Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collectons Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
DATE: March 17, 1980
INTERVIEWEE: Roy Knotts, at his residence in Flint
INTERVIEWER: William Meyer
MEYER: You were in Plant 4?
KNOTTS: I went in Fisher Body in 1935, to start with. Then I got laid off from there, and then I went from there to Plant 4, and then the strike came on. Well, a lot of us didn’t get back, so then I went from there to Buick and then there back to Chevrolet Parts, where I retired from. But, see, when they went out, there was a lot of guys just went back for one day and then they were automatically laid off. You know, they didn’t have much time in. Course there was no seniority then, anyway. But then they just, the older guys got to stay, and we got laid off.
MEYER: You’re talking about when you went back to work after the strike?
KNOTTS: After the strike, yeah. That was in ’37, I think it was. Yeah, ’37. Yeah.
MEYER: Now you worked in Chevy 4?
KNOTTS: Plant 4, yes. Cylinder Head Department.
MEYER: Cylinder heads.
KNOTTS: Yeah, Department 461.
MEYER: You worked there when the strike broke out?
MEYER: Now did you stay in the plant?
KNOTTS: No, no, we left. About the only ones that I remember that stayed in the plant was Plant 2 and 2-A, over in the Upholstery Department on the west side of Chevrolet Avenue there.
MEYER: You mean Fisher 2?
KNOTTS: Well, it was Fisher. Later on it was called Plant 2 and 2-A of Chevrolet. But it was Fisher that done the upholstery work and the seats and the coverings for the bodies for Fisher Body in the South End.
MEYER: Were you working at the time the plant went down?
KNOTTS: Yeah, I went out that morning. I don’t know from the date, but I went out in the morning.
MEYER: Well, that would have been February 1, I think, when Chevy 4 went down first.
KNOTTS: You go back forty-some years.
MEYER: Well, that’s right. When they decided to shut down the plant and sit in, you made a decision to leave.
KNOTTS: Well, everybody more or less just got up and walked out. See, if you were caught with a dues card or a button on you, you couldn’t wear ‘em, because you was automatically fired at the time of the organization. They was trying to organize. So everybody kept theirs hidden, and, if I remember right, somebody just turned the line off and everybody walked out. And they went all through the whole plant, all the plants.
MEYER: But some people stayed in, obviously.
KNOTTS: There was some that stayed in, yeah. Some that stayed in. Course I don’t think... I think the reason they stayed in they didn’t actually know what the hell was going on, to start with. And then when they stayed in, why, some of them came back and stayed in, too.
MEYER: But do you remember people directing people to leave or directing people to stay, or anything like that?
KNOTTS: The stewards. There wasn’t committeemen at that time. They were called stewards. They asked ‘em to either stay or leave, whatever they wanted to do. And they broke the windows out and tore the upholstery. Set a little fire in Plant 2-A at that time. Well, I call it Plant 2-A, now, but it actually Fisher Body at that time. Then later on the National Guard...
MEYER: Is that what was referred to as Fisher 2?
KNOTTS: Fisher 2, yeah. Fisher 1 was the South End. That was Fisher 2 down there.
MEYER: Where did this take place, this destruction of upholstery in Fisher 2?
KNOTTS: In Fisher 2, yeah. They made beds down there, and broke windows out, and tore up upholstery. A little fire, if I remember right, but it didn’t amount to anything. Then shortly after that they called the National Guard in and assembled them up on top of the roofs and everything. But the guys got mean. They tipped cars over, wrecked cars, everything else.
MEYER: Now were you a member of the union at the time of the strike?
KNOTTS: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I joined that in ’35. I think the dues was 50 cents a month at that time.
MEYER: You joined in ’35. Do you remember how you joined?
KNOTTS: Well, you were asked to join on the QT, ‘cause you didn’t know who in the heck was gonna squeal on you if you did join, you know. If they got to know you, you were asked to join. And you knew that the guys around you was workin’ or already belonged, you know, but you didn’t say anything. But you knew that they belonged. And you more or less figured if you didn’t join at that time, you ain’t gonna have anybody talk to you. And things were pretty rough. I mean the foremans were rough, and we worked for 35 cents an hour. Well, I worked at Fisher Body there, I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and we got paid every two weeks. We brought home 76 bucks, 35 cents an hour.
