Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
DATE: March 3, 1980
INTERVIEWEE: Joseph N. Skunda
INTERVIEWER: Kenneth B. West
SKUNDA: Well, my roots actually were started in Pennsylvania.
WEST: Were you born in Pennsylvania?
SKUNDA: I was born... In fact, there were ten of us, and all of us were born in Pennsylvania.
WEST: Where, what town?
SKUNDA: Urey, which is just a little..., near Punxsutawney, actually fifteen from Punxsutawney. And it was just a mining, mining----the song of “Sixteen Ton”? That was no fiction to that. That was fact. That was fact.
WEST: Where did your family originally come from?
SKUNDA: My father was born in Austria-Hungary, which later became Czechoslovakia. My mother was born, from what I’ve been able to gather, in United States. And he came over and----this is past history now, but actually he came over on his brother’s passport, and he migrated to the United States.
WEST: When was that? What year was that?
SKUNDA: I’m not too sure, but he couldn’t speak English. My mother taught him to talk broken English.
WEST: Was that before or after World War I?
SKUNDA: It was after World War I, I presume.
WEST: He came directly to Pennsylvania?
SKUNDA: No, no. My sister’s got a trunk full of stuff, and I wanted to get into it, and... I was the second youngest. I had a sister that was born... I was seven years old when we came to Flint. But the older two brothers and my sister just decided that they’d had enough of this poverty living and they just packed up and came to Cleveland. They migrated to Cleveland. And I was the youngest of the boys. I was only seven, but...
WEST: You went with them from Pennsylvania.
SKUNDA: Well, not at the start. They came to Cleveland, and they got jobs, the two brothers got jobs with the Fisher Body in Cleveland. Then one morning, the supervisor approached ‘em and told ‘em that anyone that desired to go to Flint could move to Flint, and he would guarantee you that they would have a job when they came to Flint, that the South Fisher, plant 1, was opening up, a brand-new plant. So the two older brothers and the sister came.
WEST: That would have been in 1927.
SKUNDA: ’27. Well, then, we remained in Pennsylvania, and my dad worked in the mine. Then I was stricken with appendicitis, and I was hospitalized. And I remember them coming back periodically. And then it was July, oh, either the first or second of July that my uncle had a car, and he lived in Cleveland. And he came out to Pennsylvania, picked us all up, and we’d kicked this around many, many times, as to how we all got into that Dodge touring car and came to Flint, because my sister was only six months old, and I was seven years old. And then there was two other brothers and four sisters, and my uncle, and my dad and mother.
WEST: That would have been about 1928.
SKUNDA: 1928. We arrived in Flint on July 4, 1928.
WEST: Everybody had jobs then that were old enough, of course.
SKUNDA: Well, yes. This brother that was in the strike and stayed in Fisher until the very end, he had quit school----or, no, he started school here, but then he quit----and then I remember one evening. It was with my...the meal and we had already started the supper meal, and he hadn’t come home yet. And he’d gone out job hunting, and he hadn’t come home yet. And then we were all eating, and he come in, and everybody was so jubilant, because he had gotten a job. And he worked until like the strike started. And then the two older brothers. My one brother, that’s just a year and a half older than myself, he graduated. He was the first member of the family to graduate actually.
WEST: You graduated from Northern High School.
SKUNDA: Northern High School, yes.
WEST: Where were you living, then, at the time of the strike?
SKUNDA: At 2317 Humboldt. We moved into 2317 Humboldt. And that’s in Civic Park. And they’re doing quite a story on that. And I long to talk with somebody regarding to that, too, because I remember it so well. I mean I could almost name the people in the homes.
WEST: That’s interesting. That was a GM development.
SKUNDA: That was a lot like your mining...According to yesterday’s Journal, they vowed that they would build so many homes in a certain period of time, and they only came fifty short of doing that. But it was actually a beautiful neighborhood, because it was a case.... For instance, I could name three families that lived there for twenty years. But in that neighborhood, it just seemed like everybody knew everybody. And it was during the Depression. My father had a garden out on the corner of Dayton and Brownell. And I remember he introduced the summer squash to the neighborhood. The kids would come up and wonder if he had any.
