint in 1927 you're out of school. Is that right?
CONNOLLY: No, I was in the eighth grade. So I went to school in Flint, Emerson Junior High School and Northern High School.
LEIGHTON: I see. So did you graduate from Northern?
LEIGHTON: And then go right into the plant, or was that the Depression?
CONNOLLY: That was the Depression. And I spent a little time on hitchhikin' around the country.
LEIGHTON: Oh, yeah. What year did you graduate from high school, just so I get that down?
LEIGHTON: Oh, right in the middle, the worst part.
CONNOLLY: You couldn't get a job for love nor money. So I went to see the World's Fair and then went hitchhikin' around the country. I went back to Flint and then I got a job in Fisher Body.
LEIGHTON: In Fisher 2?
LEIGHTON: Just a couple of questions while you're hitchhiking. Hitchhiking around the country or out traveling is a heck of an education.
CONNOLLY: It is beautiful.
LEIGHTON: And is that where you came in contact with guys trying to organize to get into a union or was that earlier? Did you get that from your dad or your mom?
CONNOLLY: No, I didn't get that from my parents. I got that first from Fisher Body.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so you didn't come across anybody organizing when you were out.
CONNOLLY: No, no.
LEIGHTON: You know, some guys used to ride the rails and they might come across a Wobbly organizer or work in the coalmines or something like that.
CONNOLLY: Well, I did have an experience with the coalmines when I was hitchhiking. I hit a town where there was a strike on. And we were asked to leave town without getting into any trouble because strangers were not... Being a stranger in town was fair game for anybody. Both sides thought they were probably imported by the other side, so that would have started trouble.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, sure, so they would have thought you were a scab.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, or else a troublemaker for the company.
LEIGHTON: Oh, yeah. So you come back to Fisher, what was it, about 1935?
CONNOLLY: '35 exactly, yeah.
LEIGHTON: How did you get hired in?
CONNOLLY: Well, I was very fortunate. There was about thirty guys outside the plant gate and they come out and asked for tack spitters.
LEIGHTON: Oh, tack spitters, got it. Okay, sure.
CONNOLLY: So when they asked for tack spitters I got tired of seeing people go by me, so I went in. And I went through the employment manager and hired in. There was no big write-up or anything. I just went in and hired in. The superintendent went up the stairs with me and he said, "Where did you ever spit tacks?" "I never spit tacks in my life. But I just said that to get in here because I wanted a job." "Well," he said, "I'll tell you, I'm glad you were honest enough to tell me this. We got a boy that's the stock boy in the cushion room. And he can spit tacks some." So he says, "I'll give you his job and he'll take the tack spitting job." I was happy to get a job of any kind.
LEIGHTON: Sure, sure. Your dad was working by then?
CONNOLLY: Oh, yes, he was the superintendent of the tool room at Chevrolet.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so he was across the street.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. And the Depression was so bad that he couldn't even get you a job. You had to wait outside and take your shot with everybody else.
CONNOLLY: Well, that's true. He could have got me in the toolmakers' school, which paid a small amount of wages and a lot of work. But I was too impatient to take that route for four years, so I thought I'd get me a job.
LEIGHTON: So you were about nineteen then, nineteen, twenty or somewhere in there?
LEIGHTON: Eighteen, oh.
CONNOLLY: I graduated from high school at sixteen.
LEIGHTON: Oh I see, on the young side, yeah. When you go into the plant in 1935 you were working in the stockroom. How long did you stay there?
CONNOLLY: Not very long. I was quite ambitious to get out of the stockroom and get more money, see, because at that time it was piecework in that plant. And they could make pretty good money comparatively to the other automobile workers in Flint. So I studied, every chance I got, the men on the line. And I practiced spittin' tacks and bought me a tack hammer and practiced at home. And pretty soon I got so I could spit tacks pretty good. And so the first opening on the line, I asked for and got.
LEIGHTON: In those days of spitting the tacks you just took 'em as they came out of the box, right?
CONNOLLY: Right out of the box and put 'em in your mouth and spit 'em on your hammer and then hammered them in.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did you have to chew tobacco or something then?
CONNOLLY: Always, always to avoid the acid from the tacks.
LEIGHTON: So it was a real mess. If you ever swallowed, you were practically dead.
CONNOLLY: No, if you swallowed a tack you could take a piece of cotton and swallow it immediately afterwards. It'll find the tack and wrap itself around it and...
LEIGHTON: ...pass on through.
CONNOLLY: Pass on through. But I would put a few in my hand, you know, goin' too fast. But then, see, in those days there was no seniority. So the fastest man and the most productive man got the best jobs. And bein' a hungry boy, that kind of appealed to me. But I soon learned that that was not the right route to go, by the attitude of the men in the plant, see.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, I was gonna ask you that next. How do they kind of get you in line so that you wouldn't raise the...
CONNOLLY: Kill a job, you mean?
LEIGHTON: Yeah, right.
CONNOLLY: Well, on every line is one little bit older person, see. Well, everybody tries to protect that older guy and try to keep his job for him. In fact, sometimes they help him with his work because he needs the job. And I soon learned that if I overshadowed my fellow workers, I was held in disdain see, instead of getting their approval. By the workers, that is. And there was no seniority as far as lay off and rehiring goes. I was the last man laid off and the first man hired back simply because I was ambitious. And I soon realized this and that it wasn't gettin' me any place with the men. And I had no desire to run General Motors anyway. So my main desire was to be liked by my fellow workers.
LEIGHTON: Sure. When did you first notice that there was any union activity?
CONNOLLY: Well, I went to lunch one day and Bob Travis was in the restaurant.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so this would have been '36 already, then, because Bob comes in October?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, and he was in the restaurant passin' out cards. And we talked about it in the plant. Of course we were warned not to talk about it in the hearing of a supervisor and that was it.
LEIGHTON: Sure. Had any of the supervisors, by the way, before that...had they come around and told you "don't"? I wanted to ask you if they tried to intimidate you?
CONNOLLY: Yes, that's right.
LEIGHTON: How did they do that?
CONNOLLY: They would just come around and say, "Well, there are some trouble makers out there and we don't want you to get in any trouble. So we want you to know that the first guy that we hear of tying up with them guys is out." So we joined. I don't know why we joined but we wanted to get away from the tyranny of it. That was mostly it; it wasn't the money. We were getting as good pay as any place in General Motors at that time. It wasn't any desire for more money. It was just the idea of betterin' ourselves and stickin' together. We wanted seniority, because when a man gets to be fifty-five or fifty-eight years old and he was laid off, he was sometimes never called back. And the young men, the strong men, were laid off last and hired back first, and that didn't sit very well with the rest of the guys.
LEIGHTON: Was there a lot of favoritism in the hiring, too?
CONNOLLY: Oh, yeah.
LEIGHTON: I mean other than just age?
CONNOLLY: That's true. In our department anybody from the Pinconning, Michigan area and the Roscommon area was hired in, because the general superintendent came from that area and he knew everybody.
LEIGHTON: I see. So all his friends, neighbors and relatives.
CONNOLLY: Well, he promised them jobs up there. He'd tell them, "Come down to Flint; I'll give you jobs." And the people in Flint were unemployed at the time and they highly resented this feature.
LEIGHTON: Sure. Was there any hiring of, let's say, farmers first, because they could supply a little produce or something to the guy or didn't you see any of that?
CONNOLLY: Well, we had a lot of farm workers in there, but I don't know if it was for that reason. I just knew that there were a lot of farm workers in there.
LEIGHTON: Were there any guys kind of talking union like on lunch breaks and so on, before you meet Bob in the restaurant, before October or November?
CONNOLLY: Not openly. We might have a little discussion among ourselves about something should be done about this so-and-so who was the favorite of the boss and gets the best job and the first man hired in and made more money than the older workers and so forth. And we didn't like that. So when Travis met us in the restaurant we was glad to get the opportunity.
LEIGHTON: Before Bob came, was there much activity in and around the Chevrolet plant, guys passin' out literature or anybody holding meetings that you'd go to?
CONNOLLY: Not that I recall. I don't recall any.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember people passing out literature in the parking lot or didn't you have a car then?
CONNOLLY: I had a car then. But do you mean organizing literature for the union?
CONNOLLY: I don't recall any.
LEIGHTON: Or even was there any political parties that were active then, before the strike now?
CONNOLLY: Well, I was young at the time of the strike, so all I have to go on is hearsay before that. Well, prior to that, there was a wildcat strike pulled about four or five years ago before this. But it wasn't successful at all.
LEIGHTON: And that had been in Fisher 2?
LEIGHTON: So you meet Bob in the restaurant and he gets you to sign up?
LEIGHTON: Right on the spot?
LEIGHTON: So you guys must have really been desperate by that time.
CONNOLLY: Well, we were not desperate. We were just eager to try to alleviate some of the conditions that were there. Not that we were suffering any, but we didn't like it. Socially we didn't care to be treated that way.
LEIGHTON: Were there others that signed up with you at the same time?
CONNOLLY: Oh yeah, yeah.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember some of 'em?
CONNOLLY: Yeah. Brother Kelly.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, he's farming up in Michigan now.
LEIGHTON: Oh. What's his first name, do you know?
CONNOLLY: Clair, C L A I R.
LEIGHTON: Okay. We're always trying to find, you know, more people who...so Clair Kelly.
CONNOLLY: I think he is around Roscommon someplace.
LEIGHTON: Okay, we'll find out. Clair Kelly. Any others?
CONNOLLY: George Hillier.
LEIGHTON: Hiller, H I L L E R?
CONNOLLY: H I L L I E R. And he's in Florida some place now, I believe. And this person, I mentioned his name to you a little while ago... Anyway he has a building company down by Punta Gorda right now. Clair...it will come to me in a minute.
LEIGHTON: Sure, okay, no problem. Did Roscoe Rich or any of those sign up then or were they already in?
CONNOLLY: Well, they worked in a different department from me, so I'm not familiar with their activities prior to the strike.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see. Okay.
CONNOLLY: The day of the strike we met Roscoe.
LEIGHTON: You didn't know Red prior to the strike?
CONNOLLY: Yes, Red chaired a couple of meetings of the organized union when they first organized.