MEYER: The fall of ’36, before the Sit-Down occurred, was a period of really rapid organizing, or heavy organizing.
KNOTTS: I was in Plant 4 then.
MEYER: Do you remember any of that organizing activity?
KNOTTS: Yeah, they got you in the dining room then. They got pretty well organized then. And then the buttons started more or less to comin’ out at that time. I take it at that time the management knew they were organizing. Some of the management didn’t know rather say anything or not, so they didn’t say too much. But the fellows were wearing their badges, their buttons, union buttons, at that time.
MEYER: Before the strike they felt confident enough to wear buttons?
KNOTTS: Yeah, yeah. But, see, at that time, they come around askin’ you to work overtime, you didn’t have no choice. You had to work overtime. If you didn’t, you was fired, you know. If you missed a day... Course, when they found out they was tryin’ to organize, then they more or less got you, because then they would force that overtime on you, or if you missed a day, you was automatically fired. They got a little rough. It got rougher after the strike, too. But I don’t think quite as rough, but, for a while after the strike, it was pretty well leanin’ on you.
MEYER: Who was leaning?
KNOTTS: Management. Right from the foremans on up. And, at that time, they had some rotten foremans in there. But, see, at that time, there was a lot of guys stand at the gate tryin’ to hire in, right from Flint. But, hell, they was buyin’ their jobs down from Minnesota for five bucks and comin’ up here and goin’ right to work, right through the guys that lived here. Hired right in. They bought their jobs down in Minnesota.
MEYER: Okay, you left the day that they decided to sit down in Chevy 4. It went on for 11 days after that. It ended on February 11, so that was about 11 days that Chevy 4...
KNOTTS: It was a 108-day sit-down strike in 1937.
MEYER: Well, we’re talkin’ about it started the last of 1936, and it went ‘til February, so it was about 44 days, actually.
KNOTTS: Yeah, well, altogether, before everybody got back, there was 108 days, because union members all got medals, a 108-day strike. It even came out in the Journal and showed the Sit-Down Strike. That’s why they have White Shirt Day in the shop yet today. It was 108 days. I might have it confused with another strike that they had.
MEYER: Well, during that period when they were sitting in Chevy 4 and you had left----you had decided to not sit in----did you do any work for the union on the outside?
KNOTTS: No, uh-huh.
MEYER: You just went home.
KNOTTS: Yeah, I was single then. I was single, so I didn’t do anything about it. They had the stewards and everybody else. Well, a lot of guys went down and picketed. But I was single, and I had a couple of bills and so I went out and tried to find something else, because I didn’t have that much time in that I was worried about it, you know. Then they got their seniority equipment locked up, but fellows that didn’t have over a year or less in, they knew they weren’t gonna get back. They knew if they went back, they were gonna get laid off, what they called a “K release” at that time. See, a “T” was a temporary release. You had a chance to be called back. But you’d get a K release, why, then you was just out. You might as well start lookin’ for something else.
MEYER: And that’s what you got after you went back?
KNOTTS: I got a K release, yeah.
MEYER: After you went back. So there was substantial layoffs, do you remember, after you went back?
KNOTTS: Oh, yeah. Yeah. On the motor line. Cylinder heads and motor line.
MEYER: Why were there so many layoffs after the strike?
KNOTTS: Well, see, at that time, the cylinder heads, where I was, puttin’ the tappets in, a lot on that line was young, with a year or less. And they knew that they was gonna get K-released. The old-timers, that’d been there, oh, maybe five, six, seven, eight years, they got a K release, ‘cause at that time they had to change over and tool over and everything else for changeover, and then do some repairs in the shop, so they would get K release. But we got a T release----no, we got a K release. They got a T release. Theirs was temporary; ours was permanent.
MEYER: But do you remember why they let anybody off? In other words, why did so many people...?
KNOTTS: Well, they just had cut down in production. See, at that time, we got 42 cents an hour in bonus, which was, if you met production for the week, you’d get your bonus. But somethin’ would always happen on a Thursday or a Wednesday that you never met the bonus for the week, so you never got the darn thing. So you just figured you’d get 42 cents an hour and go with that. I forgot his name, had the Beer Vault there on Kearsley and Asylum, the guys go over there on Friday at noon and cash their check. Well, he’d take a quarter out of your check and odd change, but he’d give you a token for a pitcher of beer. You got a pitcher of beer for that quarter, but he’d take all the odd pennies. I can’t think of his name. He had a bar up here on North Saginaw for, oh, for years. In fact, he was the first one in Flint that had the five-foot television in his bar. I can’t remember his name. I know his name. I just can’t think of it right now.
