Stanley and Margaret Nowak
INTERVIEW: AUGUST 9, 1979
INTERVIEWERS: DR. NEIL LEIGHTON; DR. NAN PENDRELL
INTERVIEWEES: STANLEY AND MARGARET NOWAK [DETROIT, MICHIGAN]
NOWAK: I got involved in Flint and what small part I played there, because that was not my field and not my territory, to put it lightly.
NOWAK: In Flint there was a sort of a worker's educational society among the Polish people there, the Polish workers, located in the old Dom Polski. I forget now the name that it used to be, because then they moved that place since then.
LEIGHTON: Was that known originally as the Bulgarian-Macedonian Workers Education?
PENDRELL: No, no.
NOWAK: That was Polish, exclusively Polish.
PENDRELL: Dom Polski was strictly Polish.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, I know that. I know that.
NOWAK: I used to go there, oh, once a month to a lecture before that society back in '34, '35, and in fact, in '36, too, on plenty of subjects of the day, mostly on economics, because that was the key to the unemployment. And among the people who attended these lectures, there were quite many who previously worked for General Motors or were already working, that is, went back to work, particularly in Fisher Body. There was an individual with the same name as I, Nowak, only his first name was Frank Nowak, no relation to me, who started holding meetings of shop workers in his house, in his home, private home. These meetings were held, as I said, in his home and he lived somewhere near Fisher Body. So I then, already in '36, I was a UAW international representative and I attended these meetings. He asked me to. I was the speaker at these meetings, so that's how I started.
LEIGHTON: Did you become an international representative right after the founding of the UAW in '35?
LEIGHTON: At the convention?
NOWAK: It was in the spring of '36 after the South Bend convention. In fact, I believe it was at the first or the second meeting of the international board that I was appointed as one of the five organizers, as they called them then, and with the assignment that I should present a plan how to organize the Polish and Slav workers in the industry.
LEIGHTON: Who were the other four organizers, just for the record?
NOWAK: The other, yes. The other was John Anderson, who is still alive somewhere in Florida. Then there was a man by the name of Kennedy, whose first name I do not remember. He was from the old American Federation of Labor. He didn't stay there very long, but he was then one of them. Then Richard Frankensteen, myself, and who was the...there should be one more. Oh yes, yes, there were...that was, at that time, president of Hudson local and his name was... Can you stop this for a second?
NOWAK: So the fifth one was Arthur Geer.
LEIGHTON: When did Wyndham Mortimer enter the picture?
NOWAK: First of all he participated in the organization of the local of the American Federation of Labor even before it was chartered as international. He was a delegate to the first convention of the UAW. And he was elected as a vice president. So that's when he entered. He entered that long before I did. And my introduction to the UAW, in a sense, was that I knew Leo Krzycki from Chicago, from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, because I was a member of that union in my early days. I worked in the clothing industry until the Depression. And he came here. He was sent by Lewis, John L. Lewis, to help us here. And he was here in the spring of 1936. We renewed our acquaintance at a picnic of Glos Ludowy. He was there as a speaker. He and I were the speakers and also Homer Martin spoke there. And the question came how to organize the Polish workers, who were at that time practically in every shop and a very large number. And many of the shops, they almost were half of the shop. They were very large.
LEIGHTON: This is all in the Detroit area on the west side?
NOWAK: Detroit area, yes, and in Flint too, not to the same extent, not by the same percentage. But in Detroit, you take such factories as Dodge, Chrysler, Plymouth, that General Motors...yeah that's Chrysler, but also Packard. The Poles were the biggest group. All the first officers that were elected by these locals and lasted there for years were of Polish descent.
LEIGHTON: Why, given that there were many ethnic groups in Detroit, why were the Poles in the auto shops? Was there some reason other than just geography that the plants may have been located nearby where they lived? Or was there some reason why the shops would have hired the Poles? I'm just searching. I don't know.
NOWAK: I don't know that I know the answer to it, too. First of all, they migrated in masses. In 1913, that's the year that I came to the United States. I was a boy, ten. There were thousands of them; tens of thousands of Poles came from Poland, the heaviest migration. In fact, in 1913, I believe something like eight hundred thousand, almost closer to a million immigrants came to the United States. And they drifted into large industries, not only here but in the coalmines. The Poles went into coalmines, like the Irish did, and in the steel industry. To this very day you will find a large percentage of Poles. They're, of course, then, the second generation. And they also went into a Chicago packinghouse. My people went into the Chicago packinghouse. And in the packinghouses, at that time, when they started to organize, out of three locals that they organized, two of them used the Polish language as the official language of the local, because they didn't speak English at all. So that shows the tremendous predominance of them. So when the question came here how to organize them, you couldn't go on the basis of factory by factory, because they were everywhere. And most of them----at that time, not now----were foreign-born. Their sons and daughters were just growing and going into the shops, but predominantly they were people of European birth. They had some knowledge. I mean, at least they understood limited English, but not too much. And they also had certain reservations. They were not too eager to join the union unless they knew somebody there. They were of peasant background.
PENDRELL: I was just gonna say, were they peasants or were they urban?
NOWAK: No, they were peasants.
LEIGHTON: Most of them didn't have the union background at all then?
MRS. NOWAK: Let me just tell you here. I made a mistake. It wasn't Arthur Geer. It was Arthur Greer. G R E E R.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, that's right.
PENDRELL: Who was the stool pigeon in the UAW. Thanks, Margaret.
MRS. NOWAK: Okay.
NOWAK: So I would say that the Poles drifted into a heavy industry, massive industry. In Chicago it was packing houses. It would be steel, it would be agricultural machinery and many others. And here in Detroit and Michigan it was the auto industry, the masses entered. But they also went into other shops.
PENDRELL: But largely, excuse me, you were saying that largely they were pre-industrial types.
NOWAK: Oh, yes.
NOWAK: Peasants, yeah. But this is the peculiar psychology that I never could found an answer to it, and many questions of that was asked me. How is it that these people generally joined the union, in practically every industry, and with peasant background? And previously, like in coal mining and steel, but coal mining and particularly in clothing, textile industry in the east. What they did, they organized the locals that used their Polish language. They put out Polish papers, publications. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers had a weekly for a long time in Polish. The Ladies Garment Workers had a weekly for a long time in Polish. The Machinist Union in Chicago had a Polish local and Polish paper, but Polish local for a long time. So that was the way they used to organize them. But here in the auto industry, some of us who had already some knowledge and some experience when we got together with Leo Krzycki and a number of other people, we thought that that method should not be used here, that they were more advanced. At least they were autoworkers and therefore knew English more. And therefore, we should organize them into regular shop locals, industrial bases. But the entire drive, organizational drive, should be as much in Polish as possible and citywide, not in just factory work. So Krzycki recommended me, went to Homer Martin; we had a discussion with him. And it ended that I was to present, before the board, a plan of how to organize the Polish workers in the auto. Well, I worked on that plan for some time and finally I came before the board. I think it was their second meeting after the convention. And the plan consisted on approaching the whole Polish community, because anyway they were mostly workers. Approaching it through radio, and there were at that time many Polish radio programs. There were thirteen of them, and every day; and they listened to them. These people listened to these radio programs. That was one medium, a very mass medium of approach. Second was the Polish press. There was a daily paper and there was a weekly, this Glos Ludowy. It was a different size at that time. Approach the press, then approach various sick and benefit organizations, and there were many of them and these Polish workers belonged to them. Approach the churches.
PENDRELL: I was gonna say, what was the role of the church then?
NOWAK: Yeah, approach the churches. So I presented all that plan, worked out in quite a few details. And the board unanimously accepted. And one of them men who spoke very strongly for it (you'd be surprised) was Walter Reuther. He was on the board. That's when I first met him. In fact, most of them, at that time, I met first was Walter Reuther, Ed Hall, this vice-president of the UAW at that time...
NOWAK: No, Addis I met the first time, too, but he was secretary-treasurer. You mentioned his name who worked in Flint.
LEIGHTON: Wyndham Mortimer?
NOWAK: Wyndham Mortimer. I met all these fellows.
LEIGHTON: This was all in the spring of '36?
NOWAK: That's right, at that first board meeting. Because they were, most of them were completely surprised. They knew there were Polish workers, how many of them were, how to approach them. What was in the Polish community, they didn't know that.
PENDRELL: The church did not resist organization?