WEST: That wasn’t adjacent to your property.
SKUNDA: No, no. GM owned all that property, and you could go down on Chevrolet Avenue, where GM had an office down there, by Longfellow School, and you could go down there, and they would let you have a lot to put in a garden. And then it’s similar to what they’re trying to advocate now, but that was back then.
WEST: Do you recall how you got that house in Civic Park?
SKUNDA: We rented it. The woman that owned it went to Florida, and they rented that home. And, like I say, the 4th of July 1928 we moved in there. And back then you could have bought that home for $2500.
WEST: That was considered very good, was it, compared to property...?
SKUNDA: Oh, yes, yes, because it was, you know, the home was in good shape and everything, but they just rented it, my two older brothers.
WEST: Did you have any difficulty making payments on it during the Depression?
SKUNDA: Well, now as far as I remember, my brothers worked pretty well, and then I had a sister, an older sister that came, and she went to work at AC. And she packed plugs, when they packed plugs by hand. And this is...
WEST: Was she working at AC, then, during the strike?
SKUNDA: Uh, she was there, but I can’t remember, and I didn’t talk to her as to what if she, if they continued to work or just what. AC was a little different. It still is, in a sense. But her husband, he lied his age, and he got a job at Chevrolet. He just retired here not too long ago. And he must have had 35 or 40 years at Chevrolet, and he had a ’31, a ’29 or ’31 Chevrolet. And then this brother that worked at Fisher, he got a ’31 or a ’30 Chevrolet. And I can remember the Sunday----I was always, I guess, a little aggressive. I could remember my one brother, who is deceased, but he would get irritated with me, because I would just go out and get in the car, and he’d look around. And he’d say, “Well, who told you you could go?” But I would just go. I mean, in fact, I can remember being with the older ones during that strike (course the one that stayed in Fisher). But they would go around, and this is kind of----I think of it today, and my wife says, “Oh, you’re not really expecting me to believe this”----but I remember at a particular time, the older members were together, and I was with them, and Reuther supposedly was coming to Flint. And you probably remember seeing some of these old movies, where these fellows carried violins, and they weren’t musicians, and it was fact. And it’s even been in the movies and so forth, but they claimed that Reuther had his own, you know, “musicians,” see, because they carried these violin cases.
WEST: With tommy guns?
SKUNDA: It was supposedly be...
WEST: When was that? Was that before or after the strike?
SKUNDA: During the strike. He was coming to Flint. I know... And then the Sunday, but it was announced that they had come to an agreement, while he came, he was in Flint, and they had announced that the meeting would be down on Bluff Street, down at the Chevrolet plant. And I remember I got in the car. I went down there.
WEST: That was Walter Reuther.
WEST: Because Roy, I guess, and Victor were here during, more of the strike, than Walter.
SKUNDA: They stayed here quite a bit, yeah. They were here quite a bit.
WEST: Did you remember either of the other brothers, Roy or Victor?
SKUNDA: No, not too much. Walter was the big ride. He was kingpin. But I remember----now these are things that I didn’t hear anybody talk too much about----but I remember my brother made little blackjacks. Course it was more or less to keep ‘em occupied. And then they had the fire hose hooked up on top of the building, because Wolcott was, he was gonna use what force he could. He was going to drive ‘em out. There was no disputing that. He announced that, that, I’m almost certain, that if we’d gotten the old Journal papers, why, they were a headline, where he vowed that they would be blood flow down Saginaw Street. But the hinges on the car back then were different than they are today, and they were exposed. And they’d taken the pins out of ‘em, divided ‘em. Then they had those in pans along the windows fronting Saginaw Street. They actually----to me this is something that they don’t really get into it much today, but it could have been an awful mess, the situation. And I’ve thought too today how much violence there is, even when these people advocate or think that they are doing something good, how much violence is involved. But the thing that amazes me, when I think about it, is this happened, and it was some, but it was caused by the authorities or the people in power. It wasn’t caused by the dissidents. And they didn’t destroy the property. They stayed in that plant all that time. And they didn’t sabotage it. They didn’t destroy it, which today, you know, would probably happen. You know, they just went through...