MEYER: Now, you mentioned that one place they would do a lot of organizing was in the dining room at lunch hour.
KNOTTS: The foremans never more or less went up to the dining rooms. It was always just the employees.
MEYER: Do you remember any union organizing outside the plant entirely, meetings and things like that?
KNOTTS: Well, in the union hall, yeah.
MEYER: There’d be meetings?
KNOTTS: Yeah, there’d be meetings. On the QT there’d be meetings.
MEYER: Did you go to meetings?
KNOTTS: Oh, yeah, you’d go to the meetings. Everybody would go to the meetings. The meetings were pretty well filled up, because we more or less knew they was striking for better working conditions and a little more money. And everybody was involved to see if they was gonna get it, see what the heck they was gonna ask for. And everybody knew eventually there was gonna be a strike or a bargaining session of some type, so that everybody, more or less, went to the meetings.
MEYER: Where were these meetings held, just...?
KNOTTS: Well, they had a hall, right across from Fisher Body. And then Chevrolet had one there on the corner of Asylum and Chevrolet. Well, the beer garden, upstairs. They had one there, so they went up in there.
MEYER: But these had to be more or less secret meetings, or?
KNOTTS: Well, yeah. When you went in, you showed your dues card. If you didn’t have your dues card, you didn’t get in the meeting. But you had the dues card.
MEYER: Now, do you remember during this period in the fall of ’36, there was all this organizing going on, a lot of meetings. Do you remember when you first were kind of aware that there was going to be a sit-down strike and would start in the Fisher 2?
KNOTTS: Well, they said... You know, there was talk about two weeks before the strike came that they was either gonna walk out or try to bargain with management in regards to some of the terms that they wanted, which, at that time, if I remember right, twelve or fifteen items that they wanted to improve. One was wages. And one was production; you know, standard of production. I don’t remember what the others was, but they said that they was gonna ask for a meeting with upper management at that time. Otherwise they would...they didn’t call it a strike. They just said they was gonna walk out. They was gonna refuse to work under those conditions, which they did. I don’t think they actually went out knowing there was gonna be a strike. I think they just more or less went out to show management that they wasn’t gonna work under those conditions anymore. Hell, at Plant 4, in the heavy rain, with them wooden block floor, you’d stand in water darn near to your ankles. You better be workin’, too. You pass out down there in the heat in the summertime they’d take you over to the hospital, give you two salt pills and tell you to go back to work. If you didn’t go, you was done.
MEYER: Did you have that happen to you?
KNOTTS: Yeah. Yeah, a lot of guys had that happen to ‘em. So damn hot in there you couldn’t breathe.
MEYER: In the summer of ’36 it was supposedly quite hot, I understand.
KNOTTS: Oh, man! And it does get hot in those plants. It gets hot in those plants yet today.
MEYER: When they talked about calling a strike, they didn’t refer to it as a “sit-down.” They were talking about walking out?
KNOTTS: No, they didn’t even refer to it as a strike. They called it a “walkout.” Walkout for working conditions. I think the Journal came out with that word “strike.” The Journal was the first one to use the word “strike.” Now where the heck they ever derived that from or not, I don’t know, because... And, since then, it’s always been “strike,” you know. But it boils right down, just nothin’ but a walkout.
MEYER: Except that when they finally decided to take action, they decided that what they would do is sit in.
KNOTTS: Yeah. Well, I don’t think the union, to start with, told ‘em to sit in. I think that was on the part of the employees. They just said that they were gonna sit in to protect their jobs, because some of the scabs tried to come back to work, see, and they had the goon squad out there to keep ‘em out. So some of the guys just decided to stay in to protect their jobs. So I don’t think the union derived any sit-in deal. I think that was a part of the employees themselves.
MEYER: Do you remember at some of these meetings talking about that issue of should we stay in or should we walk out?