NOWAK: I'll get to that. And so I presented all of that and I told them they would need money for it. For example, we would need some for the radio program. How do we do the radio program? We'll buy time and we'll have to pay for it. And leaflets that we put out in both Polish and English within both, that will cost money. So some money were appropriated and I started this work then. I, among the Polish radio announcers, I found some old friend of mine from Chicago who previously was an actor, of my old acquaintance. And he was very friendly. And we bought from him, ten minutes twice a week on his program, who was incidentally, the most popular program in the Polish community. We knew the situation in the Polish community quite well, who to approach. And that was the beginning. I started speaking twice a week on the radio. The next thing was naturally, the paper. Well, Glos Ludowy there was no problem, because, first of all, it's a progressive labor paper, always was. And I had some acquaintance there. But the Polish Daily News, ... Polski, that was a different story. It was a Republican paper, owned by an individual, privately owned by an individual who was a Republican and hostile to labor. But he was aware that his readers were workers, the Polish workers. The Polish people were workers. So he played a little game. But we never made much headway as far as he's concerned. We had difficulty. Then, speaking of the church, I went from one parish to another and I had a long discussion with the pastors, priests of the churches. At that time I was not known much, at least not by the pastors in the Catholic Church. So there was no prejudice against me. But I found these priests rather socially ignorant, not only hostile, but quite ignorant. So I had to use this kind of convincing argument that these parishioners of yours are workers. When they earn little, and so they have little to give to the church. But if they earn more and their conditions are better, you will be able to get larger contribution. You should be interested in that. The whole church should be interested in that. Well, that helped some. That approach helped. But nevertheless, what I succeeded at first is to neutralize some, not all. Many of them remained hostile, but neutralized some of the priests so they remained silent and they did not express themselves either for or against. Then we went and organized public meetings in parks, particularly in Polish communities, of course.
LEIGHTON: Did you have any interference from the police at times like that, particularly when you moved into the public, controlled sector like the parks and rallies and permits and that type of thing?
NOWAK: Yes and no. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. It varied.
LEIGHTON: It had changed though somewhat, since the earlier days of the early thirties, had it not?
NOWAK: Yes, yes, it changed a little bit. And for example, in a park like the Pond Park, that's on Chene near Warren, right in the heart of the Polish community then. And at one of our first meetings a policeman came and says, "Do you have the permit to speak here?" I said, "I don't need a permit." And we started arguing, discussing and the public, there was a large crowd, there must have been, I don't know, a thousand people there. And they boo him! He was all alone and he left.
LEIGHTON: Was Frank Murphy mayor then?
NOWAK: No. Frank Murphy was then a governor of the state of Michigan in '36.
LEIGHTON: I thought he didn't become governor until the first of '37, January '37.
NOWAK: Well, '37, you're right. Yes, that's true. He was elected in '36.
NOWAK: Yeah, but yeah, he was elected in the fall of '36. You're quite right.
LEIGHTON: But what I'm interested in is the fact that a Democrat had become mayor of Detroit and things had begun to change in its outlook, the city's official outlook towards labor.
NOWAK: Well, it was. But in between being a mayor of Detroit and a governor of Michigan, he was a governor of Philippine for a period. Murphy came here on the Roosevelt urging. He came here from Philippines to become a candidate to run for governor.
LEIGHTON: That's right.
NOWAK: So then we also started to penetrate these sick and benefit organizations, who had a custom of holding banquets, gathering. I got to speak there frequently.
LEIGHTON: These were...
LEIGHTON: Sick and benefit societies, like insurance.
NOWAK: Yeah. So that's how we begin to penetrate an entire community, this way. There was no other way of doing it. And we form a committee. At first it was very limited committee, but as far as the autoworkers were concerned. But later on it became a broad committee. And on the committee we had both: the older generation of workers who were born in Poland and had limited knowledge of English and their sons, the younger generation who spoke English fluently, in fact spoke very little Polish, in fact. So the meetings of these committees were held in two languages. Those who could express themselves better in English, spoke in English. Those who expressed themselves in Polish, they spoke in Polish. And of course, both sides understood each other. So that's how we started this thing. And we discovered something else that I was not aware of it. I should have. That many Slav groups, like the Ukrainians and Russians, some of the Yugoslavs, like Croatians, Serbians, did not at that time have their own ethnic radio programs. So they listened to the Polish programs, and the Slavic language. They were all Slavic languages, and some of them very close to Polish, some of them not. Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Russians, they got to know, to understand one another. And they listened to these programs. So we were reaching even the Slav community. And that's why workers who were employed in other line of industry, like the cigar workers, they listened to the same programs and they came to us and asked for help.
PENDRELL: Could I ask you a question at this point? The cigar workers were women, right?
NOWAK: Women, yes.
PENDRELL: What was your effect amongst the wives and the women workers in the UAW organization?
NOWAK: Well, it started slowly and the radio program that I was on had quite a following among women because it was sort of a program that catered to women. And on that program I spoke for months, twice a week. So we had fairly good support on the part of women, whether autoworkers or cigar makers or whoever they were.
LEIGHTON: Particularly to follow up on Nan's question, let's say the wives of Polish autoworkers. Would at this time, most of those women have been found in the house, not working outside? In other words, you had definite industries where women were the workers. But the wives of auto workers, at this time in the Depression, would they primarily have been in the home where they would have been able to listen to the program maybe more often or more frequently than their husband?
NOWAK: Well, the program was on six o'clock in the evening. So both of them, men and women, listened. However, a majority of married women were still at home, with the exception of the cigar workers. Because there you had an industry where there were no men there. Just a couple guards that were men; all were women. And then there were some shops that I will tell you later, like Ternstedt, that I organized later who employ...well, I wouldn't say exclusively, but a majority were women. And there were many Polish women. So that's how we got the beginning in such shops as Dodge, the main Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler, Dodge Truck, Packard. And there we had, as I mentioned before, the beginning of it. It was practically all, well practically Poles, both European and American, who came into it as a result of this work.
LEIGHTON: Had any, before '36, had any other organizing drives by other groups made any inroads into the Polish or Slavic community? What I have in mind is this going back as early as Phil Raymond's AWU, Auto Workers' Union.
NOWAK: They did, but only on the basis of the shop. See, they had some shops organized where there were Polish workers. And they approached them and they did join.
LEIGHTON: Or another group like MESA?
LEIGHTON: MESA is the same way.
LEIGHTON: Did you find, then, that these workers who had been exposed to these earlier attempts, even though they had failed, were much more receptive and helpful when the UAW comes along in the spring of '36?
NOWAK: Oh, there's no question about it. See, what was evident from the very beginning among all these ethnic groups, whether they were Italians (incidentally there were large ethnic Italian groups and particularly at Ford's) or whether they were Poles or Czechs or Yugoslav, if they had any connections with the socialist movement in Europe or any connection with socialist movement here, they were the pioneers. They were the first to join the union.
PENDRELL: Sure. In connection with that, Stanley, what was the situation between these workers and black workers?
NOWAK: Well, the situation at that time was as follows. The black workers were limited practically to the foundries. And the percentage of this was there were less than the Poles. They were mostly in foundries. Well, in foundry there were also Poles and their relationship was fairly decent. When we started organizing, we encountered into some problems, particularly like "Why should the black and the white belong to one local?" There was no problem that we have to organize all of them. They raised no objection. But why do they have to be in one local? So we had to explain to them. But in many instance the relationship there was good and useful. Let me just cite you an example. In Cadillac, in that old plant here on Michigan Avenue, there they had a big foundry and it was almost divided, half black and half Poles, European Poles. And the shop was probably one-third organized, yet no black people joined the union. And the president of the local, Dave Miller, who passed away not so long ago, came to me and says, "Look Stanley, we have to do something. We have to organize the foundry." I said, "Well you"----he worked in the shop----"work in that shop, you ought to know how to approach these black people. I don't know anybody." "Well," he says, "I came to you because the other half of the foundry are Poles and they belong to the union and the black don't." "And," he said to me, "I would like you to talk to these Poles and find out. Maybe they can help." So I did that. I contacted some of them, sat down with them and I talked with them and they told me, "Well, here is the problem. The company organized a society among the black, sort of a club of some kind. And they get little things, uniforms to play games and things like that. And you can't touch them." But they said to me, "There's one man there, that if you can win him over, you'll win the whole foundry." His name was Keys, I remember that, Percy Keys. He is the chairman of that club they had there. He is the most influential individual there. So they got me his address and I went to visit him in his home. And I spent quite a time talking to him. I visited him, I don't know, half a dozen times. And finally I won him over. And he organized the whole foundry.
