University of Michigan-Flint
Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
DATE: June 26, 1980
INTERVIEWER: Kenneth B. West
INTERVIEWEE: Norman Bully
WEST: Mr. Bully, you said you were president of the AFL-CIO Council.
BULLY: Before the Sit-Down Strike, that first year in Green Back in 1934, my dad was an active unionist, although he was also an [inaudible] part of the time. Anyway, so my brother and I, who was a year younger than I, we were in the union in 1934 and got involved in the efforts to organize Flint at that time. But, nevertheless, that wasn't very successful.
WEST: But that was under the AFL auspices, wasn't it?
BULLY: That's right, but we stayed in. My brother and I----I think there was about 120 of us----who stayed with the union through the...We used to go down to the Pengelly Building, pay our dues. Then we'd get a little stamp in our book. Anyway, when the big push came to the saddle in 1936, early '36, 1936 and 1937, of course that was the Sit-Down start, anyway, things were a lot different then. The whole town was more receptive. The point I was going to make there was that long after that, I first got elected to a union job in 1937, March, vice-president. I still carry that card in my wallet everyday. I've never given it up. I still have it. And Mortimer, Wyndham Mortimer. I mean I was a steward in my plant. This was after the Sit-Down Strike in March of 1937. And I never was without an elective or appointed job in the UAW since that time, right up until today. Forty-two years I actually was elected or appointed, and then, since I retired here the last time, 'cause of my age I retired. We changed the constitution in the Council so that I was still a member and would be for the rest of my life. But, anyway, I tell you it was wonderful. But my job as Council president, when I finally got that job, which was...I worked on a number of other jobs----I was officer of a local, I was chairman of the bargaining committee, I was on the national negotiating committee for a year. Fact is I was on the national negotiating committee in [inaud.] when we negotiated a pension in 1950. And I've had some credit. I was editor of our paper. I've done education director for the local, and so forth and so on. Anyway, I was involved in a number of things. And then I got elected in 1952, I think it was---I think it was '53----I got elected to Council president, which was an interesting job, because it come full of everything. And we had Lapeer, Shiawassee, and Genesee Counties, and we represented about 80,000 workers, and that was a lot more interesting. It was different. Before that I had been an International Representative from the UAW. And I was on Walter Reuther's staff, GM Department. Then I was on [inaud.] staff. I did a lot of different things all through that time.
WEST: Kept you busy and always involved in different things.
BULLY: All through that time I was involved, yes. And I was always running for something, because in those days, we had the elections for officers every year. We also had conventions every year at first, national conventions, so we were running for... Then we had state conventions. The same group of guys, who were well known, got elected to everything, you know.
WEST: You said in '53, you represented 80,000.
BULLY: Well, I got elected at that time. I ran for this job as Council president. That was the CIO Council at that time.
WEST: Can you tell me how many people you represented when you were a steward?
BULLY: When I was a steward in the plant, we had 2700 people, and I was the first----no, wait a minute----at first I was a deputy steward. Our chief steward was a guy named Walt Graham, an old man, a wonderful guy, wonderful guy. But it was pretty active job for him. He lived out on the lake. It was quite a drive, and he was very up. He was good at it. But it just was so involved at that time. You had to live near. And so they elected me as a chief steward. So then I had 2700 people in the transmission plant.
WEST: That many?
BULLY: Yeah. Well, in those days, stewards were different. We didn't have committeemen, what were called committeemen or shop committeemen or anything. We had stewards. And so we had a number of stewards, and they were, each one in the department, something like this. Now maybe you got 250, 300, men.
WEST: That's what I had heard, that there were usually a smaller number of men.
BULLY: That's right. And then they had deputies, who helped them with that, so that actually you had two people, usually, in a department with 200 to 400 people.
WEST: And the deputy steward would represent even fewer.
BULLY: Well, he assisted the steward. He just assisted. Well, then the chief steward had the plant. And then we changed that, our whole set-up, in 19, I believe it must have been 38. 1938 or '39. And we elected what we call the shop committee, which composed of seven people from the entire Buick. And you represented everybody in the Buick, and, of course, you had all complaints all over the Buick. Seven of us had all three shifts, too. But you had to work on the day shift, at that time. I got elected to that.
WEST: Did you think that, or did you have an opinion as to which worked the most effectively, the steward system or the committee system?
BULLY: Well, I think the committee system. I think the committee system. The steward system depended too much on volunteer, who were not really...The job wasn't really that desirable so that a guy would give up his vacation up North, or perhaps moving to another town or taking a better job somewhere else in another plant or something. When you got a committee system, you got a little more time on the job, more prestige. You got elected. You became a person. You know, some...People knew you and depended on you. And people did those things then. Then they'd make sacrifices to keep the job. It just wasn't possible under the steward system to get that kind of dedication. You had a few, myself and others. But most of 'em, you couldn't keep it up. And you couldn't get them to [inaud.] time to go and study, to prove themselves, to make themselves more...
WEST: Now, as a steward, did you have time allotted to you to process grievances?
BULLY: No. As a steward, when we first started, we didn't...We had what we could get. We struck the plant every time we had a problem. Which had some sit-downs, wildcat strikes, every time we had a problem. But we didn't have 'em. We had a national agreement which was half of one page, you know, that was nothing, really. It was recognition. So you got what you could take. It was just fortunate enough that at the plant I had we had a huge heat-treat... It was a transmission plant. We had a huge heat-treat. And we had it well organized. I mean we had a bunch of good guys in there. And these furnaces, when you start this metal through these furnaces, it had to come through and on time. Otherwise, everything just clogged up and it'd take three or four weeks to unclog it, take it all apart, and rebuild it. So management was pretty careful not to have any stoppages there, if they could help it. I got fired seven times fist year. Seven times. I'd go up to the superintendent's office with a problem or a grievance, and he'd "Now I'll talk to you." I say okay. I'd just wave and the guys would shut the plant down. They'd stand up in the aisles and watch, and I'd wave. They had glass windows in this superintendent's office, so he could see. The guys would wave. The foreman would ring: "Jesus Christ, what'd you do now? Now you're teachin' him."
WEST: What were the grievances?
BULLY: Oh, we had everything. You cannot believe the kind of a situation we worked under in those days. First, it's in that heat treatment. There was no blowers. There was no air-conditioning of any kind. Nothing here, but smoke, cyanide pots, boring and all this and that. The roof leaked. Water would fall. The cyanide pots would explode. We had huge furnaces and they were dirty, and gas. We had drop-chord electric lights, a bulb with a drop-chord here and there. Everything, all machinery, ran off a drive shaft, huge drive shafts, with belts. And of course the static electricity---your hair went this way, this way. You'd bend it wear you wanted, you know. The hair in your arms stood up here, you moved over here, you stood up here. The static electricity was terrible. You know, with all these huge belts. And, of course, it was dangerous. And you had a department of belt men, who were replacing these belts and taking care of them and shafts and so forth, power. But it was so ridic... You can't believe what the conditions we had in those times. They didn't have any such thing as air-conditioning or anything of that sort. No fans, nothing like that. And it was so dirty and dusty and smoky and gassy, that you actually couldn't see and recognize----you could see, but you couldn't recognize a person from here to your car. You couldn't tell who it was. That's the way it was. Well, we had a million things to take care of. You know, it was like pickin' grapes. We didn't have to stop. We had everything to take care of. And we had grinding rooms, and all those guys up there in their grinding dust that thick all over everything, you know, and clouds, no bores, no nothin'.
WEST: Terribly unhealthy, breathing all that stuff.
BULLY: Oh, god, yes. And the foundry and the forge plants. You can't believe the foundry. You can't believe the foundry. I could never describe to you what the foundry was like. It was like Dante's Inferno. You couldn't believe it. Metal splashing all over, you know, and people workin' under it, and it's dark and smoky and gassy, and they had these cores in there. They'd bake these cores with that oil and solution they put in the sand. They were horrible.
WEST: A great many of the blacks that worked for General Motors worked at the Buick foundry. Isn't that right?
BULLY: It's the only place they worked. Not too many. When we first the union, we didn't have any blacks working. The ones that we did had to work in the foundry, but we didn't have many.
WEST: Were there a number of Poles, Hungarians working?
BULLY: Oh, we had... You know, one time (I don't know whether you want to get this in or not), but one time we had a young man from Detroit who came up here from University of Detroit, I believe it was. It was a Wednesday----Wayne State----and he was doing some research on this, and he was more interested in the ethnic background and their participation by ethnic groups in the strike and in the organization and in the union. It was interesting, because we had ethnic groups. You know, that's what we was composed of at that time. We had the Poles and the Hungarians, and we had the blacks. We had the Italians. We had the Irish. We had the Swedes and the Englishmen. Most of them were in skilled trades, you know. And the Germans. English, Germans, and Swedes were skilled tradespeople. They'd sent apprentices. This was historic in their... And so they were the skilled tradespeople in Germany. But we had ethnic groups, and they certainly were divided, because they lived in divided areas. They lived in ethnic areas.
WEST: Were they difficult to organize?
BULLY: Oh, god, no. No. Oh, hell, no. The only ones we had trouble with, the only people we had trouble organizing... When it happened, it was like an explosion. Everybody was backed off, but a few. But once we dared 'em, we took 'em on, and we finally got a little contract, people flocked in. Everybody wanted to join. The people we had the difficulties with were some of the religious groups. They felt that it was contrary to their religion to have any kind of allegiance to any other organization. We had trouble with those people. And usually they were real good guys, and we would respect them.
WEST: Who were those groups?
BULLY: Well, the one I remember was guy named Harvey King, who was a wonderful old guy. Harvey King, who was quite a bit older than most of us, and this was Church of Latter-Day Saints that he was quite involved in. And then of course this other church, what do you call it? The one that passes out tracts and stuff.
WEST: Oh, Jehovah's Witnesses.
BULLY: Jehovah's Witnesses. They were [inaud.]. And a lot of religions I'd never heard of, small religions. Or at least they claimed religion. Maybe it was a personal thing and this was something they fell back on.
WEST: They claimed, then, that belonging to a union would divide their...
BULLY: It was contrary to their beliefs, and they didn't have to justify it. All they said was "contrary to my religion," and that's it, you know. What do you say after that? You say we will want them. We'll make it so later they'll want to join. And that's what happened. Later they did join.
WEST: The reason I mentioned the ethnic factor is that some writers have suggested that it was company policy, not only in autos, but in many other places, too, to hire ethnic groups of diverse backgrounds to keep them divided, because they were of different languages, very often of different religions. They had their old-world hatreds, and that this would make it difficult to organize.
BULLY: I think that was true for a hell of a lot of years. I think that was true. I think that's one of the reasons why the unions fell down after the First World War, the ethnic differences and, of course, the corporations play in this.
WEST: But you managed to overcome those.
BULLY: Well, things got so bad that we said what the hell, nothing could be worse. What have we got to lose? Nothing could be worse. And we finally said the... See, before that, our efforts to organize had always been by trades. And this is what had created problems, too. Oh, an electrician, a carpenter, in these mass industries, like steel, and coal, rubber, auto, glass, ... Actually, it was so difficult to do this, 'cause you had a small group of this, a small group of that, but mostly they were unskilled laborers, assembly lines and so forth. So when they come up with the CIO, this was the key to the whole thing. Then you organized the entire industry in one union. And this was the key to the whole...This is what made it possible. Now many of the skilled tradespeople, who had their own unions at that time, like the die sinkers, the Machinists' Educational Society,... they had their own unions, and they were hesitant about giving them up. Well, they saw what was going to happen. Well, as soon as everybody started getting in, and this ethnic thing just went by the board, we decided we couldn't fight each other. We had to quit fighting each other. We had to...
WEST: There was a time in Flint, wasn't there, when MASA, so-called, had a strike on, and my understanding is that the UAW, then affiliated with the AFL (was this about '35 or so?) refused to honor the strike and even crossed the MASA picket lines, and that this sparked a lot of disgust among some of the rank and file? UAW people too.
BULLY: Well, I don't remember it that way. What happened is that we finally got organized in the skilled trades completely, especially at Buick, where I was most familiar with. We had done organizing part of us, and we had this strike in 1939 at which it was a skilled trades strike. We only struck the skilled trades, to keep 'em from puttin' out the new model. Now, this was Walter Reuther's strategy. It worked. He struck the skilled trades, and he struck 'em well in advance of the model, so the production guys were still makin' this year's model, and we were workin'. They were sellin' and everything else. But the corporation that had remade for the next model were stymied, 'cause we struck 'em. And they did. And they hung on and they fought like tigers. And they did a hell of a good job. They won that strike for us.