KNOTTS: Couple of guys, if I remember right, said that they was gonna stay there inside to see that nobody come in took their jobs. That was... And I think that just boiled up, kept boiling up. Couple of guys stayed in a couple days, and then they just walked out and went home. But some of the old-timers, they stayed there quite a while, if I remember right, especially in Fisher Body, Fisher 2. They slept right in. And the women’d go down there. Hell, the women go down and break the windows in the plant, too. They had to throw cords down, out the second story, and they’d tie food on it and take it up to ‘em. Trays, you know. They ate, you know, what little bit there was to eat, sandwiches and coffee and stuff. They had coffeepots in there.
MEYER: Do you remember any of the major organizers in that fall? Bob Travis, people like that?
KNOTTS: I remember Bob Travis. And there was another one. I can’t remember his name.
KNOTTS: No. I think he was... Oh, the withdrawal card I got is from the Teamsters, and that was Clark. Uh, the guys are dead now. One guy I knew real well and I can’t think of his doggone name. Well, Norm Bully was in on that. He’s retired now, but he was president of the Buick. No, I used to run around with Norm Bully when I was a kid, Norm and his brother, Pottengers, Coppersmiths, Rerushas. But Norm always went to the Buick, and I went back to Chevrolet.
MEYER: You said after the strike management came down on people pretty hard?
KNOTTS: Well, they just... When fellows back walkin’ out, the foreman said, “Go back to work. You’ve got a job here.” And that’s about all they said, you know. They didn’t seem to interfere too much.
MEYER: You mean a wildcat-type strike?
KNOTTS: Yeah, uh-huh. They just kind of walked out. Course, but nobody tried to ring out, and the foremans were at the time clocks. And they said, “You guys better go back to work. You got a job here.” And that’s all they said, because I don’t think the foremans knew too much what to say at that time, either. And they were probably advised by upper management not to say too much. But the guys were pretty hot, you know. Just like this here on this one strike in Parts, goin’ back 15 years ago, a couple of guys pushed a patrolman down the stairs and broke his leg. The guys get pretty rough, and they get pretty ornery and pretty mean. I mean, when you’re foolin’ with somebody’s paycheck, takin’ the money out of his mouth, why, he isn’t gonna take it too kindly, you know. ‘Cause I know. I’ve put twenty-some years in on supervision out here, but I never had any trouble. If you treat the guys the way they’re supposed to be treated, the way you want to be treated yourself, you’re not going to get any trouble out of people. But if you go in there and you think you’re ownin’ the plant, and you’re gonna do it your way and nobody else’s way, then you’re gonna ask for trouble.
MEYER: You went to supervision later?
KNOTTS: I went to supervision in ’51, retired in ’74. Had 40 years in.
MEYER: When you switched to supervision, did you experience any...?
KNOTTS: I was an alternate committeeman when I went on supervision.
MEYER: But did you experience any problem for having been an active union person?
KNOTTS: No, no, uh-huh. We had a pretty good superintendent, pretty good general foreman that I worked under. He was foreman and I was his group leader. Then he made general foreman and I made foreman the same day. We both made the same time in the office. But in Parts, at that time, I’d been there so long that I knew everybody, and they knew me. And even as a group leader, I’d try to treat ‘em right, and they knew that. So we didn’t have any trouble. It was foremans that made their foremanship after I did, quite a while after, who had trouble, because they figured that they was King Tut. It’s just another job. I mean it’s... You’re in there for the same damn thing, and that’s money, and if you didn’t need the money, you wouldn’t be a foreman, or you’d repent it, you know. It’s more money, and that’s the only reason you take it.
MEYER: You didn’t experience any difficulty from the other side, by virtue of your....
KNOTTS: No. No. I’d take the committeeman out to Parts right now. Oh, god, what’s his name? Heck of a good committeeman. Never had a bit of trouble with him. Know his name well. Known him for I don’t know how many years. Never had any trouble with him. A lot of times, when a guy would call a committeeman on me, the committeeman would come over and, after he’d talk to the employee, he’d tell the employee, “Go back to work.” He’s got no gripe, you know. Thurman, Bill Thurman. Bill Thurman. He’s a good committeeman. Management don’t like him, but he’s a good committeeman.
MEYER: Were you from Flint? Were you born in Flint?
KNOTTS: I was born in Chicago, but I’ve been in Flint since 1923, I think. So I was more or less raised in Flint, from the time I was about, oh, seven years old on up.
MEYER: Did any other family members get involved in the strike at all?