PENDRELL: And they were received well. They were welcomed by the Polish workers.
NOWAK: Oh yes. Yes, you see these foundry workers of the shop, they worked together there. And they were welcome. The thing that somebody asked me on the television (there was a program about ethnic groups a couple of years ago and I was on that program), "Well, how do you explain the racial situation, the racist attitude of the Polish community to black?" So my answer was this. I says, "Look, the racist issue is a purely American product. In Poland they had racial prejudices but they were not directed against black. More directed against Jews than black because there were no black there in Poland. They acquired that here. And it's sort of skin deep." And so I mentioned that why, for example, the prejudices arose here, developed here in this country. First, because it came the struggle over neighborhoods. I remember here in Detroit I observed it myself, even before the UAW had been started. When a massive migration of black came in they had no houses, no provisions made for them. So they moved wherever they could. And the usual history of these migration is that the latest group that migrates move into that section where the previous group had migrated. For example, you take the Polish community. The first immigrants who lived there before were Germans. The Poles came in and the Germans moved out and Poles came in. Then some section Italian came in and they moved in, into some parts of it. Then finally, the black moved in. And there were always certain amount of frictions over communities. There were frictions between the Germans and the Poles and particularly there were friction between Italians and the Poles. But these frictions were not as sharp as they were later on when black people moved in, first, because the black people started moving in a mass from the South, there was naturally a sharper difference because one was black and one was white. And culturally they were quite different, too. So they were...but largely there was a difference because as soon as the poor black moved in, there was this propaganda on the part of real estate people that the property will come down, that value would go down. But then we tried to explain to them. And there were certain adjustments made to that. The younger generation would move out anyway. The younger generations...you could take a city like Hamtramck, which was almost completely Polish for a while. Well, the younger generation moved out of Hamtramck not only because black people are moving there. Not very many black people even today are yet in Hamtramck. But largely because they already had a higher standard of living, they wanted to have a nicer home and they could afford to have a nicer home. But the old people moved there when they were poor, when they came here from Europe. They bought a little house and that was their castle; and they stayed there. And naturally there was a sort of objection for strangers to move into their community because that community was a little Poland to them. They had their church, around the church they had their paper. They had their language, they had their little businesses. The kids spoke Polish on the streets. In fact, the nuns in the schools when I came, in Chicago I went to a parochial school. The nuns could hardly speak English, and they were the teachers in the schools.
PENDRELL: It's a replica of what we have in New York, in Queens, for example. When last year, well, the year before, when I was teaching at Queens College, there was an explosion in a Chiclet factory. You know where they make Chiclets, chewing gum?
PENDRELL: And because the powder on that stuff is very volatile. And I think some fifty workers were killed. Every one was a Pole.
NOWAK: Yeah. So you see...but in the factories when you talk to them...and I did that. I often was called when a problem like this arrived at some shop. I was called and I talked to these people in Polish and I explained to them. I says, "Look, you have no objection working with the black public, do you?" "No." "Well, why would you have to object joining the union together?" "Oh, I don't object joining the union." "Well then, what is it?" Well, the basic thing was that they feared that their community will be broken up when strangers moved in. But that community would have to be broken up anyway because the younger generation didn't want to stay there any more, whether blacks were coming or not. So it's skin deep and it's American product. See, if the plans were made for these black people where they should live and how they should live, things would have never taken that sharp fall. But nothing was planned for them. They came in...two or three families live in one little house, because they couldn't afford to live differently. I used to remind them. I said, "How did you live when you came from Europe?" Because they said, "Well look, there's three families, kids, all living..." I said, "How did you live when you came from Europe? You've forgotten that." Because that's what they did when they came from Europe, you know. So that's the thing and a humorous thing, in a sense is that later after that television, (they showed that several times here on television) I would meet people on the street, both black and white. And they both congratulated me, "You did a good job." So I thought to myself, well, maybe I have succeeded in convincing both sides. Black people came in to me and they recognized me and some of them knew me and says, "You did a fine job." They says, "The racist issue is an American issue. It's an American problem." So we proceeded, coming back to the work, until the...well, just on the eve of the General Motors strike in Flint. Now in relation to Flint, during the strike, or really sit-down strike, I would go twice a week and speak at this Dom Polski to these Polish people who came there. Some of them were on the strike; their families were on the sit-down. Others were in the community workers. And to keep them in touch with what was happening and asking them to help to raise food, to bring clothing, the sort of thing we had to do for those sit-down strikes. But one other sort of a significant thing that my little contribution helped in that strike. Just very close to the end of that sit-down strike, there was a huge banquet by Polish National Alliance, that's the biggest sick and benefit Polish organization in the country here. There must have been nine hundred, two thousand people at that banquet. And that was already an indication of what was going on. Two people were scheduled to speak. The Lieutenant Governor, who was of Polish descent, by the name of Novitski or Nowicki, as the English pronounciation is used, and myself, at that huge banquet.
LEIGHTON: This was here in Detroit?
NOWAK: Detroit here, yeah, down on the East Side. And he was called to speak first. He was not a bad fellow by nature, not even a bad politician. He was a rather technical worker more than a politician. But he was elected as a lieutenant governor, but very naive economically, politically a very naive fellow. And he just repeated what the daily press said about the strike in Flint.
LEIGHTON: So the strike was already on, then?
NOWAK: Oh yes, yes, almost close to the end of the strike. A very sharp situation prevailed up until then. And he said that the workers are destroying machinery within the shop, that they're breaking windows. They have occupied property that is not theirs. They have no right to occupy property. They have no right to take over the property, all that kind of a thing. He was not aware completely, that I would say, seventy percent or maybe more, maybe eighty percent of the people there were workers, autoworkers, too. Yeah, and we have already must have made quite inroads among them because I was invited to speak. And I was invited by the official leadership of that organization to speak there. I was one of the speakers. Well, I debated in my mind as I sat there and listened to him talk. Two things, first of all, he was the first of Polish descent elected to a high office of lieutenant governor in Michigan and that had certain pride to the ethnic sentiment of the people. And you had to be careful how you handle that question. Second, I wasn't too sure as to how these people would react to it. It was a big crowd. I did not want to create disruptions and you have to feel your way through. And just as I was debating exactly what approach to make, a committee, I say a committee...two or three people came, among the leadership of that whole banquet who whisper quietly to me, "Stanley, you must answer that question of the lieutenant governor. Don't hesitate." So I did. But even then, I approached in this way. I said, "I'm very sorry that the lieutenant governor, who spoke before me, has accepted the official version that the press is presenting as to what's happening in the shop." I said, "It's incorrect that these workers have taken over company property and that they're destroying the property. They are there now during the strike, but after the strike the property will be turned over to the company and the workers will go back to work, because they want to go back to work. That's the only way they can live. And as far as destroying machinery, they have to use that machinery to work with. It would be contrary to their interest to destroy that." And I concluded by saying, "I would like to ask the lieutenant governor if he would join me in a tour through these shops. I will take him personally. I know the entire leadership there. And I would like him to see on the inside. We'll go from shop to shop and see how the sit-down workers are there, what they're doing, how they look, what they're... We'll see them on the inside instead of seeing through the foreign, through the antagonistic, press." And you know what he did? He accepted that invitation. Of course he was put on the spot. The governor was very friendly. He accepted that invitation. And the next morning, the next morning I find him at eight o'clock in the morning with his car in the front of my house. He picked me up and we went to Flint. Bob Travis was quite surprised. We walked into his office asking for a passage. Bob Travis didn't know him. I said, "This is lieutenant governor." "Lieutenant governor?" "Yes, yes, lieutenant governor is here." So we got a pass and a couple people to escort us to the one shop and we went to Fisher Body----well, I guess it was number one or something like that. We started and we went through all the shops that are out on the sit-down strike there. We went from department to department. And the fact is that I, for the first time, saw what was on the inside of the shops. I never was on the inside of the shops. And I was quite surprised. Well, first of all, the shops were very clean. Workers kept it very clean. They had discipline there. It was almost like a little army. And we started through each floor and in each department we would say a few words. I would speak and I asked him to speak. No, he didn't want to talk. I did, and I told them who he is. I presented him; they applauded him. They were also very much surprised lieutenant governor...at that time, you know. Murphy was governor and he was the lieutenant governor. Well, before we ended this tour (it lasted almost a whole day), he started to speak. He got beginning to feel. He was a big tall, big young fellow, tall fellow, started to speak. And when we ended, he said to me, he says, "You know," and he said it publicly at that there meeting with me, too. He says, "I'm going to give a detailed report to the governor of what I found here in the shops. And he says, "I want to tell you that I am surprised, because my understanding was quite different. I follow what was reported in the press and I find it entirely different. I am completely surprised. He made a statement to the press Monday after the whole tour. And he did make quite a lengthy report to Murphy, the governor. Well, that was a big event. The press had to report lieutenant governor had been through here. And the whole anti-union element felt very bad about that. So that was one of the things. And also another incident that I participated in in Flint. That was before that, I think when that incident when the sheriff was trying to evict them, the sit-downers. They call that the Bull Run.
