Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
DATE: June 27, 1980
INTERVIEWEE: Andrew Skunda
INTERVIEWER: Kenneth West
WEST: Were you born, then, in Urey, Pennsylvania, Mr. Skunda?
SKUNDA: Well, it was just a little, four or five-home, sort of a suburb. Urey was small on its own, but we called it "Number Two." That's where I was born, but it's practically all the same, although they was about a mile separating.
WEST: But that was coal-mining country, was it, then? Your brother mentioned that you had worked in the mines, or your father did.
SKUNDA: No, I was fortunate. My father and my two older brothers, they slaved their heads off. But I just became fifteen in January of 1928. I became fourteen in 1928. I was born in 1914. And we moved to Flint, so I was too young to work the coal mine. But I would have started the next year, probably.
WEST: The next year. That was usual, then. for people to start? You wouldn't have had a chance, then, to finish high school.
SKUNDA: No, I just got through the eighth grade.
WEST: Did most of the kids, then, in that area, boys in that area, not finish high school, went to work early?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah, the majority of them, sure, because in those days schooling didn't amount to much, you know. Not in that area of the coal mines.
WEST: Your family was Czech, then, is that right?
SKUNDA: Right. Czechoslovakian.
WEST: And when did your father come over?
SKUNDA: You got me. I wouldn't know the exact year, because he must have been a young man, I presume about my age when I was in the Sit-Down, I presume, because he married in this country. My mother was born in British Columbia, Canada, and how she got into Pennsylvania I don't know.
WEST: Was there a certain close ethnic feeling as being Czech, Czechoslovakian?
SKUNDA: No, that was never brought up. My father belonged to the Orthodox churches, you know, and I presume some of the uncles and that, you know, did change to the Catholic, but my dad stayed Orthodox.
WEST: Was Czech spoken in the house, then?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah. I used to be able to talk it, 'til I came to Flint, and then... I can understand a few words now, even Polish.
WEST: Well, you came to Flint, when was it, 1928?
SKUNDA: '28, in July.
WEST: Was there a Czech community then in Flint that you could...?
SKUNDA: My dad joined a church----I don't remember the name of it----over on Vermont. And then, of course, he went back and forth to the Byzantine and Orthodox. The Byzantine was on the corner of Madison and North Street, St. Michael's, and the Orthodox was over on Vermont. Now those times there wasn't buses or anything, so Dad would generally, he started at the Vermont, and then he changed to the Byzantine, because it was closer, you know, and he could get to, and Dad never drove a car in his life, so...
WEST: But you mentioned that some Czechs did become Catholic, is that right?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah. My brother, for instance, of course he done that here, when he came.
WEST: Why would they do that? Just easier to...?
SKUNDA: Well, he married a Catholic. The Byzantine, St. Michael Byzantine church, that's out on Pasadena now----no, Pierson Road----now, see they have the Pope, where the Orthodox don't. That's the only difference. Dad used to, oh, he tried to explain it to me. See, I dropped out of church. I don't go to church anymore.
WEST: Did you go to church at the time of the strike?
SKUNDA: Not too much, no. That was '37. No, after I got to teenager and that, I...
WEST: Do you remember whether there were many Catholics in Fisher plant?
SKUNDA: No, I couldn't tell you anything about that.
WEST: The religions...
SKUNDA: The background, no. Seems like they did have, though, passes for anybody that wanted to out, you know, church Sunday mornings, mass, something like that, but they was passes. See, it was where it was like about an Army. You had to get a pass to go out. See, I spent....
WEST: During the strike.
SKUNDA: Right. When the strike was on.
WEST: The reason I ask that is that there was a group known as the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists around that time, maybe a little later. I just wondered if there was a group that was identified as Catholic trade unionists in the plant, because they were trade unionists, but, as I gather, they were staunchly anti-Communist and that.
SKUNDA: No, I never heard of any religious background of any kind.
WEST: You came to Flint, then, in '28, and your father got a job here.
SKUNDA: Yes, he worked in the shops off and on, but we spent a lot of time on welfare. You know, at that time, what fueled the tools, my brother was workin' at Fisher 2 down here. You know how they worked it at that time. Maybe you'd get six months in a year, and then you'd have a model change, and you'd be off six months, so we were on welfare.
WEST: Hard to pick up jobs in the off-season?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah, especially in... Well, the brothers were workin' in... I think they worked. See, we moved off of Humboldt, there, in Civic Park.
WEST: So you lived in the Civic Park district, then, did you, for a time.
SKUNDA: Right, 'til '34, I think it was. Then we moved on Green Street.
WEST: I see. Was that Green Street not in Civic Park?
SKUNDA: No, it was up off of the Detroit Street.