KNOTTS: My brother-in-law. He’s in Florida now. He was at the Buick. He was in on it too. Him and I are the same age. Then in the latter part of ’37, we still weren’t back to work, so then they started the W.P.A., and him and I went on W.P.A. You was allowed to work on W.P.A. for 18 months. Then you was automatically off, and you returned back to the welfare. I helped build that water softener over here on Dort Highway on W.P.A. Reinforcement rod placement. Eighty-five bucks a month. Course then you got your supplement, and the welfare too, like your... You got your jacket and your clothes and your underclothes and your shoes and stuff like that. And you’d get commodities, you know.
MEYER: When did you finally get back with General Motors, then?
KNOTTS: I got back there in 1940, I think it was. Buick. Then I got laid off. I was there about seven or eight months. Got laid off, which was [inaudible]. And then I went into Chevrolet Parts in ’41. Fact I still got a badge in my box in there, a 1941 Chevrolet badge, which is no good to me.
MEYER: And you said you start... When was the first time you worked for General Motors? In 1935?
KNOTTS: .1935. Fisher Body, South End. I was in the North Unit. Then I got laid off there once. I was off three days, and the foreman called me at home and told me to report back to work, and I went over in the South Unit, down in the door department, [inaudible] convertible coupe doors off the line, spot welding, disc grinding. That was hot. That was hot. That was down where the presses are, where they used to press out the bodies or the tops, you know.
MEYER: Aside from the tremendous heat, what other aspects of the working conditions or general situation were real problems?
KNOTTS: Well, a lot of it was you don’t stop, you know. If your line goes down, and you’re on the line, production line, your line goes down, at that time the foreman come get you. He’d put you somewhere else. You got eight hours out of eight. You worked eight hours out of eight. There’s no such thing as waitin’ for your line to start again, which they do today. And Chevrolet workers always called the Buick the “old man’s home.” Have for years. When I worked at Buick, the line goes down, everybody goes to the dining room, plays cards or somethin’ and wait ‘til the line starts up again. But Chevrolet never done that. They called that the “hell hole of the world.” And it still is, I guess----some of the plants. Now this Van Slyke plant, the truck plant, they say there’s a lot of trouble out there. And I’ve talked to a lot of guys that work out at the truck plant. They take a guy, six-foot tall, have him puttin’ in bolts down the bottom of the body. There’s a little guy, about four-foot tall. They got him doin’ roof work at the top, you know. There’s no consideration for the employees. And I imagine out there it’s all younger foremen, and too many college kids comin’ and becomin’ foremen, GMI and college. They don’t know what the hell it’s all about, to start with. They think it’s just a gravy train. And still there’s a lot of kids come in there that hire in that for hourly rate, that their fathers or possibly grandfathers was in the strike, and they’ve had all this burned into ‘em about how the shops is, and they come in there with a piss-at poor attitude to start with. They’re already mad when they hire in. A lot of it depends on your foreman. If you got a good foreman and he treats you right, you’re gonna work. If you got one that’s gonna breathe down your neck, like they used to do, you’re not gonna do any more than you have to. You see there was no smokin’ at that time in the plants. You had to sneak upstairs in the toilet to smoke, and if you got caught, you were automatically fired.
MEYER: Now let me ask you this. When... It was December 30, ’36, when those Fisher plants went down, people sat in. When that happened, were you surprised?
KNOTTS: Yeah, a lot of us was, because we didn’t think it was [inaudible]. You know. It had been organizin’ for quite some time, and we figured that it would just gonna be organized and probably take a couple, three years before anything would ever be done about it. So then when they did actually walk out, why then, more or less everybody was kind of surprised. They didn’t figure it was gonna be... And, if I remember right, it was either on payday or the day before payday that everybody went out. And then we had to go back out, and they had the foremans outside the gates, banded off, which they even do that today.
MEYER: But they... You were surprised that it happened then? Were you surprised that it was a sit-in?
KNOTTS: Yeah, I didn’t think the fellows that sit in, a lot of ‘em stayed in quite a while, you know. I figured that maybe some would stay in for the day or maybe overnight, but I didn’t think they would stay in that long. In fact, I never thought that they would do any damage to the plant, because they was only cuttin’ their own throats by doin’ that, you know. You tear up material in the trim room and the cushions and everything else. It’s just gonna take management that much longer to get the place back straightened out before you can get back to work. So they didn’t do anything but hurt themselves. But, as I said, they were mad.