WEST: Now, getting back to your background of your people in Pennsylvania, in the coalmine, were they involved in the United Mine Workers union then?
SKUNDA: I vaguely, from, I think my dad was more into this, but, here again, because he spoke broken language, it wasn’t a....well, family, you know, times weren’t like they are today, where you set down and, you know, talk it over. I do remember, though, that the United Mine, the mines, when they tried to organize, they ran into a lot of resistance. In fact, they failed miserably on at least two occasions, that they really had bloodshed and...
WEST: I guess what I’m really getting at is when your people came to Flint, were they union-conscious?
SKUNDA: Uh, no, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that. I think----in fact, I’ve said this for a long time----that we talk of poverty, we talk of things of this sort, but yet my feeling is that if people want to better themselves, you know, like these two older brothers, now. They just had it up, you know, they just didn’t want to dig any more coal. That was all. My one brother had gotten hurt quite bad on a few occasions, see. Your safety factor was such a----back in those days, because people were getting hurt in those mines, and it was so crude, you know. They didn’t have anything really modern. It was pick and shovel, at least in this area I was at. And the two older brothers, they just didn’t want to dig coal anymore. They just packed up and got out. How they arrived in Cleveland, I really don’t know, but it was a little humor, too. The two older brothers that worked in the shop and then the younger of it, the three would sleep in one bed. And periodically my oldest sister’s husband would come into Flint from Pennsylvania, and instead of gettin’ in bed with the two older brothers, where there was a little bit of room, he’d crawl in with us. And it was a cramped situation, to a degree. But my dad didn’t get to work in the shop. He worked for a while with the Park Board, with the city, but he was up in age back at that time. And the older brother was just a situation, where...
WEST: Did you talk about union in Flint during the earlier ‘30s, when the AFL was, apparently the AFL organized first?
SKUNDA: No, no, I don’t... It was just a case where the working conditions were such that it was almost, the corporation really, more or less, in a sense, asked for it, because, I remember, my brothers, when talkin’ about it, and even in later years, when somebody’s say something about, you know, maybe anti-union or something, and they’d say, “Well, I remember workin’ on the line, and they’d be a drinking fountain two steps behind you, but you couldn’t stop or step back and get a drink of water.” That line would continue to go. See, actually the union, or I feel this way, and I think maybe this is one reason that where we’re at, is that the union, two goals, and today I think it’s a little contradictory, because the two goals----and I can remember ‘em talking about this so much----and I think the modern youth, or the modern workers, have lost sight of this, was a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and working conditions. And yet today, now, you’ve got a situation in the plant where there’s people that just claw to get the overtime and work overtime, because they’re getting a good wage. But back at that time, a lot of your work was piecework, and a man could survive. In fact, a man could do very well, if he wanted to work long hours and really put out. But here was a case where you’d be, in a sense, cutting your fellow worker’s throat, because maybe you had a little more ability and you could put out so many more parts than he could to where they’d eventually maybe get for him back. I can remember this thing too, that if you came up with an objection of any sort, the supervisor merely tell you, “See that guy in the street out there? They’d take your place in a minute. If you want to quit, why, they’ll take your place.” So the two goals, the two big factors, like I say, and on this working conditions, this is now, see, for all these years, and yet the Supreme Court has to rule on, make a ruling on a situation, that is just fact. It was to me, it’s hard for me to understand how we have to wait for that point. But I don’t think, in fact, well, let’s face it. If the working conditions were such, we wouldn’t need the union. In fact, this is what some of the... I remember in Cleveland there was a small company out there that they didn’t ever unionize, because the management treated it so well that really didn’t need it. They didn’t want it.
WEST: Did you have people at all in Cleveland, continued in Cleveland?