LEIGHTON: Okay, that's what I want to get to and then work up to the strike. So you meet Bob and what does he do? He signs you up and takes your what, fifty cents or whatever it was then?
CONNOLLY: Fifty-cents, that's all it was too, I think.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, and you signed a card. And then what did he tell you to do?
CONNOLLY: He said, "Well, keep your mouth shut in the plant. Don't flash your button. Try to talk quietly to your other fellow workers and come to the meetings.
LEIGHTON: Okay, and where were the meetings? Where did you hold the meetings?
CONNOLLY: The meetings were downtown over a bar at the...
LEIGHTON: Was that the Pengelly Building?
CONNOLLY: The Pengelly Building, yes.
LEIGHTON: Right on the corner of Third and Harrison.
LEIGHTON: Where the Skaff Furniture store is.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, well, there was a bar downstairs at that time.
LEIGHTON: Oh yeah. Do you remember the name of it? I've heard of the bar, but I've never heard of the name of it. We are trying to put together a tour of the spots.
CONNOLLY: I don't know if I could ever think of the name of it.
LEIGHTON: We'll find it; it's not that important. So you met in the bar or upstairs in the halls, in the meeting rooms?
CONNOLLY: Well, we had them in the hall upstairs, the second floor.
LEIGHTON: Okay and were you...just the guys from Fisher 2 would meet together or were there guys from other plants?
CONNOLLY: That's true, guys from Fisher 2.
LEIGHTON: Okay, and Bob would meet with you?
CONNOLLY: That's right.
LEIGHTON: And was Roy Reuther there then?
CONNOLLY: Sometimes he came, but Bob was, I guess, the mainstay.
LEIGHTON: Okay. He was the main speaker. Did you ever meet...he would have left in October. Did you ever meet Wyndham Mortimer?
CONNOLLY: Not personally. I don't believe I ever met Wyndham Mortimer. I saw him a few times with the Reuthers and Travis.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. He came in the summer and left in October and then Bob took over from him. So what did they talk about in the meetings? Did anything stand out in your mind?
CONNOLLY: Well, grievances, individual grievances, that we could tie together with a group grievance. And we found out that most of the trouble seemed to center around seniority rights, promotions and job placement, layoff and re-hire. That's what the most of the grievances applied to.
LEIGHTON: And your department didn't have the problem of speed-ups in the line?
CONNOLLY: Oh yes, sure did, sure did. Each line was controlled by a little wheel on the motor belt. And we had already agreed with the foreman, off the record of course, that the foreman would set the speed of the line in accordance with the wishes of the guys on the line. So he set the speed of the line, say about forty an hour.
LEIGHTON: That would have been forty units an hour.
CONNOLLY: Yeah. If our line got behind the main line, the boss would come along and hit it with a stick. He would hit the wheel with a stick and give it a half turn. And we would get another job or two an hour.
LEIGHTON: I see.
MRS. CONNOLLY: Is this stuff he's saying going to hurt him?
LEIGHTON: Not after forty-three years. There's nobody in any position...(Laughs)
MRS. CONNOLLY: Well, he might be saying something about some guys that they wouldn't want him to say.
LEIGHTON: Was the foreman a pretty good guy?
CONNOLLY: Personality-wise, yes, he was a darn good guy. We used to go huntin' with him.
LEIGHTON: Is he still around, do you know?
CONNOLLY: No, I think he died. His name was Savage, Earl Savage. He had a home in Mio and we used to up there for parties every year. He had a big hall and they had big parties there. They would have the Fisher Body Christmas party there.
LEIGHTON: Oh, yeah. See if we can find maybe some of these around. So the guy who'd come along and up the speed then, would be his boss, right?
LEIGHTON: Oh, he would? Oh yeah, he would have to do it, I guess.
CONNOLLY: Why, it wouldn't be very hard for him, because we all had our heads down at our work. And all he had to do was walk along and give it a kick with his foot. But then, soon we had to insist on a padlock bein' put on that wheel so that the boss couldn't kick it up any time he wanted to.
LEIGHTON: Now this department, was that in what they called the cushion room?
LEIGHTON: Okay. And do you remember who was the superintendent over that, over the cushion room? Or was he the top guy over there?
CONNOLLY: Wismer, Jack Wismer.
LEIGHTON: Jack Wismer?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, W I S M E R.
LEIGHTON: Okay, he was a little tougher nut to crack, was he?
CONNOLLY: A lot tougher nut to crack. They called him "Black Jack" Wismer.
LEIGHTON: And you haven't heard whatever happened to him?
CONNOLLY: Well, I know that he was made plant manager of a plant and then now he owns...I don't know whether he is still alive or not. But the last I heard of him he had a big farm up by Mio, Michigan.
LEIGHTON: Okay. The cushion rooms, by the way, we have talked to people from Fisher 1 and they say much the same thing. It was just the same pattern in there.
CONNOLLY: That's right, sure. That was a common practice in those days.
LEIGHTON: Oh sure, sure. By the way, just a question: Did the tack spitters, while you were spitting tacks, did they ever ruin your teeth?
CONNOLLY: Yes, they did.
LEIGHTON: Some guys they did; some guys they didn't.
CONNOLLY: Well, if you had soft enamel on your teeth they would. I've seen guys with no enamel from here clear up to here on one side, right close to the gums.
LEIGHTON: Oh, just from the tacks and the acid.
LEIGHTON: I just forgot about that and I thought I would ask.
CONNOLLY: Well, we found out by chewin' tobacco constantly it eliminated that to a great degree.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, right. Okay, you mentioned something about padlocking. But that would have come after the strike, wouldn't it?
CONNOLLY: No, that was before the strike.
LEIGHTON: Oh, you were able to padlock the assembly...
CONNOLLY: Fisher Body number 2 actually needed a union less than any other plant in the city. And that's why we got it easier, I guess.
LEIGHTON: Oh really?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, because we had organization in our blood and we knew that if the men were organizing that the foremen and general foremen would stay in line easier.
LEIGHTON: Okay, now that gets me into something else. The guys you worked with, you must have worked with kind of an unusual group. I mean they didn't need as much kind of shaking up to get them to see the light to organize as maybe in some other departments?
CONNOLLY: I don't think so. They were all comin' along pretty nice.
LEIGHTON: Were there any guys in that department who had trade union experience somewhere else before they got there?
CONNOLLY: Not that I know of. There could have been, but I wouldn't know about it.
LEIGHTON: Any guys that would have come from the coal fields in West Virginia?
CONNOLLY: None that I know of.
LEIGHTON: What about Swedes or Finns from up in the copper country?
CONNOLLY: Nope, all they had there was farmers.
LEIGHTON: Just farmers?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, mostly farmers.
LEIGHTON: Not many guys from the South.
CONNOLLY: No, in our plant there was very few from the South. Chevrolet, across the street, used to ship 'em in by the truckload and the trainload. But in our plant, now, was concentrated mostly of people from Michigan, around the area of Mio and Pinconning and around there.
LEIGHTON: Where the superintendent's...
LEIGHTON: So there wasn't any guys that could kind of talk, I mean that you could turn to, in the department while you were organizing?
CONNOLLY: Not with experience, no.
LEIGHTON: Oh, none of them worked in auto before they hired into Fisher, let's say in Detroit?
CONNOLLY: I don't believe it, no.
LEIGHTON: Okay, you meet with Bob. Did you meet there very often in the Pengelly Building before the strike or all of the time?
CONNOLLY: I think every two weeks; I'm not sure. During an organization period at least every two weeks, yeah.
LEIGHTON: That's what I mean, yeah. And did you ever meet in people's houses, down in the basement, in all of those secret meetings they write about?
CONNOLLY: No, I never did. Perhaps they did in Chevrolet but at Fisher Body it was always...
LEIGHTON: Before the strike, you mentioned Bob and Roy. Did you ever run into Walter then? Was he active at all in Flint?
CONNOLLY: Oh, yeah, he was very active in Flint, but I never met him personally. But he used to be on the sound car, not as much as Roy and Victor. But he used to come down there.
LEIGHTON: Of course that was during...you say the sound car, that was during the strike itself, wasn't it?
CONNOLLY: I think we had sound cars before the strike, too. Occasionally. Now I believe that Victor one time had a sound car on a corner of Bluff and Chevrolet Avenue and he would blare out to the guys comin' out of the gate for lunchtime to join the union and protect theirselves.
LEIGHTON: Okay. All during this period, the cops didn't bother you...I mean going up to the strike.
CONNOLLY: No. The first trouble we had with the cops was at the Battle of Bull's Run.
LEIGHTON: That we know about; that's pretty well documented. Did you run into any guys from any other plants at all in any of those organizing meetings that you would remember? Like Bud Simons? You probably would have known him.
CONNOLLY: I met Bud Simons during that period.
LEIGHTON: Oh, did you?
LEIGHTON: Up at the Pengelly Building?
CONNOLLY: Yeah. And he was from south-end Fisher.
LEIGHTON: South Fisher. Oh, so you met Bud Simons in the Pengelly Building.
LEIGHTON: And did you meet Joe Devitt?
CONNOLLY: Not to my knowledge.
LEIGHTON: Not any of those guys. Just Bud was the only one from Fisher 1?
CONNOLLY: Well, I met a lot of guys from Fisher 1 but as far as names,
I couldn't recall any outside Bud. He was the most striking one of them.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, he was a real fire. Did they have a nickname for him at the time?
CONNOLLY: Not that I know of.
LEIGHTON: I don't know one either. Were these guys from Fisher 1 a pretty good, well-organized group, do you remember?
CONNOLLY: Not as well as we were. They were organized, but not as well as we were.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did you guys kind of sit down and compare notes?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, in fact we considered ourselves to be the best-organized plant in the city of Flint, and we were, without a doubt.
LEIGHTON: What do you chalk that up to?
CONNOLLY: The smallness of the group, mainly.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see, because you were a smaller plant and so you were a smaller group.
CONNOLLY: Smaller plant, smaller group and less dissension. And we were all in the same boat. That was mostly it. We were all in the same boat.
LEIGHTON: Okay. You didn't have...or I should say did you have many or any groups active in the plant like the Black Legion, you know, anti-union groups?