WEST: That was in '39, but I'm thinking of before the strike, in '35, when the UAW was developing under AFL leadership. And I think you had Dillon and Collins and some of those people.
BULLY: That's right. We had a union in '34. That's when I joined the union. And I was working at that time over at Plant 78, which was an experimental plant, but it was also was a garage. And I had a number of years. I worked in the garage, and I had... My dad had a garage, and I was working in his garage, so I was kind of a mechanic. I was workin' at that time in the garage, and I was maintaining all the top manufacturers' cars in the department in this garage, as well as working in the experimental part. And from time to time I drove people out to the proving grounds, things like that. Kind of a nice job, but it didn't pay any money. I think I got 43 cents an hour. It wasn't a hell of a lot of money. Anyway, we got jobs as in the union. Quite a few of us were. Plant 6, which was the assembly plant, directly across the street on Hamilton Avenue, these guys----just boom!----they went on strike. So I went with 'em. 1935, and I think it was in summer. Can't remember exactly when. So we go down to the Pengelly Building, and, boy, we were all enthused. We were on strike. We were gonna fight 'em, you know. Christ, there wasn't even a hundred fifty of us there! And John Dillon came in there. I think that was his name, John Dillon.
WEST: Francis Dillon.
BULLY: Francis Dillon?
WEST: I think so.
BULLY: Was it Francis or John? Francis. Okay. He came in there. I actually thought, boy, here's our hero. He's gonna help us. And he told us to go back to work. Well, all of us guys got fired. That was it. Just went by the wayside. That was it. He just left town and it was over. That was it. The rest of the plants did grow, but we had strikes, little strikes, from time to time. Way back in '29, Fisher Body called a strike, Fisher 1. A few of 'em. Here they come, down there on Leith Street, trying to get us to go with 'em, you know. They'd have a guy... Everybody ignored him, because there wasn't any way you could make it work.
WEST: They had apparently a pretty big strike at Fisher Body in the summer of 1930.
BULLY: Sure, that's the one I'm talking about. 1930. But it didn't spread to the other plants. They couldn't make it work. And the other thing is they had two units out in Fisher Body, North and South Units. Only one of 'em went, as I remember. So, well, we just wanted to organize enough to take on General Motors. So, anyway...
WEST: Was there a good deal of disgust, then, in '35, when the leadership told you not to strike, and...?
BULLY: Everybody just dropped out. Everybody just talked to the guys and dropped out. Like I said, there was about a hundred----I've heard different figures, 119 or 124, 100 or 90----there was not very many of us who continued to go down and pay their dues. And the reason I did and my brother is because my dad said so. That's it. We were a little old, and he was a union guy. He belonged to the Knights of Labor, and he'd been active in the unions.
WEST: I want to get into that. I wonder if this might be the time to go back and pull back that early part together, Mr. Bully. Are you a native of Flint?
BULLY: Yeah, I was born in Flint. My dad moved to Flint in 1906 to work here. He came from a little town named Burt, over here, towards Saginaw. And he came to work. He worked in the carriage works before the General Motors, and, of course, he went to work at General Motors. And I was born in 1912. And I worked and all my relatives worked for General Motors, working at Fisher or Chevrolet, most of 'em at Buick. And until I went into the army, I didn't know there was any other way to get money. That's where you worked. When you got old enough, you got big enough that you could get a job at Buick. Why, you had it made, you know.
WEST: But there was this unionism in your family.
BULLY: Oh, yes. Damn right.
WEST: You mentioned your father was involved in the Knights of Labor. That's interesting. Was that before...
BULLY: No, no. That was here. Dad was, well, my dad had about a third-grade education, and yet he became a supervisor. He studied. He never did know enough about mathematics. He never did learn enough about mathematics to really be able get advancement. He was a foreman. He became a general foreman, and when they opened the Canadian plants, they sent my dad and five other guys to all these Canadian cities, and they'd be there six-eight months at a time, establishing these plants, when they first set 'em up at Oshawa, and at Walkerville. All these plants in Canada, General Motors plants, my dad and about five or six other guys went. He was a good man, but he didn't have the educational background. And he was fundamentally an old [inaud.]. And he was a revolutionist. He really was a socialist at heart. He thought Norman Thomas was the best man this country had ever produced.
WEST: Was he, when he came in 1906, was there a Knights of Labor group, then, in Flint?
BULLY: I can't tell you. I don't know that. But my dad...The dads used to call my dad, used to kid him about being a Wobbly.
WEST: Oh, was he?
BULLY: Well, he said he'd been a Wobbly, but that was when he worked on a farm.
WEST: Well, course Wobblies...
BULLY: When he came into the plots, you know. Well, sure, Wobblies were...
WEST: Wobblies had been working on farms, but usually not owning them. They usually were laborers.
BULLY: They went with the harvest. Harvest laborers, yeah. But my dad had a background. He had a socialist background. This is the way he felt about that stuff.
WEST: So your father was of French background. But he was born, was he born in this country?
BULLY: He was born here. But his parents came here from Quebec. They came from France. They were seafare people before that. They came here, and finally his father got a little farm over here, where they struggled around and half-starved. But my mother's people, they came through Canada, too. They were Irish.
WEST: Was your father, then, a member of the carriage workers' union before it became the UAW? Because my understanding is that there was an early carriage, vehicle union. Later it brought in automobiles, and then it was the Auto Workers' Union, I guess, during the 1920s.
BULLY: If there was, I don't ever remember that. But he was in the unions. He paid dues and he went to union meeting, when I was just a little kid. So that would be back in 1918 to 1922-23-24. He was involved...
WEST: Did you get something at home, then, of a socialist education?
BULLY: Because I'm a practical socialist, I'm a Democrat. I mean, you know, what the hell. But I've always resented, and I've always felt that the means of production and the resources of the country ought to belong to the people. And I still think that one of our greatest problems that we now have would never have happened had we have got the offshore oil thing. Settled only a few years ago, relatively speaking, a few years ago. When we're talking about offshore oil, we were going to take it and use it, develop it and belong to the country and would go for education. Look what it would have done to property tax and all these other... Look what it would have done for higher education. One of the goals of the labor movement and the Socialist Party has always been free public education. And what we're doing, we've started getting fairly close, and now we're losing it again. Each year, the tuition goes up, each year the cost goes up, each year the taxes go, and each year we get less and less public education, and more expensive. So now we're losing it again, you know. And if we'd have had ... If that bill had passed, if we had just taken the title to that oil, we would have had free public education. What a change that would have been, just that.
WEST: Was there a Socialist thrust behind the organization of the UAW under the CIO?
BULLY: Oh, yeah. Sure. Most of us were under the, in-the-closet socialists, you know. Paul Silvers, and Green, the Reuthers, and, what's the guy, he was our president, he's now in China?
BULLY: Woodcock. No, Woodcock came here to speak at a Socialist meeting in 1934.
WEST: He was one of those, I think, who describes the effects of what he considered to be betrayal of that strike effort in '35, and he describes tearing up the... So he was here.
BULLY: Well, most of them guys who were really active, I'll tell you what. The fellows who organized the union were Communists, most of 'em, or many of them. Now most of 'em were homegrown Communists, but they knew a hell of a lot more about it than we did.
WEST: When Wyndham Mortimer came here, I understand, first when the CIO gets set up in the UAW after South Bend, he comes in here about the summer of '36. Did you meet him then?
BULLY: Hell, yes!
WEST: You knew Wyndham Mortimer.
BULLY: Just... [pause] I knew Wyndham Mortimer and all those guys. Gus Hall. In fact, he just died. I saw in the paper last night where Hall just died.
WEST: Yes, he'd been active in the Party for a long time. Then Bob Travis came along later.
BULLY: No, Bob was the guy Mortimer brought up here. Now what happened is that Mortimer was the guy who came in and surveyed the thing, decided we could make a go of it, and he brought an organizer, and that was the organizer he brought. He brought a couple more. He brought Ralph Dale, him, Sam Sponseller. He brought some other guys, but actually Travis was the guy that was key organizer. Stayed with us.
WEST: Was Travis a Communist, too, then? Mortimer brought him in.
BULLY: I think so, but I won't say. He died here, last few years ago. He was a good friend. I always considered him to be, yes.
WEST: Now, we know that there were real difficulties between Socialists and Communists. Was there at that time?
BULLY: Oh, Jesus, yes. You know what happened? We almost destroyed ourself. We had... The Communists who came in gave us real leadership. I mean most of those guys that came iin really gave us leadership. And we had a few homegrown guys here in town that were fairly well educated and were part of the movement and helped. I mean they really gave leadership.
WEST: Can you tell me who some of those...?
BULLY: Well, but I hate identify guys as Communists now , because I wouldn't want to hurt them or their families. But we had a whole group of 'em here. I can remember forty or fifty years. We had the Widmarks, Bruce and his brother, two of them working in the plants, O'Dowd, Bob O'Dowd. Well, at that time, we had a guy who now who now is really highly esteemed. He was we couldn't understand. He was a Catholic Communist. His name was Cap Kenny, Casper Kenny. Still around. In fact, he and I attended a ceremony, retirement ceremonies over there at the..., We both got awards for, you know, all these years.
WEST: The picnic.
BULLY: Yeah. No, not at the picnic. This was the one for the Buick local. They have one every year for the Catholics. But we had a number of 'em. We had Paul ... from Fisher. We had a lot of guys. And there was a nucleus of 'em. And then there was a group of us who were not Communists, but we were socialists. Some of us didn't call ourself socialists, but we met and worked together, and so forth. And we worked with the Communists, because they were the leaders. We fought 'em. We didn't want them to be the head of anything else. We took the cover. And then we had a group----the Communists split themselves all up. We had the Trotskyites, and they got themselves all involved with three or four different fights for leadership in there. [inaud.] and the Trotskyites. They had their own problems. [pause, end of side 1]
What happened is that they organized, anti-communist.
WEST: When was that that they became?
BULLY: Right after the Sit-Down Strike's end.
WEST: Right then.
BULLY: And we had a lot of 'em.
WEST: Francis O'Rourke was an important figure apparently in the...
BULLY: Pat O'Rourke, Pat O'Rourke. Francis O'Rourke, his son, was the president of the Fisher 2 plant that was on Sit-Down Strike.
WEST: Was Pat O'Rourke, then, active in this camp?
BULLY: Oh, Pat O'Rourke? Oh, sure. Oh, Pat was at Buick. One of our old best friends. He was at Buick. They lived a half a block from me. We were all raised together, so we were very good friends with the O'Rourkes. But we had a [inaud.]. You know, many of the first organized group of people we had were real readers. We had McGill and Geiger, O'Brien, Ryan and Fitzgerald, all Catholic trade unionists, and me, I was Catholic. But I wouldn't join it. I didn't believe in that religious, getting involved in it. Besides I wasn't that good a Catholic any more. By that time, I...
WEST: But some of these Catholics became strong opponents of the Communists, didn't they?
BULLY: Oh, these were. These were. They were organized and they were really strong. So what happened is that we, the socialists, we just went between the two groups as a sort of balance of power. You know what I mean. And eventually broke completely with the Communists. And, oh, before '46, when we elected Reuther president, we got them out of the top leadership of the union.
WEST: Did you find yourself then in alliance with Homer Martin and his people?
BULLY: Well, Homer Martin was our first president, then. We went along with Homer. But we had a big fight in 1939. And there was... We opposed Homer Martin, or I did, and many of us. And we had votes in each one of our plants to see whether we'd be AFL or CIO.
WEST: But earlier than that, my understanding is that by the summer and fall of '37, Martin was pushing to ease out and did, in fact, oust Travis and Dale and Roy Reuther, too, from positions of leadership right here in Flint. What was the attitude, then, of people like you and others who were not Communist?
BULLY: Well, we were not far enough up in the organization to get involved with those kinds of things. But we resented it. We went to Detroit to see him about it. We resented it. And what happened is that... Well, we weren't that involved with the national leadership. We was too involved in local, at that time. But Flint was kind of a rebel place. We kind of stuck together pretty good in Flint. I guess everybody.
WEST: Yeah, again there was fairly militant.
BULLY: Oh, yeah, yes.
WEST: And the interesting thing that I gather is that Buick was very militant, too.
