University of Michigan-Flint
Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
DATE: July 2, 1980
INTERVIEWER: William Meyer
INTERVIEWEE: Elmer "Red" MacAlpine
MAC ALPINE: Where do you want me to start?
MEYER: Maybe a good place to begin is if you could start by telling me a little about how you first started working for General Motors.
MAC ALPINE: Well, I'll tell you where...possibly where...in other words, some of the things that I know are hearsay. In other words, things I didn't see myself, but a lot of things actually happened to me. Now do you want stuff that actually happened to me, or?
MEYER: I'm particularly interested in your own experiences here.
MAC ALPINE: Now in the first place I started with the union in 1933. Now do you want to start there and continue on, or what?
MEYER: 1933 is when you started working for General Motors?
MAC ALPINE: No, I worked for General Motors before that.
MEYER: Okay, let's start by talking a little bit about when you started working in the auto plants.
MAC ALPINE: You mean as far as the union is concerned, or...?
MEYER: Even before the union.
MAC ALPINE: ...how conditions were? How they were before? How many times I worked at Chevrolet? I worked Chevrolet six times.
MEYER: Six times, meaning you got laid off and fired?
MAC ALPINE: No, I didn't get laid off. I quit, get fired. I got fired one time. Well, technically, I didn't get fired. I quit. I told them to stick it up your ass.
MEYER: When was your first job? Do you remember when your first job was in the auto plants?
MAC ALPINE: When did I first start workin' for General Motors? Well, turn that on and I'll give you a brief summary of some facts.
MEYERS: It's running. That's okay. Just a brief summary.
MAC ALPINE: Back around 1925 was the first time I ever worked for General Motors, at the Chevrolet. Now, at various times from then until about 1933 I worked at the Chevrolet six different times. I got fired. I quit. I didn't like the job. Some of it was too fast for me, working on the lines in those times. And I worked three different times at the Buick. I worked three different times at the AC. But in those years up to 1933, I had never worked at a Fisher plant. In 1933, I hired in for the third time, either the third or fourth time----fourth time----at the AC. And at that particular time, the union was being organized. Delmer Minzey was head of the AC local at that time.
MEYER: The AFL unions?
MAC ALPINE: Yeah, that was under the AFL. And at that time it was considered a consolidated local, 156. In other words, all the plants of Flint were all in one local. And each unit had their own presidents and so forth. Delmer Minzey was president of the AC local. He was in my department. They appointed me to...they had a company union goin'. And they got me into that. And I asked too many questions. And about a week later they let me go.
MEYER: From the union? They let you go from your job, or?
MAC ALPINE: They laid me off.
MEYER: From your job.
MAC ALPINE: Yeah. At the AC. They laid me off. I was Recording Secretary.
MEYER: Of the AFL union at AC?
MAC ALPINE: Yeah. They let me go. They laid me off. But they immediately hired in some new man in my job. The president of the local protested. And, according to his protest, they let me go and had no intention of bringin' me back, because I couldn't get along with management. In other words, I asked too many questions, see. Well, when I finally found out that I wasn't gonna get back, I started lookin' for another job. I went to Chevrolet. I found out there I was blackballed. Floyd Corcoran was the employment man there, and he was a member of a bridge club that I was president of. I was president of the first bridge club in Flint, see. And he and Earl Bramblett----I don't know whether the name is familiar---well, Earl Bramblett went on up to become the main bargaining man for General Motors in contracts. He was number two man. They was a vice-president in charge of the negotiations or whatever they called it, but Earl Bramblett was his second man, see. Well, Earl Bramblett and Floyd Corcoran both were in this bridge club, so Floyd Corcoran knew me. Not only did he know me on that, but he knew me when I was a kid in school. I used to throw snowballs at him. Anyway, they were hiring man after man. When I come up there, "Haven't got a thing for you." I said, "Floyd, why?" He said, "Don't you know why?" I said, "Well, I suppose I'm blackballed." He said, "You are." Well, at that time, Fisher Body did not belong to General Motors. It belonged to the Fisher boys. They hadn't sold to General Motors. So I went out to Fisher 1 and got a job, and I've been there ever since, see. Well, that was in December of '33. And the spring of '34 we had a strike. That was the first strike I ever had occasion to be in.
MEYER: Before we get into the '34 strike, I'd like to ask you what did you think about the AFL union and the people whom you dealt with in the AFL?
MAC ALPINE: Well, what I think about the AFL-CIO now is the same as I did then. The AFL is okay as far as the carpenters' union and so forth, but when it comes to an industrial union, it can't be done that way. You've got too many different kinds of trades involved in the shop. Can you split 'em up? The minute you split 'em up, you lose. You got twenty or thirty guys over here that are carpenters----maybe you haven't got that many, but say you got twenty guys as carpenters. Over here, you got some millwrights. You got some electricians. All different unions, each one of 'em tryin' to negotiate for better conditions, or wages, or anything else. Are they gonna get anything? No. But when we finally organize in the CIO, then we were an industrial union all together.
MEYER: You said you got blackballed because you started speaking out too much.
MAC ALPINE: Well, because I spoke up.
MEYER: What did you say? What did you do that made them lay you off?
MAC ALPINE: Well, I asked them questions about their company union.
In other words, they were organizing a company union in all the shops.
They organized a company union with the idea of keepin' the guys down. In fact, in the fall of 1936, they gave a bonus. Why did they give the bonus? To kind of hold things down. They were hearing rumblings at that time about organization.
MEYER: So the way you got into trouble was you questioned whether the company union was really going to be effective and whether it was serious or not.