CONNOLLY: Not openly. We didn't catch any of them. We suspected that they had Pinkerton men in there. But the only one we exposed was one person and I don't remember his name. But, anyway, he was exposed at the union meeting.
LEIGHTON: Frenchy Dubuc.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, that's right. They took his picture so that he could never again work in Flint.
LEIGHTON: That was the meeting in the Pengelly Building when Roy Reuther and Bob exposed him.
LEIGHTON: I remember hearing about it. And he worked in Fisher, too?
CONNOLLY: Yeah. When they took his picture he crossed his eyes so that he wouldn't be recognizable. (Laughs) That's what struck me. He screwed his face all up and crossed his eyes so that nobody could recognize his picture.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so he was the only stoolie that you...
CONNOLLY: The only one that we caught. No doubt there might have been other little, petty stoolies, but he was the only one of any consequence.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, okay. When did you know that they were gonna strike the plant?
CONNOLLY: Well, we talked about it a little bit but not very much openly, and then we took a vote. We had talked about it at the meeting.
LEIGHTON: And Bob was there?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, we took a vote and the vote passed. There were two dissensions, I think.
LEIGHTON: What was the vote about, though? Was it when to strike or what form the strike would take, or?
CONNOLLY: Yes, all three of those. First, there was discussion about these three men in the body shop who were discharged for no reason whatsoever. And we had to get them back.
LEIGHTON: Were they discharged wearing a union button or...?
CONNOLLY: I don't recall the exact reason that the foreman had for doing it, but at the time we suspected he had three friends he wanted put in there.
LEIGHTON: Oh, yeah. You don't remember those three guys' names?
CONNOLLY: And that was a common practice. No, I don't. I don't remember their names. And that was a common practice. If some superintendent had a youngster that he wanted to put in the shop, he would go down there and make an opening for him, you know.
LEIGHTON: Did Bob get you to form a strike committee?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, he did.
LEIGHTON: Or did you have one even before?
CONNOLLY: We never had a strike committee before.
LEIGHTON: Or did you have some kind of committee...bargaining committee, grievance committee?
CONNOLLY: Oh yeah, we had a bargaining committee, but they were inactive, because the company wouldn't meet with them.
LEIGHTON: And how did the bargaining committee come about? Did Bob put that together?
CONNOLLY: Travis and Roy Reuther organized the bargaining committee. And we agreed at that meeting that if they didn't rehire these three men, metal finishers, that we were going to stop work. And we also agreed...I forget who suggested it...that we not leave the plant, because prior to this every time we had a strike or anybody had a strike and left the plant the company just locked the gates and hired in guys at the back door to take their places and kept on operating. And we didn't want this to happen. So we decided to stay in and prevent that from happening.
LEIGHTON: So you were already...at that time...do you remember how far in advance of the strike the setting on that was? Was it a month, a week or just a couple of days?
CONNOLLY: Not very far, because we knew that the more discussion about this, the more jeopardy we were putting ourselves in. So we had to hit hard, fast.
LEIGHTON: Had you read about the sit-down strikes, sit-ins at other places?
CONNOLLY: Never, never.
LEIGHTON: So none of you...the suggestion was just kind of made as a practical suggestion?
CONNOLLY: Well, it was made at the meeting to prevent management from replacing the strikers on the job. And they could have done that in fifteen minutes, because there was always a mob outside the gate lookin' for work.
LEIGHTON: Right, and the foreman used to walk you over to the window and...
CONNOLLY: That's right.
LEIGHTON: ...point you out and say, "If you don't shape up..."
CONNOLLY: That's right. I watched that bein' done to an old man.
LEIGHTON: Oh, yeah. That made a big impression.
CONNOLLY: It sure did, to a youngster, you know. And anyways that morning we went to work and at the appointed time we all sat down.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Do you remember...you mentioned the appointed time. What shift did you work on?
CONNOLLY: The day shift. There was only one shift in that part of the plant.
LEIGHTON: Okay. And that would have started what, about six-thirty, seven. The day shift started at six-thirty and I think the strike started at nine o'clock. I'm not sure.
LEIGHTON: About seven fifteen the bargaining committee went up to see management.
CONNOLLY: That's right.
LEIGHTON: Who was on the bargaining committee?
CONNOLLY: I don't recall, but I believe that it was Red Mundale, this Earl Dingman that lives now in Punta Gorda.
LEIGHTON: Earl Dingman?
LEIGHTON: I knew it would come back; it always does.
LEIGHTON: He lives in Punta Gorda.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, and he has a construction outfit down there now. He doesn't work it himself, but he repairs bridges and stuff. Last time I went down to see him he was out repairin' a bridge.
LEIGHTON: Was there a fellow named Joe Clark?
CONNOLLY: I don't recall him.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Ira Bennett?
CONNOLLY: Ira Bennett yes, I do recall him. Was he blond?
LEIGHTON: Yeah, would have been, I would guess. Okay, so they went up. You weren't on the bargaining committee, I take it.
LEIGHTON: Okay. But you knew they were going.
CONNOLLY: That's right.
LEIGHTON: You had had a meeting what, the night before?
CONNOLLY: Yup, the night before at the Pengelly Hall.
LEIGHTON: Okay. And had Bob told you what to do, or did you guys just kind of decide on your own?
CONNOLLY: Well, we weren't instructed per se, but we had the understanding that we were supposed to sit down at our jobs, stop work, and not move from the spot. Stay in the area and not mill around and not gang up.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Was there any talk also at this time that management was using inspectors on the job who were not union and the guys refusing to work with him? Or was that later?
CONNOLLY: Well, that was at this time. I think it was some inspectors downstairs that were in this body shop that were being replaced that we didn't like.
LEIGHTON: Okay. So those were the guys who...
LEIGHTON: Okay. So the guys getting fired were probably inspectors, was that it?
LEIGHTON: Okay. So the bargaining committee goes up and they come back empty-handed. Is that right?
CONNOLLY: They wouldn't even meet with them.
LEIGHTON: And so you sit down between eight and nine o'clock.
CONNOLLY: I have the impression that it was about nine o'clock that night, but I'm not sure.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Who gave the word to sit down? Or did you just...was the signal already set to do it?
CONNOLLY: The thing was already set. We didn't get good word by nine o'clock that the plant was going down. So at nine o'clock we sat down.
LEIGHTON: Were there stewards? Did you select the kind of stewards in the shop that one guy was responsible for fifteen, twenty people?
CONNOLLY: Off the record we had, yeah.
LEIGHTON: How had they been chosen? Had you voted up in the Pengelly Building for them?
CONNOLLY: No, Lacher's Cafe, we used that as...
CONNOLLY: Lacher, L A C H E R. We used that as a headquarters for our people because it was handy to the plant and they had plenty of room.
LEIGHTON: Was that up on Glenwood?
CONNOLLY: No, that was down on Chevrolet Avenue, right next to the
LEIGHTON: Okay, on the south end of Chevrolet Avenue. North end would be Third Avenue.
CONNOLLY: Well, it was between Third Avenue and Fisher Body.
LEIGHTON: Oh okay, up in the north end.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, by Bluff Street there, right across the street from the bank, right across the street from the personnel office at that time. So we used to go up there after work and have a meeting and pick our steward for each group.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did all the guys just vote on who they wanted?
CONNOLLY: That's true.
LEIGHTON: Okay, so you just had kind of an informal election. Somebody would nominate the guy.
CONNOLLY: An informal election, yup.
LEIGHTON: Who was the stewards in your group, do you remember?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, I do ,but I can't recall his name. He was quite elderly, dark-complexioned, black hair...Jesse Young.
LEIGHTON: Jesse Young.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Do you figure that he would be gone by now, probably?
CONNOLLY: I don't remember that he is gone, but he probably is. No doubt he is. He was quite elderly at that time.
LEIGHTON: Did you do it all together or just your department?
CONNOLLY: The whole plant, like that. It was the best time I ever saw in my life.
LEIGHTON: No, I'm sorry, I meant the picking of the stewards. Each
department would do it on their own.
CONNOLLY: On their own time at their own convenience.
LEIGHTON: And so you wouldn't know...there was no one department who knew who the stewards were in any other departments?
CONNOLLY: That's true.
LEIGHTON: So nobody could finger anybody else.
CONNOLLY: That's right. See, our group was just about...not the whole cushion room. The rear cushion line had Jesse Young and the front seat line had somebody else. And the bucket seat line had somebody else.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, and you wouldn't know who they were?
CONNOLLY: I don't remember; I don't recall.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, but I meant to some extent they would maybe have done that on purpose so that...do you think?
CONNOLLY: It may have been that way or it might have been coincidental. Being young and not puttin' this stuff down, I don't recall.
LEIGHTON: So you've set the plant down. And how did you stop the lines?
CONNOLLY: Well, our line was simple. It was my job to...see, as the cushion goes down the line it runs under a press. Well, on top of every cushion was what we called a follow board, to run under this press and compress the seat down so the men could work on it easier. Well, the follow boards comin' back under the line would automatically shut the line off before they run it up the wheel, see. All we had to do was sit down and let that follow board hit the automatic shutoff.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see, okay. What happened when that happened and the line turns off?
CONNOLLY: The line shut down and we sat down.
LEIGHTON: What did the supervisor do? They knew it was coming or...?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, the straw boss comes on. They didn't know what was goin' on, I don't think. It was pretty secret. I imagine that the secrecy of that was a hundred percent unless somebody ratted on us.
LEIGHTON: You figure they would have known something was gonna happen sometime, but they didn't know when.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, that's right. So when the follow board hit the line the boss come over and he says, "Bill, pick up that follow board." I said, "I'm on strike, Earl." And he said, "I said to pick up that follow board, right now or you're now done." I says, "I'm sorry; I can't do it." He says, "You can do it." I said, "I won't do it." So he walked away. He wouldn't fire me. He was too nice a guy. So he walked away and the next thing we knew all the bosses was goin' home.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so they didn't even bother to come back and try to get you to turn it back on any.
CONNOLLY: A little bit, but not too heavy. They knew they was licked, because the whole plant was down flat. And startin' with the cushion line would not affect the whole plant.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. So then what did you do?
CONNOLLY: Then after the bosses left we all went to the front of the building where there was a large area and we had a meeting. And decided to stay in.