LEIGHTON: Battle of Bull's Run.
NOWAK: Battle of Bull's Run. That's the thing. Well, just accidentally, I didn't plan that. Accidentally I was in Flint when that took place and I was speaking at the Dom Polski. I had a big meeting there. And the news came that the sheriff was trying to evict them. So we broke up the meeting immediately and about thirty-five cars loaded with these people and we went to help these inside. Well, we couldn't get to them. We just got wet because they had water. They used the hoses against the sheriffs. And they...but we participated in that Bull Run. Actually when we got there the sheriff people were already retreating. So this was, I said, my part. We all then, Walter Reuther used to go there the whole...two or three times a week we went to Flint. Flint was the center that we had to help whatever we could, in whatever way we could. And we brought people from...whenever we could to Flint. And we all did that. Walter did that. And John Anderson did that here from the shops.
LEIGHTON: These were like flying squadrons of people.
NOWAK: Oh yes. We had flying squadrons. We had cars of people, particularly young people who were workers, who were ready for any kind of rough stuff.
PENDRELL: Did you bring the actors from Detroit to Flint?
PENDRELL: I often wonder who did that. I know there were actors from Detroit there.
NOWAK: Yes, there was a group, but I was not instrumental in that.
PENDRELL: I've often wondered who they were. I haven't been able to find out yet who they were.
NOWAK: You see, my recollection was that, at that time you know there was a group organized by the...what did they call that government agency that organized these actors?
NOWAK: Yes, and there was a group.
PENDRELL: Federal Theater.
NOWAK: Yeah, I think that they...
PENDRELL: The Federal Theater Project.
NOWAK: Because they did...they had shows here.
PENDRELL: One third of the nation in Flint.
NOWAK: Something like that. So that's as far as Flint is concerned. If it comes who did the job, I think the most toughest job and basic job was done by Wyndham Mortimer. There's no question about it. He went there. There was nothing there to speak of in Flint.
LEIGHTON: Now when he went there, which was the summer of '36, had you been going up to Flint before that?
NOWAK: Oh, yes.
LEIGHTON: So you had some feeling for what the labor and landscape looked like.
NOWAK: Oh yes, oh yes.
LEIGHTON: Was there much activity before that time on the part of the Polish community or the Slavic community?
NOWAK: Well, there was activity, but it was of a different kind. They had educational meetings, they had cultural gatherings: choruses, dancing, singing, educational. That's the kind of activity that was in the Polish community and in other language groups. No doubt they were... I was not in touch with the Macedonians at that time or the Balkans group I know was there. That too, was of that kind, I imagine but that was in Polish. And when I went there in '34, '35, '36, and '36 we started to organize. And '34 and '35 there was the strike of the Mechanical Educational Society, and some individuals were participating in that strike that I knew, and I talked with them. But actually there was no mass activity, as far as the non-skilled workers are concerned, until Mortimer arrived there. And he went house to house. And that's what later pays for itself. Very hard work, but it was done. He was a most useful man in that respect. Then came Bob Travis later.
LEIGHTON: Yeah right, in October.
NOWAK: Yeah. Bob Travis was not even among the first international organizers. I didn't know him until he was brought in from, I guess, Toledo?
LEIGHTON: Toledo. In '34 and '35 did you, when you used to go to Flint, did you know Bud Simons, then, or Joe Devitt?
NOWAK: No, no, but I met him later. And I believe I met him through the acquaintance of that Polish worker that I mentioned, Frank Nowak.
LEIGHTON: Frank Nowak.
LEIGHTON: ...whose wife, his wife, was also very active, I understand. Mrs. Lola Nowak.
NOWAK: Lola Nowak. She's still alive.
LEIGHTON: Yes, that's right.
NOWAK: Yeah, I've seen her not so long ago. She's alive.
LEIGHTON: I think she'll be at the picnic.
PENDRELL: Speaking of which, is Percy Key alive?
NOWAK: I don't think so. I don't know. Actually the ending of Percy Keyes was a tragic... I mean ending in the union, that is. I lost contact with him. Very tragic, because he became quite active in the UAW and very militant. He came, the only black person who came to, to actually a riot, picket first, then it turned out a riot. One of the shops that I organized and I was in charge of it. Screw shop, here on Martin, south of Michigan Avenue. Federal Screw, I think that name was. And that's the only company who tried, at that time, to bring openly professional strikebreakers. And we call up on help from everybody all over the city. And people, thousands of people actually, gathered in front of the shop. And police came and forced us to protect strikers as they were let out. And there was a bloody fight there. And Percy Keys was one of those who came and was the only black person who came to that picket line. So a group of cops surrounded him somewhere in a corner and almost killed him. And it took him months and months to recover. Then we lost contact with him. We all were very, very busy. And the last report I heard from Dave Miller just a few years ago that he turned out to be a stool pigeon later, not then. And he became a FBI agent or something like that. It's a tragic situation. And I don't think he was an FBI agent then. But there's no telling if he was honest then. But first of all, he was badly beaten. It took him months to recover. And he probably felt that the white workers didn't care to help him. But in that riot, he could hardly tell what was happening. I was with a broken foot. I sat inside a house and watched what was going on in those streets. And I had difficulty in seeing what was happening.
PENDRELL: He had high visibility, unfortunately.
NOWAK: I had high...
PENDRELL: He had high visibility because he was black.
NOWAK: Yeah, he had high visibility by being black. And I know that he was in a hospital because I visited him. But he was badly beaten. I visited him in the hospital. What happened with him then? I lost contact completely. Things were moving very rapidly. And I didn't know what happened to him until Dave Miller told me a few years ago that Keyes turned out to be either a company man or FBI man or something like that. But he never returned to the shop, to the Cadillac. And that was the tragic ending. The other place in which I was involved, because up to the General Motors strike in Flint, I worked out of the international office of the UAW, which was located in the Hoffman Building and carried on this sort of a citywide work with considerable concentration on the east side because of the Polish community there, because of Chrysler, Dodge, Packard, Plymouth, Dodge Truck, where there was a very heavy Polish membership there. But it was also on Walter Reuther's suggestion and demand that his request to the international board that I be assigned to work on the west side, with the west side local. That was even before the cigar strike that I broke my foot. Why, is because again here at the beginning of the west side local the biggest company that was organized was the company that supplied wheels.
NOWAK: Kelsey-Hayes. That was organized, the organization of it was started yet in the old American Federation of Labor there. And later on became quite a local, a part of the local. It was Amalgamated Local after that. But that was the biggest group in that local. But Ford wasn't organized, GM plant they had here, Ternstedt with twelve thousand people, not organized...organization. Walter Reuther went to UAW convention as a delegate from Ternstedt. But he never worked in Ternstedt and there were just about two or three tool and die workers who belonged to the union. Now most of the workers in Ternstedt were women. And you know what they especially worked upon? All kinds of decorated parts for all the GM cars, small decorated parts of all kinds. That was their specialty.
PENDRELL: In those days the cars had them.
NOWAK: Yeah, they had them plenty. And there were two groups of women, from the South (they called them hillbillies) and Polacks. But there was this interesting difference there. A majority of the Poles of these women were American-born. There was still a segment of the European, but the majority were American-born. We didn't have to use the Polish language there at all. So when I was assigned to the west side local, and that's what Walter had in mind to organize. Because he was president of the local and the east side was being organized but the west side was not. Cadillac became organized later, and that I helped. So one of the shops, the biggest shop outside of Ford, was Ternstedt. And the question was, who will undertake to organize? We had local organizers then, working for the local, George Edwards, who became a judge later on, you know. George Edwards was one of them. And Bob Kanter, who later on who went into schools for teaching and died recently. Let me see, there was----I think there were the three of us----and Walter. At first his wife May worked in the office. That was the staff of it. And the question was who should undertake to organize Ternstedt, the biggest shop. There was considerable hesitation because they are women. How do you organize women? Strange that these people would have that kind of reasoning, but they did have hesitation. And not that they objected, but hesitation. They felt it was going to be hard. We had no nucleus there, no contacts.