WEST: I see. When you came here, you moved in... Was that a GM house then, because Civic Park had been built by General Motors.
SKUNDA: Right. It was a GM house, and we rented it all those years (about five-six years, I presume), and we could have bought that house for a song when we moved, you know. I think it was around 18 or 2100 dollars.
WEST: Nice home, was it?
SKUNDA: Well, for all of us that were livin' in it.
WEST: How many rooms was it? Was it a big...?
SKUNDA: Three upstairs and you had your front room and dining room and kitchen downstairs. One bath.
WEST: Were those houses built for working families then?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah.
WEST: Now the Depression hit soon after, didn't it? You came in '28, and I guess a couple of years after that...
SKUNDA: That's what I say. We was on welfare there from '28 'til... I don't know about the factories, whether my brothers were workin'.
WEST: I was wondering if there was any difficulty keeping your house during those years.
SKUNDA: No, they was no trouble. We always paid the rent.
WEST: But you managed to scrape up the rent. Did anyone lose their houses in that area because they couldn't pay the rent during the Depression?
SKUNDA: No. I had good buddies two doors from us that bought their home and owned it. No, I don't know of any...
WEST: I wonder if the company was fairly lenient in extending people, you know.
SKUNDA: Well, it could be, if they would have had them finance through General Motors. Could be, yeah. But I don't know. I didn't pay no attention to that in those days.
WEST: When did you go into the shop, then?
SKUNDA: My older brother started at Fisher 2 here. They come from Cleveland. Two brothers started at Fisher 2, transferred from Cleveland Fisher. And then the older brother was transferred out to Fisher 1. And he was out there in 1934, and they started hiring, so he got me a job out there in the paint shop. And I only worked six or eight weeks. It was in the wintertime, I know. It was colder than heck. I almost froze out there. Anyway, I worked 'til March (I don't remember the exact date), and I was laid off. And then I was out of work until March the following year, which I didn't have enough weeks in (four months there in '34). I lost that. But my seniority started 3/5/35.
WEST: I see. So that would have been March of '35. You mentioned you were on welfare before, because you came to Flint in '28. Did you get a job right away when you...
SKUNDA: No. I set pins when I lived over on Humboldt Street. I set pins at the Haskell, enough for a teenager to give Mother and Dad a few dollars, but you didn't make much. I can only get a nickel when I'd set pins.
WEST: And did you get any other jobs, then, between that time and..., because the crash came and things were really...
SKUNDA: No. From that first job at Fisher 'til I got in in March '35, why...
WEST: You were on welfare, then. How did that system work? Do you remember how the welfare system was set up?
SKUNDA: No. Used to get, oh, butter and stuff like that, I know. We used to go out and buy used baked goods. We used to go down----I don't know what street it's on----where this neighbor, second door from us, they'd go down and buy a big box of the cakes. Oh, it was good, you know. Heck, that was a treat to us. And then we'd split it or buy it together, you know. But about the welfare deal I don't know too much about that, because...
WEST: But it wasn't public works type of welfare, was it?
SKUNDA: Not in those years. No, I don't think that public works started until...
WEST: Well, the WPA, I guess, came later. You never worked in WPA?
SKUNDA: No. This buddy of mine was in the WPA. He worked up in northern Michigan, Upper Peninsula. But I don't know why I couldn't get in or why I never did.
WEST: I gather that they did some work on Bishop Airport and places like that around. But that would have been later, I guess, '36, '37.
SKUNDA: Yeah. The only ones I know were up North. I think they was some up around Gaylord and Grayling and then way up in the Upper Peninsula.
WEST: And then there was the CCC, too.
SKUNDA: Oh, that's what I'm... Not the WPA. The CCC is what I'm talkin' about. Right.
WEST: The WPA did local work. CCC was more with reforestation, I guess, and...
SKUNDA: My dad worked on WPA. Yeah, but... Oh, yeah, he done a lot of work, tryin' to make up for his welfare help. But I never did, and I never got in the CCC's, either.
WEST: Well, you worked from March of '35. Did you work fairly regularly, then, until the time of the Sit-Down Strike? Business had picked up, had it, in late '35, '36?
SKUNDA: Yeah. Right, because of that one model change here, I was trucking bodies. They called that "trucking," when you were transferring the bodies from one lane, put it on the other, see. That's what they call "trucking." And the North Unit went down at the model change, and then they started building the 1935 Chevrolet at the South Unit, so I just went over there and worked on that through the layoff. I was very lucky. I didn't get laid off that year.
WEST: Well, that was excellent. Were those bodies all-metal bodies at that time or was there some wood?