SKUNDA: Yes, my one... Well, no, not at... My uncle. My one sister of my mother’s and her husband stayed in Cleveland, lived in Cleveland. But this one brother-in-law, he could never really----I don’t know why----but he just never seemed to want to stay in that big city. He would always eventually go back to Pennsylvania. And I remember we were here a long time, and the strike had already been over and everything, and some of, my one brother, always managed to have a car, and he went out to Pennsylvania and brought my sister and her husband to Flint. And they spent the summer here, but then he eventually did end up in Cleveland. My older sister and I have four nephews down in Cleveland now. But they never did really come. I had a cousin by the name of Skunda, my dad’s brother, that settled in Mingo Junction, Ohio, Steubenville, just across the river from Virginia. Now they worked at steel mills down there for a good many years. And I’m not sure if this cousin was here at the time of the strike or not, but he would periodically come to Flint. But I think it was just a case of they just wanted something better. And I think this is actually what happened. The working class made the middle bracket in the United States, where they’re not rich and they’re not poor. They’re just...
WEST: And wages in Flint, in the auto plants, were better than you could get in the coalmines.
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah, yeah. And even at the worst, the working conditions were better, too. That coalmining, I think, it was probably the conditions, because I think even there again, too, you got so much per those little cars that they had, and if you wanted to really... But that pick and shovel, that was it. I don’t even know if they used the explosives in that area.
WEST: So you were sixteen, then, at the time of the...
SKUNDA: When we first came to Flint, I was seven.
WEST: But sixteen at the time of the strike.
WEST: Were you going to school?
SKUNDA: Yes. I was going to Emerson at that time. I graduated from Northern in 1940.
WEST: And what was your encounter with the strike, particularly?
SKUNDA: Well, like I say, whenever I got a chance, I would always, you know, get in. I mingled with the older ones. And then, there again, when Murphy brought in the National Guards, they were stationed at the Berston Field House and then at Haskell Community House. And we had moved from that neighborhood to the North End, but this one brother, he drove up there. And I can still visualize that, that National Guardsman steppin’ out in front of the car, and I’ve been in the Army since, and this still sticks with me, you know, because militarily, well, World War I was, you know, something that happened, and there was never too much, but when they brought them in, this really made an impact on me.
WEST: Can you describe that incident?
SKUNDA: Well, we drove up there with the intention, see, in the Community House, where they bowled and then the gym. It was swimming and things of that sort. And it was just a good place to spend some time. And it was dark. And we drove up there, and, as we drove in the drive off of Greenway, which is the south entrance, and we just----my brother, actually----and I know I wasn’t aware or even gave any thought to it, and I’m almost certain that he never gave it any thought. I’m not even sure if they announced that the National Guard had been brought into Flint. I’m not sure. But when he started to make the turn, and his lights in the car started into the drive, this National Guardsman stopped and stepped out on guard and hollered, “Halt!” you know, and I know I was petrified. And my brother rolled the window down, and I asked him, you know. And he said, “Well, we was just goin’ in to play some basketball.” He says, “No, nobody’s allowed into the Community House.” And, like I say, I still can’t help but, to me the biggest mystery is how Murphy was not elected on the next try, because he actually----and here’s something that I don’t think there’s been publicized as much as I feel it should be, because I think the man should have given all the credit in the world, in spite of the fact that maybe business, the corporations, resented his actions. He actually, he, I think, more than Reuther, was responsible for the union to becoming into effect, because here’s Wolcott, and he would go in, and I remember, and my brother told me about it, how he would go in to that north entrance there, in the north end of the plant, and they would allow him in. And he would read the court order that they were to vacate, and they’d just boo him, and then he’d leave, see. There was no bloodshed or anything. He’d just leave. But it’s really, again, I said I thought too that maybe another, oh, deterring factor might have been that this wasn’t too much before World War II. And the magnitude of World War II just overshadowed everything to such a point that maybe this would become more of a publicized thing.
WEST: Yeah, that’s possible. Now you were going to school at the time of the strike. Do you remember any tensions in the school? Did the teachers ever talk about the strike, voice an opinion, you know?
SKUNDA: No, because here, I think, the Journal mentioned the fact that these people thought or really maybe felt that they were violating the law to a degree, but yet, deep in their heart, they felt they was doin’ what was right. And therefore they went ahead and did it. And then they wasn’t too much back-slapping or this, you know....
WEST: I just wondered if the teachers ever told you that that was wrong.
SKUNDA: I don’t remember any correction or anything at all.