MEYER: Do you know that there was damage in those plants?
KNOTTS: I definitely know there was damage, yeah. There was definitely damage. When you throw seat cushions out the windows down on Chevrolet Avenue on the sidewalks and cotton and everything else, you know there’s got to be damage. And when they break windows, and you stand there and watch them break windows, and the guys’ wives come down and break windows, too, you can see the damage.
MEYER: That was at Chevy 9 when they broke the windows?
KNOTTS: Well, they broke ‘em at Fisher 2 on Chevrolet Avenue, too. That plant’s still there. Only it’s called Plant 2-A now, where they make the mufflers and tailpipes downstairs. Across is where the cranks and camshafts are made.
MEYER: Now, when Chevy 4 struck...
KNOTTS: I don’t think anybody stayed in 4. It was too damn hot.
MEYER: There were some Sit-Downers.
KNOTTS: Was there?
MEYER: Yeah, 4, until the contract was signed.
KNOTTS: That might have been on the dock, where the dockworkers was loadin’ and unloadin’ cars, something to that effect. But, if I remember right, which is a long time ago, I don’t remember anyone stayin’ around the Cylinder Head Department or the Blanchard grinders or any of those down in there, ‘cause it was hotter than hell, you know.
MEYER: Well, do you remember? You were at work when it happened. Do you remember your first indication that the strike was on?
KNOTTS: Well, somebody hollered, “Come on, we’re goin’ home.” And, when I looked around, everybody was up and walkin’ out. So they walked right by the timecards, which was a rack, and when everybody was walkin’ right by ‘em, I figured, hell, there’s no sense ringin’ out, you know. And I imagine management figured the time, so everybody got their time stopped at a certain time, and nobody ever questioned it, anyway. But when you go on a payday, your voucher was on your timecard, and you’d take your timecard, take the voucher off, ring your timecard, keep your voucher and sign it. Then the foreman would come around right on the job. You’d hand him the voucher and you’d get your check. I didn’t figure they’d strike that soon. I figured maybe...They’d been dilly-dallyin’ about a year, you know, gettin’ people to join and everything. So I figured maybe it would be a couple years. Maybe it wouldn’t even be one. I don’t think anybody thought there would actually be a strike or a walkout, as they called it at that time. I didn’t think there would be. I thought, hell, they’d go into management and they’d get a little bit, which they even do today on the bargaining. At the end of the contract now they never get everything they ask for. But they asked for so damn much that they figured if they get part of it there gonna get what they wanted to start with, ‘cause they do ask for a lot of ridiculous things. Management knows it, and the union knows it. And you never gain back what you lose. You never do that. And when we got laid off, well, I drove a cab for Jimmy Rice in 1939, I think it was (my god, was I in the shop? I think I was in the shop. I got laid off in ’39). I went drivin’ cabs for Jimmy Rice, Yellow Cab. And then the Teamsters came in and said unless we joined the Teamsters, we couldn’t drive a cab. So we had to join the Teamsters, which Jimmy Rice was nice about it. He took so much out of the cab driver’s check to make their dues payment----well, it was an initiation payment and dues. In fact, I got a withdrawal card yet from, in my box in there, from Teamsters. Jim Clark. That was back in ’39.
MEYER: What do mean when you say “you never get back what you lose”? You mean what you put into a strike?
KNOTTS: Well, say, if you’re out 108 days with no check, well, that’s 108 days’ pay gone. And that six cents an hour... Trouble is, you see, the union goes out (and I’ve said this for forty years or better) and you get a six cents an hour raise. Well, these clothing stores and these grocery stores, minute that contract is settled and you got a six-cent-an-hour raise, your groceries and everything else has automatically gone up six cents before you ever get it. So what about your 108-day pay back here? Your bills are still accumulatin’. See, you ain’t gonna get back. You still right where you started when you walked out. And that six cents an hour----they’ll raise it eight in the grocery store and everything else.
MEYER: What’s your evaluation of the Sit-Down Strike, then? Do you think it was worth it?