SKUNDA: No, there was some wood in 'em. I tried to get in the wood shop, you know. I took wood shop in school, and I thought I'd like to work in the wood part, but, no... Just like I tried to get on skilled trades.
WEST: Well, I'm interested in when the changeover went from wood to all metal and when the wood shop was phased out of operation. Do you remember?
SKUNDA: Well, it phased out gradually. They used to put a lot of wood in the doors, and then, you know, inside your quarter panels. They'd be all covered afterwards. They used wood as a tag strip, you know, put their tags in to hold the trim. Stuff like that.
WEST: I see. Do you remember when the model year might have been when they did phase out that?
SKUNDA: Phase out the wood entirely? No, I couldn't...
WEST: Would it have been after the Sit-Down Strike?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
WEST: Before the Sit-Down Strike, you were still working with wood.
SKUNDA: Right. Right. They still had some wood in there after the Sit-Down, but before the war, no. I think it all disappeared before the war there, but I couldn't give you exact dates.
WEST: Well, you worked in the paint shop, then. What do you remember conditions were like when you first came into the paint shop, the first day that you were sort of introduced to that kind of work?
SKUNDA: Well, just like I say. I was on the body trucking, and I still got scars on my shins. You'd get behind one of those bodies and push, you know, and happen to snag somewhere, why, you crash yourself. I was all manual. And I worked with a buddy there, only worked two or three years together. Then we finally went on the line, first runnin' the top spray.
WEST: You were working in the paint shop, then, at the time of the strike.
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah, I didn't get out of the paint shop 'til, oh, I think it was '40 or '41. I got into trouble with a foreman in the paint shop. Then I asked for a transfer, and I got out of there. See, I had asthma when I was a kid, and I outgrew it, and I didn't like the smell of that paint.
WEST: I can imagine. Can you describe in your own words what conditions were like in the paint shop, in the plant there?
SKUNDA: Well, working conditions were pretty good. I got along with the foreman pretty good. Course you had several foremen. You had... You know you worked second shift, first shift, and you had different foremen and different general foremen. Until I got in a row with Tom Murphy, there, working in the South Unit spraying the bodies, you know, it was cold wintertime. See, we were in a inner line, and somebody out had windows open, you know, and the guy down next from me, why, he refused to work, because it was too cold there, see. And so this foreman come and asked me, and I refused too, see. Course then he put me on the carpet, you know, for refusing to work, which was right. I had to get the committeeman, and that's when I started getting transferred out of there, because I didn't like it, and...
WEST: That was after the strike.
SKUNDA: That was before the strike.
WEST: Before the strike? You had committeemen.
SKUNDA: No, I take it back. It was after the strike. You were right. It was after the strike. You know Bump Chase? He was one of the better committeemen. He said no, too. You're right. It was after the strike, because...
WEST: I wondered how the conditions were in terms of, you know, the spray itself.
SKUNDA: Fumes? They'd bring, every day before work, they'd bring you around cheesecloth----oh, it'd be about that long. Oh, and it was doubled and tripled and quadrupled I don't know how many times. And you'd put that around your nose, see. Course you'd chew tobacco. I learned to chew Copenhagen. During the Sit-Down Strike I learned to chew Copenhagen. See they furnished it. It was free. Anyway, you'd put that around your nose, and you'd [inaudible] on one end and then change it, move it, about every hour or so, every half-hour.
WEST: Did that keep out the fumes?
SKUNDA: Most of it. A lot of it.
WEST: Did they have any means of keeping the fumes down, dampening the...?
SKUNDA: They had the waterfall. They kept improving every model change. There'd be water runnin' down, just like along on metal, see. And it was suction there, that would draw the fumes so it would hit the water and drop down, and then they were a click in a centrally located thing there that... Now they improved it quite a bit, but you still should have wore this nose cheesecloth. They did have face masks, but hardly anybody could wear those, because, I don't know, they were so----especially in the summertime----so hot, you know, and the majority of the men just used the cheesecloth.
WEST: Was it pretty difficult work, you know?
SKUNDA: No. Just keepin' up with the line. That's all.
WEST: Was that, the line speed, pretty fast?
SKUNDA: Yes, because if you turned around to do something, if one of your guns clogged up, why, you were in a little trouble. Course they had a gun man, a painter, paint gun repair man. You know, they'd have to call him in. Course you wouldn't be able to spray that color 'til they got the gun fixed. Somebody else would probably have to cover for you. But, yes, any job on the line, you had to keep up. They had to (tryin' to think of the word for those guys that timed it-----time study)... They'd time-study it and get it to where you had to do so much, and, well, which would be all right.
WEST: Some of the men resent the time study?
SKUNDA: Oh, yes. That was----I don't know. Well, it just gets on your nerves, somebody standin' behind you timing you, and you don't know what they're doin', and...