LEIGHTON: How many, roughly, were at the meeting?
CONNOLLY: Oh, roughly I would say six to eight hundred. A huge meeting.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Who did the speaking?
CONNOLLY: I think it was the guys from the body shop, this Mundale. Red Mundale and Bruce Manley.
LEIGHTON: Bruce Manley, that's the other name I was thinking of, yeah.
CONNOLLY: Bruce Manley, the last I heard, he was the president of the AAA, the Triple A - AA.
LEIGHTON: Alcoholics Anonymous?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, yeah.
LEIGHTON: In Flint or nationwide?
CONNOLLY: I think in Michigan, yeah. Well, anyway, they did most of the talking and another guy. And we democratically voted to stay in and stick it out.
LEIGHTON: At that meeting you got six to eight hundred people. There were women, some women working in the plant. Right?
LEIGHTON: And probably some in your department and some in cutting and sewing?
CONNOLLY: A lot in my department.
LEIGHTON: About how many?
CONNOLLY: I would say twenty-five. That was a large percentage for a plant.
LEIGHTON: Any women ever work on the assembly line?
CONNOLLY: Not at that time. They worked off like that. But they were almost assembly line. It was assembly line style. They were spring assembly, see. And they'd assemble the spring and push it by hand power. It was not a conveyor belt.
LEIGHTON: Right. Did women work any other place in the plant? Maybe in the office, but I mean in the plant itself.
CONNOLLY: I don't recall any other women outside of the cushion room.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did you have any black fellows in the plant then?
CONNOLLY: Black men? None to my knowledge. No black men; one Indian.
LEIGHTON: Oh, who was that?
CONNOLLY: Cecil Kennedy.
LEIGHTON: Cecil Kennedy? Okay.
CONNOLLY: He died not too long ago.
LEIGHTON: Aha. He was an American Indian.
LEIGHTON: From Michigan?
LEIGHTON: Okay. Was there a fellow named George Ross? Does that ring any bells?
CONNOLLY: I don't remember him.
LEIGHTON: Okay. There was a black fellow named Roscoe Van Zandt. Was he in your plant or was he in Fisher 1?
CONNOLLY: It must have been Fisher 1. I don't recall the name at all.
LEIGHTON: Okay. He would have worked in sanitation, clean-up.
CONNOLLY: I don't recall.
LEIGHTON: Okay, I think it was maybe Fisher 1. So there were no blacks at all in Fisher 2 then?
CONNOLLY: Now that you mention the sanitation man, it seems to me there was a black sanitation in the office department only. But he never come out in the plant.
LEIGHTON: Did he sit in with you?
LEIGHTON: No, okay. So you have the meeting. What do they do with the women?
CONNOLLY: They were all sent home; sent 'em all home. The first thing.
LEIGHTON: How many guys end up staying? Did some of the guys leave at that time, too?
CONNOLLY: A few, the weak sisters. But most of them stayed pretty good. And we all went back in the plant and...
LEIGHTON: Did you start to organize the plant? In other words, did you have some way to organize yourselves into a clean up committee and an
exercise committee and...?
CONNOLLY: Not at first. At first we just struck. Then about two or three days later we organized a police committee. First of all, we didn't want the machinery damaged, because we wanted to be able to go back to work when we did go back to work. And the police committee was to inspect this and, further, to see that the men lived in a sanitary manner so that they wouldn't infect one another, and just generally to police the place.
LEIGHTON: What else did you do in terms of security? Did you have to weld some doors shut or some windows?
CONNOLLY: Never, no.
LEIGHTON: You didn't have to do any of that?
CONNOLLY: We didn't do any security.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did you take over the whole plant or what about the first floor?
CONNOLLY: The whole plant.
LEIGHTON: The whole plant.
LEIGHTON: Okay. The plant protection was gone then or were they still on the outside?
CONNOLLY: They were still in the office. Now when the police attacked, we knew they were in the offices.
LEIGHTON: And where was the office?
CONNOLLY: In the front of the building. And when the police attacked, they locked themselves in the ladies' lounge in the office department. So actually when we chased the cops out, we knew that we had it secure then. We pursued around the office a little bit lookin' for records of people.
LEIGHTON: Oh, really, okay. What did you find out?
CONNOLLY: All we found out was nothin' about records. All we found out was a bag of money. It was apparently change from the cafeteria. See, the cafeteria was not owned by the company per se. It was sponsored by the company and actually the profit was supposed to go into what we called an Employment Benefit Club.
LEIGHTON: Is that like the IMA?
CONNOLLY: No, before the IMA fund. And we had unemployment insurance long before the government had it. That is, when we were laid off, we would draw fourteen dollars a week from this fund, the Employees' Benefit Fund. But we had to pay it back when we went back to work. Actually the profits of the cafeteria went for the benefit of the employees, even long before the union started.
LEIGHTON: I see. So you didn't find any records about, you know, whether they had been spying on you or kept files or anything like that.
CONNOLLY: No, no, not anything; I didn't.
LEIGHTON: Before the police take over the plant which is, you know, a couple of weeks after you sit down, how did you organize yourselves internally? Did Travis or the Reuthers come into the plant to talk to you?
LEIGHTON: Oh, they didn't.
CONNOLLY: They never come into the plant. They spoke to us from outside.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did they give you some ideas or some help on what to do inside?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, about sanitation and organization and keepin' ourselves clean and healthy and so forth.
LEIGHTON: Sure, okay. Was it mainly Bob and Roy that...or was there anybody else?
CONNOLLY: All I saw was Travis and Roy Reuther at that time. And there was one other guy. I thought it might have been Mortimer, but I'm not sure.
LEIGHTON: A guy with glasses?
LEIGHTON: Gray...kind of graying hair, even then, I suppose. Was there much coming and going in the plant, I mean going in and out?
CONNOLLY: Not legally.
LEIGHTON: No, I know not legally.
CONNOLLY: I did. I lived...my house was three blocks from the plant.
LEIGHTON: Oh, on what street?
CONNOLLY: Third Avenue.
LEIGHTON: Oh, right on Third Avenue.
CONNOLLY: Yeah. I lived on the corner of Third and Cottage Grove.
LEIGHTON: Oh yeah, sure.
CONNOLLY: So I ran down the fire escape and zoomed across the lumberyard next door and hoppin' the fence I was able to get home to see my family about a couple times a week. I did that up until the time the guards got in.
LEIGHTON: Sure, Running Bulls.
CONNOLLY: Even after that.
LEIGHTON: They came in the day after.
LEIGHTON: Then, of course, you couldn't. They had you blocked in.
CONNOLLY: That's right, they had everything blocked. But we used to run races with the cops across that lumberyard.
LEIGHTON: Oh, really. They would try and catch you?
CONNOLLY: Sure. They would see us come across the fence, see. And so I'd have a flashlight and signal the guy on the fire escape to run and let the ladder down for me. So I would race the cop across the lumberyard and run up the ladder.
LEIGHTON: Well, at least they didn't take a pot shot at you, then.
CONNOLLY: No, they never did.
LEIGHTON: But that was about the only communication you had then was if somebody came up to the window. What about food?
CONNOLLY: Well, food was brought in by our friends, individual packages to individuals. And the cushion room guys, our outfit, had a little lunchroom in the corner of it, and we set up a little kitchen in there. We had a couple hot plates where everybody used to pool our food and make soup and eat sandwiches and stuff like that.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. You didn't try to operate the cafeteria during the strike?
CONNOLLY: Never, not to my knowledge. Now the guys downstairs might have, but I never did. And then later on the women's auxiliary used to bring buckets of food from the Pengelly Building that they prepared down there.
LEIGHTON: Oh yeah, so they'd bring them in and you'd hoist them up.
LEIGHTON: Okay. So you're in there a couple of weeks and you get to the Battle of Bulls... Running ...what did you call it? Did you call it Running Bulls or Bull's Run?
CONNOLLY: Bull's Run, the Battle of Bull's Run, because we made the bulls run.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Well, some people call it the Running Bulls because they got the bulls on the run. Okay. Do you remember the events of that day? Did you expect the police to do that? Did you have any knowledge they were gonna do it?
CONNOLLY: We had suspicions that they might.
CONNOLLY: Well, because we considered that General Motors operated the city of Flint in their pocket. So we suspected that they might bring the gendarmes in to chase us out. And so this security patrol that I was on...
LEIGHTON: Oh, so you were on the security patrol?
CONNOLLY: Sure, sure. Right in the middle of everything. Irish...
LEIGHTON: Yeah. That was it...if you were Irish you got on security, is that it?
CONNOLLY: So, we took turns and had a sharp lookout at the front door. And I just unluckily happened to be on the front-door duty at the time when the bulls attacked. And they come across the street...
LEIGHTON: Now what time of day...this was at night, wasn't it? Do you remember? Could you see 'em without light?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, we could see 'em without light. So it was, I imagine, dusk. I'm not sure what time it was, either. But I remember this cop runnin' up to the door. Well the top part of the door was reinforced glass with chicken wire in it, you know. So he had this tear gas gun on this arm. And he pulled it out. See, I had two blackjacks through the two handles of the doors and my feet against the center posts holdin' it like that, see. I was a sittin' duck. So he put that tear gun pistol through the door and shoved the barrel at me. I thought it was a real pistol and I thought he would never shoot it. I said, "He ain't got guts enough to shoot that at a harmless worker." So, bam, he let it go! The flame from it shot up about that far and burned all the side of my face. I was blind, totally blind, for about half an hour and then slowly a glimmer of light come. So I fell to the floor and started crawlin' back into the plant. And I heard the fire hose start inside the plant and squirt all over this cop and drove him right out in the street. And the pickets out there got him...
LEIGHTON: So I meant that there was only one cop that ran up and stuck the tear gas thing in?
CONNOLLY: Only one cop got to the door. The rest of 'em were all pushed back with him. He was the foremost cop was all.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see. And then he broke open the door and then somebody let him have it with the fire hose.
CONNOLLY: And hinges.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, and you were in no shape to see any of that.
CONNOLLY: No. All I remember is goin' down and somethin' whizzin' over my head and hittin' the cop. And then the fire hose drew them out of the...
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Now what happens after that? I mean the battle lasts longer than that, doesn't it?