BULLY: Oh, they sure were. They sure were. In fact, Buick was a kind of a leader. Although Fisher Body plants had actually the sit-down strikes, Buick actually had the vocal leaders.
WEST: This interests me, and it's a point that I'd like to talk about if we could. Buick was, I gather, militant before the strike. In '35 they were all set to go, and the leadership pulled them back. Then afterwards, they organized and became militant as well. But during the time of the strike, they don't sit down, and I've talked to some people at Fisher...
BULLY: Can't sit down. We were locked out. We got nothin' to sit down on. See, as soon as Fisher set down, or stopped the body flow, we had nothin' to work on. So they locked us out.
WEST: But you weren't in on the initial plans to sit down, were you? The plans seemed to call for Fisher and Fisher 2.
BULLY: Well, what happened is that there wasn't a plan like that. The plan was that we could shut down the whole industry by shuttin' down Fisher Body plants. We could shut down everything. We didn't have to shut down AC. We didn't have to shut down Buick, so forth. The thing was to shut down the key spot, one key spot, not the whole plant. Key spot. This was strategy discussed by the top leadership. What happened is that when it started, everybody said "The hell with it!" and they all left. And it got out of control. It was really out of control. It was something that they didn't know how to operate that way. The first planned objective that we had by the International was when we took the Chevrolet plant. Hell, we'd been on strike then for quite a while. What happened... You could see how the city did this. The city was ready. The bus company went on a strike. Standard Cotton plant went on a strike right away. So we had a whole city seething, you know, with unrest and ready. Ready. Just a question that we all got a nickel raise. That was a big headline. So they would all give us a nickel raise. That was supposed to put us back in our place. At that time I was getting' 76 cents an hour! That was skilled trade.
WEST: If the strike had been called at Buick, to be timed with Fisher 1 and Fisher 2, could it have been pulled?
BULLY: Oh, we would have been out, definitely. Oh, hell, yes. Sure. Yeah, yeah.
WEST: Because the reason I'm pushing this point is that some people we've talked to from Fisher 1, Fisher 2, say, well, Buick was difficult to organize. Conditions with Buick were better, so they weren't... And Buick was an old folks' home.
BULLY: That's true. All those things are true. Except that they had leadership there. Now, the difference is... I'll give you an example. I can tell you that. Even while we had these unions that went on a sit-down strikes and all these other things and got involved in all the initial things, the first regional director we ever had was from Buick. It was Art Case. And the first international representative we ever had in the whole region was from Buick, Johnny McGill. The second regional director was another guy from Buick who took on the first regional director and beat him in St. Louis in 1940. We never had a regional director from any place but Buick until about 1946, something like that, I think.
WEST: Were they in positions of leadership in '36, when the strike came?
BULLY: Sure. Oh, yeah, these were all key guys. Sure.
WEST: But, of course, Buick was a much larger plant, and it would be difficult to organize.
BULLY: That's right. And I think one of the reasons why Buick was a plant that----well, it's true what they say. What is it? An old folks' home. Like I say, the whole family worked there. Everybody worked there. It's what you expected to do. And the conditions were better, but it was not because of the union, or anything like that. When I became the international, if I may digress for a minute, when I became the international representative, I started representin' other parts of General Motors. I couldn't believe the difference. My plant, Buick, I knew thoroughly. Been chairman of the bargaining committee and all the other committees. We based all of our things, the whole program was based on seniority. And that was the key. And you could decide everything based on seniority. That's all there was to it. It was simple. Everybody understood it, and that was it. Then we had a lot of people been there a long time, so seniority was accepted. I went out to Fisher Body plant. We got two units, North and South Units, and, hell, they don't hardly speak to each other. And they rotated shifts every thirty or sixty days. We didn't do that. If you had the most seniority, you'd take the shift. The differences were different in these plants because of the makeup of the people in the plants.
WEST: And these were differences that existed before the strike.
BULLY: Oh, sure. This is what guys wanted. You know, this is the way things were, and this is what people wanted. Chevrolet was completely different. But I found out the real key reason, in my opinion (still is), why some plants are different than others and were considered "old folks' homes" was that Buick, and the Oldsmobile, and the Pontiac, and the Cadillac were all home-owned plants then. And all the top management came from out of the ranks. And there was a complete cars plant. They made the complete automobile. They had their own foundries, their own forges. They made everything. All the supervision came from the ranks, so when you talked to a superintendent at Buick, he knew what the hell you were talkin' about, if you were talkin' about a crankshaft grinder or something. He knew, 'cause he worked on it, and so had you. So you knew what he knew. It had a different kind of approach, a different kind of relationship. Now Chevrolet and at Fisher Body, they didn't have resident managers. They moved 'em around. They still do. They moved 'em around every year, every two years, at one plant to another. There was sort of a progression. They don't let people stay very long in one plant. So, actually, management and the workers are strangers.
WEST: But, of course, Fisher had come into Flint not until about 1927, and the Fisher brothers, I guess, were not...
BULLY: But the thing is that the Fisher Body plant had a home office in Detroit. Chevrolet had a home office in Detroit. And these plants were completely different, because they had, well, out-of-town management. And they never were there more than a year, so they never formed any relations with the people. They never got involved with them in hunting or fishing or golf or anything else. They were in there. They were lookin' for a better job and a better time. And that's the job, you know. They still are today. And that's still the reason we have more trouble with Chevrolets and Fisher we would.
WEST: Talking to men at Fisher and at Chevy, one of the things they constantly bring up is the problems they had with supervision, with the foremen. Was it different, then, at Buick?
BULLY: Sure. That's the point I'm trying to make. The foreman at Buick, well, he was the foreman. He was the boss and he gave you a bad time. And he had the power to do it. He was the guy who had worked on the job with you. Maybe he would work right with you. Maybe the superintendent worked for you father or your uncle. They came into the plants together. You had a different kind of a relationship. They lived there. They went to church there. Their kids went to school. They were a part of the total community. And they had a relationship to each other. Now, when you went to talk to a superintendent at Buick, or even the top management at Buick, they were guys who we didn't 'em "Mister." There was a guy named "Slim" Larke. We worked for him, but we worked on the job with him, you know. It was a different kind of relationship entirely than they had at Fisher Body or Chevrolet.
WEST: Now the top man at that time was Harlow Curtice. Did you know?
WEST: What sort of impression did you have of ...
BULLY: He was a tough son of a gun, I'll tell you. He was a tough guy, though. We didn't get to him very often. We had a guy named "Slim" Larke who actually ran the plant. Curtice was the top guy, who was vice-president of GM, most of the time out of the country or in Detroit or something. A guy named Larke was actually their top guy. He was a crackerjack.
WEST: Lark, L-A-R-K?
BULLY: Yeah. I think his name was Walter, but we always called him "Slim," "Slim" Larke. When I first knew him, he was a foreman over on the motor line in the motor plant, and my dad and him worked together. They were buddies, and they worked on the job together. In fact, he and my dad, I think it was, went to Canada together. At any rate, they had that kind of a relationship. Larke----well, there's a whole host of guys, right up 'til recently, everyone of the guys who were the top guys who had a responsibility of dealing with the unions all were guys who came out of the plant, Jesse Powers and all those guys.
WEST: Did this situation, this fact that you could get along better, did that impede efforts at organizing?
BULLY: No, it didn't, because everybody looked at these guys at, well, they're the bosses. They're not part of us, and they're our enemy. But our real enemy is in Detroit. GM, you know.
WEST: So you wouldn't say that, though these things are true that people talk about, that that was an impediment to organization.
BULLY: Not a bit. Not a bit. I think we've had just as strong an organization as there was anywhere. And perhaps, and I think that we had a higher level of leadership. I'm not braggin' about it, but I really do. Well, we had so many people, and we just forced it into having a lot of them who'd had some prior union experience. Hell of a lot of people at Buick were coal miners. Lot of our leadership came from the Coal Miners. The Hawks brothers and all those were Coal Miners.
WEST: Now, I understand that Ralph Dale had a particular relationship with Buick.
BULLY: Yeah, he worked with Buick.
WEST: He worked with Buick organizing. And I've heard more about people like Travis and Mortimer and less about Dale. I wondered if...
BULLY: Well, Dale was kind of a quiet guy. And he did some of the more difficult jobs, really. I mean he didn't get the publicity. He didn't go out and make the big speeches or anything. Dale's a guy that got guys from the tool room to come over and get together and go out to their houses and all this kind of stuff. He did the quiet, difficult jobs.
WEST: Was it difficult to organize, then, in the sense that you had to be secretive?
BULLY: We sure did at first. We sure did at first. In fact, nobody... I say nobody, but I don't think more than three or four guys ever let it be known openly that they were in the union until the Sit-Down Strike.
WEST: Mortimer suggests that when he came into Flint, he did find this nucleus to which you apparently belonged of autoworkers, but that the leadership of that group he didn't trust. He said he couldn't work with them.
BULLY: It was nothing. That's right. I didn't trust 'em either. None of 'em stayed either. They're all washed up.
WEST: Delmer Minzey was one who was the president. Was he...?
BULLY: Well, as I remember, after we started organizing, we didn't hear any more about him. There was a lot of guys like that, guys like Barry, and some others.
WEST: Did you normally meet at Pengelly, people from Buick, or did you meet in people's homes?
BULLY: Well, we did both. At Buick, there was a lot of people at home. We had to go to Pengelly to pay our dues. And the only time I remember being at Pengelly for a big meeting was the time we had the strike in '34. They told us to go back to work!
WEST: But other than that it was more small groups.
BULLY: We just paid our dues, and we went to people's houses. We went to little halls we rented and stuff like that. We used to have...
WEST: Did people get fired if it was known that they were...
BULLY: They just disappeared. They just disappeared. We had layoffs, they didn't get called back. We used to have those layoffs every model change. And it was a miserable damn thing, because there was no rhyme or reason to it, and they just laid you all off, and told you when to come back. Or didn't tell you when to come back. They just laid you off and said "We'll let you know." So what happened is that you kind of kept your ears around, and when you started hearing the drop forge workin', pounding or something, the press was back starting again or doing something, you'd go down to the gates every morning and wait for your foreman to come in. And you'd kiss his ass until he'd give you little tickets take down to the employment office, and they'd hire you. And that's where it was. And if he wasn't here, well, you ain't goin'. That was the end of you. And he gave the job to his brother-in-law.
WEST: Were there stoolies that you had to beware of?
BULLY: Oh, hell, yes, sure. One of my best friends, a kid that was in the same class with me, his name was Finch. His brother was a Sit-Downer at Fisher 2. Name was Clarence, Clarence Finch. Harvey Finch was his brother, older brother. Worked at Buick. God damn it, he was not only a stoolie, he was a Pinkerton guy. And we finally found out about him, and we ran his ass off. But we had quite a few workin' in the plant.
WEST: Apparently some were not Pinkertons, but were just people who would be stool pigeons.
BULLY: Just be stool pigeons. I was one for a while. I was lucky. I got in to that. What happened is that they had an organization, and I can't remember what they called it. Kind of a fraternal organization, supposedly. They got this organized about 1935.
WEST: Company union, would you call it?
BULLY: No, it wasn't a union. Hell, no. This was just a fraternal organization of key leaders in the plant. And they took you to a ball game down in Detroit. It got a train and took you all down to Detroit and the ball game. Little things like that, see. The boss would say "I'd like to go to the ball game." "What do you mean, 'go to the ball game'?" Well, we got a bunch of guys goin' to the ball game and a bunch of the leaders in there. Big deal, you know, they pat you on the back. So I said to a guy in the union, I said, "What about this?" He said, "Jesus, if you can get in, go." He said, "We got to know what the hell's goin' on up there." We got about twelve of us in it. And we were still in---I mean not in very good graces, because you were too outspoken----but when the Sit-Down's happened, they called us back to work, gave us all a club, and sent us out to the gates at Buick. Well, Jesus Christ, three of us at this gate, the Personnel Office, were all members of the union. Course they didn't know that. So, one day, they're talkin', we get to talkin', and these other guys that were in there (we knew all these guys, a lot of 'em), they were sincere, you know. The company's good to 'em. They belong to this little organization, and they go out to the ball game and so forth, as I had----I worked among 'em. So we worked three days, before the Sit-Down Strike was goin' on, and we heard that a bunch of guys were comin' over there, so I and the other two guys----one was the chief steward in my plant, Howard Matthews----we said to these other guys, we said, "Look, if these guys come out of here, are you actually gonna jump out there and see if you can hit 'em and keep out of here?" Well, some of 'em were. We knew who we was gonna whack, you know. But, you know, asking questions, we went too far. We just notified 'em immediately we was organizers. They took our clubs away and sent us home. Course the union told 'em who we were.