WEST: Did they say anything to you?
SKUNDA: No, no, they wouldn't say nothin' to you. They would report it to your supervisors and probably study it.
WEST: Then what would they do later? Did they come down with suggestions as to how to...
SKUNDA: Yeah, if they think that you wasn't doin' enough, I guess they would, then. Maybe... I used to spray the inside of doors. Door checks, they'd call it, you know. You'd have to open the doors, and, you know, get paint on the door and then on the doorframe. And on a two-door job, why, you'd only have the one door to get, why, okay. But then you'd get a bunch of these four-doors come by that you had to open and close foor doors, why... Course you wouldn't close 'em all the way. They had a catch thing that would stop it, you know. You couldn't drop a wet pan against one thing. But all of those were timed, yup.
WEST: So was there any union background in your own family?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah, ... The Pennsylvania coal mine union, right. My dad and two brothers, oh, yeah, they were strong union men.
WEST: The United Mine Workers, then.
WEST: When you came here to Flint, was there any union in the shop, when you came in late '34?
SKUNDA: In '34, when my brother got me that job (I think it was in January, '34), they was a sort of a secret union, yeah. My brother was sort of one of the, not exactly an organizer, but he could sign you up if you wanted to join, see. He got into trouble with Fisher Body, because they blackballed him right after he got me that job. They let him go in '34, right after the model change, and he never got back. He went to the Buick and ended up on skilled trades over there.
WEST: In other words, they knew he was organizing or signing people up for the union, so they let him go. That was AFL.
SKUNDA: I think it was at that time, yeah.
WEST: Were you asked to join?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah, I was asked and joined in '35.
WEST: You joined in '35.
WEST: Now they had had a tradition at Fisher Body before you came of some strikes. They had one particularly in 1930, I guess, and did people, some of the old-timers, talk about those....?
SKUNDA: Well, no, because I didn't know anybody that was in the '30 one. My brother, you know, I think he was a '28 man, but I don't remember any strike activity, you know, pertaining to him at that time. Well, they were both down at Fisher 2 at that time, though.
WEST: Yeah, this was at Fisher 1. They had the walkout in 1930.
SKUNDA: No, they wouldn't have been in that, no.
WEST: I guess they had another one in '34, in the summer of '34.
SKUNDA: That's where he got into trouble, see.
WEST: Oh, he was helping to organize that strike. Do you remember anything about that strike?
SKUNDA: No, when the model change come, all I remember is----course he was laid off, everybody was laid off, see----and they never called him back. That's why in '35 he went over to Buick.
WEST: Well, that's interesting, because when the strike came, Buick, of course, didn't sit down. Did your brother continue his union activities when he got to be...
SKUNDA: No, he sort of settled down after that. He had a skilled-trades job, so... But he was in the union. I mean he joined the union soon as he got over there. And he was a good union man after that, but he never served as a committeeman or anything, but... He didn't organize or anything.. Of course, at that time, you didn't need it. See, it was a union shop.
WEST: Right. Well, in the summer of '36, then, when the CIO came in and started organizing, were you a member all the way, or had you dropped out of the AFL and rejoined?
SKUNDA: It was just like I told you. I was on the fence. I didn't know which way to go. But I was a union member. I kept gettin' my little union buttons. But which action I was on I don't know.
WEST: You weren't really an active, particularly active union man, then. But that was in '36, before the strike, when Wyndham Mortimer was in town, and then Bob Travis came in. Did you meet any of those people?
SKUNDA: No, but I remember 'em speaking. I never met 'em personally, but I remember them. Bob died here just last December.
WEST: Yeah, just last summer. But do you remember holding any meetings in the summer, in the weeks and months before the Sit-Down Strike?
SKUNDA: Well, no, not exactly, because the only way I found about the strike is we went to work one morning, and the gates were locked. They wanted us to leave our lunches for the Sit-Downers, which we did, and then we went home. Course they had us progress, why, I went in and set in with 'em, but they didn't want us to right at that time. They told us to go home.
WEST: So did you have any advance notice that this Sit-Down was coming, at all?
WEST: How did you find out about it? How did it happen? Do you remember what your experience was?
SKUNDA: Well, just like I say. We went there that morning to report to work. I don't remember what the starting time was. Probably seven, which it was, most of the time, and just couldn't... Well, we did get into the basement part. I worked in the North Unit. And we got down there to the basement part, but they wouldn't let us go upstairs.
WEST: The strike was on then.
SKUNDA: The strike was on, and they told anybody to leave their lunches and go home. They didn't want any of the day shift there, but... And it ended up that we come by seein' 'em.