WEST: None of the students with you talked about how you were doing wrong, with your brothers in the strike and all.
SKUNDA: No, that’s what I was going to say, that I don’t remember anybody taking any negative attitude towards me at all. And I never have tried to hide it to the point where...
WEST: Did most of the kids who went to school with you have parents who were in the plants then? Do you remember?
SKUNDA: Uh, pretty much, pretty much, because, although now that the one kid that I most friendly with, his dad was a sheet-metal man, but he did work at Buick. But when things slacked off then, I can remember he always would get a big stake-rack truck, and, during hard times, he’d go over and get some cherries or peaches or some of this sort, and then us kids would go through the neighborhood sellin’ ‘em, you know, and he was able to survive that way, because you almost had to be able to do something else, besides...
WEST: What I was driving at was that some of the workers, of course, were not sympathetic with the strike.
SKUNDA: That’s right.
WEST: There was a group known as the Flint Alliance that was formed to try to generate a back-to-work movement, and I just wondered if that triggered any sort of hostility, you know, among the families...
SKUNDA: I never was involved in any, but here again, too, see, now some of those people in that neighborhood were on supervision in the plants, and... But the thing... I don’t remember about AC.
WEST: Well, AC did not go on strike, of course, but some of the people, I know, some of the women there were union people.
SKUNDA: Oh, yeah. But now this one brother that worked at Chevrolet, now, he didn’t stay in the plant. He stayed out. But, here again now, when you stop to consider how many people were actually involved in that in the beginning and then I think the Journal stated that----what?----about 28 ended up staying in control.
WEST: Yeah, sometimes it got down pretty low. Was there any tension in the family as to what was going on?
SKUNDA: No. No, because my father, I mean, more or less, the coalmines, figuring, well, this has got to be better than that. So they was no friction. Family, it was a case that... Well, I know I was, when I was in, pretty young, it must have been right around, just after the strike, I did something that I swear... Well, I was too young to set pins, but my two brothers prior to me, prior to them, did set pins at Haskell. And I set pins after they were too old to do it, but I would hang around the Community House, and finally the proprietor of the bowling alleys gave me a little, a couple of chores to do. And one was steel-wooling the bowling balls and then cleaning the alleys. He would sweep the alleys with a sweeper, and then I’d clean ‘em up. And then they was, I think, three...
[END OF SIDE 1]
SKUNDA: ... and I think today I wouldn’t clean those three cuspidors, for...
WEST: Well, you know, it’s interesting you mention that about pin setting, because we understand that shortly after the strike, there was a strike of pinsetters in Ann Arbor. They were trying to organize themselves, ‘cause I guess they weren’t well paid.
SKUNDA: Oh, it was a nickel a game. Nickel a game.
WEST: Was there any thought of organizing pin setters?
SKUNDA: No, because... Actually I was very glad to get the job. In fact, I set for my junior and senior year in high school. And it was pretty rough, because I know we moved out of the neighborhood, and, at the time, we lived up near the corner of Detroit and Hamilton, on Green Street, and I used to walk that distance every night, oh, after eleven o’clock. And then I’d get up in the morning and go to school. But it was... Frankly, one of the best jobs of my lifetime was we made seven dollars a week. Seven dollars a week. And I remember one time----I saved the money----so I told my ma, I says, “Come on, I want to take you downtown and get you a new pair of shoes.” And I did. I took her downtown. But we were just so glad to get it. It was hard work, but it...
WEST: During the strike, did you have trouble making ends meet, because the payroll was cut off, of course?
SKUNDA: It was... Another thing to talk about was whiling away the time, or what, you know, idleness [inaudible]. I can remember pedro (the card game of pedro). My older brothers and I used to set there, and they would set and play that pedro. And this was during that period of the strike. It was my two older brothers and my one brother-in-law, and then another fellow that come out from Pennsylvania. And they’d be about six or seven of ‘em set there and they just about played at cards just about all day long. And family made homemade brew. I remember that. There wouldn’t be anything to be layin’ there in bed and hear one of them beer bottles explode down the basement. They just, so many ways, actually, in fact I tell my wife that my mother would get a small piece of ham and make enough for twelve people, where today it wouldn’t make a good sandwich, you know. But it was just they did... You just got accustomed to home..., well, home baking and things of that sort.