CONNOLLY: Oh yeah, yeah. Well then...
LEIGHTON: By the way, before we get to that. You mentioned the fire hose. Now you guys must have had some idea that the cops were comin', because you had a lot of stuff in place.
CONNOLLY: We expected them, but we didn't know when or how.
LEIGHTON: Did you get any advance warning from the Pengelly Building that they were on their way?
CONNOLLY: Not at all. Not that I know of. Now somebody might have, but I didn't.
LEIGHTON: Okay. So you just happened to be down there and it was your turn on the door. And all of a sudden ka-pow, there was a cop.
CONNOLLY: Well, I saw him runnin' across the street from Chevrolet 2. Chevrolet 2 was across the street, see. And he come runnin' across the street from there.
LEIGHTON: Right. And he was the first one you saw?
CONNOLLY: Well, I saw about two rows of cops come across there.
LEIGHTON: No, I mean but you hadn't seen 'em kind of assemble or anything.
CONNOLLY: No, no.
LEIGHTON: So they really snuck up on you.
CONNOLLY: Yeah. They very well could from...they come in from Bluff Street and go into plant two and come up from plant two that way, see. So, then the fire hoses took over. And that was our most precious weapon, the fire hose.
LEIGHTON: Was it cold outside or warm?
CONNOLLY: It was pretty cold.
LEIGHTON: About sixteen degrees.
CONNOLLY: Yeah. So anyway, the pickets outside took over then. They gathered fast.
LEIGHTON: Where did they come from?
CONNOLLY: All over, all over they come from?
LEIGHTON: So as soon as they heard word that the cops were there, they just piled from all over.
CONNOLLY: That's right. My wife was on her way down with the car, my brand-new car, to bring me food. And they stopped at the corner and they said, "Put your car right there in line." Right in the middle of the street they wanted to build a barricade to keep the cops out, see. And she parked the car there.
LEIGHTON: That's right in Chevrolet Avenue.
CONNOLLY: Yeah. She parked the car there and then went back to the Lacher's Cafe and stayed there a while. And then she went home, and left her car there. It was there all during the battle. No scratches on it.
LEIGHTON: Oh, you were one of the lucky ones.
CONNOLLY: Some cars was damaged pretty bad. A cop's car was tipped over and smashed up pretty good.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. So you crawled or tried to crawl out of the way. What happened to you during all this? It took you a while to get your sight back.
CONNOLLY: Well, I crawled back into the plant and then I went up on the roof and threw my share of hinges.
LEIGHTON: Did you?
LEIGHTON: Did you ever save any?
LEIGHTON: We would give our right arm for a hinge. We really would. If we had just one hinge we'd mount it on a plaque.
LEIGHTON: But we can't find one. Did you just throw 'em by hand?
CONNOLLY: Yeah. See they fit...that's the shape of the hand, just like that.
CONNOLLY: And they fit right like that. You take it like that and throw 'em and they go further than you think, although they were pretty heavy.
LEIGHTON: Right. Anything else they used up there? Now you're up on the roof.
CONNOLLY: I guess they threw everything they could get their hands on.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Some people said they even dropped tiles off the roof.
CONNOLLY: I imagine they might have. They threw everything they could get their hands on that would throw.
LEIGHTON: Was there any weapons?
CONNOLLY: Not to my knowledge. I don't believe we had a weapon. Now the police claimed a woman shot tear gas, but a very good friend of mine had a bullet hole in his hip.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, who was that?
CONNOLLY: I can't think of his name now. He was a heavy-set guy who worked on the front-seat line. I don't remember his name.
LEIGHTON: It will come back. Did you hear any shots fired while you were up there on the roof?
CONNOLLY: Oh, I heard a lot of shots fired, but we couldn't identify tear gas shots from rifle. And they had these cannons that they were lobbin' tear gas canisters into the plant.
LEIGHTON: Right. Did many guys get gassed and have to be taken out?
CONNOLLY: Not seriously. I was one of the most serious guys that was hurt from gas, just because of my burn is all. And it seemed like my flesh stung for weeks afterwards from the effects of that tear gas. And those wooden blocks on the floor where we wet the gas down, that gas come up for weeks afterwards, too. A little bit at a time, you know.
LEIGHTON: You mean the wood blocks that were part of the shop floor?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, that's right.
LEIGHTON: The ones that absorbed the grease and later they absorbed the gas. How long did the whole thing take?
CONNOLLY: The Battle of Bull's Run, I think, lasted about in my estimation about three or four hours.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so the cops would just what, regroup and keep comin' back?
CONNOLLY: No, they stayed out of our barricades. They stayed beyond those.
LEIGHTON: Now you mentioned barricades.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, my wife...
LEIGHTON: Oh okay, the car barricades. I got you.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, and the pickets made barricades. And the cops stayed on the bridge across from there, on the other side of that. And you could see 'em walkin' around in circles and once in awhile they'd lob a...
LEIGHTON: But they didn't try to rush the plant again?
LEIGHTON: They got too badly beat up that one go round.
CONNOLLY: That or the free publicity.
LEIGHTON: I see. A lot of newspaper guys there, probably.
CONNOLLY: Oh, yeah. So they lobbed cannon canisters of gas into the plant from time to time.
LEIGHTON: But those weren't as bad. Now, did you notice, when you were down in that first floor, by the way...did the police or any kind of General Motors goons get in and knock, crack up some windshields and bodies that were down there? Do you remember anything about that?
CONNOLLY: I'm gonna tell you somethin' I probably should keep my mouth shut about. Those were done by strikers. I don't know whether they were planted strikers or real strikers, but the guys just lost their temper and run down the line smashing things.
LEIGHTON: This was right at the day of the strike?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, the battle.
LEIGHTON: Oh, the day of the battle. Well, I had heard that and somebody said that they weren't people from in the plant. They thought they had got in, you know, in that initial rush, that some of these guys had got in from outside.
CONNOLLY: I don't believe anybody ever got in the plant.
LEIGHTON: Okay. It was just a couple of hotheads that were really...
CONNOLLY: Yeah, that's right. That's what this patrol I was tellin' you about was about, to prevent such things from happening. I think that our plant, outside of a few windows bein'...not glass windows in cars bein' damaged and stuff like that. I believe our plant was kept in such shape that within about two hours' clean-up work they could have operated the plant. We kept it that way because we wanted to go back to work. We wanted a place to go back to work.
LEIGHTON: Sure. I take it that a lot of pickets must have been gathering in the course of this battle.
CONNOLLY: Oh, a terrible amount.
LEIGHTON: Could they get through the police lines or were they just on the other side hemming the police kind of in the middle?
CONNOLLY: That's it. They kept the police between us and the onlookers. And the onlookers we couldn't say they were sympathizers or...
LEIGHTON: Oh, they were probably just a mixed batch. Sure, sure. When it's all over...did it take place late at night, ten or eleven o'clock?
LEIGHTON: When it was all done the police disappear.
CONNOLLY: That's right.
LEIGHTON: What did you do then?
CONNOLLY: We went back to bed.
LEIGHTON: Did they have a big celebration in front of the plant?
CONNOLLY: Nope. Well, they might have had, the onlookers, but we didn't engage in it. We just went back to bed and rested up.
LEIGHTON: Did you think they were gonna come back?
CONNOLLY: We knew they would.
LEIGHTON: Did you know any of the cops? Did you see any of them personally that you knew?
CONNOLLY: No, no nothing.
LEIGHTON: It wasn't that close.
CONNOLLY: I couldn't tell a cop with a gas mask on.
LEIGHTON: That's true, I forgot all about that. Okay, you wake up the next day and were you starin' the National Guard in the face then?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, the National Guard come in that night.
LEIGHTON: Okay. And so you didn't even know they were there until you got up. Is that right?
CONNOLLY: No, we heard 'em marchin', while we were supposedly sleeping. We heard the National Guards' leather heels clompin' down the street.
LEIGHTON: Oh, yeah. Did that frighten you at first? Did you think they were gonna take you over?
CONNOLLY: True. We thought that the National Guard was a weapon of the company, not the union. And so we were very much surprised and pleased to see 'em set up a barricade and keep everybody out and us in, too.
LEIGHTON: Sure, sure. When did you realize that the Guard was there for...
CONNOLLY: Well, we got word from the outside that Governor Murphy sent them in here to keep the peace.
LEIGHTON: About that time, wasn't there talk also of evacuating the plant because there was some kind of an agreement with GM? Do you remember a vote about that?
CONNOLLY: Well, there was three false alarms about strike settlements. And we got all ready to go and packed up all our stuff and got all ready to go out of the plant, and we found out it was a false rumor.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember how you found out?
CONNOLLY: No, I don't. It was just word of mouth.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, okay. So you just stayed right in and that was it, okay. From the time the Guard is in...well, lets' go back a little bit. The night of Bull's Run, how many guys are left in the plant?
CONNOLLY: I'm ashamed to say. After the battle there was not over twenty-five. I heard seventeen; I didn't count 'em.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. But the night of the battle you still had what? You were down that...you had quite a few then.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, but not...
LEIGHTON: So a lot of 'em got kind of, what, demoralized.
CONNOLLY: Well, they were demoralized and they were tired. And all of them had families. And they were lonesome for their families. They were lonesome for a good meal. And they thought that we was buttin' our heads against a stone wall.
LEIGHTON: Did you have long meetings about that, tryin' to keep 'em in?
CONNOLLY: Not long meetings. We used to have a few get-togethers once in a while.
LEIGHTON: But there was no way that you could slow 'em down from trickling out, is that?
CONNOLLY: No, they just trickled out.
LEIGHTON: Was there any kind of movement on the part of any guys in the plant to get others to go out or was it all just an individual decision?
CONNOLLY: Individual. I didn't hear of any organization.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did Bob Travis or Roy Reuther or anybody come in the plant trying to talk to the guys then and buck 'em up?
CONNOLLY: I never saw an organizer in the plant.
LEIGHTON: It would have been hard, I realize, with the Guard there.
CONNOLLY: I would say that there was never one. I never saw one in there. And they used to come down and get word from the corner on their PA's.
LEIGHTON: So the sound car played a big role in all that?