WEST: You left your lunches there that first day and then you went home. You hadn't heard anything about it on the radio, or no one came by to tell you, you know...
SKUNDA: No. No. Nobody out in the parking lot. Now that's why it was...
WEST: Were you quite surprised?
SKUNDA: Yeah, I would say so, yup. But, of course, I was for it.
WEST: Yeah. What do you think lay back of the union sentiment, then, the sentiment for a union. What was it ,do you think, that really brought people into it?
SKUNDA: Well, I think it was...just puttin' all these pressure on the union, just breakin' it up, just like they fired----well, they didn't call it a "fire," but my older brother was never able to get back to work there. And things like that that they'd done. They had favorites. Every foreman had favorites. Now my brother got along good with the superintendent in the paint shop, there, that's how... He was a Polish superintendent, and my brother seemed to....
WEST: Were quite a lot, would you say, of the foremen and superintendents Polish or Hungarian?
SKUNDA: Oh, no, no. No. Joe was about the only one that was. Because...
WEST: Do you remember his last name?
SKUNDA: I was just tryin' to think of it. He... The son's a supervisor out there now.
WEST: Well, perhaps it will come back to you. So then the foremen did have their favorites.
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah.
WEST: Were people expected to cozy up to them, then, and do things for them?
SKUNDA: Yeah, but these union activities, boy, they went against the grain. And that's why----I know it never happened to me, I mean about workin', you know, gettin' your, all the work you wanted, or anything like that, because I wasn't there long enough before the union was stronger, that I don't know about any of that.
WEST: No, you weren't in a leadership or organizational role, then. You left your lunch and then you went home on that first day of the strike. When did you get back in on sort of a permanent thing?
SKUNDA: It wasn't too long, because out of the, 40----some say 42 days; some say 44----but I was there 28 days, so it couldn't have been too long, because I used to come out, you know, you could get a pass to come out two or three days, either over the weekend or during the week, if you wanted to go out for two or three days, so... And if I said those, which would be approximately six weeks, so...
WEST: Yes, it did. Do you remember how it was that you got back in, when you did get back in? Did someone come out and say that they needed you?
SKUNDA: You had a pass, when you went out. And you was supposed to report back. You'd show 'em that slip, and they...
WEST: No, I mean the first time, when you were asked to start sitting in.
SKUNDA: Well, I think they did announce that anybody wanted to come in and join could, then. You know, that's another thing, I never did find out how many actual sit-inners there was. Did you ever have a figure on that?
WEST: No. It seems to vary from the people who sat in. Some people consider that real Sit-Downers to be only those who stayed in the full 44 days, and there were very few of those.
SKUNDA: I know it. Mostly the leaders, right.
WEST: But you came in, then, someone came. What prompted you to go to sit in with them?
SKUNDA: Well, just like I say. It was hard times then. I wasn't married, and I figured I was takin', you know, some of the meals and food away from the family, which needed it there, so I thought it would be a good idea to go over there. Your food was free. They furnished your cigarettes, chewin' tobacco.
WEST: Easier on your family, then, for you to be in there than to be at home.
SKUNDA: That's right, yeah, although, just like I say, I was a strong union, although I wasn't an organizer or anything. But Dad and two brothers, you know, bein' coal miners' union, and I believed in it.
WEST: Were your two brothers involved in, your other brothers, involved in the strike?
[end of side 1]
WEST: ...certain times, too.
SKUNDA: Yeah, I don't think it would be weekends, either. I think it was just Sunday. Some of 'em would go out, you know, and probably there'd be more at certain times. When especially the time of going out for, after the strike was over, you know, why, it was quite a gang in there then.
WEST: Lot of people came in just so they could walk out with you. I wondered if you got reinforcements coming over from (especially that night, when things were pretty scary, the night of the "Running Bulls"), whether you got people up from...
SKUNDA: Uh, no, they could have been some, but I don't know how they would have gone on the whole outside. Maybe someone knowin' somebody and just kind of asked them to come in, but that would have been about the only way.
WEST: Did people come over from Buick and AC and other Chevy plants, some of the plants that weren't involved in the Sit-Down, to picket outside and help?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah, they helped. Oh, yeah, they'd come over and talk through the windows, wanted to know if there was anything they could do or stuff like that.
WEST: Did reporters come in?
SKUNDA: Oh, yes. I'd like to see some of the pictures they took of me. I never did see any of 'em.
WEST: Oh, really? They took a lot of pictures?
SKUNDA: Oh, that bunk we made. They took pictures of that. Old John and I went down there, but I never seen of them pictures.
WEST: Did they talk to you? Any of the reporters talk to you?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah. Yeah, they talked. That's why, you know, some of that would have been in the local papers, but I never saw any of it.