WEST: When did you... You did go into the plants, then, yourself?
SKUNDA: I didn’t go into the plants until after I got out of the service. I had a bad eye. And when I graduated from high school, I couldn’t get a job with General Motors. They wouldn’t take me because of my eye. So I went down, I worked about a year and a half, two years, down in Cleveland. It was about a year down in Cleveland. I got into a small foundry down there. But then, when they started drafting in ’42, ’41, why, I came back home, because I didn’t want to be drafted from Cleveland. So then I got drafted from here. I was good enough for Uncle Sam, but I wasn’t good enough for General Motors. That’s a fact. Well, then I got out and worked at AC. I’ve been out there on the outside and back. Like I say, everyday, though, there’s constant articles pertaining to the fact----I didn’t happen to get this one on, went back down and get it----but it’s regarding Japan building better cars. It’s now an accepted fact that Japan is building a better car than we are. But there was one thing they mentioned in there that didn’t get the build-up that I think was so big was that the rapport with the workers and management in Japan is so much better than it is here in the United States. Actually----this is hard to believe----but actually you’ve got people that sabotaged in those plants. I’ve came up with a little, once in a while I’ll walkin’ around, or you’re settin’ out on the tractor cuttin’ grass, and you’re thinking maybe a little deeper than normal. I have come up with, oh, a few little expressions of my own, but discontent breeds hate, actually. And when you’ve got a bunch of people that are discontent...
WEST: Was there any sabotage in the period before the strike? Do you remember any slowdowns or anything like that?
SKUNDA: Well, I’m not too sure of that. I know there was a lot of discontent. There was a lot of, you know, being unhappy, because, well, the supervisors, you know, they almost ruled with like a whip, actually. And they, like I say, if you did throw up any objections at all, why, they would just tell you, “That guy out there will take that job in a minute.”
WEST: You mentioned that you had met Reuther. Did you know Bob Travis at all or Bud Simons or any of the people...?
SKUNDA: Well, I didn’t actually meet Reuther, but I seen him, you know, been up close to him, and every time he came to Flint and there was any gathering at all, we’d always, you know, my older brothers would be there, but any of the rest of ‘em, I don’t remember ‘em, other than, like I say, Walter, and Walter was head honcho.
WEST: Well, he emerged as the leader of the UAW, though in these earlier years, at the time of the strike, he was not as prominent, in Flint, at least, as his two brothers. They had Travis and Mortimer and a number of other people.
SKUNDA: Yeah. He had a bad time down in Detroit, I guess. He actually got beat up there at Ford’s. But, like I say, it was, I think Murphy, more than any other individual, was there again.
WEST: You said you were very curious and often went to these places. Did you go down to Fisher 2 at all, when they had that fracas there, the Battle of the Running Bulls?
SKUNDA: No, we heard about it and then we went down maybe a day or two later and saw the damage that was done. But, here again, it wasn’t the strikers that created the violence, in a sense. It was the plant owners and law enforcement, because actually, you see, all they intended to do was sit in there and just keep it from operatin’, in a sense, which, back then, was considered illegal, but they decided they would make their stand.
WEST: Can you think of anyone else in the area that we could talk to? We’ll talk to your brother when he comes. What is his first name?
WEST: We’d like to talk to him when he gets back. In April, do you think?
SKUNDA: I think he’ll be back in the latter part of April, yeah. Here again, you see, it’s like I say, you know. To me what they did was just such a, there was so many things that I think kind of shadowed it, kind of kept it back. It was almost like a skeleton in a closet, you know. It was something we’re proud of, but yet we just don’t dare get too jubilant.
WEST: One of the things that was said about the UAW, at least about the leadership of the UAW, were that they were a bunch of reds, you know.