WEST: But they had a group of people, then, that they were gonna use to stop any...
BULLY: Oh yeah, they probably had two hundred, three hundred people. Up in the dining room. When the Sit-Down Strike was on, the guys come to get their checks, they had to go up to the dining room in the motor plants to get their paychecks. And these guys worked there. Course we could [inaud.], but they were there. "Workers' Alliance."
WEST: The Flint Alliance, I guess it was called.
BULLY: Flint Alliance, yeah.
WEST: Were there some supporters of the Flint Alliance at Buick?
BULLY: In our plants? People? If they did, they never said anything publicly, because it was just too unpopular to do something like that. The only guys who ever, that I know of, that said anything against the union, was a couple of guys. One of 'em was a guy I worked with. We were on strike for a dollar an hour. That was our big goal, a dollar an hour. Jesus, if we could get a dollar an hour... So we'd strike for a dollar an hour. Not altogether, but I'd strike my plant, and he'd strike his plant, and he'd strike his department. So we finally got a dollar an hour. But we had a guy workin' with us, whose name was Marvin Neal. That was his name. He was from Virginia, but he'd been working in the plant quite a while. He was a Sit-Down guy, big wheel. Got a nickel more. And he was a company man, I guess. So, come along and we went on strike and we was to get a dollar an hour, and we got it at our plant. And we got it on the assembly plant. Wasn't getting' it everywhere. We had three or four weeks we got a dollar an hour.
WEST: This was after the Strike?
BULLY: Oh, sure. But we organized a little sit-down strikes in this department, if we don't get a dollar an hour, the hell with it, we ain't goin' back to work. Well, we get to the dollar an hour, and then we'd be satisfied, and then we'd try to help somebody else get it. Anyway, we were tryin' to get from 75 cents an hour up to a dollar. And we were gettin' it. Marvin Neal, this guy, says to me, "Jesus, I hate to do this, Norm." We worked together, you know, so we had a relationship together. We were friends in a way. We worked together. "I hate to do this," he said, "but I got to quit my job." I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, this company's goin' out of business. You guys are gonna drive 'em out of business." He said, "You're gonna bankrupt 'em. What the hell? If they can't make money, they're gonna go out of business." I said, "Neal, Jesus Christ, this can't hurt 'em. What they're gonna do is charge a little more money for the car. And you and I can't afford to buy their damn car anyway, so it ain't goin' to hurt us."
WEST: Did you have a car at the time of the strike?
BULLY: Oh, yeah, I was in good shape at the time of the strike. I just got married in June. I had a house. I had a car. One day I said I never bought anything I didn't pay cash for, never in my life, except my house.
WEST: Did you have trouble, then, keeping those things?
BULLY: Oh, Jesus Christ, yeah, sure. We had committees that went around to all these guys, said, "Hey! When we go back to work, we're gonna boycott you." And then we had a lot of 'em were decent guys. Hamady's. Some of those guys were damned decent guys. Give us a carload of groceries, stuff like that, when the strike gets in. We had a lot of people who were good guys. You'd be surprised how many of 'em were good guys.
WEST: Well, I heard that a lot of the local people were. I mentioned the fact of Buick workers in the Flint Alliance because talking to one of the business people, mentioned earlier, who was involved in setting it up, he tells the story about talking to George Boysen one time. Boysen, ex-paymaster at Buick and former mayor of Flint, apparently headed this alliance.
BULLY: Well, they had most of the supervision in it.
WEST: Yeah, I gather that. And the story was, from Boysen, was that there were some "hammer men" at Buick that were gonna come down and they were gonna take those guys out of Fisher Body. They were gonna end the strike there, you know.
BULLY: We had one guy, one hammer man at Buick, now that you remind me of it. His name was Joe Rivers, a loudmouth, anti-union guy that was strictly a company stooge. And he did a lot of talkin', but his own heater wouldn't heat for him. He was alone.
WEST: Is it possible, though, that there could have been a group of hammer men organized, then, under Boysen to go down and try to keep people out?
BULLY: How many hammer men did we have? We only had twenty hammer men in whole Buick.
WEST: Is that right? Were they big men physically?
BULLY: Oh, yeah, yeah. They were pretty good-sized guys, and they had hard, tough work. But we had some good-sized guys all over the place, you know. They weren't little guys in the plants.
WEST: You were working at Buick, of course. Did you know in advance that the strike was coming at Fisher?
BULLY: It was obvious something was gonna happen, but we didn't know whether it would be at Buick or AC or Fisher. Wherever the spark, something was gonna happen.
WESTS: You mentioned a bus strike. Was there a connection between that bus strike and the later strike in terms of strategy and all, because Roy Reuther, I gather, gave a lot of help to the bus strike people. Was there a connection or was it just coincidental?
BULLY: Oh, no, no, it wasn't coincidental. It was the spirit of the time. Everybody was organizing, and everybody was disgusted with their management, and everybody was ready to do something about it, and everybody felt we can't be worse off. The hell with it. And so all the people all over were organizing, and it could have happened anywhere. They could have happened anywhere. It just so happened that it started with the torch solderers out at Fisher.
WEST: What happened on the day that the strike broke at Fisher 1 and Fisher 2 and, I guess, the day before at Standard Cotton?
BULLY: It was Fisher 2.
WEST: Yeah, Fisher 2 first, then Fisher 1, and I guess Standard Cotton even before either of those two. You got to Buick presumably on the day after or so when the news breaks. What was the chitchat around the shop?
BULLY: Oh, Jesus Christ! I can't describe it to you. Everybody talked about everything: "They finally took 'em out!" "They finally took 'em out!" And we knew we couldn't work. We finished up the day. Some people worked the next day, because, like the heat-treat, you got to get that stuff out of the furnace or you'll ruin it. So the guys worked on their job; they sent home. Now the management told us that.
WEST: Was it a gradual thing, then, in Buick? Certain departments phasing out?
BULLY: The unions told us to do this. Now, they said, "Don't destroy your own job, because this is gonna to grow. When it's over, you got to have a job to go back to." Well, the same way in the heat-treat or in the foundry. You didn't destroy the job, you know, because... Anyway, the guy worked, and he wasn't on strike. We weren't on strike. So I worked one day, I guess it was, and they called me up and I got a couple of days up there with a club, and I... But, as soon as we got out of work, we were down to the union hall. We went down to the Pengelly. So they were down at the Fisher Body plant. We climbed in and out of the windows. We went in and out of the plants with the other guys. It was a big, exciting thing.
WEST: That was after work.
BULLY: Sure, sure.
WEST: Did the union encourage you, then, to go down there and help 'em out?
BULLY: Oh, they wanted all the support you could get, yeah.
WEST: Did the Buick people actually sit in the plants, then, for...?
BULLY: Sure, I did.
WEST: Because I gather that at times the numbers got pretty low.
BULLY: That's right. Guys' wives. They had more trouble with wives than anything else. The guys were out in the plant. It was a big, exciting thing to do this, until your wife came up to the window and said, "By Jesus, you either come home, or I'm sellin' the house. We're goin' home tomorrow, and you can go to hell." You know. Well, the guy can't think a [inaud.]. "Hey, can I get a leave for a couple of days to straighten this out?" You know. Well, and a lot of things happened. It got to be a long, drawn-out, hard fight, and there was a lot of worry. We had the National Guards up there with machine guns set up, you know, on the hill and everything. [inaud.]
WEST: Oh, you had?
BULLY: Oh, sure. I quit the National Guard, because my dad says to me, "What happens if my enlistment came up?" I went over there and joined because they had horses. I joined the National Guard. Then you pick up a few bucks during the Depression.
WEST: When was this? What year was this?
BULLY: Well, I got out in 1935, I think it was, yeah, 1935. Then I
a three-year enlistment, so I went down there, during the Depression,
I got paid for it, and I had the horses, and we went up to camp, and it
was a lot of fun. They had a lot of good guys in there. And I enjoyed
I really did, playin' soldier a little bit, you know, once a week.
Go down there and drill. It was camp. I really enjoyed the camps. So, then I got to be a non-com there. I really enjoyed it. But it was obvious that we were going to have some labor trouble, and I knew, because through my dad and through reading and so forth, and through knowing guys that were active in the thing, what the National Guard did up in the copper mines, up in the iron mines, in the iron country, in the copper country, and what they're usually used for. They're strikebreakers. At least they were then. And if it hadn't been for the government we had, they were going to send strikebreakers in. And if it hadn't been Murphy. But my dad said, "Do you want to be in there?" And he said, "Do you know we don't know exactly what's gonna happen." He said, "Why don't we wait until we get this thing settled. Then, if you want to go back in, go back in." So I said, when my enlistment came up, the captain (his name was Hamaker, a nice guy), and a lieutenant, who was a union member (name was Gundry) came over to me and said, "Norm, it's time to re-enlist. What are you doin'?" I said, "No, I can't do it." "Why?" "Just can't do it." "Why not?" [inaud.] They wanted a reason, and I wouldn't give my reason. I said, "No, I don't." So I'm testy. "I'll think about it and maybe later sometime. But right now I got other things." So I dropped out of it. I knew, and I was so lucky, because otherwise I'd have been up on that hill.
WEST: Now, when the National Guard did come in, were there fears for a while that they would be used as they always had been?
BULLY: Of course. Of course. They would, if it hadn't been for the governor. You know, the National Guard was out of the local people. Hell, Boysen and the Alliance wanted 'em shoo us out of there. That's what they were there for. That's what they were gettin' paid for.
WEST: Do you think that the National Guard leaders, given their own head, not pulled in by Murphy, would have acted against you?
BULLY: That's hard for me to say, because the commanders that high I didn't know. But I did know the colonel. He was a pretty decent guy. The colonel here was a guy from the funeral home, Colonel Reigle. A Reigle guy was involved. Another guy was Colonel Holliday, and I felt that he would never have done something like that. He would never had been a ... We had a couple of lieutenants. We had a couple of them that were against us, but had some that were for us too, and we had some non-commissioned officers that were against the union. They didn't work at Buick. They worked over at du Pont, places like that. I think they would have, if they were ordered to.
WEST: It's hypothetical, fortunately, but had the National Guard been ordered against you, would there have been some in the Guard who would have refused to go? Do you think there would have been some dissension within the ranks?
BULLY: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Yeah. There'd have been some officers who wouldn't have done it, yeah. And there would have been some men who wouldn't have done it. I tell you what. If you were sittin' up there with one of the machine guns, your brother was in the plant, are you gonna shoot him? We would have tell him to stick this up your ...
WEST: My understanding is that there were some people who were caught in that kind of situation.
BULLY: Well, that's right. They would have been in the background... [end of tape 1]
BULLY: With the number of Guardsmen they had there, I think that had there been one shot fired from the National Guard, there would have been a massacre and we'd have won. I don't think they could have overrun them. We don't have any people in the union who in this part of the country who aren't armed. We don't have any people who weren't deer hunters or hunters or, you know. And I think if we had one shot, you'd have seen the damnedest fight you'd ever saw in your life.
WEST: So most of the men, then, did have guns.
BULLY: Everybody around.
WEST: They didn't have 'em in the plants.
BULLY: No, no, no, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. No, no. You know, we had great discipline in those plants. And we had to, too. We had great discipline in those plants.
WEST: Was any of the equipment damaged in the plants that you know of?
BULLY: No. No. Well, I think, due to dust, or not using it, or something or other... In fact, had some [inaud.]. No question about [inaud.], because the guys slept on 'em at Fisher. You know, you use things like that, tarpaulins, [inaud.]. But they had a regular janitor service in there, and, boy, they kept that place spic and span, perfectly clean, 'cause they thought they'd get inspected any time by the government. And they would make a great deal of difference, whether or not they were abusing the company's property. In fact, they took better care of the company's property than the company did. They really did.
WEST: I've heard that. Were you in the plants then?
WEST: Which one?
BULLY: Fisher 1. I never did get into Fisher 2. Fisher 1. See, at Fisher 2, we had a different situation. Most of the guys at Fisher 2, the Sit-Downers, were upstairs. The plant guards were caught in the middle downstairs, in the entrance, so it wasn't so easy to get in and out of there. But in Fisher 1, you could go up there in the window, which we did.
WEST: Did you stay overnight there?
BULLY: Oh, yeah.