PENDRELL: And the interesting thing about this, an interesting thing is the tremendously militant history of women workers in the east.
NOWAK: Yeah, yeah. Well, I'll tell you something of militant history here, too, in that shop particularly. To the credit of George Edwards, because, true, he wasn't anxious to go into Ternstedt, but he did undertake and did good work organizing a lock company, a famous name, and they were all women, too.
LEIGHTON: Eaton? Yale?
NOWAK: Yale, Yale locks. And he even got in jail for that, too. Thirty days he spent in jail for it. And he did a nice job there, a very good job. And he was very young then, a youngster as a student that had just left the school. So I volunteered to accept Ternstedt. I said, "It has to be done, so it has to be done, that's all. Let's get it, start it." So we did. At the Ternstedt I started differently. I didn't...no doubt many of these women heard me speak on the Polish radio program. There was no question about that. But none of them volunteered to come to the union meetings as in other shops they did. They came to union meetings. But in here there was still a fear. So we had to go to the shop and use the old methods that we used in other shops. We went before the shop with leaflets, with little portable speaker that we used to put on the top of our cars, and we spoke. And we mimeographed leaflets; we didn't have money for printing. Well, when we appeared...and they have three shifts there: morning, afternoon and midnight. We located a little hall owned by Slovenians, ethnic European group had a little hall of their own on...just close to the main plant, where we could hold meetings. But at first when we started speaking early in the morning as the workers would go in the shop, they were very careful. They didn't even...they listened to us. And the next step was they started talking to us and asked questions. So I would arrange to meet them in a bar or a restaurant. And there we could talk freely. We would get information on what's going on inside the shop. And then we would prepare leaflets dealing with problems within each individual department. And we very slowly turn out into a regular shop paper. The next step was to hold meetings in the hall, in that little Slovenian Hall. And we had to do it three times a day.
PENDRELL: Three shifts.
LEIGHTON: Three shifts, yeah sure.
NOWAK: Three shifts, big shop, twelve thousand people. During that period I spent very little time at home. There were times I would just...I slept there sometime because there were just meetings and meetings. Well, finally the GM strike was over in Flint and the agreement was made according to which in any shop of the GM we could negotiate with the management for the members that we have in the union. Well, frankly at first we had very small percentage that joined the union. But after the strike in Flint larger number joined the union. But not, no far from being an organized one. So we then wrote a letter to the management that we want to negotiate on the basis of a new agreement for representing our membership. We didn't say how many we had. We weren't sure exactly how many. We had a small number. So the management, basing on that contract, agreed with us. And I observed that manager and he was an interesting individual, a lawyer by training. And during the first World War he served in the Navy. So he had the combination of a legal mentality in one sense and in military. Oh he was...
PENDRELL: Made to order.
NOWAK: So what he did, he would welcome us in his office, our committee. We had a committee. We elected a committee then already, a shop committee. And we would sit down on the table. He would smoke a cigarette, listen to our complaints and our demands. And what we asked is what the Flint workers got. Nothing more. So he just listened to it and then says, "No, no, no." Well, at first the fact that we started negotiating, we negotiated, that helped to organized the shop. We got more membership. We established steward system all through the shop. We already had enough organization to establish a quite active stewardship.
LEIGHTON: The steward system.
NOWAK: Yeah, steward system.
LEIGHTON: I wanted to ask you, just if I could interject a question.
NOWAK: Yeah, sure, sure.
LEIGHTON: The steward system, meaning one representative for every fifteen to twenty workers?
NOWAK: Actually we were happy when we had one representative in the whole department to begin with.
LEIGHTON: Okay. The reason I ask that is, of course, in following the sit-down strike in Flint, the steward stystem is defeated.
LEIGHTON: But that's the period following the strike. But I just wondered, at this time you're very conscious at Ternstedt of putting in not a committeeman representative, but what is to become a shop steward system.
NOWAK: We wanted to have as many as we could, stewards in every department. But at the beginning there were very few that would accept that position. There were even very few members in many departments. That's how we started. But we established a chain of organization. We had a steward in almost every department. In some of them there were two or three in a larger department. Well, we got to the point where we were getting actually nowhere. We got no concession with management. He lived up to the agreement that he negotiated with us, and gave us nothing. And he thought he just had us over the barrel. And he did, no question about it. These very stewards of ours came to me and said, "Nowak, look we got to do something about it. We're not going to be able to organize any more workers if we don't get something from them. Now they know that we have a contract that we are negotiating. And they know also that we have some organization in almost every department. But we're not getting anything. We can't even adjust a grievance." So I went to...first I consulted Reuther who was the president of the local and he needed to call my attention to "There's a contract, remember, that calls for no strike during the duration of the contract. There's going to be a problem." And it's true. No question about it. "But," he says, "you better see Homer Martin about it before you start anything." I went to Homer Martin and he listened to me and he says, "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, but remember you can't strike!" I never, never used the word "strike" at all. But he said, "Remember, you can't strike. We have a contract." Well, I was aware of that contract. And I was aware of the fact it was the first contract in General Motors. And I was aware of what may happen if they start campaign that we are violating the contract. But also I was more aware of the fact that we have to do something in that shop. You can't move!
PENDRELL: Those women would tear you limb from limb.
NOWAK: That's right. And none of them...Walter didn't have any solution to the problem. Homer Martin, even at the end of it, threatened to fire me if I do anything contrary to the contract. And it dawned on me. I always had a hobby of collecting books, pamphlets, god knows what. I had a pamphlet in Polish about a strike in the city of Vienna, somewhere in 1910. I don't even remember what they called but the description of the strike was that the people came to work, stood by their machine, made a lot of motion and no work. And I thought to myself, "That's the solution for us."
LEIGHTON: Producing nothing.
NOWAK: Producing...that's the solution. We'll beat...we'll keep to our agreement. Our people come to work, they have to punch their cards. They will make a lot of motion and produce very little.
LEIGHTON: A slow-down.
NOWAK: A slow-down, that's right. Later on they practiced slow-down all over. But that's actually the first major slow-down. In fact, that caused them to make provision in the contract later. Well, I went to my bargaining committee. We had what we called a bargaining committee. And they couldn't visualize slow-down...I didn't say slow-down. I just described what it is, that we had no name for this strike. They could only visualize sit-down strike or picket line strike. But that kind of a strike? Well, I finally sold the idea. Then we went to the stewards, which was the only organization we had. It was the same story. When we talk about the agreement, legality of it, to hell with the agreement!
PENDRELL: These are largely women you're talking about?
NOWAK: Yes, mostly women. But there were some workers there because they had tool and die department there. And there were some men.
PENDRELL: You mean there were some men workers.
NOWAK: Men workers, because women are workers too. I'm sorry. And they said, "To hell with the agreement. What about the contract? We had no...what is it? Is he living up to the contract?" Of course he did. His name was Skinner, this manager. I wrote an article once all about Skinner, "Skinnier Any Longer?" So finally we talked and we talked to these stewards. And we said, "Look, you cannot afford to spread any news throughout the shops what we are planning. This has to be completely secret action, that I, as your union representative, recommended it because that would be violation of the contract or they would make that." So finally we sold it. We had then about two hundred and fifty stewards. We finally sold the idea to them. And do you know that actually the company never knew anything about it? It was one complete secret in such a big shop.
PENDRELL: Incredible, incredible.
NOWAK: Incredible, that's right, very incredible. We set a date, time when it was to be set. And on that very date and that very time we had a negotiation meeting with the management. So we walked into his office at ten o'clock and sat down and started to talk and he... Skinner sat at the front of the table and smoked a cigarette and was very happy because he knew he had us in a bad spot. And all at once he started gettin' telephone calls from various departments, one after another. The first answer he says, "I'll talk to you later; I'll talk to you later." And then it dawned on him, something drastic was happening there in the shop. The foreman, the superintendent didn't know what was going on. People were making lot of motion but no work. They did this; something happened. So he then turned to me, he says, "You son of a bitch," he says. "You dare to come to my office here when the shop is on a strike." I said, "On strike? I don't know anything about a strike." I said, "Why can't you and I go through the shop? Let's see what's happening." And he said, "No, never mind. You'll never get inside of that shop!" He says, "Get out, get out," he shouts. This navy officer and lawyer lost his head. He shouted at us. Well, what happened that every shift...after shift work we held meetings and we had the reports. These workers first said, "slowly". And they were competing between themselves. Who can do more motion and less work?