MAC ALPINE: I questioned the fact that the company union was just a fake to try to fool the people. You would have laughed if you'd have seen the meeting I went into. They already knew that I was an officer of the local. They had enough stool pigeons there that they sure as hell knew. But, anyway, when I walked into the cafeteria where the meeting was held, they had a chair for me up at the top table. Why, I don't know. Well, yes, I do know. They wanted me up there as an exhibit. They thought maybe, if they got me up there along the side of the big shots, that I would kind of back down a little bit, see. So I no sooner walked in. "Come up here, come up here." They had a seat up at the head table. All these other tables were goin' this way, and I was at the table up here, see. There was two or three others up there, along with it, but here they call me up there, and I'd only worked there three or four months, something like that. Course there was a guy got up to tell about the company union. So I just set there, smokin' a cigarette. And, want anything to do with it, "Any questions?" Well, I had kind of a grin on my face and there was two or three of them, so-called representatives of departments that were out that asked a question or two. And I started asking questions, one right after the other. Don't ask me what the questions were. That's a long time ago. I just asked questions as to what they meant by this, and what was this, and they didn't like it. But what could they do?
MEYER: Let me go back a bit. That was your first experience with a union? That was the first time you encountered any union activity in the plants?
MAC ALPINE: Yeah.
MEYER: Was your family originally from Flint? Were you born in Flint?
MAC ALPINE: Yeah. At that time I wasn't married.
MEYER: Where were your parents from?
MAC ALPINE: Here in Flint.
MEYER: You were born in Flint?
MAC ALPINE: No, but I've been resident of Flint and Genesee County since 1916. Ever since I was about nine years old, see. That's a long time.
MEYER: What kind of work did your parents do? Did they work in the plants at all?
MAC ALPINE: My parents? My dad worked at Chevrolet at one time. At that time, why, my dad was up in his seventies, something like that. Well, my dad worked in a carpenter, contractor. He worked in the oil fields and a whole lot of different things, see.
MEYER: When you got to AC, what got you interested in the union?
MAC ALPINE: Well, I had worked in the shops enough. I had had foremans that were antagonistic, arrogant. I don't care where you go, you will always find people, if there given a little authority, they carry it to extremes. They think they are a little more than what they actually are. And that is the attitude that a lot of foremans get. Nowadays in the shops the foremans don't get that way 'cause they know better. Even general foremans and so forth, they don't get that way. Well, I had a general foreman, for instance, that---well, both general foremans that I had, various times-----Thad Quimby and Howard Walker, to a certain extent. Both of 'em were about my age. In fact, Howard Walker was younger than I am. But he and I fought for years. When I was checkin' on a dock, he used to watch me and I used to watch him. He knew better than to say anything out of the way to me. And I knew better than to say anything too bad to him, 'cause I knew that if I stepped out of line very far I might get burnt.
MEYER: Okay, let's get back to Fisher 1. You were talking about the first strike you remember there in '34.
MAC ALPINE: Well, that first strike I don't remember too much about except that I was on the picket line. And at that time I represented Fisher Number 1 on the AFL Council in Flint. Flint Council. Me, Red Williams. I don't know how many representatives we had. But I know Red Williams was one and I was one. We were representatives to the Council, see. They were supposed to be more or less, well, like the AFL-CIO Council like they got in Flint now. They was more or less the governing body for all locals, see. The strike in '34 I think lasted, I guess, two or three weeks, something like that. And we got a telegram from President Roosevelt tellin' us "Go back to work." They'd do somethin' for us. They did somethin'. Several of the guys got fired. Some of the guys that were really active in it, officers in the local and so forth, I think the president of the local, I guess at that time, was Cook. He was one of 'em that got fired. There was several that got fired, anyway.
MEYER: Did you get fired?
MAC ALPINE: No. I wasn't that prominent. They didn't know me.
MEYER: Who called the strike?
MAC ALPINE: Who called the strike?
MEYER: Who organized it?
MAC ALPINE: The organizer, I guess----guy by the name of Dillon, Francis Dillon. He was the organizer for the Flint area AFL. Now, after that, everything was more or less quiet as far as union was concerned, and I never even heard anything except, well, in 1936, I was laid off. In January, I think it was. And they called me on the telephone and asked me if I wanted a temporary job over at Fisher Number 2. And I told 'em, "Sure." Hell, yes, I didn't want to be laid off. So, well, I knew the employment man at Fisher Number 1 at that time, Don Bingham, I went to school with. The employment man over at Fisher Number 2 I knew him too. What his name was I don't know. But anyway, he had called Don Bingham to ask if they was any men laid that he would recommend or somethin' and, anyway, he mentioned me, because he knew me, see. So I went over to Fisher Number 2. And I stayed there until the end of the model. 'Til the last of August, when the model ended. Well, I could've went back to Fisher Number 2. I had a good record there. Even the superintendent. Well, the superintendent knew my dad. They both came from Canada, see. And he, "I got a job for you. I can't call you back right away, 'cause there's other men ahead of you, but," he says, "as soon as we get goin', you got a job, if you want it." But Don Bingham called me back to Fisher Number 1 and asked how I would like to have a job in the Materials Department. And he said that he was recommendin' me to the assistant superintendent as being supervisor material, see. So he called his assistant superintendent in. Introduced me. The assistant superintendent said that what he wanted me to do was go in the office for a couple of months to learn how bills and stuff was being handled. And then he would put me out on the floor. I told him, I says, "I don't want an office job." And he kind of laughed. He said, "And that's just gonna be temporary. Just for you to learn how the people work can handle it. And you go out on the floor." He says, "Don has said you'd make good supervisor material. Okay, you gotta learn everything." So I went into the office. Well, that assistant superintendent, about two weeks later, got fired and another guy took his place. And I didn't get along with him at all. And he was gonna fire me. Well, that paperwork deal, that got boring, sittin' on your ass all the time. So, anyway, I didn't want to be here in the first place. I wanted a job out in the shop. Well, I got a job out in the shop. But this Thad Quimby was general foreman and he said he'd take me, but on probation. And, like I told him years later, I said "And I've been on probation ever since." For the last fifteen years. And he laughed, and he said, "Well, you were for quite a while." I said, "Yeah, I know that." Well, anyway, that was in, let's see, October, November, that was about the last of November.