CONNOLLY: A gigantic role.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. During the battle the sound car was there?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, and before and after, too. They organized and moralized and kept our morale up and so forth.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember whose voice was on there most of the time?
CONNOLLY: The most familiar voice I heard was Roy Reuther.
LEIGHTON: Roy Reuther.
CONNOLLY: I never heard...I heard Victor a lot, but mostly it was Roy and Bob Travis.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember, the night of the battle was there anybody else on there? Remember a woman's voice on it?
CONNOLLY: Oh, Genora Dollinger?
LEIGHTON: Yeah, did she play a big role?
CONNOLLY: She helped us morally.
LEIGHTON: Well, I mean as much as she could do. Did the guys like her, or did they...?
CONNOLLY: We all admired her, especially from her activities on the picket lines and so forth and breakin' the windows to prevent the gas...
LEIGHTON: That was over at Plant 9.
CONNOLLY: Plant 9, yeah.
LEIGHTON: Could you watch that from where you were?
LEIGHTON: You couldn't see it. Did you know it was going to happen?
CONNOLLY: Sure, we knew it was happening.
LEIGHTON: As it was happening.
LEIGHTON: You didn't know ahead of time?
CONNOLLY: No, no.
LEIGHTON: So you're down to seventeen to twenty-five guys and what were your biggest concerns?
CONNOLLY: Well, our biggest concern was that the company might find out how many people there were. But our strongest hope was that we were all solid.
LEIGHTON: Was there one guy in there that played kind of a key role trying to keep everybody together or were you really by that time down to the hard core?
CONNOLLY: Pretty much down to the hard core. But Mundale was quite powerful at that time. And then there was an inspector on the final inspection who later become our president. And luckily I can't recall his name.
LEIGHTON: The president of 659?
CONNOLLY: Yeah...no 598.
LEIGHTON: Bruce Manley?
CONNOLLY: No, no, Bruce never held office. But this guy, his brother was head inspector for Chevrolet.
LEIGHTON: Not Floyd Harbin?
CONNOLLY: No, no. I'll think of his name maybe after a while.
LEIGHTON: Okay, yeah sure. You held these meetings. You're trying to keep things together. And you kept pretty well informed of what was happening in the other plants. When did Roscoe turn on the heat? When did they try and turn it off?
CONNOLLY: Well, I think about the third day of the strike.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so that was early on.
CONNOLLY: It was early in the strike. The heat was shut off and we didn't know where heat was shut off from or how.
LEIGHTON: Was the light turned off or did that stay on?
CONNOLLY: We didn't use much light, so I can't recall whether it was off or on. But we used electricity, though, for our hot plates, yeah. That was kept on.
LEIGHTON: Water turned off, too?
CONNOLLY: I don't believe it, because we took showers. And there was no hot water, of course. It was cold. But we had a meeting in the front and it was cold and miserable. And Roscoe said that he believed he knew how to turn the heat back on. So we said to go ahead and try. So he went down and tried it, and, sure enough, he turned it back on. But all that night we didn't get much sleep, because the steam had condensed in the radiators and formed water locks. And the steam would hit that and them radiators jumped six inches off the ground, boom, boom, boom...all night long.
LEIGHTON: Oh my. So now from January twelfth when the Guard comes in, you can't get back home. Is that right?
CONNOLLY: That's right.
LEIGHTON: And so can your wife come up to the plant and talk to you at all?
LEIGHTON: Can't even get near it. So you were really cut off from the outside world.
LEIGHTON: Except for the sound car.
CONNOLLY: Well, the sound car had to stay a block away.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, but I mean you could hear it.
LEIGHTON: That was the only messages in and out? Somebody brought you food, though, didn't they?
CONNOLLY: From the Pengelly Building it was allowed in. The Guard let them by.
LEIGHTON: Okay. So you could get some message that way of what was happening. So things were just running kind of low-key until the takeover of Chevy 4?
LEIGHTON: And did you have any idea that was coming down?
CONNOLLY: None at all.
LEIGHTON: Okay. When it happened and you couldn't see what was happening...
CONNOLLY: Well, we could get a glimpse from the front of our building. When we looked kitty-corner we could see the front door of Chevrolet 4.
LEIGHTON: And you saw a lot of activity out there.
CONNOLLY: Yeah. And we knew something was going on.
LEIGHTON: Okay. As soon as it happened, though, how did you find out? I guess from the people bringing in meals.
LEIGHTON: Did that kind of cheer you up a little bit?
CONNOLLY: Yeah. And I guess a couple of guys had battery radios in there that they had brought up before the battle.
LEIGHTON: So they could listen in to their local radio station what was happening.
CONNOLLY: But we heard about Plant 9 takeover as it was bein' done.
LEIGHTON: Oh, by the radio.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see, and you didn't know about that the real target was 4?
LEIGHTON: So that must have come as a big surprise.
LEIGHTON: Did you know anybody in 4 at that time?
CONNOLLY: Well, my father was superintendent of 4 and my two brothers were apprentice tool and die makers in 4.
LEIGHTON: Oh really?
LEIGHTON: They were there during the takeover?
LEIGHTON: Wrong shift. So 4 happens, kind of buoys your spirits and then what happens to the end?
CONNOLLY: Well, in fact, we never got completely demoralized. We knew when we sat down that we was gonna win the strike. And we never had any doubts about that throughout deal, that is, the core of us. The weak sisters, of course, they had doubts and sneaked off with their tail between their legs, you know.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. So when do you realize that it's all gonna be over? When the notice of the settlement comes through?
CONNOLLY: Yes, when the news of the final meeting in Detroit got to us, we were quite enthusiastic about it. We knew we had power, but then still we didn't realize how much. So when the word come through that the strike was settled, that came from Pengelly Hall with sound cars and lots of noise, too.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, so what did you do? As soon as the settlement came through you had a parade out of the plant?
CONNOLLY: It wasn't much of a parade.
LEIGHTON: One last question. How could the guys that wanted to leave? I guess if you wanted to leave you could get out of the plant.
LEIGHTON: You just couldn't get back in.
CONNOLLY: They held nobody prisoner. You were free to come and go. As long as they passed the cops, they could get past us.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Okay, so the guys left and if they wanted to come back though, they couldn't, could they?
CONNOLLY: Yeah they could; I did it.
LEIGHTON: No, I mean when the National Guard was there.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, I did it.
LEIGHTON: Oh, you still did it, even after you got in and out.
CONNOLLY: The lumberyard route. I would have a man up on the fire escape and when it was my turn I'd jump the fence and go home and have a good meal and come back at a set time. It was generally 2 a.m., because we figured the guards would be all busy doin' somethin' else. I would flash my flashlight at the lumberyard and climb the fence and run across the yard while the guy let the ladder down.
LEIGHTON: So you could do it even when the National Guard was there.
CONNOLLY: I did. Very few did.
LEIGHTON: Okay. That was pretty risky.
CONNOLLY: I'm Irish.
LEIGHTON: How soon after the strike did you go back to work?
CONNOLLY: I don't recall.
LEIGHTON: A few days?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, not very long.
LEIGHTON: Were you in on the cleanup of the plant?
LEIGHTON: So you came back and it's all back to work.
LEIGHTON: Anything change?
CONNOLLY: Attitudes mostly.
LEIGHTON: What about the attitude of the supervision, foremen?
CONNOLLY: At first they were very, very mild. Instead of telling you something they would ask you to do it. And they made a point of asking you rather than tell you. "Will you do this or will you do that," instead of "Do it!"
LEIGHTON: Yeah. What about the attitude of the men?
CONNOLLY: Oh, their morale was a hundred percent better, five hundred percent better.
LEIGHTON: Were they feeling their oats?
CONNOLLY: Oh yeah, yeah. A lot of 'em overstepped it too, you know. They swung too much weight.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. You mean if a guy looked at 'em cross-eyed they would sit down or haul off?
CONNOLLY: Lord, they'd call a committeeman and start negotiations.
LEIGHTON: When did you sit down and organize committeemen and so on? Or did you use the stewards you already had?
CONNOLLY: We used the stewards we already had. And then we had those stewards...remember I told you we organized them before the strike in Lacher's Cafe..?
LEIGHTON: Right. So those were the guys.
CONNOLLY: I don't know whether the rest of the guys did.
LEIGHTON: Those stewards that you had...each guy represented what, fifteen, twenty guys, twenty-five?
CONNOLLY: Well, our steward had twenty. But it varied from the group,
LEIGHTON: Do you remember when you went to the committeeman set-up?
CONNOLLY: I don't think we had the committeeman until after the strike settlement, after the thing was reorganized again after the strike.
LEIGHTON: Back in what, in the summer, then, of '37?
LEIGHTON: Okay, which did you like better?
CONNOLLY: Well, as far as negotiating goes, I liked the steward system better, because it was more direct from a steward to foreman, see. But then we found out that the foreman had less and less power as time went on. He had less sense of authority to change things, because most of the brains was upstairs and that's where the orders come from. So then we had to have a shop committee to get up to them.
LEIGHTON: So General Motors was reorganizing at the same time you were organizing.
CONNOLLY: I believe it.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, okay. Did you find the steward system more democratic or less democratic in the sense of picking who represented you?
CONNOLLY: More democratic. See, everybody knew everybody and they knew what they were doin'. But a committeeman for two or three groups, he might be well known in one group but not known at all in the other groups.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember when the steward system went out? Was there any vote on it in Flint among the Local 156?
CONNOLLY: It never went out in Fisher Body. We always had stewards, even after the committeemen come in, we always had stewards for organizational purposes.
LEIGHTON: The reason I mention it is that there was a big debate between Walter Reuther and Bob Travis over that.
LEIGHTON: Travis favored the steward system and Walter the committeeman.
CONNOLLY: Well, we kept the steward system right on through. In fact, to the best of my knowledge it is still there. But now they call them group spokesmen according to the wording of the contract.
LEIGHTON: I see, yeah sure. Anything else change on the job? Did conditions change much?
CONNOLLY: Attitudes, conditions and working conditions. A lot of the dangerous jobs were helped out and made more safe. And safety equipment was provided that was easier and better.
LEIGHTON: In that first year you found changes?
LEIGHTON: Did you have many wildcats going up into that summer?