WEST: Were you married at the time?
BULLY: Yeah. Just been married, too.
WEST: How did your wife react?
BULLY: Oh, she didn't like it either. But I'll tell you what. It was a GM family. Her mother worked at AC for fifteen cents an hour. Worked there for years. That was during the Depression. She was up to more than fifteen then, but, boy, her mother was a good, solid union woman, you know. Her father was a Fisher Body employee. He was workin' at Fisher. Her stepfather. He was workin' at Fisher Body during the Sit-Down Strike, him and his brother both. So they were involved. They didn't have much trouble with it. But my wife----course we just got married. We owed everybody, and she thought they would take everything away from us. You know. And I wasn't on strike. I didn't have be out there. So she didn't think... That was the part...
WEST: You did have financial problems, then, later on, because I guess there was a period there when checks stopped coming in.
BULLY: Well, sure, I guess there was, sure. We didn't earn a dime for some forty days there, you know. And then, after they started up, it took us a little while to get back to work.
WEST: So how did you work it out personally, then?
BULLY: Oh, you owed. You went to 'em: "I can't pay you. If you wanted to take it. What can I do? Soon as I go back to work, I'll pay."
WEST: Did they take it from your ...
BULLY: No, they [inaud.] out, because our committees went to 'em. Our committees said, "Look. If we win this thing, and if you guys do these things, then you know what's gonna happen when we're through? We're gonna deal with somebody else, and we're set up a co-op, and we're gonna sell our own people our own things. And you can go to hell." And we had pretty good cooperation from a lot of people.
WEST: Was that an idle threat, setting up a co-op?
BULLY: No. We set up co-ops. Oh, we did. Oh, yeah, we had co-ops. We never did make much of a success of it in Flint, but we set up co-ops, yeah.
WEST: Dealing with what?
BULLY: Primarily groceries and tires and gasoline, oil, and fresh vegetables, things of that sort. I'll tell you what it was. We had a store, and one of our guys from our local ran it, Dave Neighbor. We had a store. It was on Western Road, right by where the car auction is. That's the place. That's the buildings.
WEST: Not far from Buick.
BULLY: Well, not too far. It's on Western and Richfield Road, which is the other side of the river from there, but it wasn't too far. But this is for the whole city. That's one of the reasons it failed. People had to come too far to the location.
WEST: When was that set up, then?
BULLY: 1937, I think.
WEST: And how long did it last?
BULLY: Oh, I'd say it went 'til about maybe '48. It had ten years in it.
WEST: You'd went there and you get things at wholesale prices then
BULLY: Well, not wholesale. What we did is we had mostly volunteer labor, work, and everything else. We went out and bought things from co-ops. Co-op was a big thing in Ohio and Minnesota, long before the strikes. So we could get things from the co-op sources. Like we could go to Ohio to get oil and stuff like that. We could go to Minnesota and we could get all kinds of things like that. Them Finlanders were all co-op people, you know. Swedes and Finlanders were all experienced co-op people. And so we didn't get wholesale. We got a lot better than wholesale. We had guys who could take a truck and go out to farmers and get a whole load of potatoes and bring 'em in, you know. Give the farmer his price and bring 'em in.
WEST: So a lot of the farmers then were sympathetic.
BULLY: Well, a lot of the farmers worked in the factory. You get a small farm. You work in the factory. You can't make a living at it. Or the farmer's kids all work in the factories.
WEST: During the strike, did you have a specific job that you were assigned to do?
BULLY: Well, quite a few things, different things. I was just a... I was not a reader. Don't misunderstand me. What I was was a young guy. My job wasn't workin'. A lot of excitement going on, and there was the labor movement. I believed in that. I belonged to it. So I did whatever they... I hung around where the excitement was, you know, while things were goin' on. I did what the action was. But I took a truck and went out and collected food and groceries from farmers, produce and stuff like that. We'd get whole sides of beef. Things like that from farmers. What happened is that guys that worked in the shop, they lived on farms or their dads lived on farms in Lapeer or up at towards Saginaw, all the way around, you know, thirty miles in every direction. And they'd come over there, and they'd say, "Hey!" We'd say, "Hey! How 'bout food? What do you got out there to the farm?" "Hold on. Well, we can get you some potatoes. We got cabbages. We got carrots. We can get you some meat. We got eggs. We got butter. " Things like this, see. "Okay, I'll be out and we'll go around the neighborhood with the farmer." He goes around with his friends, the guys he knows, and he gets a little room started there. This guy's gonna contribute butter, and this guy's gonna give you eggs, and this guy's gonna give you a pig. This guy's gonna give you some beef, maybe, or some canned meat, or something like that, whatever they could give you. And you'd pick it up and haul it back in the strike kitchen, see.
WEST: And you did the same, then, afterwards, with the co-op.
BULLY: Same thing with the co-op, yeah. Same thing. Same kind of thing. Then we started credit unions right away. Lot of these are socialist movements, you know. Co-ops, really, were socialist. The credit unions were socialist.
WEST: Were you (just to switch around a bit, but still during the strike period), did you get down to Fisher 2 when they had the so-called Battle of the Running Bulls?
BULLY: I was there the night we had the Battle of the Bulls. Yeah, I was there. An old guy that worked in my plant, named Charlie Hammer, who would you never dream would be involved in that stuff, got shot in the back that night down there. Didn't get killed, but he got shot. Charlie Hammer.
WEST: A Buick man. Were there a lot of Buick men who assisted?
BULLY: Yeah. Oh, yeah. You see, what happens is the real active union guys are officially in the plant, you know. So the guys from Buick and the guys who were out at Standard Cotton, the guys from all over there, at AC and all the rest of 'em, we would have nothing to do. We were the ones who provided the strength. And the women. God, all the women. That Women's Brigade was something. Boy, that was a good deal.
WEST: Was your wife involved?
BULLY: No, no, no. She didn't get in. But, in fact she wasn't so sure about that. She didn't think much of that. In fact, we finally were divorced over the years. I worked all the time at the union, and she said, by god, you're going to have to make a choice. So we did. But that was years later, after the war.
WEST: Did you have any doubts as to you could win, 'cause you were up against this big company?
BULLY: Oh, yeah, sure. Half of us didn't think we had a chance. Most of us didn't think we had a chance. But we could give 'em a hell of a rough time. And it was already goin'. What do you got to lose? You got to go for broke, you know. Once they shut it down and we were out, you got to go for broke.
WEST: Did you fear if you lost, you'd lose your job?
BULLY: Oh, sure. Sure. Sure. But, what the hell? We didn't have a job only three or four months a year where they wanted us to work, you know.
WEST: I'm just wondering, looking ahead, but did you think what'd you do if you lost and you lost your job? Did you have anything that you were thinking at all what the future...?
BULLY: Just figured we'd always be in the same boat. Well, I'd always been a kind of an independent kid. When I'd get laid off during the Depression, I'd go somewhere. I'd go... I went down to the Mexican border and up North. I went to South America. I'd go to California. And I finally got a car, and I got a job, and I worked for a bunch of [inaud.] out in Arizona, and I was kind of an independent kid.
WEST: When was this?
BULLY: Well, from 1931.
WEST: I'm wondering about that earlier period. You were born in 1912. Did you go to school then?
BULLY: Sure, I went to school.
WEST: Did you go through high school?
BULLY: Yeah, St. Michael.
WEST: So that would have been what, that you got out of high school?
BULLY: 1930. But I worked at Buick in 1928. I went to Stewart in summer hours. See, my dad was a supervisor, and I went to work in the summer there at Buick.
WEST: At sixteen, then?
BULLY: Yeah. I wasn't supposed to operate a machine, but I did.
WEST: What about age limits then?
BULLY: Eighteen. Eighteen to operate machines. But you could hire in. Hell, they had guys in there fourteen years old, who were mailmen and stuff like that. They'd deliver mail around the plants and things like that on a bicycle.
WEST: You were working part-time then?
BULLY: Yeah, well I worked all summer. But the last year I worked full-time. Nights I went to school too.
WEST: But then you get out of high school and the Depression was here. So you had about four years, then, before you worked, '34.
BULLY: Well, what happened is my seniority went back to June the
1930. That's when I actually got seniority established. And that was my
seniority date. Well, I'd work when things were good. We'd run a model
that would work. Things got slack, I'd be laid off. I usually worked in
summertime, 'cause I was a ballplayer. They used to change models in
winter. They used to change models right in the cold winter, miserable
winter. We wouldn't play all summer. And that was a hell of a time to
off, because we're all out of work and that was when we had the most
coal, all that stuff, you know. But, anyway, they changed models in the
wintertime. And you'd be down from, say, oh, hell, lot of times you'd
down from November 'til April. Couple of models change, you know.
didn't start to buy cars in those days. They didn't drive all winter
they do now. They didn't start to buy cars until April, May, you know.
So then you'd run like hell again. Well, company's always had a sports
program, and they hired out Blesky Biscall and some of those guys, who
were semi-pros, had been pros, guys who were real good sports, and they
had their own basketball team, Buick Flyers. They had their own
team. Things like this. Well, they had a baseball player, a catcher.
been a catcher in school. They had a catcher named Steve Sanger, who
a hell of a nice guy. Broke his hand. So they needed a catcher. My dad
said, "I got a kid who's a catcher." I got a job when I was sixteen
old. So every day I'd work, not too hard, but I worked. You know, a
And when it came one o'clock----we used to work in those days we had
hours. In those days we had, I went to work at seven o'clock in the
and worked 'til noon. That was five hours. We had an hour off for lunch
at one o'clock, and then we worked 'til five. We worked nine hours a
And we worked five and a half days a week. We didn't have a forty-hour
week. There was no overtime. Nothing like that, see. We were fightin'
hell for forty hours. Anyway, that's the way it went. Well, I'd go at
o'clock, and we'd go over to---we had a ball field on, it's on Stewart
Avenue, right down where the railroad tracks go acrost Stewart Avenue,
you know, down towards the river there? Right there we had a ball
Wasn't a hell of a lot of ball field, but, I tell you, we had a
and a few things, a bench and a few benches and stuff like that, and
where we practiced. And it was cinders all around there. Not on the
path or anything like that, or on the field, but all around, from the
They used to take that foundry stuff, and everything in Flint was
out with foundry stuff, you know, sand. Anybody that had a low place on
their lot, you ask 'em, and they'd send over two or three trucks.
know what to do with that sand, that foundry sand, see. Couldn't grow
on it or anything, but it was a filler. It was good filler, but it was
compact. Anyway, we'd go over there, we'd practice, play ball, then
play ball around. Well, I played ball that summer. They got another
that was better than me. I always had too small hands to play ball, to
be a good ballplayer, a good catcher. And, well, we'd play ball, and I
was the one who they threw out, and they finally hired in another
but I played ball, and I was a [inaud.], but I played off and on. So,
the summertimes, I got my job back. And so I worked. Well, there would
be periods of time, four or five months be out of work. So instead of
around home, I'd go somewhere. Hell, if you had thirty or forty dollars
saved up, you were rich then. You could go anywhere. Hell, we'd go down
there to the railroad station and get on a freight train. We'd take
Sure. Or else we'd go on a----and there'd be a lot of guys on there with you too----and it was kind of a fraternity of the road, you know. What the hell.
WEST: Did you go out West, then?
BULLY: Oh, yeah. I went to California.
WEST: Get work out there?
BULLY: I got work in Arizona.
WEST: What kind of work would you...?
BULLY: Anything they would give me. I worked as a mechanic. I worked as a mechanic in Arizona.
WEST: You were ridin' the rails out then?
BULLY: Well, sometimes, and sometimes on the highway. And then after I got a little stake, I bought a car.
WEST: Did you encounter any Wobblies at all?
BULLY: Oh, heck, yes. Sure. All through Kansas and Iowa and Nebraska. Hell, they's were all old Wobblies. Course they wouldn't hire them, as a rule. You know, they tried to keep it down a little bit. They weren't too active right then.
WEST: No, but did they try to recruit you?
BULLY: No, no. They didn't trust me. They didn't know me. They were afraid to take in anybody they didn't know.
WEST: But I talked to some people in the '20s who had traveled out West and said that they were stopped by Wobblies, and the Wobblies would ask 'em for their red card. If they didn't have the red card, they'd kick 'em off the trains.
BULLY: That was when they were in power. But the Guards had gotten rid of the Wobblies pretty well long before the UAW got organized.
WEST: Were there any Wobblies around, then, that were active in the union?