MEYER: When you went back into the shop, what job did you have?
MAC ALPINE: I stayed in that department all the time.
MAC ALPINE: Materials.
MEYER: What did you do in Materials? What kind of job was that?
MAC ALPINE: Stockman. Unloadin' boxcars, unloadin' trucks. And eventually I got to be a checker. I had to fight for that. I had to call a committeeman in on that. The guy said I wasn't capable of doin' it, okay. I told him, I said, "Bullshit. I'm just as capable as you are. I got just as much education. I got just as much brains as you got. Don't give me that shit." So, anyway, eventually they offered me a temporary checker job. Well, that "temporary" wasn't nothing temporary about it. I kept right on, see. And I was a checker for quite a few years, and I went through stock keeper, and I went through [...]. But anyway, regardless of that, go back to the strike deal. On the 30th or 31st of December, I was on the first shift. When I come to work on the morning of the 31st of December, we had pickets at the gate. If they come in, you gotta stay in. So I hands one of the guys my lunch and says, "Here's somethin' to eat. I'm stayin' out. I'm headin' for the Pengelly Building." I didn't want to go in. I didn't want to go in for the simple reason that what good would it do for me to go inside the shop? There was several hundred guys already in there. If they want to be in there and sit around, fine and dandy. I didn't. So I headed for the Pengelly Building. When I got down to the Pengelly Building, I got ahold of Roy Reuther or Bob Travis. I don't know which. "Here I am, Red MacAlpine, Fisher Number 1. You got some work for me to do? " Well, one of the first jobs they gave me was on, well, they could call it a Food Committee, Forage Committee, Welfare Committee, whatever you want to call it. One of the things I did was investigate welfare cases. If somebody asked for help, whether it was food or if it was coal, it got to the point where we had to go and look. Everybody and their brother, 'cause we were givin' out orders for coal, everybody was askin' for it.
MEYER: This was a family of the strikers?
MAC ALPINE. Everybody was askin' for it. Well, you know how that works. Guys that didn't need it was askin' for it. Well, we got tipped off on a few cases, and from then on when anybody asked for coal, me or somebody else on the committee was sent out to that house and look at their coal bin. If they need coal, they get it. If they don't need coal----if they got a half a ton or a ton of coal there----they don't get it.
MEYER: Let me go back for a moment here. On the morning of the 31st, that was your first knowledge of the strike?
MAC ALPINE: That was my first knowledge of the strike.
MEYER: You didn't know it was coming?
MAC ALPINE: Well, no. No. Well, I would say, yes, I thought it would come eventually. While I was in the office, me and one other guy in the office secretly went across and signed up for the union. Paid a dollar dues. And a receipt.
MEYER: So you joined the new union, the UAW sometime in the fall.
MAC ALPINE: Yeah. That was in either October or the first of November. First of November, I think it was, because I paid dues for November and December.
MEYER: In the plant, they didn't know that you had joined, even while you were working in the office, they didn't know that you had joined.
MAC ALPINE: No, guys in my department, they didn't know it.
MEYER: Where did you join up? In the plant?
MAC ALPINE: No, in the office. In the union office.
MEYER: Across the street?
MAC ALPINE: Yeah.
MAC ALPINE: ...because we both, a guy I knew went over with me and myself, we both knew that we were, well, we weren't salaried. It was hourly rate. But we knew that we would undoubtedly get fired if they knew anything about it, see. So we didn't wear a pin or start flashin' a dues receipt around, see.
MEYER: Do you recall any difference in the kind of atmosphere in the plant just before the strike? Right before it broke out? Were people more aware that there was a union?
MAC ALPINE: No, because I was in the office. I'll take that back. I wasn't in the office. I had just gone out into the plant, working as a stock laborer, just a couple of weeks before the strike started. Well, the guys I was workin' with, they didn't know me. In fact, one of the guys accused me of being a rat, 'cause he found out I was out of the office, accusin' me of being a rat, see. They even had me up before a kangaroo court. They called me down to the Pengelly Building for me to come in, see. And they had a strike committee.
MEYER: Is this during the strike or before?
MAC ALPINE: It was at the start of the strike.
MEYER: Right at the start of the strike this happened?
MAC ALPINE: Well, I would say probably, oh, maybe two or three weeks after the strike started that this guy brought charges against me that he thought I was a rat. I was out of the office, see. Well, I went into the plant and I went before the strike committee and they told me about bein' accused and that's when I defied the committee, Bud Simons and the whole bunch. I told Bud Simons, I said "Bud, you ain't got a god damn thing to say about me." I says, "You're chairman of the strike committee out here?" "Yeah." "I don't work for you. You have no jurisdiction over me." "Yes, I have. You work in this plant." I says, "I don't give a damn about that. I'm workin' out of the Pengelly Building I am working under Bob Travis and Roy Reuther. Now if you got any arguments about it, go to them. Don't tell me anything."
MEYER: Did that take care of it?
MAC ALPINE: I never heard anything more about it.
MEYER: They held this kangaroo court in the plant?
MAC ALPINE: Oh, yeah.
MEYER: They had you come in there and do it.
MAC ALPINE: Oh, yeah. Down the basement. That's where all their meetings were held.
MEYER: One thing I'm kind of curious about. You say you worked in stock. One of the issues surrounding the beginning of the strike was the moving of the dies that everybody talks about.