WEST: Well, of course the Journal wasn't exactly sympathetic to you, were they?
WEST: What sort of questions did they ask, then?
SKUNDA: Well, I think it was mostly about the union, why we were doing it and stuff like that, but that's been so long ago that I don't know....
WEST: Did you think that you were going to win, when you were in there?
SKUNDA: Well, no, I wouldn't say I thought we was gonna win, but I don't know what I'd have done if we would havelost.
WEST: You think you would have lost your job.
SKUNDA: Oh, absolutely, yeah. You know you just don't think that far ahead, because you were doin' your thing and just hopin' it'd come out right.
WEST: Did things improve much in the plant, after the strike?
SKUNDA: Well, yeah, I think they did. You had your committeemen and stuff like that that would go to bat for you. Then they couldn't bump you on your job. You know what I mean? You had certain groups you worked on, like the paint sprayers were in a certain group. The truckers were in a group. Trim and all that, see, they had their own department.
WEST: Were there some people in the plant that seemed to take the lead in the strike, that were really pushing for it harder than others? Were there certain departments, in other words, that were very well organized at the time of the strike?
SKUNDA: Well, I think the paint shop was about one of the, and the body shop, were two of the most organized.
WEST: I wonder why that would be.
SKUNDA: I don't know. Just from my own experiences and knowing who was there, you know, just like Jerry Aldred, Ray Aikman, and Spohn boys. You know, stuff like that.
WEST: They were just pretty militant.
SKUNDA: And then the Bud Simons gang out of the body shop. I think Bruce Malott was with that.
WEST: Yeah, I think so. Did you hear at the time that some of these... It undoubtedly did get into the newspapers and that, that some of your leaders were Communists and radicals?
SKUNDA: Oh, heck, yes. I might even been asked to join. I don't know, but I know I never did join, which I'm thankful for, because I sure wasn't no Communist, and I didn't want to be.
WEST: But there were, some of the leaders were Communists then.
SKUNDA: Oh, yes.
WEST: Did you know of any?
SKUNDA: Well, I couldn't say they were. No, I couldn't say that.
WEST: But was there talk, then about Communist Party?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah.
WEST: And you said some solicited you and asked you to join. Is that right?
SKUNDA: No, no. That's what I say. Nobody ever asked me to join.
WEST: But you could have joined.
SKUNDA: I don't know. I wouldn't have joined.
WEST: What I getting at was there Communists fairly active at the time?
SKUNDA: Not too much, no. Even my brother, you know, he was sort of a strong union man. He would never be a Communist either, because my dad was born over there in that Communist country. He wouldn't have nothin' to do with it, so...
WEST: There were some Socialists, though, too, weren't there?
SKUNDA: Well, I don't even know the difference between a Socialist and a Communist, but...
WEST: So you weren't particularly ideological, then, at the...
SKUNDA: No, and even up to this day.
WEST: Did you get pretty good backing from home? I guess you would, with your father and that. Did he have doubts about your success and that?
SKUNDA: Now, my dad, I think he was for me all the way, although I never did ask him. I wish I would have asked him that. But my mother, I just found this out, or it was just recalled to me last, when Mike and Joe and I got together over to Joe's house. Mike and Joe were sent out to Fisher Body there to bring me home. My mother wanted me out of there. Mike said I told 'em to go to heck. I wasn't goin' out of there.
WEST: So nobody did come out of there. You weren't aware, then, that your mother...
SKUNDA: They said that Mother wanted me home, but I didn't come.
WEST: So she wasn't quite as hot for it as...
SKUNDA: No, she was afraid, probably, that I was gonna get hurt, right, especially after that set-to over there at Fisher 2, you know.
WEST: You did get home, though, at times, though.
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah, yeah. I stayed at home.
WEST: How were things at home? Pretty tense?
SKUNDA: Actually I don't think they were tense, but, just like I say, Mother didn't want me in there, didn't want no part of that, but I never heard Dad say a word against it. And financially, though, I couldn't tell you, but...
WEST: They were eating anyway.
SKUNDA: ...nobody starved.
WEST: Did you, at the time... Where were you living?
SKUNDA: At the time of the Sit-Down Strike was on Addison.
WEST: Did you have any acres there, or was that a city house?
SKUNDA: Just a house. Just like this here.
WEST: You didn't have any garden then for raising your own food.
SKUNDA: Dad used to have gardens around there. He'd generally find a lot somewhere, and he'd put garden in. Oh, he had gardens all over. When we lived on Humboldt, he had gardens. He'd get permission from the lot owner, some way or somehow, and get it dug up.