BULLY: In our union?
WEST: Yes, ex-IWW people here.
BULLY: Yeah, but they were sort of ridiculed by the newspapers and all that stuff, you know, the Wobblies and the "I Won't Works." Things like that. Most of 'em had their backgrounds kind of quiet. And we didn't have too many workin' here from the West. And the Wobblies were strong in the West. We had very few people workin' from West.
WEST: But they had been strong up in the copper country, hadn't they, in the Upper Peninsula, for a while?
BULLY: That's right. No, I think it was the miners. That was the miners.
WEST: Right, the Western Federation of Miners. Were there any ex-miners or people from the UP who had had experience with the...
BULLY: We had quite a few people, you know, Finlanders and Swedes, who came down here. But we really didn't have that many. Most of the people in our plants were from right around the area within thirty-forty miles. I shouldn't say. I'd say eighty percent, who were local people, were from around within fifty miles, Bay City, Saginaw, somewhere like that. But at Pontiac they had their own plants. You know. Lansing had their own plants. So this is what we had. But what we did have is a hell of a lot of people from the South who came here to work in the Chevrolet and the Fisher. Now we didn't have that at Buick. That's why I say that was one of the fundamental differences, too. We didn't have... We had mostly Michiganders, then a few out-state people, but mostly from the North. Then a few blacks, and they were from the North. While at Fisher Body, they were about halfway between what Buick and Chevrolet. Chevrolet was the extreme on South, from the South. There they advertised in the Southern papers down at Dexter, Missouri, and Malden, Poplar Bluff, all these places, and they brought busloads of people up here. And we had a scandal. We had the employment manager was doing that, and he was chargin' 'em for the jobs. He had a deal with the bus companies to bring 'em up here.
WEST: Do you remember when that scandal broke? I'd like to find it out in the papers if I could.
BULLY: Sure. It seems to me that it broke in 1937, 1938. 1937, I believe.
WEST: It would have been after the strike.
BULLY: We had a guy who was a personnel manager at Chevrolet. What was his name, Corcoran, Cochrane? It was one of these deals. And they had a guy, a poolroom, right across the street, Oscar Martin, ran a poolroom right across the street from the Chevrolet employment office. You know where the Chevrolet employment office was at that time? At that time? Right on the corner of Kearsley and Asylum. That's where the plant was. It was on Kearsley, right on the corner. And on that corner was a poolroom, "Little Missouri," they called it. All hillbilly, all Southerner. The regional director, present regional director, hung around there, worked for old Oscar Martin, when he was a kid, worked for Oscar Martin.
WEST: Who's that?
BULLY: Don Ellis. Sure. Lot of the guys from over there was on the [inaud.] to be over there, workin' in the poolroom, hang around the joints, from "Little Missouri." They're in their seventies. So with the bus they'd come up there from Missouri and have a whole busload of guys. And we'd walk all the way from our house, right up in the North End of Flint, by Northern High School, walk all the way over there in the morning to get there before seven o'clock, to get in line to stand out in back of that employment office, waitin' for 'em to open the doors to hire somebody, see. Once they opened up the doors and called out "Ranahan, Johnson!" so forth and so on, these guys had just left their suitcases over at Oscar Martin, got off the bus. They already had a job, see.
WEST: They had 'em before.
BULLY: Well, sure. They paid for them down there in Missouri. And there was a deal. He ran the bus companies, and he ran the ad, and he sold the jobs. And these guys... So Chevrolet is, I'd say, 85 percent hillbilly.
WEST: Top Chevy management knew of that, of course.
BULLY: It was part of their employment policies. Sure, they didn't want these guys from Flint who was troublemakers. They wanted these Southerners, who never heard of makin' three dollars a day, four dollars a day. You know, what the hell?
WEST: Did some of them become good union people?
BULLY: Most of 'em.
WEST: They did organize.
BULLY: Oh, hell, the Southerners are good union people. They're good, solid union people. Damn right.
WEST: So, in a way, it backfired against them.
BULLY: Well, it's just like anybody else. When you see a better deal, you move to it, you know.
WEST: I know a lot of people at Standard Cotton Products were Southern, too.
BULLY: The leaders out there were, too.
WEST: What was the relationship between Standard Cotton and some of these other plants?
BULLY: Oh, they were just like us. In fact, some of the key guys went from Standard Cotton, when they closed, went over to Buick, went to work, the president and some of those guys.
WEST: Did you ever get down to Standard Cotton?
BULLY: Oh, yes, sure. It was just like one big family, you know. The bus guys, and the Standard Cotton, and all the leadership of all the locals, we used to set in the bars, and everybody was... Sure. You get on a bus or a streetcar. You get on a streetcar and somebody says, "CIO!" You stand up. Everybody in the place stand up! Hell, it was fun. It was like a fever.
WEST: This would be a good time, perhaps then, to ask this. After the strike, the "fever" apparently hit Flint all over. There were, as I understand it, attempts to organize retail clerks, restaurant and hotel workers. The Durant was on strike.
BULLY: Sammy Waters got killed on the Durant Hotel. A guy right out there stuck a knife in, run right back. Sammy Waters fell dead. We had the damnedest funeral you ever saw. We walked... I don't know how many thousand guys in that funeral, but there were probably thirty thousand people in that march, down Saginaw Street, from downtown all the way to Gracelawn Cemetery, way out in the North End, you know. Sammy Waters's funeral. That was one of the biggest things that ever happened.
WEST: To demonstrate solidarity.
BULLY: Well, yeah. Not only that, but one of our guys, you know, one of our organizers.
WEST: Did you get involved in any of the pickets in the different stores?
WEST: Tell me about some of those.
BULLY: Not much to tell. Hell, I was over is Owosso one night, and we was organizing in Owosso. We had a company in Flint.
WEST: A. G. Redmond.
BULLY: Yeah. And moved to Owosso to get away from the union. This was later. Moved to Owosso to get away from the union. All the active union guys----we had a guy named Gib Rose, who was the regional director's assistant. He was in charge of the strike over there. And, while he was a big Southern guy----I always figured him to be a foreigner, though. But, anyway, what he did, he got involved with the girls over there, and he was havin'...They were livin' over there, and he was livin' in a hotel, and they were organizing. They get involved [inaud.]. There was a plant that used mostly girls. You know, you can't hardly help but have a little fun, you know. But, anyway, what happened was that all of us guys would get over there in this little town of Owosso. Christ, we'd go over there to demonstrate, to get involved. We were involved in everything, so we'd all go there. God, we marched up and down the streets, and we had picket lines in there. We had some scabs going in and out of the plant, and a lot of them were people who had worked on the farms, and, hell, they were given these jobs, and, hell, they weren't involved in those unions. They didn't know anything about it and were afraid of it, really. And I think we probably scared a lot of 'em off, because we were too damn militant. You know, too much pressure. One night Gib Rose come back... I don't know where this is all goin' here.
WEST: Well, I'd like to have it. These stories are good. We won't use anything without your permission.
BULLY: I don't want some suit or some kind of thing.
WEST: No, no, of course not.
BULLY: One night----I didn't actually see this----one night Gib wasn't there when the pickets came. The guys were packing through the lines. Well, all those guys were saying, we were all saying, "Where the hell's the leader? Where's Gib?" You know, kind of disgusting. And then, of course, a lot of those guys at that time were looking at these leaders: "I can do his job." And, anyway, Gib came back, just as it was about over. And this is the story that they told at the time. Gib came back, and, of course, he'd realized that he'd missed the damn----I don't know where he'd been----but he had an explanation. But he'd missed the whole demonstration, and he knew he was in trouble with his people, you know. So there's one guy comin' back, across there, and Gib run right out there and tackled him and pistol-whipped him. Carried a pistol and he really cracked this kid.
WEST: Gib Rose did.
BULLY: That mobilized every farmer for about fifty miles around and every townsman. Jesus Christ, it was like wildfire. There were trucks coming in, and cars comin' from every direction. Suddenly we weren't so big and strong. State police, everybody came. I never was so happy in my life. I got thrown into a barn by a state policeman. We were on the streets, and these guys were surroundin' us. They had pitchforks. They had guns. They had everything. And they were mad. This is what set it off. We destroyed the union there for a long time. What happened, the state police were trying to get us out of town, and these people wouldn't let us go. There was enough of 'em there, and a lot of our guys had gotten away, and they were gone, so there was not too many. Well, I say not too many of us. We had a guy named Joe Lydon from Buick, who was a prizefighter and a hell of a good one, too. Him and his brother, Billy Moore, and Joe Lydon were prizefighters here in Flint for many, many years. Good ones. Billy Moore just died a couple years ago, but he refereed fights right up until he died. But, anyway, they were handy. They were good fighters. Jesus, this Dan gets him out in the road like this, you know, the police were gonna put him in a, take him home. Police were gonna take him down. Here's these crowds up and down the sidewalks, for when they were rescued. We got to rescue 'em. Jesus Christ... And the police, the state police, would come down and say, "Get off the street! Get off the street!" We said, "Where the hell we gonna go?" He said, "Get in there!" Threw me in a barn. There was a big laugh for years about me gettin', I and a guy named Bill Spence, got thrown into a barn. But, anyway, they got us off the street for a while, and they took control. And they finally got it under control, and we got out of town. But that set the drive back.
WEST: Did Gib Rose get involved in this afterwards, then?
BULLY: Well, Gib, yeah, he went up for trial, as I remember. I don't remember what happened. I think Gib... I don't know whether he was found guilty or not, but he [inaud.]. Whatever. But it was a real hectic situation, I'll tell you this. I was scared to death.
WEST: Did Redmond finally organize?
BULLY: We finally got 'em organized, but it's been like this ever since. Everybody over there. We've had three or four... We got three or four... We got four or five good plants over there organized. But Redmond's was always like this. We got 'em organized, now, but...
WEST: Did you and other fellows go down to Pontiac, or get involved in...
BULLY: Oh, hell, yes. Pontiac, Toledo, Detroit, sure. Sure. The overpass in Detroit? I was down on the Ford organizing drive.
WEST: Oh, you were.
BULLY: Sure. In fact, after we organized Ford, I was on the shop committee at Buick, and, after we organized Ford in '41, the international union got a number of us from different plants to go in there and set the wage rates. And these guys at Ford didn't know what the hell was goin' on. They wanted what we asked. They wanted what we had. So they tried to get comparable plants, and they'd get guys from these committees. Now, they had a guy from Chevrolet there, named Carl Bibber, and he went to the Ford Rouge plant. And we had a guy named Jack Steele from Fisher 1, and Jack went to the Fisher plants. And they had me, and I went to the Lincoln plant. And all we did was go in there and sit with the management, the committee, and we set the rates on the job. We just told 'em what we had, except I told 'em a little higher than everything we had. You know, a nickel all the way through. And the guys were mad at me, 'cause I didn't say more. But we couldn't have got away with it. But we did get away with a nickel. So then when our negotiations come up, I brought in all the rates. I said, "Now, look!" So we just whip-sawed, you know. But I was on, a number of guys from Flint were in on those things: Jack Steele, Carl Bibber, me. They had a bunch of guys from Detroit come in. I didn't go into the body shop at Lincoln. I went into the machine shop, the motor plant.
WEST: Before that, you'd had help up from Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, during the strike.
BULLY: Sure did. Hell, yeah. Sure did. Paul Miley brought a bunch of guys up here. Amos Able brought a bunch of guys up here from Dodge. We had guys from all over. Every time we needed help we'd call on a bunch of guys from Pontiac. I remember goin' to Pontiac when the state police were on one side of the street with submachine guns and us on the other. Oh, I was so happy...
WEST: That was after the...
BULLY: After the Sit-Down. But we used to go all over. Saginaw, Bay City.
WEST: Did any of the boys take part in the Penney's sort-of sit-down? There was a sit-down at Penney's, J. C. Penney's, part of the girls, I understand.
BULLY: Not that I know of. Not that I know of. But we boycotted Richmond's. A clothing store kept a guy on salary down there workin', boycottin' them, picket them, for six or seven years.
WEST: Oh, you did? Richmond.
BULLY: Richmond store.
WEST: Did that commence just after the...
BULLY: Well, we had a strike, the clothing workers had a strike, and Richmond's scabbed with 'em. They never did sign an agreement.
WEST: Did you look for the union label, then?
BULLY: Always. I still do. I buy nothing but labeled. Damned right.
[end of side]
...labels. I was gonna set there until you had showed me the union label, you know. We had guys run out and buy a necktie, you know, with a label. But it was quite an effort at that time.