MAC ALPINE: No, I knew nothing about dies at that time. A later strike, yes. A strike that we had later on there was we threw pickets across the railroad yard to stop the railroad from haulin' dies out. That was another strike. I don't remember what strike it was. I've been in every strike from 1934 'til I retired. I was involved in every strike. The last three or four strikes, well, four strikes, a movie guy---movie and photographer, more or less amateur----I belonged to a movie club here for years. I'm a charter member of it. Well, anyway, in '55 or '56, maybe '54, I took my camera and I took movies of a strike. Well, the union has got those. I give it to 'em. The local. The following strike they called me in and asked me if I would take movies of the strike with their camera, 16 millimeter. I said, "Well, I'm not familiar with the 16 millimeter Bolex, but, yeah, I will." I said, "I've got friends that have got 16 millimeter Bolexes and can give me a few pointers and that's all I need." So I took the 16 millimeter Bolex and I took it out to Tony Framke, who was in my club, and we made some titles, down in Tony's basement. Put a black curtain up. Title letters on it. Well, Tony had a Bolex and he knew that you can go ahead and take your titles. Then you can run it back. On my camera you couldn't. I've always used a magazine camera. You can't run a magazine back. But on the Bolex, you can run it back. I don't remember how it was done. We took these titles and run it back, so that when the strike, I was up on top of the building, shootin' down. I shot them coming out of the plant and so forth and picket lines and different things, see. I did that for three years in a row. And they were all on one reel, one big reel. Nobody knows where that reel is. I've had queries going to Detroit. I've been over to Fisher personally. I think it's in Fisher Body. I can't prove it. And they wouldn't let me look through it. I tried to get them to let me to go down to their storage room and look through to see if I could find it. They wouldn't let me. Well, anyway, the last year I took it was '64, I think, '62 or '64. And they let me----I'm the first guy that ever took a movie camera inside Fisher Body, union, and took pictures. I took pictures in there of the signing of the agreement that year. They allowed me, well, the shop committee brought the camera in and my tripod and so forth, and lights. They brought it in and I was called off my job and to go down to the South Unit conference room. And then I set up my equipment and I took pictures of them, well, they held everything up, 'til I was all set up. Then they distributed papers around signin' the agreement. Well, I shot the signing of the agreement. Added it to the film of that year. Later on I got a call from the head of Labor Relations askin' me if I would come in and bring that film in and show it to management. And I laughed at 'em, and I said "Well, that film don't belong to me. It belongs to the local. Now if you want to see that film, ask the president of the local or the chairman of the bargaining committee. If they say okay, fine and dandy with me." They got an okay on it. So the film was brought in. Some committeeman brought it in, who I don't know. I was called off my job again. I go over there to show the film. Well, it was their equipment. It was their projector and I wouldn't touch it. I said "You let your man run your projector." Fine and dandy. They showed it there, see. That was the last I saw of it. It was supposed to have been taken back to the union hall. Nobody admits havin' it in their hands after that. Me, I couldn't take it, 'cause I had to go back to my job.
MEYER: The union hall has no knowledge of it.
MAC ALPINE: So where it went to I don't know. There's a lot of officials----former presidents and so forth----that would have liked to have seen that film. I contacted god knows how many people since I retired tryin' to locate that film. Where it went I don't know.
MEYER: Do any of the strike films that you took exist at all?
MAC ALPINE: It was all on one reel, one big reel, the three strikes that I took with a 16 millimeter. One here I set up my camera on a tripod in the back end of a pickup truck and we went around the plant and took pictures of various gates. Of pickets, see. One year we had a, well, I don't know if you'd call it a CB radio, had a radio outfit anyway set up with a base station in the union hall. And one truck. It must've been a CB, 'cause this one truck had it and we had trucks to be dispatched in case of trouble at any gate. Well, I took pictures of that. I took pictures of various prisons. Those that were imprisoned in those years. It's all on that film, but where it is I don't know.
MEYER: Let's go back a bit to the '37 strike. I'd like to hear a little more about your work in the Pengelly Building. Basically you worked in the Pengelly Building for the whole 44 days?
MAC ALPINE: Yeah, all right. I was on the Welfare Committee. I was also on the Food Committee. Two of us that I know of, Red Williams and myself. We were supposed to get food. The guys in the plant had to have somethin' to eat. So it was my suggestion----not that I'm trying to brag about it----but it was my suggestion and Red Williams went along with me on it, that the best place to get food: Hamady Brothers.
MAC ALPINE: Well, I knew Mike and Bob Hamady. So says, "Come on, Red. Let's go." We went out and we saw Bob and Mike Hamady. And Mike Hamady and looked at me and kind of grinned and he said, "Why do you figure that we should donate food and stuff for you guys?" I said, "Look at it this way, Mike. My folks have bought food from your store from the time you started business in Flint, when you just had one store." I says, "You've seen me. I've come into your store many a time and talked to you." He said, "Yeah, I know." I said, "My folks and lots of people are buyin' from Hamady Brothers. We put you in business. It wasn't just you. It was us buyin' from you. Now, you still want our trade? We can go just the opposite. Not that I'm tryin' to threaten you or anything like that." But I said, "Mike, look at it this way. We helped you to become a big business. Now we're askin' for some help. You want to give it to us?" And he grinned. He says, "You got it. I'll have truckloads delivered wherever you want it." And I told him, I said, "I want it delivered to the Pengelly Building." I said, of course, maybe later on they will say they would like stuff delivered other places, see. They furnished thousands of dollars worth of stuff. That's where I got all my cigarettes. But as far as the Pengelly Building was concerned, what did we eat? Bologna sandwiches. I ate so damn much bologna when I was striking. Oh, I still like bologna, as far as that's concerned, but good bologna.
MEYER: Do you remember any other stores or suppliers who were particularly helpful?
MAC ALPINE: No. There were other stores that did contribute, but nothing like Hamady's.