SKUNDA: Well, you see, this was, even today, there’s times, for instance, this hasn’t been too many years ago, that another fellow and I were up on a roof. We were sent up there by our supervisor. And I talked rather frankly. I don’t, I guess maybe I’m not completely at ease. I don’t fear anybody either physically or mentally, and I know that there are people that can literally kill me physically and destroy me mentally, so we used to talkin’ about something or other, here with co-workers. We’d been together for a few years. And he, “Why, you Communist.” Well, I looked him in the eye and I said, “Well, what am I?” Well, he says, “You’re a Communist.” I said, “Well, what am I?” He says, “What do you mean?” I says, “Well, you call me a Communist. What am I?” He says, “Why, hell, I don’t know the definition of it.” I said, “Well, why would you call me one, if you don’t know what you’re callin’ me?” And I think this, and I’ve said after World War II, and maybe even before, the most misused and abused word in the English language was “Communism.” And it was nothing. In fact, like I say, all you have to do is your express your... The thing that always amazes me, that when two people get into a little confrontation, why, one of ‘em’s radical. Well who’s the radical? Because there’s no agreement. So it was, I think in fact, probably this was why that these people that actually succeeded in doing what they were doing couldn’t actually gloat, because of this fear that they felt that they were branded. “You’re communistic or you’re red, because you went in and took the plant.” And this was...
WEST: Do you think any of them were Communist? The name was bandied about, of course, but I wonder if there was any substance to that.
SKUNDA: Well, let’s face it. We’re a socialistic welfare state today. So that actually there’s good and bad in everything and my theory is that, well, back when I was in the service, I guarded German prisoners of war. And all I can remember is one German that worked as a librarian prior to the war and the thing about it was that they’d brought these Germans over to this country. And after they were captured they were anti-Hitler. Well, anybody’s “anti,” if they get beat, but he told me that when history is finally written (this is as far as World War II is concerned), that one of the biggest mistakes Hitler made, and he made a few, but the biggest one was when he went to slave labor. So that actually, when you got this discontent in a production plant, this is actually, to a degree, what is part of it, is the philosophy of slave labor. And the old axiom that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it,” and this is actually what it boils down to, so that I don’t think, I don’t think, any of ‘em would have been able to be, even Reuther, charged with tryin’ to overthrow the present form of government or treason or being a traitor. So what their goal was, and I think even today there’s room for improvement, is to improve the status of the working class of people. I feel that way very strongly. And if somebody once said, “Well, your thinking is communistic,” well, why? I mean why shouldn’t the people that are getting the big bucks treat the people that are helping ‘em get it? It’s the same like in sports. These college boys are supposedly amateur, but they’re really not. It’s a fine line. So that if Michigan fills up that stadium with 101,000 people, who should get part of that? Why shouldn’t these...? See, years ago, with the Romans, when they had these gladiators and so forth, well, they put on a show, you know. But yet I can see and I can remember, in fact, like I say, that this is probably one of the things that prevented this thing from being really a shining kind of thing, was the tinge of the Communist or red connection. And to me my one brother, that would be the last thing that he’d ever do. I mean, like I say, I’m more outspoken than he is. And he did what he thought was right. And maybe he does have some feeling of guilt today that what he did was, in a sense, wrong, but he did a lot more good for a lot of people than a lot of people ever have, and they’ve gotten more glory for it. In fact, like I say, I’ve often wondered why there was never a commemorative medal...
WEST: They’re getting some of that now, which, you know, in the papers, plaques put up against... GM won’t let ‘em put it up on the wall.
SKUNDA: Well, here again, now I was wondering why they don’t get a place downtown or even at the University and put some of these monuments up. If they can put a monument up of a Polish general down there in that...
WEST: Well, that may be done, too.
SKUNDA: I think personally, I don’t think that there’s any way that they’ll get too much publicity or anything, no matter what they do.
WEST: There will be, I think, more, and that’s a good thought to get something down there.
SKUNDA: There should be, there should be a plaque as big as anything, commemorating it, because, to me, maybe we’re not where I think maybe we should be, but it’s still, it made a big difference. And if we can go into war work, war production, and the Federal government be footin’ the bills, and emergency conditions can be just admirable, then why can’t they be that way everyday?
WEST: Well, I want to thank you very much.
SKUNDA: Well, I’m glad to be able to get a chance to say, you
know, some of the things I’ve always thought. I don’t think that
it can be over-publicized.