WEST: Not so strong now.
BULLY: Well, no. No, although I think there's a reservoir of support. Like a lot of us, we just don't buy stuff from non-union people. They're cuttin' us. But the core thing helped us a lot. We don't do it as strong as we should. We should be still doing it, and we could put Stevens out of business, if we really mobilized our... First you have to convince the public. They've kind of lost that keen, cutting edge, you know. Now they're members of the union, just like they're members of a block club or something else. They belong to the union, and it's something they do, and they want to belong, and when it's time when they need the union, they use it like a tool. They sharpen it up when they need it. And the other times, just to hell with it. Somebody else'll take care of it. You know.
WEST: You mentioned that GM had a pretty active sports program here that you got involved in. Did the UAW not organize their own...?
BULLY: Soon as we organized, we started one in competition. And we had a good one. And we still got one, but not like we did. We still... Fact, they gave it up. We have all our bowling tournaments, region-wide bowling tournaments, and golf tournaments, and all this stuff, softball leagues and all that. We still have those.
WEST: Some of that, then, started in competition with GM, to win workers away from the plant? You'd win 'em over to the union.
BULLY: That's right. That's right. Course GM kind of moved it to one side, and they gave it to the Mott Foundation, you know, recreation and education programs. The Mott Foundation.
WEST: Did Mott Foundation, then, in its programs, work pretty closely with management, when it got started?
BULLY: Oh, god, yes. Of course.
WEST: Now, the Mott Foundation and Manley...
BULLY: Well, Manley wasn't too bad. We got along with Manley.
WEST: But were there some people in the Mott Foundation that you didn't get along with very well in the early years?
BULLY: Oh, yeah. We didn't along with their whole program. The whole program was run... Manley was influential in it, but their program was run by the Plant City Committee at General Motors. That's who run the Mott Foundation program. And that's who elected the trustees, the I.M.A., and all the rest of it. Still do.
WEST: What was that committee again?
BULLY: Plant City Committee. They still have it. Any time there's a tax problem or something, it's the Plant City Committee. It's composed of the general manager of each General Motors plant in the city, plus the publicity director and I think Chamber of Commerce guy sits on it. He don't have a vote, but I think he sits on it.
WEST: Would C. S. Mott have been pretty active in that?
BULLY: Oh, hell, yes. Oh, yes, sure. Sure. Plant-City Committee.
WEST: And it ran, then, the Mott F.... Do you think it was intended, when it was first started, to stifle unionism?
BULLY: Exactly. Exactly. At first it was mandatory that we belonged, and they took it out of our pay. I can't remember... It don't seem like I remember it was very much. Seems like fifteen or twenty cents a week out of our paycheck. You know, we got paid every two weeks. But it came out of our paycheck, and we didn't have any, there was nothin' we could do about it. It was mandatory with the I.M.A. That's why a lot of guys, the old-timers, said "Why don't we sue those sons of bitches? They can't sell the I.M.A. It belongs to us." It does, really. And we said, well,...
WEST: But it's always been run by management.
BULLY: Oh, it's management-run, of course.
WEST: And when the UAW gets its own recreational programs, it's done to counter the influence, then, would you say, of the Mott Foundation and its activities?
BULLY: That's right. That's right. Sure.
WEST: But Manley, you say, you got along with.
BULLY: Well, Manley was a guy who was more interested in ideas and people than he was in...Although I'll tell you what. He was on his knees to the old man all the time. He couldn't keep it without bein' a... But he sold the old guy a lot of good things. He finally got him to turn loose some of our money. The old pirate. Now, the old man, I met with him many times on many things with him, the University of Michigan committee. I was on the original committee, and I was on it for many years. And the old man, he envisioned the University of Michigan as another GMI. Now, I went to school at GMI. Yeah, I went to night school at GMI. And he was gonna make GMI...Well, what he was gonna do is he was gonna provide the kind of courses for just local people, preferably GM sons and daughters, and they would be able to get degrees, and these were purely a day school, no residents. And they were gonna, he was gonna specialize in business administration and in management, labor relations techniques, and so forth. He ways gonna set up a General Motors school to train General Motors employees.
WEST: That would have been the University of Michigan at Flint.
BULLY: Well, that was the University of Michigan at Flint. And I was the only guy there to take him on publicly.
WEST: This would have been when, in the fifties?
BULLY: Hell, no. It was after that. It was when we got into name University of Michigan-Flint, Gar Lane was the state senator. He was the sponsor of the whole thing for them there. He worked with the old man. That probably happened about '57, '60, maybe '60 or after. After, it was. What he'd done is he built a library. Nothin' there for a library, but he had a library. But he had a library. Remember?
WEST: Yeah, for a while it was really a senior college, wasn't it?
BULLY: Yeah, that's right. It was a two-year college. That's what it was, a two-year college. People came from JC into the... JC then. Mott College now.
WEST: They got their four-year program, I guess, about '63, I guess it was.
BULLY: Well, I was on it. We fought like hell to get it, and we got it when we got the University of Michigan affiliation, University of Michigan-Flint. There was a great deal of discussion about whether the University of Michigan should have satellite institutions, like University of California has. And Oakland and Flint were what we were talkin' about. And there was a lot of pressure from Flint, and Mott, of course, wanted it. And so, hell, he donated the money for that. That's why he gave the money for that children's hospital. And we got it.
WEST: So that's interesting. He envisaged, then, the UM-Flint being essentially a four-year business training institution.
BULLY: That's what he wanted. That's what he wanted. But we kept pushing harder and harder, and of course the people in the school, they didn't see it this way either. It was just much too narrow a concept. And they wanted a satellite college. They wanted a university. And they wanted all the degree programs they could get and so forth, you know. Well, we had to fight the old man all right on, although Harding was with us on most of it. But he didn't say too much to the old man, not in front of us anyway.
WEST: Well, the whole Mott Foundation story is interesting, because we've been interested in the fact that the Mott Foundation was set up, you know, around the mid-'30s, you know, around the same time...
BULLY: Oh, that was an anti-union organization. That's what it was for. And they also took over all the business in the plant of selling us food, clothing, and supplies. Not vending machines. Each plant had a store. We didn't have vending machines in those days. We had a store. And we had a stooge runnin' the store. But you went there, and that's the only place you could go. Now we didn't have cafeterias. They didn't let us have cafeterias, if they could help it. We only had a couple of cafeterias at Buick until, well, just until the last fifteen years. They had I.M.A. stores, and they brought in hot lunches. They brought in sandwiches and meat pies, and you know, junk food, really. Soup. They had things like that. And that's where you bought it. Now you had to have gloves on your job to come... You bought your own gloves there. You needed an apron or something, you bought that there. They took over sellin' us all our own stuff, and then they used the money to run their organization to keep the union out. And here we are financing our enemies. That's one of the reasons why their stores are goin' out of business.
WEST: And you countered that with the co-op, co-ops.
BULLY: Well, the co-ops didn't get into the plants. We didn't get into the plants. But they still had, the I.M.A. still had the vending machines and all the rest of it. They went from the store management, which was too expensive, to vending machines, which was a hell of a lot more profitable, you know. You didn't have to a full-time attendant, and so forth and so on. You had a guy on one route who supplied a whole, you know, bunch of 'em, and only went around and picked up the money. But as the employment went down, they started to go down, too. And they went down. And then when the big-band era went out, and all this, they quit usin' the I.M.A. Auditorium all the time. That became a losing proposition, and it was drawing on these funds. Then you got into this big ice hockey place out there, and this was another drawback. And they owned Potter's Lake. They still own Potter's Lake. We had a golf course, too. We had that [inaud.] place out there, too. What was it, Brookwood or something? It was I.M.A. But they finally, all these things kind of, they started losing money on it. Hell, the golf course was actually for the supervision, because how many guys in the plant ever played golf in those days? You know. One out of a hundred or, you know, less than that. Anyway, things kept goin' down and down, 'til now they've gotten rid of everything except Potter's Lake.
WEST: Getting back to the period of the 1930s, again, my reading of the papers and that indicates there was a group that was pretty active in Flint in '35, '36, and on into '37, I guess. The Black Legion, I think it was. Do you know anything about that?
BULLY: Oh, hell, yes. Oh, you're damn right. These were the anti-union stooges. These were the Pinkertons and the anti-union, paid guys. And they were the guys, who now, the same kind of weirdos who now belong to the Klan, the White Citizens' Councils.
WEST: Was there a connection, then, between the Klan and them at that time?
BULLY: Sure. Yes. Sure. Same tactics. Most of 'em same people.
WEST: Did you know any of guys, do you think?
BULLY: No, not today. They've been exposed.
WEST: Did some of the men, did management people, then, supervision and that...?
BULLY: Oh, yeah, most of 'em. Most of 'em.
WEST: Were some of 'em, quite a few of 'em, from Buick?
BULLY: Buick was one of the mainstays at the time. They didn't have a lot of people. I'd say if they ever got----now this is just a guess----but I'd say if you ever got a hundred active people, maybe a hundred fifty, and maybe thirty or forty of 'em would come from Buick. Now this is just a guess.
WEST: But they were a secretive group.
BULLY: Oh, yes.
WEST: But did they practice intimidation, then, against known union people?
BULLY: Well, they were the guys who horse-whipped people, or run 'em off the road and that kind of stuff and got away with it.
WEST: Were they rough on blacks?
BULLY: They were rough on everybody. They didn't hate blacks. They hated labor, all organized labor. They were primarily anti-labor.
WEST: They claimed to be opposed to Communism and that.
BULLY: Well, sure, anybody who was anti-labor was opposed to Communism, because, what the hell, workers were just synonymous at that time with Communism.
WEST: Right, right, organization, sure. But were there a proportion of the white Southerners who came up that joined the Black Legion, do you think, because they come from the KKK?
BULLY: I don't think so. They stayed in their own organization, the Klan. Those who were...There weren't too many of those, really. You know, most of the Klan wasn't the poor guys down there. Most of the Klan was the business people and the higher-level management people and still are. It isn't the guy who's dirt-poor and just as bad off as the colored guy is. It isn't the sharecropper who's a Klan member, an active Klan member. Here it's the weirdo, you know, the Nazi.
WEST: Right. Now we were talking about blacks in the foundries. I know there were some efforts made to organize them and that there were some blacks who were active, Henry Clark.
BULLY: Henry Clark was a good one. Ellsworth Steen was even better. I mean, hell, I don't want to take anything away from Clark, but we had a guy named Ellsworth Steen, who was a crackerjack. We had a guy named Prince Combs. Still around. You'd like to meet some of those guys? We're gonna have a big picnic for all of us August the 2nd.
WEST: I heard that. I was at the earlier one, and unfortunately I'll be out of town. I'm visiting my parents. But we've spoken to Henry Clark, in fact.
BULLY: Well, Henry's down in Texas now. He was up at the last meeting. Henry Clark was one of 'em. Ellsworth Steen was a crackerjack.
WEST: Is he still alive or is he gone?
BULLY: I don't know whether Ellsworth Steen is or not. I don't know. Oh, we had a number of black guys who were really popular guys. We had one----God knows why the hell his name was ..., he was a little guy----who had a quartet. Always sent 'em to the convention. They were singers. He was an active union guy, too, but I can't remember his name. I bet my wife could tell me. My wife used to be the secretary at the local union, back in '41. She worked there about fifteen years.
WEST: Did some of the whites cooperate with these black leaders to organize?
BULLY: Of course. They were part of our guys. When we got into the CIO, everybody came. Everybody. And we stopped all that... You didn't hear any of this race talk yet. There wasn't. Everybody was brothers, and we were really fighting for them. Now we ran into problems when we tried to move 'em to white jobs and white areas. That was several years later. That was when the war started, really.
WEST: Well, the government decreed, too, didn't they, that...?
BULLY: That was how it got done mostly, because the government did it. Even so, most guys didn't do it. So, well, we had a strong union. We insisted on it. And we did it. And it was very difficult. We had to go in many times to our own members, and many of us got defeated, because of our position on those things. But...
WEST: Were there any, I guess in Detroit they called them "hate strikes"? You know, against blacks, whites simply walking off the jobs, because they didn't want to work with them.
BULLY: We had a number of those.
WEST: Did you threaten...?