KNOTTS: Oh, hell, yes. You got to have strikes. With the management you got today you got to have strikes. Ain’t no way in hell you ever gonna get away from it. The only way you’re gonna get away from it is change management. And I know. I was on management 27 years. And we still got some of the rottenest ones that ever walked on two feet, foremans on up. And we’ve got some damn good ones. But you take a general manager or a plant manager. He might be one hell of a swell guy and wants to treat everybody nice, but his boss says no. The big boy tells the guys on down, each step down. So I don’t care how nice you want to be to the men. Now, out there, the men would come up to me and say, “Roy, I know it’s not your fault. I know you’re gettin’ orders. I don’t like it, but I know it’s not your fault. But I want the committeeman anyway.” Well, Bill Thurman’s the committeeman. Has been for years. Hell of a nice guy. He comes down, he tells you, “Hey, Roy, I know it’s not your fault, but in order to get this corrected, we got to write the grievance. You just give me a stock answer at your step, and we’ll take it on up.” And you got Labor Relations sittin’ up there, two or three college kids that don’t know a blanket from a bale of hay, and they’re tryin’ to run the whole damn plant and don’t know what they’re doin’. They got the union man. Consequently that’s why you got a lot of these walkouts at the truck plant. Speed-ups. They don’t try to settle anything. They don’t give a damn. And a lot of times this Labor Relations, especially during the strikes... I think a lot of these strikes could be settled sooner if Labor Relations, if they’d button ‘em in those rooms with the union and don’t feed ‘em----keep ‘em right there until the damn thing’s settled----but they’re gettin’ time-and-a-half and double-time for this bargaining, you know, the management. And these guys want that money. Let’s face it. I would too, if I was in there. If I could make a hundred dollars extra a week for sittin’ there arguin’, for somethin’ that I know I’m arguin’ wrong about, money’s money. That’s the American public. But there’s a lot of good jobs at General Motors. Right today the best job in General Motors you can get is a sanitation job. They don’t bother sanitation too much, ‘cause there’s no production to it. There’s no production to it. And you take a foreman with ten or twelve janitors in the plant, all over the whole plant, you don’t know where the hell they’re at. But as long as you don’t get any complaints from the department that he’s cleanin’, you don’t care where he’s at, ‘cause there’s no way in hell you can walk within the plants around and find the janitor, ‘cause they can hide more on you than anybody.
... or fight. When they get out there, they forgot a screwdriver. They’ve got to come back. Then you get back up there. They forgot somethin’ else. They’re just walkin’ back and forth. Their job ain’t gonna get done. And there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it. Just don’t get skilled trades mad, ‘cause they play rough. They’ll foul you up more----well, you got one foreman handlin’ five or six different trades. There’s no foreman in there that knows five or six different trades. And if the employee tells you, “Well, this has got to be done” and “That’s got to be done,” you got to take his word for it, ‘cause you don’t know.
MEYER: You say after the strike was over, you got laid off almost immediately, so you didn’t even...
KNOTTS: I think I worked two days.
MEYER: Worked a couple days. Do you remember what the atmosphere was in the plant after the strike was over?
KNOTTS: Well, everybody was still hot. Everybody was still hot. I think at that time, if I remember right, I think we only got, Christ, I think we only got two cents an hour raise, if we got that much. And they’d been out long enough that they didn’t figure that that was enough. And the two days that I worked I couldn’t see any change in management. I mean they were gonna get down on you. Everybody knew that. They figured that when you went back to work it was gonna be a little rougher.
MEYER: What about the people who had kind of led that strike in Chevy 4?
KNOTTS: Far as I know, some of ‘em are still there, unless they’re dead. See, once that’s settled and everything, you lay off them big boys that led that strike, you’re gonna have another walkout. Them men are gonna stand by them. They ain’t gonna fool them guys. They’re gonna cut the other ones down, the little stewards, as they called ‘em at that time. They would more or less rap them a little bit. There was no bargaining before the strike. You couldn’t talk to a foreman. You couldn’t talk to ‘em. And the relief man would----you got one relief in the morning and one relief in the afternoon, to go to the can----and when he comes around to relieve you, you better go, ‘cause he ain’t comin’ back until afternoon. That was his job. But, now, hell, they spend half their days in the can, now, long as their job’s done. Nobody cares.
MEYER: Any other particular recollections of the strike that I haven’t asked about, that you recall from that period?