LEIGHTON: They turned it into a game, sure.
NOWAK: And you know what was good, too. They were getting pay for it. You know, they were not losing anything. And they were very happy. They said, "At last the union leadership got some brains. They finally got Skinner over the barrel." Well, the first thing I got a telegram from Homer Martin that I'm fired, and I don't represent the union any longer. Then I call Skinner because I kept on calling him every few days whether he's ready to talk. And he answers me, he says, "I don't have to talk to you. Homer Martin, your president, notified me that you are fired."
LEIGHTON: So you knew early on that Homer was a stool pigeon.
NOWAK: And so I said, "Fine, okay, okay." I went, of course, with the telegram before the workers. And they asked who this son of a bitch is, Homer Martin. Never heard of him because he had no part in it. In fact, the only individuals...it so happened that they knew...well, of course it was myself because I worked there. Outside of that nobody worked there. It was always a one-man job at that time. It was done. The women, incidentally, helped a great deal there. They were very militant people. So they just, not only won me, but unanimously passed the motion that I become their representative and their organizer and to be put on a payroll of their chapter of the local, or the local. And that...well, what happened? What are we going to do now? Continue to strike. They were having fun. Well, Homer Martin sent Ed Hall, who was the vice-president, to speak to the stewards. See, Homer Martin realized, look, you have to get to these workers. You can fire Nowak but he can't fire the workers. So Ed Hall came to me. He was a very fine fellow. We had a very good relationship. And he said, "Stanley," he says, "I am instructed by Homer Martin to talk to and to urge the stewards to go back to work." He says, "I don't particularly like to do that, but what shall I do?" So I said, "Look, come before the stewards and you can talk and present your argument. Tell them that Homer Martin instructed you and the international president. And you'll see what you get." I says, "I'm not going to speak for or against. I'm not going to speak at all. I'll introduce you and you'll see if you can sell the idea of going back to work." So Ed Hall very apologetically presented himself to these people that he was instructed by Homer Martin to tell them that they cannot violate the agreement. We have an agreement and so forth and so forth. And when he mentioned that you had to go back to work, that is you have to start working again, there was a terrific "BOO" So he looks at me. And then he says at the end he says, "Whatever I said to you, you people do what you want to do, what you think is right and I'm sure that you will do what this Polish brains tell you anyway." And then he sat down, too. And that was the end of it. I, with very few words closed the meeting and the decision was continued as regards what Homer Martin thinks about it. Well, Mortimer came to me personally and he says, "I'm gonna discuss with you what can we do," because he was then already meeting frequently with this executive vice-president...executive president of the General Motors, the old fellow in General Motors.
NOWAK: Knudsen, yeah. And he was developing a certain relationship with him then. So I said, "Look you tell him very bluntly, very frankly that these workers will not go back to work until this man starts negotiating. He's not negotiating. He's not living up to the contract. And he cannot accuse us that we are not living up to the contract because our workers are in the shop. And you can't tell they are not working. They are doing something." So Mortimer went to Knudsen. And I get a call from the manager at Ternstedt, Skinner. And he's a different man. He says, "Stanley, let's stop fighting."
LEIGHTON: Word had come down.
NOWAK: Yeah. "Let's stop fighting. Bring your committee and we'll talk business." So I immediately...next day our committee was right there. And in two hours, we did more than we did all during the previous negotiation that lasted about two and a half months, almost three months. And so that's how we organized. And speaking of women, as I said, women were the factor then, big factor. And the interesting thing is that here were the hillbillies, as they all call them (and they called themselves hillbillies), and there were Polacks here. And the management kept them divided for a long time, until they got wise to it.
PENDRELL: Let me ask you a question, Stanley. Did women come who were active in Flint to talk to your women?
NOWAK: No, no, you see actually we were organizing here when the strike in Flint was on. We started organizing here, only we were concentrating on Flint. And then after the strike was over in Flint, there was a lot of organizational work there, so they were kept busy there. And frankly we felt by then already that we didn't need a great deal of help anywhere. We have to concentrate here and then we'll work step by step and build the organization. And that's what we did. And in the meantime, we had also this cigar strike. This is something separate which delayed my work because I broke my foot there. And I was on crutches when I was organizing Ternstedt. So we actually didn't need...at that time we didn't need a great deal of help. It's kind of a job that has to be done here on the spot and the thing grew up. But the biggest problem was the sit-down strike, because I had no idea for a while what to do. Nobody had any idea what to do.
LEIGHTON: You mean until the sit-down strike.
NOWAK: Yes, until the sit-down. Until that...
LEIGHTON: Where did the idea...
NOWAK: ...slow-down strike.
LEIGHTON: Oh, the slow-down strike at Ternstedt.
NOWAK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, the sit-down strike, as I recollect, took form in France before it...it was actually transported from France.
PENDRELL: Not only in France. I sent you a note about that. In Spain, France...there were four or five countries. From 1934 on there were sit-down strikes here.
LEIGHTON: That's right. And on Monday, when I talked to Charlie Killinger, I asked him that question. Where did you come up with the idea of the sit-down strike? And he said, "Well, we sat around (this was in Flint) and we read about the strike in Hungary.
PENDRELL: Remember I sent you a tape on that, Neil?
PENDRELL: One of the first tapes.
LEIGHTON: That particular one was one that that group of people which Charlie was sitting talking with...
PENDRELL: Let's turn this off a minute.
NOWAK: I would answer that question in the following way. First the American workers of this generation doesn't know the history of American labor.
LEIGHTON: That's right.
NOWAK: That's the value of history.
PENDRELL: Now turn this off.
NOWAK: But we were able to get to the Catholic workers in spite of him. And you know, the characteristic of the Catholic people, and I come from that background myself. Only I broke from it when I was thirteen years of age. But a characteristic of the Catholic workers here I had, they would say, "On religious matter I will listen to my priest. But on political question, economic, I will come to you."
LEIGHTON: So they made a kind of a choice. Well, they didn't make a choice. They just split their mind between Father Coughlin and you.
NOWAK: That's right, but more than that, I had a incident here. We had them in the book there. It's one of a number of incidents. Near that Federal Screw, where that bloody fight took place, when we were organizing the shop, a Polish Roman Catholic Church decided to buy a new church bell. And they did a number of other things. And alongside with it they decided to have a huge banquet. It was during the war. And in that banquet, who'd they decide for speakers? Bishop Woznicki, a Pole, American Pole and myself. When the committee came to my house and invited me to speak, I said, "Look, you know that I'm not a member of any church. I haven't been for years." "Oh, we know that. That's not the point. We want you to speak at that banquet and that's all there is to it." And they also had a custom of having, what did they call, "Christening Father" to the church bell. And I was one of them too; I actually assisted. But the banquet takes place there. And again, the same sort of experience with this Polish bishop that I had with the lieutenant governor, very much of the same type, very much of the same age and also by nature a good guy apparently, but completely ignorant of social problems. So he started as kind of a reasoning that... Also he spoke before me. I don't know whether it was deliberately they planned it that way to always keep me at these meetings as the last speaker, but that's what they did. So I sat there, and here he started his reasoning. He says, "I have few"...after he spoke about the church bell and the progress of the parish, he says, "I have a few observations to make about some things that are happening in the Polish ethnic groups. He says, "You people are making a couple serious mistakes. First of all, you are all joining the union, the UAW. And the employers consider the UAW to be a Communist organization. And they refuse to give you jobs and you'll find yourself without work. Second mistake you make is that you vote on one party, the Democratic Party. And when Democratic Party get defeated you have no entry to the government. You have no contact with it. You're just left out." And it so happened that at that time, not only I was in the Senate, but I was chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate. I was very much on the spot. And again I thought, "Look, I can't create a turmoil here with the bishop, after all, and also our first Polish bishop in Detroit, in a city in the State of Michigan. That's all pioneering and that also had something to do because there was a long fight on the part of the Polish Catholics for representation in the higher-up. But again, the chairman of that parish, a worker, a Ford worker incidentally, a conservative fellow, came to me quietly as I was sitting there, he says, "Stanley, you must answer the bishop." I said, "Look, you know what that may cause?" "Never mind," he says, "that son of a bitch had no right to raise that question." He said, "That son of a bitch had no right to raise this question." So I started by saying that His Excellency the bishop has had a calling that put me on the spot somewhat, and I hope you'll forgive me, but I have to show or prove that I can be removed from that spot. I don't like to be on that spot. First of all, he says, "You should have not joined the union." And many of you I have signed up to the union.