WEST: I wondered whether that would supply you with some vegetables and stuff, preserves and that, because that was pretty common, I guess, during the years of the Depression.
SKUNDA: Right. Mother used to can stuff.
WEST: So that would help tie you over some of the...
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah, he'd grow tomatoes.
WEST: Where you were living, at Addison Street, were most of the neighbors and the people around, then, shop people, workers?
SKUNDA: Oh, I presume most all of 'em.
WEST: I wondered whether there was any hostility to the union in the neighborhood then, which your father and mother may have felt.
WEST: Because there was an organization known as the Flint Alliance. It was a back-to-work movement by some people who were loyal to the company, and who did sympathize with the strike.
SKUNDA: Well, no, employee, I don't think, ever was for that Alliance, as far as I ever knew, because, if they would have been, why, they'd had had a bigger backing.
WEST: Yeah, they didn't, it's true, seem to go anywhere in the end. Were the shopkeepers and the people you dealt with, as far as business was concerned----the stores and that----were they sympathetic? Would they have carried you over?
SKUNDA: Well, I don't think it ever came to that with our family, because I don't think we ever ran up too big of a bill. In fact, I don't think stores would let you run up a very big bill, because we got 'em all paid, or two brothers got 'em all paid. I don't know who financed it.
WEST: After the strike, were there any wildcats?
SKUNDA: Oh, Fisher Body was known as the strikingest plant in General Motors, you know. I think they just lost the title here a few... Oh, yeah, they were a lot of strikes, wildcats, a lot of strikes. I saved up some bonds during the war, you know, and things were going good, and then that big strike in----when was that, '48 or '49?
WEST: Yeah, just after the war, shortly after the war, yes. But I was thinking right after the strike, in the spring and summer of 1937, when you were getting...
SKUNDA: Oh, not too many there, I don't think, until the war. And then, of course, during the war there wasn't none.
WEST: I wondered if you had difficulties with foremen still, or where the foremen could make the adjustment, you know, in treating men a little better now, because they did have the union, after all. Presumably the foremen couldn't exercise the same sort of authority.
SKUNDA: No, the foremen never had the pressure on them, anybody, too much, afterwards. At least that's what I found out, because nobody ever pressured me. I went into the final assembly, out of the paint shop, and there was no... Of course, you had speed-ups and all then, but there was no pressure. I mean, you'd have to get the committeeman, and they'd settle one way or another.
WEST: You had a committee system. Did you have a steward system at first.
SKUNDA: Right, that's what it was at first.
WEST: And did you get involved in that?
SKUNDA: No. I should have been, 'cause with my background, you know, bein' a coalminer's son, why, you'd think I'd have been a strong organizer, just like my brother there, but I don't know, it never affected me. I never had to... I used to go to their meetings until they started that squabbling, you know, and that AFL and CIO, and I just couldn't stand it. I quit goin', and I don't even go 'til this day.
WEST: I see. That fight sort of turned you off, then.
SKUNDA: Right, as far as meetings, right, 'cause they would stretch those things out two and three hours. I don't know.
WEST: You didn't line up for one side or the other. Did you have any sympathies one way or the other?
SKUNDA: No, I... Yeah, I think my sympathies was with the CIO. Just like I say, I had all those AFL friends there in the paint shop, but my sympathies were with the CIO, I think.
WEST: What did you think of Martin, then?
SKUNDA: Well, I wouldn't have had any opinion, because, just like I say, I heard him speak a few times, but I never formed an opinion, I guess.
WEST: Did you, after the strike, take part in any other organizing activities, the union... They had some trouble out at Owosso, I understand, with A.G. Redmond, and I guess some boys went down to Pontiac to help organize there. Some even later went down to help organize Ford. And I just wondered if...
SKUNDA: No, I never was a strong union man that way, but I never missed a month's union dues. Course after a while, they started takin' it right out of your check anyway. But, no, I never...
WEST: Did you think that was a good idea, the check-off system? And I guess later they had the closed shop, too, where you had to join. Did you have any trouble getting people to join the union after the strike, who were reluctant holdouts, still didn't believe in the union?
SKUNDA: Well, yeah, there was a few, but I couldn't remember any names. In fact, there was one, even after the war, he would let his----I don't know how he was doin' it----lettin' his something lapse there, and he would pay it back. I think it was "union finance" something, and then he didn't want to pay it back, but outside of that, I don't remember anything. No, in fact, I think, for all the advantages that everybody got, that they were more than willing to have there...
WEST: You think, in looking back on it now, that the struggle was worth it?
SKUNDA: Oh, my, yeah. I never realized that it would go that far at the time. In fact, I don't think anybody ever did see the advantages that you were gonna get out of it. Course it took time and fights after that Sit-Down, but...