MEYER: Nothing that big.
MAC ALPINE: Now it's that the Hamadys that's there now. Hamady Brothers now don't belong to Hamady brothers. Mike Hamady's dead, Bob Hamady's dead, and Bob Hamady's sons sold out. Bob Hamady's wife and sons eventually sold out. Jack Hamady is the only that----he was more or less a cousin, I guess. He's still connected with them, I guess.
MEYER: Do you remember getting food from farmers directly, at all?
MAC ALPINE: No. Maybe they did. I don't know. If they did, I don't know it. Now another thing. Here's something else that during the strike at various times, you know there's always rumors that something's gonna happen. More or less kind of a scare rumor: "We need some men out here at Fisher Number 1." Or: "Cops are gonna move in on Fisher Number 2." Different things like that, see. Well, a lot of people don't realize it nowadays. A lot of the old-timers did, but even some of the old-timers didn't know exactly what the hell was goin' on, especially the guys that were in the plant. They knew what was happenin' in the plant, yes, but outside? We had men come in here from Detroit. We had rubber workers from Akron, Ohio. We had glass workers from Toledo. And it was probably others from different places in the country that came in here in busloads to help us. Also the ... workers' union, the Mine Workers' Union, Glass Workers' Union sent money in there. It takes money to run a strike. Nowadays they got a strike fund. The guys get money for walkin' up and down for an hour. That's bologna. It's all right. I agree it's nice. But we didn't have any strike fund. We didn't have anything. When the strike was ended, I owed two months' rent. I owed a grocery bill. A small grocery store near where I lived gave me credit for whatever you want, see. I had a grocery bill to catch up on at sixty cents an hour. That's not easy.
MEYER: Did you say you were married or not married at the time?
MAC ALPINE: I was married at the time of the '37 strike, yeah.
MEYER: Did you have any children?
MAC ALPINE: At that time, one.
MEYER: Of course, you were not sitting in, so you went home every night, but were there any other problems during the strike with your family, in terms of ...
MAC ALPINE: You mean family trouble?
MEYER: Well, money was part of the trouble.
MAC ALPINE: Money? Yes. We didn't have any money.
MEYER: Did you have a car then?
MAC ALPINE: In one way I was not too bad off. My wife's aunt and sister lived with us. My wife's aunt was in the department with me when I worked at the AC. Ida and Mary both worked at the AC. But Ida was known to be the aunt of my wife. She got laid off, just like that.
MAC ALPINE: At the start of the strike.
MEYER: At the start of the strike she got laid off.
MAC ALPINE: Any women workin' at the AC that the AC knew that their husbands of those women worked at Fisher Number 1, Number 2, or Chevrolet, when the Chevrolet went on strike, they immediately laid them off. But they didn't know that Mary was my sister-in-law. So Mary worked. So her money comin' in was not much, but it helped, see.
MEYER: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
MAC ALPINE: Yeah, my brother was on the police force. My brother was on the police force. I knew every cop in the city of Flint at that time. I knew the chief of police just like that. I knew captains down there.
MEYER: What did your brother think about the strike?
MAC ALPINE: My brother cussed me up one side and down the other.
MEYER: During the strike, as a policeman, did he have...
MAC ALPINE: He was absolutely against the strike. A lot of cops were.
MEYER: Did he get assigned to any police work dealing with the strike? Did any of his police work bring him to the strike?
MAC ALPINE: You mean did he have any contact with it? I don't know. As far as he's concerned, I don't know whether he was ever involved or not. I do know some of the cops that were involved. There's a woman that's in this Women's Brigade, Helen Hauer. Well, her husband was Nanny Hauer. I've known him ever since I was a little kid. Not her, but Nanny Hauer. Nanny's dead, though. But Nanny's brother Bernard was a cop. He was a motorcycle cop at that time. Well, down at Chevrolet Plant 4, we had a picket line there, mostly women, of the Women's Brigade. In fact, one of the women, I forget which one it was, says I was right behind you. Anyway, Bernard Hauer, ... this at me: "I'd like to kick the shit out of you." I said, "Maybe you'd like to try it." I said, "Buddy, if you tried it----you see all these women here?" I said, "They'd kick the hell out of you!" Well, he didn't try it. He was a big six-footer. But he acted like he hated my guts on account of that. I'll tell you another instance involved with the police department and me. Because of the fact that I knew everybody on the police department, I wasn't at Fisher Number 2 when they had that big battle down there. I didn't know about it 'til eleven o'clock news come on. I happened to be home, eatin', at eleven o'clock, when the news come on, just before. When the news come on at eleven o'clock, that's when I heard about it. So I hopped in my car and went down there. Well, I was down there for quite a while. Well, there was three police cars they was still down there. They left 'em down there. I went to a telephone and called the police department. And I got ahold of---I was going to say Jim Hoyles, but it wasn't; I don't know who was police chief at that time; Demerall [Robert C. Demaroff], I think. I think it was Demerall that I talked to. Anyway, I told him. I says, "You got three police cars down here. How 'bout comin' in here and getting' 'em?" "What are you talkin' about!" I said, "Just exactly what I'm sayin'. Get 'em out of here." I said, "Kids are already takin' some of the things off of 'em." I said, "They'll wreck 'em." And I says, "You don't think we're gonna stop 'em. It's not our business. That's not our job. That's your job." "What are you talkin' about? If I send some guys in there, you guys would want to club 'em." I said, "No, we won't." I said, "In fact, you don't send many there." I says, "All you need to do is send a private tow car in there. We'll let 'em in. We'll let 'em out. Tow those cars out." "What business is it of yours?" I said, "I'm a taxpayer in the city of Flint." "Who are you?" I said, "None of your god damn business." I said, "Who I am, if I told you, you would know." But I said, "All I'm interested in is one thing. Get those cars out of there before they're wrecked." They wouldn't do it. Kids come in and they stripped those cars and even tipped 'em over and took the tires and wheels off. They took everything. All a little skeleton left. And you think those damn fool cops would come and get those out of there? Well, there's a lot of money involved there. Whose money was it? Our money. I said, "I'll guarantee that whoever you send in here will be given a right of way." "Who are you?" I says, "It don't make any difference who I am." I says, "I know that I can get the leaders down here to say yes. Get 'em out." I said, "They even commented to me to that effect, that they should be gotten out." Do you smoke?