CONNOLLY: We had two. Our plant was pretty well organized and pretty well controlled. We had two wildcats after that, but they were spontaneous and easily settled.
LEIGHTON: So your plant really wasn't plagued with 'em like some of the plants.
CONNOLLY: No, no, that's true. And I claim that the plants that were plagued with 'em were not very well organized.
LEIGHTON: Okay. During the strike and afterwards there was a paper called the Flint Auto Worker.
LEIGHTON: Did you get that pretty regularly? Did they bring it in with their meals and that type of thing?
CONNOLLY: We used to be able to pick them up at Lacher's Cafe and they used to get them down to the Pengelly Building all of the time. They was always down there.
LEIGHTON: Was that a lot of help? Did it have good stuff in it, or did you find it was a nuisance?
CONNOLLY: Well, the Auto Worker...
LEIGHTON: I'm talkin' about the strike paper, now, the Flint Auto Worker. There was one called the Auto Worker that came in from Detroit, of course.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, the Flint Auto Worker had value to it.
LEIGHTON: Did they ever have anybody come around and talk to you guys in the plant about what was going on so that they could write it up in the Auto Worker?
CONNOLLY: During the strike?
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Was there a reporter or some guy sent...?
CONNOLLY: I never saw one.
LEIGHTON: Or did Kraus ever come around? Did you ever meet Henry Kraus?
CONNOLLY: Not personally. I never shook his hand, but I seen him.
LEIGHTON: I just wondered whether Kraus had come around, you know, tryin' to collect information, because he was the editor of the paper, of course.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, yeah.
LEIGHTON: And that was kind of his job, his specialty. When did you start to get involved in the...I guess you would call it an elective office of the union? Was that back then, too, right after the strike?
CONNOLLY: Well, not during the strike and not after the strike right away. As things went on, you know, I become active in the union. I never missed a meeting and I was active in the union. I started out as a steward. At that time we didn't have closed shop. And the steward's main job was to keep the people organized.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, that's somethin' I wanted to ask you. Did you have much resistance in your plant to guys joinin' the union?
CONNOLLY: Not after the strike. There were a few hang-outs but they didn't hang too far.
LEIGHTON: Did you have an education committee that attempted to educate them?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, we did, we had an education committee but not physical like they did in some plants.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, yeah.
CONNOLLY: No, we had word-of-mouth education, and we never had any trouble like that at all, either way.
LEIGHTON: Okay. After the strike, in that summer going up to the summer of '37: I wanted to mention one guy who plays a role in your plant is a guy named O'Rourke.
CONNOLLY: Oh Francis, I was trying to think of his name the other day. Francis O'Rourke is dearly loved by every person in Fisher Body. He was on his way up. And if he would have been an individualist, he would have been way up there today. He was on inspection. He was a personable guy.
LEIGHTON: Was he one of the guys that was fired?
LEIGHTON: One of the inspectors?
CONNOLLY: Yeah. Francis O'Rourke was a peach of a guy. He had brothers in Chevrolet who were on supervision.
LEIGHTON: He had one brother named Harold.
LEIGHTON: What kind of role did O'Rourke play? I mean, was he one of the guys on the bargaining committee?
CONNOLLY: I believe he was. I'm not sure, but I believe he was. And he was very vocal and well listened to. I mean if Francis O'Rourke got up in a meeting and said one sentence, we knew that that was facts and that was good advice.
LEIGHTON: Was he opposed by anybody?
CONNOLLY: I think that he was opposed by Red Mundale a little bit towards when he was elected politically but not morally.
LEIGHTON: Politically, you mean after the strike?
LEIGHTON: Okay. After the strike...I wanted to get into the politics of the thing. Obviously everybody knows everybody else, who they are and what they belong to back then, mainly because it wasn't as secretive as it became later.
LEIGHTON: Did you have much of that factionalism in your plant?
CONNOLLY: Factionalism didn't grow in our plant until much later.
LEIGHTON: So '39.
CONNOLLY: It was factionalism in every other plant in the city before it hit Fisher 2. We were the last ones to succumb to that.
LEIGHTON: You didn't have any problem then during the strike or after between, let's say, the Socialists, the Communists, the Proletarians, the ACTU?
CONNOLLY: No, mainly I maintain this. We had no paid positions in our organization. The president donated his time. The secretary donated his time. Plants that had paid jobs had factionalism long before we did. There was nothin' to fight over.
LEIGHTON: Sure. In your plant, were the Socialists active, early on, do you remember?
CONNOLLY: Not knowingly. We didn't know that they were, if they were.
LEIGHTON: Okay. The Communists at all, the CP?
CONNOLLY: Well, I don't know of any that were active as Communists. But I don't know. It's my opinion that the rank-and-file American worker would take a lot more before he would revolt, unless he got needled by somebody.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Was the ACTU active in your plant at all?
CONNOLLY: Not that I know of.
LEIGHTON: You knew about it, though?
CONNOLLY: Oh, yeah.
LEIGHTON: How did you know about it? That is one of the things we know very little about, except that apparently Francis O'Rourke had some connection with the ACTU.
CONNOLLY: Well, we used to hear that the ACTU was a group that was tryin' to organize the American trade unions.
LEIGHTON: It stood for what, the American Catholic Trade Union workers, I think.
CONNOLLY: I think so.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. None of these groups then made a pitch to the workers during the strike at all?
LEIGHTON: That comes about much later in the game.
CONNOLLY: Much, much later.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did workers in your plant think that the strike leadership meeting in Pengelly was Communist or Socialist or they didn't know?
CONNOLLY: Well, at that time we suspected that there might have been some outside influence in there originally, because some of the things that were spoke about were not things the American worker would think of.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Was there much red baiting, let's put it that way?
CONNOLLY: Not in our plant. Later on there became a little bit but not very much red baiting.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Most of the guys looked up to Travis and to the Reuthers and there was no outward factionalism on that score.
CONNOLLY: Yes, that's true.
LEIGHTON: When did the factionalism begin to split into, let's say the...well, I don't know whether you could call it...whether it was the Reuther group or the other group? Did that come first or was there other factionalism preceded it in that period?
CONNOLLY: That was the first that hit our plant. It was after it happened in Detroit. Reuther and Travis split...I mean Reuther and...who was the past secretary?
CONNOLLY: Addes. Reuther and Addes split.
CONNOLLY: It trickled down to our plant after that.
LEIGHTON: But I guess I want to go back a little bit. Maybe I'm a little too far ahead. One guy we haven't mentioned in all of this is Homer Martin.
LEIGHTON: Now did...after the strike, some of the first splitting up you get, isn't it, is between those. Homer Martin and...most of the other people we've talked about being in the other camp.
CONNOLLY: That's right.
LEIGHTON: At that time, Walter, Victor, Roy and Bob Travis and anybody else that you could mention are still all together pretty much.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, in the Reuther group, yeah.
LEIGHTON: In the Reuther group. And Martin is the other group.
CONNOLLY: That's right.
LEIGHTON: And Martin has a guy who's kind of guiding him, a guy who's not in Flint...a guy named Lovestone. Does that ring any bells? Jay Lovestone?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, Lovestone was an international officer in the UAW.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Jay Lovestone.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, wasn't he secretary or somethin' like that?
LEIGHTON: He was brought in...that's right, by Homer Martin later on.
LEIGHTON: And so you get a split into...there's quite a bit of concern over that, I guess. That didn't affect your plant at all?
CONNOLLY: A little bit but not much.
LEIGHTON: People call themselves "Lovestonites", some of them.
CONNOLLY: Well, no.
LEIGHTON: Or they were called Lovestonites, maybe.
CONNOLLY: Well, no. Our plant was Martin and Reuther. Martin in one group and Reuther the other group. Lovestone never come into it by name.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Do you remember any of those who were on one side of the fence more than the other? Martin supporters?
CONNOLLY: Not distinctly. We didn't do an awful lot of that. We were mostly concerned with Fisher Body Number 2, and we were gonna be safe, solid. And we would take a vote. And if we voted to go one way, we would all go that way. And if we voted the other way we would all go the other way.
LEIGHTON: What did you do in terms of getting ready? You had a vote coming up on a contract, didn't you, or supposed to anyway? And that was scheduled for when, August?
CONNOLLY: I don't recall the date.
LEIGHTON: In the summer, sometime. So your first task then you had to get everybody signed up.
LEIGHTON: Everybody is in Local 156 then in Flint, is that right?
LEIGHTON: And was there a big deal about holding the elections for 156?
CONNOLLY: Well, I think that became very unwieldy at the Pengelly Building, because I could stuff the Pengelly Building with people from 598 alone. From Fisher Body alone and the other people wouldn't have a chance, see. And so I think it was a smart thing to divide up into units.
LEIGHTON: When did they do that? In that summer?
CONNOLLY: That summer or that winter.
LEIGHTON: Okay. That's when they broke up 156 then.
LEIGHTON: And 598, and what were some of the others that spun off of that at that time?
CONNOLLY: 581 was south Fisher Body. 598 was us. I think 651 was Buick, but I'm not sure.
CONNOLLY: 599, yeah. And Chevrolet, I don't remember that.
LEIGHTON: Did you ever know Jack Palmer? He became president of 659.
CONNOLLY: Very, very well. Jack Palmer and I was close buddies at one time. I worked at Chevrolet parts and service while our plant was down for renovations. So I worked with Jack Palmer very close then.
LEIGHTON: Jack's still alive. Did you see him?
CONNOLLY: Oh, I saw him.
LEIGHTON: He is out to Nevada, but he still gets around. Is there anything else in that splits? Well, I'll tell you the reason I'm asking this. One of the things we don't know anything about is what happens to Flint...the people, the working people, in Flint after the strike. Everybody...you know there is a lot of people know some things...not a lot of people...but even the outside world knows something about the sit-down. But not many know what the effect of the sit-down is on the town where it happened.
CONNOLLY: Well, of course, I'm a unionist. But in my opinion it was a wonderful thing for the town. Because then the people of Flint who closed their eyes or put on rosy glasses found out that General Motors owned and operated Flint from the City Commission on down. And they organized themselves into self-governing units.
LEIGHTON: When did you start really being aware of what was going on in the city hall, let's say more than just saying General Motors ran the town? Where you really got politically kind of attuned in the sense that you knew what had to be done to make trade unionism effective?