WEST: In the plant itself, in Fisher 1 (it just occurred to me I didn't get into this), were there many Southerners in the plant, people from the South?
SKUNDA: You mean just directly come up from the South?
WEST: Well, a background in the South, had come up from the South.
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah. Well, my brother-in-law was born in Missouri. But as far as being a lot, I don't, I wouldn't say there was a lot of 'em. But they were some.
WEST: Is he still alive, your brother-in-law?
SKUNDA: Yes, he is. He lives over on Craner, across from Brookwood.
WEST: Did he take part in the...
SKUNDA: No, he worked at Chevy 4, which was a hub of activity over there, but he never was a Sit-Downer.
WEST: What is his name?
WEST: First name?
WEST: I might get in touch with him, because it would be interesting to talk with someone who didn't take part in the strike.
SKUNDA: Well, not only that, but he might even be able to tell you something about that plant 4 over there, because he worked there.
WEST: That would be good. Were there quite a few people like yourself of Czech, Polish, hungarian background working?
SKUNDA: Oh, heck, yes, a lot of Polocks. In fact, I had a lot of good friends in there that were different. Different nationality, Polocks, Hungarians.
WEST: Did they live in a certain area close together in the city?
SKUNDA: Yes. Now you take the North End. Now that was mostly Polish and Czechs and stuff like that. Hungarians were over off of St. John there. In fact, their church is still there, unless, I think they sold that.
WEST: So, Italians, I guess.
SKUNDA: Well, I think the Italians were mixed with the Poles and that, probably in the North End, a lot of 'em.
WEST: Were there many in the Civic Park area, you know, in that area where you lived?
SKUNDA: No, no. there weren't very many. In fact, I'm the only.. I mean we're the only ones I knew of that were...
WEST: How did you come to get that house? Do you remember that at all?
SKUNDA: Ah! No, you got me. Just when two brothers and sister come here, got a job at AC, three of 'em, two of 'em work at Fisher, to...I guess somewhere near their work, and they just watched the advertisements, I guess. And it was owned by some lady, I think. She lived over here on Doherty Park here and just rented it from her. Kept payin' the rent was all was necessary.
WEST: What was the rent? Do you remember? Was it pretty...
SKUNDA: It was pretty reasonable, but I don't know exact amount.
WEST: But on the whole, was it a pretty good deal?
SKUNDA: Thirty dollars a month or something like that. Course, now, even that, with two, three working in it, why, at that time they were gettin' maybe 50 cents an hour in the shop, so...
WEST: Did wages increase as a result of the strike and the union coming in?
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah. When I was first hired in on trucking, I was gettin' 45 cents an hour, and then just before the strike, I think I was gettin', on that paint, I went up to 90 on the paint sprayer, and then I went to $1.05 or $1.15 on sprayin' Duco.
WEST: Was that piecework or straight?
SKUNDA: No, they eliminated that piecework after the strike, although I heard they was some parts in the trim shop that they still done piecework, but I don't think there's anything left now about piecework.
WEST: The union was opposed to it.
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah, because you could save that up some way. I mean you'd lose so many and then you'd set 'em up. I don't know.
WEST: Were there safety devices installed then? Was it a safer job after the union came?
SKUNDA: Well, I would say so, just like that paint sprayin', you know. They start working on the blowers and the suction things to eliminate the fumes. That would be a safety feature.
WEST: Well, I want to thank you very much.
SKUNDA: Do you think that helped?
WEST: Yes, it did.
SKUNDA: See, I did want to get... You know, all these advantages we got and that, salary and supervision got the same advantages as the hourly rated, without any sit-down strike or without any strike.
WEST: So they benefitted.
SKUNDA: Now us retirees are bein' paid for this cost-of-living by the workers in the shop, hourly rated workers, right now, I think. What is it? A half-cent or something like that. Why they don't go after gettin' these salaried and supervisors to pay that instead of the hourly rated.
WEST: Well, that's true. They did get the same benefits.
WEST: I talked to one or two people that suggested during the war there was a movement to organize supervision, foremen, to form a union. It didn't go anywhere, but I wondered if you....
SKUNDA: Also salaried, like your office workers. It wasn't that long ago that they turned it down, five-six years ago out there at Fisher, I think.
WEST: To join the union.
SKUNDA: Yeah. I think they had an election out there.
WEST: I understand this was a movement to organize foremen, but it didn't come to anything. I think, in fact, a law may have been passed from that, you know, the organization, of foremen, because they had their own problems.
SKUNDA: That would be against the grain of company policy.
WEST: Well, I want to thank you again very much. I
talking to you. Is there anything else that I didn't mention that
you wanted to bring up? I'm not sure I covered everything.