MEYER: No, that's okay.
MAC ALPINE: I say if you do, help yourself.
MEYER: Okay. During the strike, were there any other instances of difficulties with the police?
MAC ALPINE: Yes, there was a lot of 'em, but not as far as I was concerned.
MEYER: They never bothered you during your food collections, or?
MAC ALPINE: No, I never had any trouble with them myself,
I do know that they had that big what they call the Battle of Bull Run
down there. And cops fired at
MAC ALPINE: I would say this, that a lot of ...they was a lot of antagonism between the strikers and the police department, yes. But I do think that they was a lot of cops that felt that... Well, take it like this: "I'm a cop and you're a striker. You live right next door to me. Am I gonna want to beat your head in? " Well, a lot of cops had that idea, that, well, these people in the shop, they're neighbors of mine. Why should I beat 'em up? Course there probably was cops on the force too that were angry about it for one reason or another, but a lot of the things that happened were not so much cops as it was what they call "security men," General Motors security men. Now, this I didn't see myself. It's just hearsay. It's what I was told happened. When they took Plant 4, they had started at Plant 9. The women made a big, well, they smashed windows, and did a lot of paradin' and hollerin' at Plant 9. So at Plant 9 at Chevrolet brought all their security men from other plants over to Plant 9, 'cause they figured that was where the trouble was gonna be. They pulled 'em away from Plant 4, so that give the strikers a chance to take over Plant 4. Well, one of the things I heard about, it happened in Plant 9. Some of these security guys had pistols. Far as I know, there weren't any bullets fired, but they did fire what they called a jury pistol. You know what I'm talkin' about?
MEYER: Not sure.
MAC ALPINE: Well, a very pistol is a signal pistol, like they have in the Navy, for instance, that fires a flare, like, up in the sky. Well, something similar to that. Whether it was exactly that or not, I don't know. But I was told that some of the people in Plant 9 kept right on workin' at machines. And I was told there's a guy sittin' at a machine workin' was hit in the eye with one of these flares. Struck his eye. Tore his eye right out. In other words, he was an innocent bystander. He wasn't takin' part in the strike or anything. He just happened to get hit, I guess.
MEYER: You said you worked a lot with Travis and Roy Reuther. What were they like as union leaders? How would you size 'em up?
MAC ALPINE: Well, they were strictly two separate individuals. Roy Reuther was a demagogue. He was a guy that was quite a talker. He was quite good at convincing people. He was more or less a doer rather than the executive type. He was the kind of a guy that would get in there and fight. Or talk, raise hell, stuff like that. Bob Travis was just the opposite. Travis was the brains. Bob Travis was the guy that stayed there at all times. I don't remember of any instance where Bob Travis left the Pengelly Building to take part in anything. He directed it. All activities. He was the guy that signed everything. Signed all checks and signed, well, my strike card on several occasions. Well, two strike cards, both signed by Bob Travis. Incidentally, over at the regional office, several years ago I took a big piece of plywood. And I put union buttons, strike tickets, dues receipts, in fact my first dues receipt, or at least a couple of 'em, was signed by Bob Travis. Anyway, I had all this on this on there, a great big board. Well, eventually I give it to the union. Give it to the local. One of these was on it. Somebody got it. Eventually I come back, come into the local hall there one time and happened to see it. And the strike manual and several other different stuff in there---I represented the local at the first CIO convention, 1939. I was one of 'em. Bill Genske was another. Lewie Strickland was another. Lewie Strickland just died here not too long ago. President of the local, Iny Wilson, was another. They was six guys and two women that we were delegates to the 1939 Cleveland convention. They took several things off the board. Well, it kind of pissed me off, so I said, "I'm gonna take that home with me." "You can if you want, it's yours." I said, well, "I gave it to the hall. I figured that they'd put it on the wall. Let some of these guys that never saw that stuff give 'em somethin' to look at." Well, whoever was president of the local at that time, he said, "Well, you see what happened. They decided to take things off of it." I says, "All you'd have had to do was cover it, so it couldn't be taken off, with a piece of plastic on her." Well, anyway, I thought eventually, well, phooey! What do I want with it? Now maybe if I send it down to Detroit to the archives down there. I don't know, but I'd be willin' to bet it's right out there in the headquarters over there right now. I bet it's there somewhere. Now on that is receipts signed by Bob Travis. There's a lot of signatures on there by people who are already dead.
MEYER: I'd like to maybe talk now about a little bit about after the strike. You were saying earlier to me how everything wasn't immediately solved just 'cause the strike was over. I take it you went back to Fisher 1 after the strike.
MAC ALPINE: Stayed there for the rest of the time.
MEYER: And stayed there in an hourly position until you retired?
MAC ALPINE: I never went on salary. They wouldn't put me on it.
MEYER: In the few months after the strike, what do you remember things being like in the plant?