BULLY: We had one guy. I was on the shop committee. In fact I was chairman of the shop committee. And we had a guy named Blassingame, who, everybody said, was a Communist. He was a nice guy. He worked in my plant. And I went on vacation, and a bunch of these heroes got together and threw him off! Got together, they threw him out, threw him out of the plant. They said, "If Bully comes back, if he tries to bring him back here, we'll throw him out, too." And the rest of the committee wouldn't even go along with me on it. They didn't want to come over there. I had to go over there, but I went over there alone with a guy. We went back in, and we talked to these guys. And after you could just to talk to these guys, really, and say, what the hell, we can't let the management fire these guys, just because somebody, the management wants to. That's what the union's for, to protect us. We can't let some union guy say "The hell with you!" I guess the group could throw you out of your job. We've got to say you got to have a reason for something. And if you feel that there's a reason that this guy shouldn't belong to the union, then you got to press charges against him and you got to go the procedure. That's all there is to it. And most guys bought it. We had a few. My good friends were from [inaud.], had a hard time swallowin' that. But it worked. Berry Blassingame got him back in. It was a famous case all over the country at that time, 'cause he was supposed to be a Communist. In fact the local union did try him for being a Communist. And I don't know whatever happened. It fizzled out on trial or whatever.
WEST: Berry Blassingame.
BULLY: Berry Blassingame.
WEST: When was that? Do you remember what the date might have been?
BULLY: I think it was about '51. About 1951.
WEST: So it was quite a long ways after, I guess.
BULLY: Oh, sure, sure. About 1951.
WEST: Well, I've enjoyed talking to you. This has been great. Is there something I've forgot?
BULLY: You get those old geezers, you know. They generally live for the past.
WEST: Well, I've enjoyed talking about it, too. I wonder if there's anything that I didn't hit on, that later on....
BULLY: Well, a thousand things, I guess, but mostly background. A lot of things. A lot of struggles we had. A lot of our guys got over-enthused and got in trouble. We had guys who, for instance, in the Consumers' Power strike went up to Zilwaukee, bombed the plant.
WEST: Oh, really. Now that... When was that?
BULLY: Tiny Herron. Well, I can't remember the years.
WEST: Not exactly. Was it shortly after the strike?
BULLY: Not too long after. I would say it was probably in '38 or '39.
WEST: Because there was in the summer of '37 there was a brief shutdown, I guess, of Consumers' Power here in Flint. Shut the whole thing down for a day. And there was moderate agitation.
BULLY: You know where the plant is at Zilwaukee?
WEST: No, I can't say that I...
BULLY: Have you ever been up North?
WEST: Oh, yeah, I've crossed over the bridge there.
BULLY: That's Zilwaukee.
WEST: I know, across the bridge, but I don't know just where the plant is.
BULLY: Oh, the big plant's right beside you. That was it. That's the main plant. Couple of guys got carried away. I don't know whether they ever did, whether someone put 'em to it or what happened, but they went up there, and they were going to swim the river, and they were going to bomb the plant, and they got arrested. Went to prison for it. Big deal. The guy's name was Herron, Tiny Herron, from Chevrolet. He was one of 'em, but I can't remember the names. But he was the main guy. Oh, they went overboard a bit, you know. What the hell. We always had a bunch of hotheads that, every time we had a little problem, they wanted to burn the place down: "Set fire to the damn thing! We'll teach 'em a lesson! Burn 'em up!"
WEST: I've heard that some of those people who were most militant were people who hadn't been heard from much before the strike, but, after the strike, they sort of came out.
BULLY: That's right. I'll tell you another thing. A lot of the most militant people were some who had nothin' to do. They just hired in, and only been a little while. They didn't have a hell of a lot to lose, and they enjoyed the union and they were involved, and they probably were sincere about it, but a lot of them were probably sincere. Now in my plant, it wasn't so much the case, because most of our people had been there for a while, you know, as I say, a long time.
WEST: But you still had a lot of wildcats. How did you deal with those wildcats and get them under control?
BULLY: It wasn't hard to control 'em. The guys looked to the leaders and they'd go. It wasn't hard to control 'em. In fact, as I told you before, I could just look out and sit in an office here----there was grass, not this grass, only it was on the side of the thing----in the superintendent's office. And the aisles went down this way like that. Nobody could stash. And a guy would act to me, go up to the superintendent, where he'd say, and the guy'd say, "Anybody out? I'll watch." And the guy... If something happened, they fired me or something, I'd get up and they'd go over and they'd pull my clock on it, like that. Pull my clock, they'd shut the plant down, you know. And I sat there, and the old superintendent comes running and says, "Norm, Jesus Christ! Norm, come here! I got to talk to you!" "Why?" "Well, that son of a bitch shut the plant down!" "What'd you do that for?" I said, "Well, I don't know. What the hell? I don't even work here anyway. I got fired." " Put him back to work! Piss on you!" "I don't work here anymore." "What do you mean, 'put him back to work'?" The guy would put him back to work. "I don't got to." Well, if he put you back to work, well, if you put me back to work, and give me back the sweepers...That was already done.
WEST: Did management ultimately, then, learn to negotiate?
BULLY: Oh, they sure did. They knew what power was, and they knew when we had it and when we didn't have it. And sometimes we didn't have it. And they'd really whup us.
WEST: Did top union people from the international ever try to pull you back and stop...?
BULLY: Oh, yeah, many times. We'd get too far out sometimes. Oh, yeah. We were always the real militant... In fact, I'm proud to say my local union has always been one of the real leaders in the labor movement in the UAW. They are the guys who come up with the "Thirty and Out" program. They are the guys who really come up with most of the things and did most of the fighting. They were good, militant guys.
WEST: Now this "Thirty and Out" brings to mind another "thirty," the
I understand that this was something that was pushed for originally.
BULLY: It sure was.
WEST: But then it seemed soon to have been forgotten.
BULLY: The war did it. The war did it. What happened is we'd come out of a big depression, jobs were important. We were divided in work. We got a forty-hour week. Well, that gave most people a job, made their unions stronger, and it gave more people jobs, and it was desirable. And, hell, nobody wanted to work fifty if they could work forty. And we got overtime and things like that. Well, then when things would go slack, things would get tough, you'd go and divide your overtime. We were going to divide our employment. We'd get less hours. Let the company... Well, the thirty-hour week was a major objective, 'til the war come along. Hell, when the war come, that was out of the question. You had to produce everything we could produce, you know. We were at war. So that kind of killed it off. And then, by that time, we had overtime, we had double time, we had holiday pay and all these things, after the war. And we had a hell of a lot of people who had never been through the strikes or anything in those times and hired in during the war, and they liked the overtime. They were makin', they were doubling their salary every week. Well, shit, they didn't see goin' back to cuttin' their pay in half to give some guy out on the street who didn't even have to get a job. So, right today, if you take a vote, in one of the plants, you'd have a hard time sellin' cuttin' hours, because the guys, well, they live on the income. If they get a hundred dollars a week, they live on a hundred dollars a week, and if they get three hundred dollars a week, they live on three hundred. When it gets eight hundred, they'd live on eight hundred. You know what I mean? We got a bunch of guys, and if he gets an extra hundred dollars, he buys a boat or a cabin up North. They buy somethin' with it. They use it. Or his kid goes to a better school or somethin'. He uses the money, and he's not a big saver. So his living standard, the minute you start talkin' about cuttin' back hours, you're cuttin' back his living standard. Well, if you're gonna do it voluntarily, you're gonna have a hell of a time. The only way you can do it is legally. There you do it with laws. Now the UAW's been cuttin' back on these work hours, because they weren't successful in getting' a thirty-hour week. But what we did do is we got more holiday pays. We got our birthday off. We got more time off. We got----we didn't get shorter hours, shorter workweek, but we got a hell of a lot more days off, you know. So we cut the work year, the number of workdays in a work year, which is quite similar, in the same lines.
WEST: Well, I want to thank you very much. I've really enjoyed talking to you.
BULLY: Well, when I get started, I...
WEST: You were describing your experiences....
BULLY: Well, when I first hired into the plant, I was only sixteen years old. Weren't supposed to run the machines until you were eighteen. But, hell, as soon as the guy left, the guy said, "I knew [inaud.]. Come on over here!" So he'd take you over there, and they got a crankshaft lathe. And the crankshafts weighed 129 pounds completed, big Buick crankshaft, great, big, master cranks. They had three kinds of cranks, three grades of Buicks, you know. Anyway, he'd take me over there, "Can you meet this guy?" His name was Carl Swanson, who worked in this plant. And Frenchy Benoit, another guy that worked with us. He was in the union, too. One of our originals. French Benoit and Carl Swanson, they said, "Show this kid how to run that lathe." So they showed me. And what we did, you stood up on a platform, and they had a pyramid sort of rack, with five cracks or little slots, where you could put the crankshafts in, one on top, and two on each side. And it was on a scooter. You could turn it around. When they pulled that up to your machine, you reached over to get that crankshaft and picked it up, and you turn around like this. You could put it into that machine, and then you hold it like that. Then you slide this hand up here, and you turn it----it wasn't automatic like we have now, you know----you turn the insides in, and you run your lathe. You run your bearings or whatever you were cutting, see. And then, when you get done, you picked it up and put it back on. Well, when you got to that bottom, Jesus Christ! I mean your toenails! Liftin' that thing up and turnin' it around and puttin' it on that machine. We had all the guys doing that.
WEST: It was weightlifting.
BULLY: Oh, god, it was terrible. Well, not too long later, when the union came, we got hoists, care hoists, and that surely made a lot of difference in there, of course. But we got a thousand other things, too. We got fans. We got blowers. We got all kinds of things.
WEST: Conditions really did improve, then, after the strike.
BULLY: It was like picking grapes! Everyday we got twenty things. And the guy says, "Here, here!"
WEST: Safety devices?
BULLY: Every kind of thing. We had a grinding room in my plant up on the fourth floor. And up on the fourth floor in there there was a tool grinding room, and they had a lot of...There must have been sixty, seventy men workin' there, grinding room. And you couldn't see your head from your face. It had grinding dust comin' up all over and everything, and it was just an awful mess. And one of the guys that worked there, Charlie Weaver, his name was. A good guy. He got fired twice, 'cause he enlisted, went to school, skilled-trades guy, and he went away in spite of the fact that he'd been----I forget what you call it-----in the draft. His sons joined the Navy, and Charlie went down and joined right with them. He went and lost his job. And when he come back, we had a grievance for him. Anyway, Charlie Weaver called me up, and he said, "Norm," he said, "by god, " he said, "they got things that suck that air right out of here. And," he said, "we ought to have 'em, blower systems." "God," I said, "I agree with you on that." He said, "It won't be hard." He said, "Look, the roof is right here." He said, "They put the big collectors up on the top of the roof, and," he said, "all they do is pipes and paper to put the suction up." He said "There wouldn't be nothin' to it." We didn't have all this damn stuff, and I'm telling you the truth of it. The guys in there that worked in there there was spit with blood. They spit blood. And, hell, they were eatin' that stuff all the time, you know. I got Slim Larke up there one time, and we went up on the roof, and I explained the whole thing to him. He was a pretty reasonable guy, and he'd worked in the plant. He knew what it was like. I took him up there and showed him, and I just told him the facts, you know. What a hell of a place this is to work and how simple it would be to change the whole thing and what it would mean to all these guys who worked there. And I didn't know what it would cost, but, god, he would find out. We ought to do it. We want this done or we're gonna strike this damn plant. So, we went up on the roof and we looked at the whole thing and we got it. We got it, a blower system. Took 'em almost a year to get it in there. So you couldn't believe it. Well, in the meantime, would you put one in my plant? The guys were tellin' us, boy, we're getting one in 40. We want it in 11. We want it in 31. We want it in 28. Everybody wanted stuff. And they'd give it to us. They couldn't deny it. So it became a practice. Okay, we're gonna put blowers in. All these grinding dust, we'll put blowers in. And then the following, we'll put blowers in, lighting fixtures. And we said we wanted to get rid of these damn belts and the line shafts. Every machine was run with a belt and line shafts and all that. We wanted to get rid of them damn things. It was a hell of a mess. Anyway, as they replaced these things and bought new machinery and better equipment, they got rid of all of that. It was so much different.
WEST: It's interesting the way you describe it. A lot of the motivation for these changes came from the men themselves. Someone who had the ideas...
BULLY: The men themselves come up with everything. Management didn't do one damn thing.
WEST: Strange, because these are techniques that you would have thought would have been described in the journals that management would have...
BULLY: They never did one thing that was gonna cost them one cent by themselves, without pressure. Never. Not once.