CONNOLLY: Well, I think that the spark came when they had Roy in jail.
LEIGHTON: During the strike.
LEIGHTON: Okay. And so you had a chance to see what the power of the law was.
CONNOLLY: I wanted to know why he was in jail and why free Americans were locked up for doin' what we were taught in school that free Americans should do.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, yeah. When you were a steward and you are starting to put this union, you know, kind of consolidate what you got, did you ever run into any more trouble with city officials? Or were they still kind of out on the edge of things? They don't really get into it.
CONNOLLY: No, they kept on the edges. Let's see, there was one other time we had a conflict of interests. We had a parade and a big meeting in front of city hall about something or other.
LEIGHTON: Was that after the strike?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, oh a couple of years after.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Did you ever, yourself, go down to city hall with a petition?
CONNOLLY: Not individually, no.
LEIGHTON: But with a group?
LEIGHTON: Nope. You just kind of avoided them, is that it?
CONNOLLY: Well, I had no occasion to go over there.
LEIGHTON: You were too busy with the union affairs.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember when the union ran a slate for school board?
CONNOLLY: Not per se, no.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember did your standard of living change at all, in that period very much, up 'til '39? Did you buy a house, or did you own one already?
CONNOLLY: Well, we bought a house but ours didn't, per se, because as I said, Fisher Body Number 2 were the highest paid workers in the city of Flint. And while the union helped to raise up the pay of the other workers to near ours, we still maintained the lead.
LEIGHTON: You're still way ahead. Okay. To come back to your own thing: When do you really start to get active in the affairs of the union?
CONNOLLY: Well I never was inactive. I went to every meeting that they held after the sit-down strike. And I realized that what we had, had to be held by organization. You couldn't dissolve and then pick it up again then later. So we kept things goin' and I think the second year after the strike I become a steward, and then later on a committeeman...three years later a committeeman.
LEIGHTON: That would have been right about the time of the war.
CONNOLLY: Yeah. And then I went to World War II. And when I come back, I was president of our local the second year.
LEIGHTON: Oh. So you really got into this kind of in a big way within a couple of years after the strike.
LEIGHTON: What happened in your local, let's say, during the period of '38-'39? Martin's tossed out in '38. Is that right?
LEIGHTON: And he didn't even win, place, or show, as I remember. He was pretty well tossed out, wasn't he?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, well, we had a lot of people in our plant who favored Homer Martin, but not the majority. The majority was always for Walter Reuther.
LEIGHTON: Reuther was already pretty clear that he was rising to the top of things.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, that's true.
LEIGHTON: Did any of his competitors ever make a pitch to you and the union? I'm thinking of people like Frankensteen and, I guess, Mortimer.
LEIGHTON: No. Did Mortimer ever come around?
CONNOLLY: I never met Mr. Mortimer personally.
LEIGHTON: Because that election in '39, I believe Mortimer was a candidate.
LEIGHTON: And the question was Mortimer and Frankensteen, I think, weren't they? And they withdrew in favor of, what's his name, Reynolds. Not Reynolds----Thomas. R. J. Thomas.
CONNOLLY: Oh, R. J. Thomas.
LEIGHTON: That didn't split up your union that much, I mean your local?
CONNOLLY: Well, it divided it, but it didn't split it.
LEIGHTON: Okay. You still could manage to hold meetings and get business done and so on?
CONNOLLY: I swung a heavy hammer.
LEIGHTON: You swung a heavy hammer.
CONNOLLY: As president of the local.
LEIGHTON: By the time you hit World War II, you are in pretty good shape. I mean the local is pretty solidly established by then?
CONNOLLY: Yes, except that prior to World War II, our plant was shut down completely. We had to go over to the General Motors tank plants.
LEIGHTON: What happened to 598?
CONNOLLY: It retained its name and number and officers. But we kept it locked up.
LEIGHTON: Kind of inactive.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, inactive.
LEIGHTON: And so you all went over to work in Chevrolet.
CONNOLLY: We all went over to work in the tank plant.
LEIGHTON: And the tank plant was what?
CONNOLLY: General Motors Tank Plant.
LEIGHTON: Okay, that was at the Chevrolet complex then?
CONNOLLY: No, it was out on the new plant built by the government out on South Saginaw Street.
LEIGHTON: In Grand Blanc?
CONNOLLY: Just about to Grand Blanc.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, right where Dort Highway and Saginaw Street come together there, isn't it?
LEIGHTON: That was the tank plant. Now, of course, it's Fisher Body.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, yeah.
LEIGHTON: Grand Blanc Fisher Body. Okay. And that's when you knew Jack Palmer when you moved over there?
CONNOLLY: No, not then. From the tank plant I enlisted in the Navy. And I served for about a year and a half and the war is over and I came back. Well, the tank plant was closed down, so I hired into Chevrolet 2, parts and service. And that's where I met Jack.
LEIGHTON: I see. That's where you met Jack. Okay. I can't think of anything I left out. Can you think of anything we didn't cover?
CONNOLLY: Not that I know of.
LEIGHTON: Anything that you think you could help us with on that post-strike situation? That period is really thorny for us. You know, we don't have any grip on what's goin' on in Flint. When you went back out of the plant, did your neighbors give you any hassle for having been in?
CONNOLLY: Oh, a little bit.
LEIGHTON: Did they?
LEIGHTON: You were married then, by the time of the strike?
LEIGHTON: When did you get married?
CONNOLLY: I got married in 1933 originally. This is my second wife, here.
LEIGHTON: So you got married right out of high school then?
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see. Before you went hitchhiking or after you came back?
CONNOLLY: When I come back from hitchhiking.
LEIGHTON: Okay, I see.
CONNELLLY: No, I was married in '34. I'm sorry.
LEIGHTON: '34. Okay. So you were married and you rented a house?
CONNOLLY: Yeah, I rented an apartment just two blocks from the plant.
LEIGHTON: And you had a car.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, I had a new car and an apartment.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember whether you had a telephone?
CONNOLLY: Sure, I had a telephone.
LEIGHTON: Those are questions that may seem funny to you. But they're not in the scheme of things. A lot of people didn't have a phone. During the strike did anybody harass your wife, do you remember, from the plant?
CONNOLLY: In the stores and that?
CONNOLLY: Not seriously. The only real harassment that she got or suffering, mental suffering, was from my family who would beg her to try to get me out of the plant.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so your family wasn't supportive at all?
CONNOLLY: My family was all supervision. My dad was superintendent across the street. So they were afraid that I was going to embarrass the family by bein' in the strike. In fact, my dad was told by a big shot at Chevrolet to get me out of there.
LEIGHTON: I see. Did anything ever happen to him because he couldn't get you out?
CONNOLLY: No, they didn't bother him.
LEIGHTON: They didn't bother him.
CONNOLLY: I just told him, "You lived your life, Pa. Let me live mine."
LEIGHTON: So he was never a big, strong union supporter.
CONNOLLY: Nope, he was always against the union.
LEIGHTON: I see. Did anybody in your family ever join the Flint Alliance?
CONNOLLY: Nope. The only thing Pa ever give the union any credit for is after I come down here to take care of him. I said, "Pa, just think. Remember how it used to be twenty-five years ago, twenty-five years before John L. Lewis?" I said, "If John L. Lewis hadn't hit this world and this country at that time, at that spot, you would never have a pension right now." I said, "You'd be out peddlin' pencils with the rest of them." He said, "You gotta give 'em credit." So after bein' a Lewis hater all his life, he finally decided that he was a pretty smart guy.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. When did you buy your first house?
CONNOLLY: Well, it was about a year after the strike. We bought our first house on West Court Street.
LEIGHTON: Out of the city?
LEIGHTON: So that's when you were six miles out in the country?
CONNOLLY: No, we were then out probably about the same distance from downtown. But it was on the other side of town, the west side.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember, during the strike at all or before the strike, anything about the bus workers, trolley coachmen?
CONNOLLY: Yes, I knew they had trouble organizing and I understood that a lot of the bus workers were in that picket line outside the plant.
LEIGHTON: But you didn't have any...
CONNOLLY: No personal knowledge.
CONNOLLY: Well, one of 'em was shot, wasn't it?
LEIGHTON: Yeah, yeah. The president was shot in the knee. Fred Stevens, a fellow named Stevens. Anything else in that period you can remember? How did the medical doctors and that...? Were they opposed to strikers? Did they give you a hard time?
CONNOLLY: No doubt they were, but I didn't have any personal contact with them.
I did have personal contact with merchants, though. And when the sit-down first started, the merchants cut off credit coincidentally to the strikers.
LEIGHTON: But not all merchants, did they?
CONNOLLY: No, I guess not.
LEIGHTON: So did your family, your wife, have any trouble gettin' through the strike?
LEIGHTON: And supervision never bothered her at all. They didn't call her or harass her or anything like that?
CONNOLLY: Just my family.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, just your dad.
CONNOLLY: See, I'll tell you the reason my father was so afraid of it was that during the Irish rebellion in Ireland back in 1915 or 1916, I'm not sure. Anyway, his father and his uncle were in the post office there. They had charge of the post office after the takeover. And a British patrol come down there and drove 'em out. Well, they run across the street to this lady's house. And they hid in the basement. And my great-uncle was shot goin' out. Well, I think that that had left a great fear in my father about rebellions of any kind, you know.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. What about the church at the time? That's the only thing I can think of. Were they behind the strike? You must have been a churchgoer.
CONNOLLY: Yeah, I was a churchgoer.
LEIGHTON: Were they strong behind organized labor or did they just kind of keep their mouth shut?
CONNOLLY: They at least tried to stay, as far as I heard, non-committal.
LEIGHTON: The Father wouldn't say anything on Sunday from the pulpit?
CONNOLLY: Not against the strikers, I don't think, and not against the company, either one.
LEIGHTON: Okay. So they just kind of remain neutral.
LEIGHTON: Can't think of anything else. Can you think of any other names, anybody?
CONNOLLY: This guy down at Punta Gorda, he was our first committeeman. Dingman, Earl Dingman. Now when I first come down to Florida, I found his house but not him, by driving down 41 until I saw a sign that said "Dingman" on it.