MAC ALPINE: Well, that's what I started to say a while back. The strike ended on Friday. We celebrated Friday night. Saturday morning I filled my dinner pail and went into Fisher, 'cause I knew my department would be called in for a cleanup, because the roofs was covered with hinges that they put up there. I knew that. And it was a mess in there, quite a mess. Well, anyway, I walked in. "The hell are you doin' in here?" I says, "What do you think I'm doin'? It's my department." "Well, who the hell said for you to come in?" I said, "Me." I said, "Here's a whole bunch of guys that you called in." I says, "I got just as much right to be here as they have. I work here." "Well, okay, seein' you're here, might as well go to work." Well, one of the things, why, we started up the stairs to the roof, and this Boring was my foreman. He told me to go down to Salvage and get a bunch of bags to put those hinges in. Got to put 'em in bags and later on sort 'em out, see. I says, "How many bags you want?" "Well, Jesus Christ, you ought to know. You probably helped put 'em up there." I says, "It happened that I didn't, but," I says, "I'm still saying how many bags you want?" "All you can get." "Okay." That was the first day back, see. Well, from then on, I always had lots of work. But I had guys follow me around. I had a key man sent me out to do a job, and he was supposed to have a, well, a deputy steward. He was supposed to send him out to help me. I got out there. I waited and waited and waited and waited. Deputy steward didn't show up. And pretty soon another guy come through that knew me. And he said, "Hey, they're lookin' for you." I said, "Who's lookin' for me?" "Steward and your foreman, Boring, 'cause they say that you sneaked off." I said, "Well, I got witnesses all around here to show that I've been right here where I was supposed to be and I've been workin'. I've been doin' a job that's supposed to be done by two men, not one, only I've been just takin' it easy doin' it." I said, "Now I'll look for them." So I went out and looked for 'em. I didn't even give Boring a chance to open his mouth. I said, "What the hell are you lookin' for me for?" "You sneaked off!" I said, "I didn't sneak off." I said, "That son of a bitch set me up. You told him to send me out there and he would send me a helper." Well I told this steward, I said, "Now you just listen to this." I told him off. I never heard anymore about it.
MEYER: When you say you they followed you around, you mean they followed you around at work?
MAC ALPINE: Yeah, they used to sneak around, see what I was doin'.
MEYER: Now, during that period, right after the strike, there was a big membership push. What is your recollection of that? Did you take memberships?
MAC ALPINE: I didn't take nothin' from them.
MEYER: I mean did you sign people up for the union at all?
MAC ALPINE: Oh, yeah. But I didn't take any shit off'n anybody.
MEYER: What was it like getting people to sign up after the strike? Was it fairly easy, or did people resist, or?
MAC ALPINE: Well, as far as my department was concerned, it wasn't very good. Well, one committeeman made a remark that my department-----he told Quimby---he says, "This department of yours has got a reputation of bein' the rat hole of Fisher Body. You got lots of rats there." And Quimby said, "That's not my fault." He said, "I don't tell 'em to come and tell me things. I don't ask 'em to." He said, "What am I supposed to do? A guy comes to tell me something of his own accord. Am I gonna tell him, 'Get the hell away from me'? Or am I gonna listen to him?" See. My department was, well, I figured they were a bunch of, well, they all want a promotion. They was so damn many of them that thought could get to be a foreman, and a lot of 'em did. So they kiss-assed the bosses, and eventually some of 'em got to be foremen. See. I told a few of 'em that they were rats, 'cause I don't kiss nobody's ass. I say they ain't got a job at Fisher Body good enough that I'm gonna suck-hole for...to give. I think about, sometime durin' 1938, there was a whole bunch of 'em went across and paid one dollar to join the union. That's all it cost then. One dollar. That's your first month's dues. They paid one dollar to join the union, so they could come to a department meeting. For one thing, they wanted to throw me out, me and a couple other guys, well, another guy, and put in their own steward. We had stewards at that time.
MEYER: Was that just their own idea, or do you think that they were led by other people at a higher level, or was that just their own idea to do that?
MAC ALPINE: Well, it was just their own idea. They didn't like some of the things that were bein' said, I guess, and they paid a dollar dues so they could elect a chief steward and steward and a deputy steward of their bunch. And they did it. And that was the last dollar they paid for several months after that, quite a few months, see. Later on, eventually most of 'em, well, eventually we got a closed shop. They had to.
MEYER: Did they succeed in electing their own people?
MAC ALPINE: Yeah.
MEYER: In 1938 there was a split...
MAC ALPINE: 1939.
MEYER: Well, around that time there was a split between the AFL, the CIO, often referred to as the Martin factions or the Reuther factions and that had quite an impact on Fisher 1.
MAC ALPINE: Well, some of the guys there, I would say that of the people that belonged to the union, I would say probably sixty percent, at least, went AFL and maybe a little more. Right at the start, there wasn't too many of us that went CIO.
MEYER: You were obviously CIO.
MAC ALPINE: Yeah. And they took possession of the union hall.
MEYER: The CIO took possession?
MAC ALPINE: No, the AFL took possession of the union hall. We had to rent a building down on Hemphill for CIO group. And we didn't have too big a group. But we did send eight people down to the convention and when we come back from the convention, oh, we had squabble, squabble, squabble. One time a bunch of guys, the body shop in particular, was mostly CIO. They was stronger in the body shop than anywhere else, body shop and pressroom. Anyway, one day a whole gang was talkin' about they were gonna go over across the road and throw those guys out of the hall. They were gonna do this and gonna do that. "Okay with me, I'll be with you." So at noon hour there was a gang of AFL guys on the other side, hollerin' acrost at us, see. Out we went. A truck driver and me, we started to cross that road, and we didn't know until we got to the other side of the road that we were the only two that went across. All the rest of these guys that had all hollered what they were gonna do, that they were gonna beat their heads in, and everything. They stayed over on the building (Fisher) side. Here George Curvers (?) and I was over there, walked right into a gang of AFL guys. And one of these AFL guys, well, for years now, well, he was a '37 striker, Bob somethin', he was drunk. He was gonna beat my head in. And another guy that was on the strike committee, Bert Harris, he was in the crowd. And I said, well, there was a whole gang there on me. I knew I had to do some fast talkin' or I was liable to get the hell kicked out of me, see. And I said, "Bert, you know me. You know where I stand. And I want to tell you something, Bob. I want to tell you something. You guys maybe kick the hell of me, but you sons of bitches, I'll tell you one thing. I'll get you one at a time." That Bob sneaked back in the crowd. Drunk as he was, he didn't have much nerve that he wanted to finish me on that. Bert Harris, he said, "I agree with you. I don't see any sense in beatin' you up just 'cause we have a little difference of opinion." I said, "I don't see it either." See. So I got out of that one. But they had taken over the hall after the convention was over. Eventually we held a vote. Now we won that election. Won the right to bargain.