KNOTTS: Just that they wrecked a lot of cars down the streets. The National Guard come in, but... See, there was kind of a joke on that National Guard. Lot of those guys was employees right from Chevrolet and Buick, which were called out to go to the National Guard and come up and protect the plants. Well, they weren’t in favor of it, but they had a job to do, so they had to do it. And that’s... Well, they had barrels down on Chevrolet Avenue for the strikers at night, you know, put fire in the barrels, you know, which was ripe wood. Turned over three or four cars, broke the windows out of several of ‘em. The cops, more or less, just stayed around. They didn’t seem to want to do anything.
MEYER: Those couple of days that you went back to work at the end of the strike, do you recall any impressions about the condition of the plant?
KNOTTS: Well, everybody was more or less pretty close-mouthed. You know, they didn’t say too much. They just stood there and done their job, waitin’ to get the hell out of there at night again, ‘cause they figured there was gonna be trouble anyway. I guess there was a couple of fights in the plant after that, between, well, I remember one foreman in particular got knocked, but I don’t remember the guy’s name. But he got knocked on his butt, so evidently he must have said somethin’ out of turn. The men were still pretty hot.
MEYER: What about the condition of the machinery in the plant itself?
KNOTTS: The machinery in Plant 4, to my knowledge, was never damaged. They didn’t do any big damage, as far as the machinery was concerned. But in the cut-and-sew room, where they had the women in there at that time, the cut-and-sew room, sewin’ the cushions, seat cushions, you know, in the backs, that was quite a bit...
MEYER: Not at Chevy.
KNOTTS: No, at Fisher, yeah. Cut-and-sew room, they called it. They done a lot of damage in there. But as far as machinery is concerned, I don’t believe they damaged any machinery.
MEYER: In Chevy, where you worked, you didn’t see any?
KNOTTS: I didn’t see any damage, as far as the machinery was concerned, no. I don’t believe there was any damage, as far as the machinery was concerned. But there might have been a few parts, like valves, thrown around on the floor or somethin’ like that. But any big damage, no. There might have been some trays of keys. You know, you split the tappets in there and put the keys in there. There might have been some keys tipped over or somethin’ to that effect, or maybe some compound spilled on the floor or spilled around or somethin’ like that. But, as far as big damage, like a sledgehammer to a machine, there was none of that done, that I know of. There might have been that done, but, to my knowledge, there wasn’t any done. I think that most of the strikers at the time more or less tried to behave themselves, but you get a gang mad, and it only takes one to start a riot. And you get one mad, and he says, “Let’s tear up the joint!” Why, they’ll tear it up. When it’s all done, they don’t know why they tore it up. But it was a pretty hot session. I’d be glad to give you that badge if you think it would help you in your course.
MEYER: Well, that’s okay.
KNOTTS: I had an old union card from those days, but, when I retired, I gave it to Bill Thurman, the committeeman, for the union hall. They keep mementoes down there at the union hall.
MEYER: Which badge are you referring to, now?
KNOTTS: The Chevrolet badge. Back in 1939, we used to wear it. Don’t have badges anymore. They have them cards they put in the computers to clock in. And at that time, when I went on supervision, the foremen even used to have to bring a timecard. They don’t anymore. They done away with that, I think, in ’53 or ’54. Foreman just on his own recognizance now. If he’s there, why, the general foreman clocks him in. Or he knows he’s there and he makes out a report every week how many hours he worked. He keeps a tally sheet, and that’s turned into the superintendent. But, those days, when I first went on, you had to bring a timecard. You was paid salary, but you had your timecard, more or less, for if you stayed over, then you was paid. If you stayed a half hour over, you didn’t get a dime. You had to stay at least an hour to get an hour’s overtime. But we had a decent superintendent that, if we stayed, like, two half hours in one week, he’d pay us for a full hour overtime. He’s in Florida now. And my old general foreman, he just died two years ago. He lived over here on Winona. Ed Zwolensky. Lot of the foremans now are dead. Lot of the old guys that worked with me are dead. They’re dyin’ like flies. Course now they’re gettin’ up. I’ll be 63 in September. So they’re gettin’ pretty well up in years. I go out to----I was on skilled trades the last seven years----I go out every Christmas Eve. They have a big banquet there at Christmas Eve in the plant, and I get invited out there every year with the employees. The employees call me and invite me out there. See, I always got along with ‘em. And they’re a good bunch of guys, good bunch of guys.
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