LEIGHTON: The bishop didn't know that you were...
NOWAK: He must have known. He wasn't so dumb. He knew something, but he'd deliberately chosen that subject. Because knowing me, knowing something about me, knowing about my union work, union work, he knew that. And I said, "Do you remember how it was before we were organized? You had no guarantee of your job. Your foreman could fire you any time he wanted. You had no seniority rights. You never got decent pay. Now you are organized; you have a contract. A foreman cannot fire you unless you commit some serious error. But he has to have a very serious condition to fire you. You have a guarantee of your job. You have seniority rights. You have better wages. You have this and this and this. And you've got all those things because you're organized. I said, "I'm sorry that the bishop disagrees with me. I hope that he will reconsider this thing, using this old tactic. But at the same time, and if it comes to a question of politics, well, if it wasn't for the fact that you people voted for the Democratic ticket, I would never be a senator." And again I said, "I'm on the spot because I'm a chairman of the Democratic caucus. But the only way that these ethnic groups can get anybody elected is by combining all the votes they have on one ticket regardless what the ticket may do. Because if you split the ticket, you vote for part for Republican, part for Democratic, I would never be elected and none of the Polish fellows would ever be elected to any office." And there were, at that time, five congressmen who were of Polish descent, from Michigan, three from Detroit. And lieutenant governor was Polish background, see. All these accomplishments politically made because you voted all for one ticket. Otherwise, you couldn't accomplish that. And he was very... I didn't have to knock them. I just showed them how naive he was politically. But the tragic ending of that was...of that bishop, that in 1945 I chaired a first delegation, a Polish delegation to Poland. And about two weeks later he came with a delegation, this bishop, to Poland. Actually we put him on a spot and he went to Poland. And he was very frightened when he came to Poland. He thought that he was going to be arrested, sent to Siberia by Russians. When he saw me in the hotel----they placed us in the same hotel----he was so happy to see me. He thought that I will help him. He didn't need any help, but he didn't know that. And when we ended (we stayed there for six weeks), we toured the country. He did separately, that delegation and ours. We had a very good relationship during the whole time. We used to meet to exchange opinion. And when the thing was over, when we were ready to leave, we made a agreement that we will not raise any controversial question at another time. But we will just make an appeal that Poland was badly destroyed, that people are starving, that they need food, medicine, clothing. They need immediate help and nothing else. There is nothing else. So we came for it. We started a campaign of raising food, medicine for Poland. Then he came and he appeared on one of the radio programs and delivered just that kind of speech. You live up to agreements. You know what they did? They called him a "red" bishop. They raised hell with him. And he was sent away from Detroit to Saginaw. He was transferred to Saginaw to a little town, Saginaw. And you know, he died there. Whether that has anything to do with him, I don't know. But he was actually reduced in ranks. He was still a bishop but reduced to a very insignificant diocese and he passed away.
PENDRELL: So he could do nothing but administer the sacraments.
NOWAK: That's right, yeah. And he was...
PENDRELL: That's what they do. They reduce monsignors to ordinary priests.
NOWAK: And that's how he ended. So we had that kind of experiences. We had a number of them. But that's the reasoning now in Poland, too. Look, they welcome this Pope a great deal. They were very proud that a Pole was elected a Pope. That never happened in the history, you know. But at the same time, you ask them. "Would you like to go back to the Poland of years ago?" "Oh no," someone told me I asked that question. I asked a certain Polack the questions. I said, "Would you like to go back?" He said, "Look, I am crazy...do you think I am crazy? No, I am not crazy, no fool." And he was a very devout Catholic. That's the reasoning that I find. It's true that it is hard to understand by people who don't know certain background, Polish background. See, the Catholic Church played a part in Poland in the last one hundred and fifty years, when Poland was divided and dominated by foreigners. The clergy, in particular, not the bishop so much, but the clergy, they were with the peasants. They were nationalists.
LEIGHTON: Aha, so they kept the fabric together, no matter where the political boundaries were.
NOWAK: Yeah, and they kept the fabric together and also during the Nazi occupation, many of the Catholic priests were just destroyed by that.
PENDRELL: It's as in Latin America today, without the parish priests there will be no revolutions in Latin America.
NOWAK: Yeah, and that's why there is a long tradition there and the government has to recognize. And they have arrived at some point that if they want to continue to do their work and exist they cannot exist if they are going to carry on open warfare with the government, with the whole social element.
LEIGHTON: So this cultural trait you mentioned before among Polish workers of being able to split their allegiance to the church on one hand and their allegiance to the working movement on the other... Would you say...?
PENDRELL: It is not allegiance to the church. It's allegiance to a religion.
LEIGHTON: To a religion.
PENDRELL: It is not as if they are anti-clerical.
NOWAK: They aren't, in many instances.
PENDRELL: As in Italy they're anti-clerical.
LEIGHTON: I was gonna come to that because I was just gonna say, in Poland...
PENDRELL: But they're devout Catholics.
LEIGHTON: No, no, but in Poland, as in the Polish community here, you don't have that anti-clericalism that you find in Italy and France, do you?
PENDRELL: Well, clearly if they're gonna side with the union, you do.
NOWAK: Well, you see...
LEIGHTON: But they don't side against the clergy.
PENDRELL: Excuse me, put this down. When this man came to...[tape stopped].
NOWAK: Part of my first campaign was to visit them and talk with them and I broke down quite a few of them and neutralized most of them. At least we neutralized them. But there were some who remained hostile. But many of them were ignorant.
LEIGHTON: At the time of the sit-down strike, the Flint one and the organizing here, now, is Father Coughlin much of a factor among Catholic workers, did you notice? Was he very supportive of the Association of Catholic Trade Union Workers, the ACTU?
NOWAK: Well, as I recollect, that's hard to tell, because we were so busy and we did not discuss Father Coughlin much in the union gathering. We were not looking for any argument about Coughlin. And if nobody raised any argument with us, we didn't bother. But we just saw that the Catholic workers, in time, and we convinced them on the importance of it. And they responded to our propaganda like any other worker.
LEIGHTON: The reason I ask that is I raised this question with Killinger, who is also Catholic. And he said the same thing. He said there were a few workers in Flint who supported the ACTU, but he said by and large they had almost no support. That when the organizing drive really came they were no...
PDNERELL: Excuse me, Neil, it was not difficult for these. These are very advanced workers we're talking about.
PENDRELL: Not difficult for them to know where the financial background for Coughlin was coming from, because we were very busy pointing that out, day and night.
LEIGHTON: Sure. I wanted to go back a little bit to Flint in the '34-'35-'36 period. What was your observation to the political landscape when you went up there having, or later on going to become a political figure yourself? But was there much activity on the part of political parties? Margaret had mentioned the Proletarian Party. Was the Proletarian Party very active in Flint, the Socialist Party, in this '34-'35 period?
NOWAK: Well, I would say that politically the Proletarian Party by '34 was not active any more in Flint. They were active and they had a branch earlier. That must have been '31-'32.
PENDRELL: I was a member of that in San Francisco.
NOWAK: Oh, is that so? Is that so?
PENDRELL: It was my first political indoctrination, my first arrest.
NOWAK: In San Francisco?
NOWAK: Who did you know there among the...who do you remember from the Proletarian Party?
PENDRELL: I remember the young man called, was it Werolian? Harry Larner, he was a furniture worker.
PENDRELL: I remember a very, very volatile and active woman...cannot think of her name. We were about...
NOWAK: Do you recollect the name of Canfield?
PENDRELL: Well, I'm going to say yes, but I'm not going to associate it with San Francisco, just because I know the name Canfield. But I don't know from where.
NOWAK: He had a bookstore. He was an Englishman by background, by origin. And he was very active.
PENDRELL: Well, if he had a bookstore I would have known him. There were some Ukrainians I knew who had a tuna fish packing, a little tuna fish cannery, a small cannery.