MEYER: The CIO won that.
MAC ALPINE: Yeah.
MEYER: What were the main things that divided the people in the plant between the AFL and the CIO. What put some people on one side, others on the other side?
MAC ALPINE: Well, I don't know. I don't know. Well, put it this way. Say you decide the AFL. I decide the CIO. I wouldn't be able to figure out why you would go AFL when we are an industrial, we are a shop. We have trades galore in here. The AFL says separate 'em. So, I couldn't figure out why any of those guys, why they would want to go AFL and be separated, when they should know, if they had any common sense, they would know that by separating, they get picked off just like that. They're not gonna win anything that way. You take an army. If you divided into a bunch of squads and send one squad off this way and different squads off in various directions, what can they do? Can they win a big battle? No, 'cause they're separated too much. Well, it's the same thing with the AFL. They're separated so damn much. Right here in Flint you got that. Anytime that they put up a big building, you got several trades on there. If one of those trades goes on strike against one contractor, the whole thing shuts down. That's stupid! Why could it be that way? If they were all one, not separate groups, but all one, then, as a group, they could tell these contractors that are puttin' up this building, they could say, "Okay, you give the carpenters what they want, or we strike. We'll shut your whole thing down." And there's more chance of them getting what they want.
MEYER: Do you remember at that time whether the concern about Socialists or Communists was any part of that issue for a lot of people?
MAC ALPINE: Yes. Yes. Yes, there was quite a few of the leaders of
the strike and various places that were Socialists or Communists or
Trotskyites. Now, Genora Johnson and her husband were Trotskyites. How
many more were
Trotskyites I'm not sure. I think Bill Genske was, more or less leaning
way. I know Bill Genske is more or less of a socialist to a certain
but how much I don't know. Now the Reuther boys were all Socialists.
were not Communists, although at that time I had ideas to the effect, I
that they leaned too much towards Communism. But I don't think they
Later on I changed my mind on it. Thinkin' back on some of the things I
...was Communist, definitely.
MEYER: Do you remember a Proletarian Party?
MAC ALPINE: That's what Bill Genske is, a Proletariat. Technically, as far as I know, there is no such thing as a Proletarian Party. But I think that Bill Genske called himself a Proletarian. But I never heard of a Proletarian Party. After all, the Communists are a proletarian party. So is the Trotskyites. So is the Socialists.
MEYER: You remember these parties being active during this time. Do you remember any particular contact you had with any of these parties?
MAC ALPINE: Well, no. I will say this. To my knowledge, every person that I know of, that I knew at the time, now there undoubtedly was a lot of 'em...now there was a guy by the name of Kraus that was down in the Pengelly Building. He came from Chicago. I heard tell that he was a Communist. Maybe so. I don't know. But everyone of 'em, as far as I could see, they did their part. They all had a part to play, and they did it. How? Maybe they tried to get followers, if you want to call 'em that, or members, but I never had any of 'em approach me on it. Maybe they had ideas to the effect that it wouldn't do any good. But I would say that every one of 'em, in spite of the fact that they, well, for instance, between the Communist Party and the Trotskyites. It was conflict. Had parties. But as individuals, I never saw any conflict. They each wanted done a job and I think they done all right. I would say this. I don't think that strike would have been successful without 'em. For one thing, I would say that they furnished the leadership that was needed for a thing like that. And I think that they, like Bud Simons, for instance. Okay, he and Joe Devitt and Van Auken, I would say that those three anyway were probably Communists. But if they were... Well, I'll give you an example of that, my idea of Communists. I don't think much of Communists. But we had an election one time. I don't remember what it was. But Bud Simons was runnin' against somebody. I voted for Bud Simons, even though I figured at the time that he was a Communist. Why? For the same reason that I voted here a few years ago I voted for Richard Nixon instead of McGovern, 'cause I despise McGovern. Well it's the same thing as far as Bud Simons is concerned. I vote for the lesser of two evils. I have no use for Richard Nixon. I think he's one of the biggest crooks was ever in politics. But when I compared him against McGovern, I couldn't stomach McGovern. I would rather have Nixon in there than I would McGovern. If I had to choose today, even after Watergate, if I had to choose today between Richard Nixon and McGovern, Richard Nixon would be president, far as I'm concerned. Well, it was the same thing with Bud Simon. Whoever he was runnin' against, I couldn't stomach him. So I voted for Bud Simon. Now, whether he got it or not, I don't remember.
MEYER: One last question. You were talking about your brother earlier. Is he still living around Flint, or?
MAC ALPINE. No, he's been dead for five or fifteen years. He retired from the police force and he had got leukemia. And he went to Texas, and the leukemia spread and spread. He was in a government hospital down there for a long time. He got to the point where he, well, he come up here to visit, and he had a thing on his wrist, a bracelet, said, "Do not jostle this patient." Couldn't hardly walk. And it went into cancer, spread all through his body. And a big guy, well, at one time. He was not as tall as I am, but he was chunky, and when he died, his arms were about half as big around as mine is right there, now.
MEYER: Well, this has been very helpful. Very helpful recollections.