NOWAK: By that time the Proletarian Party was growing apart.
PENDRELL: Yes, oh, yes.
NOWAK: But in Flint, first once upon a time I knew that because I was with the Proletarian, about '31. And they had quite a group there. And I even taught a class there for a while. Not in the Polish community, just the general community on the Communist Manifesto, the utopian...the Socialism.
PENDRELL: ...be anti...
NOWAK: Anti, yeah. But by that time they were not active. The Communist Party was active. There was a group of the...among the Macedonians and Bulgarians was a group of the Socialist Labor Party. And among the ethnic groups there were leftists who were somewhat associated with the Communist Party. And they were active, but not widely, throughout the city. At least I haven't seen much of them. And a Polish group was not a political group that was there. They were leaders of Glos Ludowy but there was no... They were active, the leaders of Glos Ludowy were active in the Polish National Alliance, which is a sick and benefit organization. They had a sort of an educational forum they conducted there, that were progressive people. Not party members, but just progressive. And they were holding meetings and I used to speak there, '34, '35, '36. That's how it started. So that was the political and then later on they had elected to one term in the legislature from Flint, I can't think of his name now, to the legislature. He was elected on the Progressive Party ticket. On the Democratic party ticket, like I was. He was elected for one or two terms from Flint. That's as much as I recollect of political things.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, I was gonna say, did you ever, in your travels up to Flint, come in contact with the Socialist Party, the old Socialist Party? I don't mean the groups that split off, but the mainline Socialist Party?
LEIGHTON: Karl Johnson? Kermit Johnson?
NOWAK: The name sounds familiar. I have probably seen or heard about it, but I have no recollection.
LEIGHTON: Okay. The reason I mention that is that...
PENDRELL: Harry Fleischman?
LEIGHTON: Hy Fish?
PENDRELL: I mean from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers.
NOWAK: From the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in Detroit I knew this man who was a chairman of the board here. Amalgamated Clothing Workers. He served in the legislature with me one term.
LEIGHTON: The reason I mention that is the Socialist Party was very active in Flint from about the turn of the century. And it had been an old... At one time, the druggist who you must have known, Lorne Herrlich...
LEIGHTON: ...had been a member of the Socialist Party and a Debs supporter from way back. These people had existed but by the time of the strike I'm trying to put the political road map together. And a lot of things had changed by then. There was a man named Hy Fish who was an organizer for the Socialist Party. Do you remember him?
NOWAK: The name is familiar to me. I've heard the name but I couldn't even place the man.
LEIGHTON: The...was there much activity in Flint in '34 or '35, do you remember, on the part of the Communist Party? Not the smaller groups, but the Communist Party through the, let's say, the General Secretary of Michigan.
NOWAK: I don't recollect much of it. There may have been. But I had no contact with them then, in Flint in particular. And I mentioned that there was some activity. How much I couldn't tell you.
LEIGHTON: Okay. I'm just trying to figure out when these various parties come in to play.
PENDRELL: I think they came in with Mortimer, that party.
NOWAK: Yeah, that came with Mortimer, I'm sure.
LEIGHTON: That's not true, but we'll talk about it.
PENDRELL: Why isn't it?
LEIGHTON: Because it isn't. It came in 1934.
NOWAK: He came in '36.
LEIGHTON: He came in '36 and in fact, a group in Fisher 1 was set up in 1934, quite consciously.
PENDRELL: By whom?
LEIGHTON: Mortimer inherited...by Will [Weinstone]'s predecessor. Will even mentions it in his tape.
PENDRELL: By Weinstone's predecessor?
LEIGHTON: That's right. John somebody, and I can't remember his name. It's not John North, who was over in Grand Rapids.
LEIGHTON: But it was another man. And the beginnings of that were very slow.
PENDRELL: Why don't we look it up in Will's transcript?
LEIGHTON: But...well, is there anything we've left out that you can think of? You've been doing a lot of the thinking.
PENDRELL: Wonderfully informative.
LEIGHTON: Very much so.
PENDRELL: ...the time we've had with you.
NOWAK: Well, the question is what else would you like to know? Flint, I don't know whether I can add more because there were many meetings that I participated and spoke all through, from beginning with '34 way up to the strike. After the strike we were busy with other things and I was elected to the legislature. So I lost contact there. But these were meetings, lectures, speaking on some subject.
PENDRELL: Excuse me. Did you know a man called Bert Cochran?
NOWAK: The name is familiar to me.
PENDRELL: The reason I ask is Bert Cochran has recently, just recently, maybe it's a year now, written a book called Labor and Communism. And it's a vicious book. It has the imprimatur of Rajinski. And some people, unfortunately, the North American Committee for Latin America, which are radicals, have said it's a pretty good book. I think it's a disgraceful book. But, in any case, it costs twenty-five dollars, published by Princeton. In the notes, he talks about Flint and he talks about Mortimer. And I've pointed out how anti-Semitic he is. He says that when Mortimer came to Flint he had the extreme advantage, the advantage of not sounding or acting like a Jew. And I wonder----but he doesn't say to whom he is referring when---snd I wonder who there was, if anybody. It could just be a base slander without any foundation. And I've often wondered who Cochran could be referring to that was active in organization as a Jew in Flint. Do you suppose that that was Will's predecessor?
LEIGHTON: I don't know.
NOWAK: I couldn't tell you; I don't know.
PENDRELL: You should look at that book.
NOWAK: The advantage of Mortimer was the fact that he was a typical worker with a long background as a worker, that he spoke simple workingman language. And when he appeared at the door of some family, they welcome him into his home because by appearance, by his conduct, by his language, he was one of them.
PENDRELL: But you would not necessarily include in these remarks any suggestion that the autoworker as autoworker was anti-Semitic.
PENDRELL: Which Cochran does.
NOWAK: You see, the question of anti-Semitism actually never existed in the auto...
PENDRELL: Right. That's my own feeling.
NOWAK: First of all, there were very few Jewish people in the industry. And there was no problem. Take this example. Here we had, who later on became a local organizer, local organizer together with John Anderson, and he was a party member. He was Jewish. He had even definite Semitic appearance, you know. And he was quite active. And I think he was the only Jewish person in that whole local. I should remember that name. And there were never questions raised about anti-Semitism against him.
PENDRELL: No, I think...
NOWAK: They accused him of being a Communist, yes.
PENDRELL: I think that this guy Bert Cochran is using that as part of his venom against the fact that Flint was successful. And I consider this a very venomous book, even though some others don't. But he has in mind such people as Lee Pressman, Maurice Sugar.
NOWAK: I see. Well, you know, speaking of Maurice Sugar, another example. Now that man I know very well for years. And he's known even in the Polish community by many Polish people. The question of him being Jewish has never been raised.
PENDRELL: Now that's my own feeling, exactly.
NOWAK: And I know him since 1924. I know Sugar since that time, since 1924. And of all places, in the Polish community, if there was any anti-Semitism you would hear that. I've never heard that. Maurice Sugar was just another man. Good. Those who agree with him and liked him; others may not. That's a matter, naturally. But the question of him being Jewish never raised. It was never raised in the Polish community by anyone.
PENDRELL: Listen, Stanley, your opinion, your and Margaret's opinion of this book by Cochran will be very, very valuable. Therefore, we're gonna get it for you.
NOWAK: Good, thank you very much.
PENDRELL: Okay, Neil?
NOWAK: Yeah, I would like to...
PENDRELL: We'll get it for you.
NOWAK: Yeah, what I'm trying to...
PENDRELL: Okay. We'll get you that book.
NOWAK: Okay. What I'm planning to do for now. See, we are closing the paper, that is, closing, not liquidating it. We are combining with a paper in Canada. And it's going to continue publication under the two names, the Canadian have a little different name. They call it the Weekly Chronicle and ours, the People's Voice. Both names will be on, but it will be one paper. And I will only write one article every week to it. I will be relieved of all kinds of problems now, though I am both a business manager and editor of the paper. And I raise money and God knows what. And I intend to devote more of my time to this historical work, of the few years...
PENDRELL: I think that you should write a review of this man's book for a publication like The Nation. Now I will go to see the people in The Nation. I live next door to The Nation. I'll go to see the people in The Nation when I get back to New York, and I'll ask them to get you that book and I'll ask them to ask you to review it.
NOWAK: Tell me something of who are the people who own The Nation now?
PENDRELL: Well, you know, it's a whole new group.