Camera Rolls: 315:29-33
Sound Rolls: 315:17-19
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with John Howard , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 14, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Mr. Howard, I want you to take me back to the 30's, OK?
And tell me how you got your job in the steel mill, and what it meant to you when you got it.
[coughs] Well, in the '30s, in 1933, to be exact, the year I graduated from high school, happened to be in the heart of the Depression, and we looked everywhere for jobs, but we couldn't find them. The major industry in this area are steel mills. My father worked in the steel mill, and he was only working one or two days a week. You know, people are being evicted, and everything, and we're looking everywhere. I couldn't find a job, but I heard that the township trustee was recruiting young men to send to the Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, at that time. So my buddy and I went down the following day, and she chose us, and sent us to Fort Knox, Kentucky. That was my first semblance of a job.
No, let's stop for just a second.
Yes, I spent 18 months in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and I came out December 31st, 1934. In March, March 5th, to be specific, two days before my birthday, I was lucky enough to get hired at Gary Works. At that time it was called Illinois Steel Corporation. My first job, well, that's another thing, it kinda irks me even to this day. When I was in high school, I took a general "shop" course, a machine shop, auto shop, foundry, even draughting, you know, Ford shop, we took everything. I even got a diploma, I can show it to you, wherein I could run any kind of a lathe, wood or steel lathe, read micrometers, read blueprints, make blueprints, as a matter of fact. And on my application, this, this irks me to this day, they ask you to make three choices. So first I said, I would prefer machinist. Second, I would like to become a pattern-maker. Third, any type skilled labor. So, when the employment agent read my application to me, he said, "Look, we don't have any jobs like that available, all we have is chipping." Now, I had heard chipping was a backbreaker, it was a tough job. You had to chip cold steel with ice on it, in the winter time, you know, in the summer time, you know, they pickled it with sulfuric acid and you had to brush it off, and breathe those fumes. I didn't want that job, but he said, "You can learn it, can't you?" I said, "Well, yeah, I can learn. I can learn anything." "Take it," and probation in those days was six months, "Now after your six months, you, if you successfully finish it, come in and I'll see if I've got any jobs open." Now, this is the irony of it. You know, I went to a school where we had twenty-six different nationalities, called Frebold High School, here in this city, Gary, Indiana, and I had buddies of different ethnicity. You know, Polish, Slovak, Serbian, Lithuanian, Greek, Italian, we had them all. I would meet them, going and coming from work, and I'd say, "Hey, Andy, you got hired, when'd you get hired?" "Yesterday, and I got three or four months." "Where you working?" "In the machine shop." "Machine shop?" He said, "Yeah." This was the dumbest ass in the damn machine shop. The instructor had to send him to me to set his machine up and everything. Now, he could get a job as a machinist, and I couldn't, you see. I didn't like that. And then when I went back, after I completed my probation, I go back to the employment officer, and he says, "Well, we don't have anything yet," and it took me maybe a year to find out that they were just giving me a run-around, you see.
Tell me about, now that we're talking about it, tell me about how specific ethnic groups would be steered towards specific jobs.
Oh yes. You see, it seems you have, you have little cliques in the mill, I found that out, and they have their outside clubs. There was a club called Sportsman's Club. There was another club called [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , you see. These clubs, members of those, those, the leading members, you know, leadership in those clubs, worked in the mill, in fact they were foremen, they were supervisors. When any member, you know, graduated from high school, needed a job, they would front for them and get them hired, you see. Those of us that were excluded from such clubs had to make it the best we can. In fact, the only way I got hired, the employment agent asked me one day, "You back here again?" I said, "Yeah, I want a job." He said, "You have anybody, any relatives, working in this plant?" I said, "Yeah." "Who?" "My father." "Bring your father here." So the next day my father was working midnight. I met him at the gate and took him over there and said, "Here's my father." "Well, go on in, you go on inside, it doesn't mean I'm going to hire you." And everybody's laughing, you know, and so I go in, and after he sent everybody home, in the bullpen, 200 men standing in the bullpen, he picked me, among a few others. I go inside, and he gets my application, he writes on something, and hands me an envelope. He says, "Take this to the hospital building." Because you see, the old office building there on the east side of Broadway just outside the mill used to be a hospital building, you see. I take it in there, and, you know, I didn't know what was going to happen. Doctor has me to strip, you know, tests my eyes, looks in your throat, he tests you, you know, your heart, takes your temperature, then he signs something, take this back to the employment office. I go back and he says, what have you got there? You know, the guys that were laughing. They sent me to the hospital, and they told me to bring this back. "Well, you're hired!" I said "No, I'm not hired." I didn't know I was hired. And I went back in there, then they sent me to plant protection, they took me to the 44 and the 36 inch mill. That was how I got hired.
Now, can you tell me what working conditions were like, about how dangerous it was? When we talked before, you told me about how dangerous it was.
Oh yes, oh yes. There was no such animal as safety. You know, you chip steel, and the tensity and the hardness of the steel sometimes is brittle, you know, some steel's soft and just curls up, but that brittle steel, axles, you know, and stuff like that, as you chip that steel, and all we had were goggles, we just had goggles. We had no hoods, and no face mask or anything, we didn't even know those kinds of things existed. You're chipping, and you look around, here's a guy who grabs his face, a chip sticks right in his face, hot, and they're hot, you know, when you, the abrasiveness of chipping the steel. They'd send him to the hospital, the doctor'd put a little patch on it, then release him to go back to work, you see. You're turning steel. Some of these slabs weigh, like, a ton and a half, a ton, six men to turn it. You've got four men on, eight men, you've got four men on one side and four on the other side, with tongs, and they's [sic] say, "Hai!", and you'd come up with it, get it up and throw it over so you could chip the other side. Sometimes the wrenches would slip off and break a man's metatarsals, it would cut off fingers, and all of that. I had a unique experience. I was a young fellow, you know, chipping, and because of my experiences at school, learning, you know, machinist, and all that, we had to know how to sharpen tools. Well, I looked, and I noticed, there's a certain angle or contour you can put on the edge of that chisel, which would make it cut better. And when I would go to the rock, you know, the guys would watch me, I'd go to the rock, you had to sharpen your own tools. They would come over, "Hey, sharpen mine, sharpen mine." I'd sharp everybody's tools, so one day my buddy, Henry Dickerson, he's long deceased, you know, your overalls has that little pocket, you know, I put three chisels in my little pocket, and I'm finished with everybody, I'd get my chisels and I'd head for my work-place, and he said, hey Johnny, is this yours? Well, you know, on your chisel you would, you would grind your initials, J.L.H. "Yeah, what are you doing with that?" And he would laugh. I'd say, "Give it here," and he'd throw it to you, you know, if you throw a chisel in the air, you just snatch it out of the air, but he didn't throw it high enough, and it hit a lift of steel, and when it hit the steel it hit my leg, right in here, and so I pick it up and I go and I start working. After a while my leg feels dead, you know. Now what the devil's going on? I pull my pant leg up, and blood's coming out of my shoe. So they called the little ambulance they had, and they take me to the doctor. He gets in there and he looks at it, and he put all kinda medication on it, but it wouldn't stop bleeding, 'cause it was an artery, you see. He said, well, I'm going to have to put a stitch in there. OK, well, I thought he was going to deaden it, you know. He got that crooked needle, you know, a cat-gut, and he grabs that leg and geez, I wanted to knock the hell out of him, he put that needle through, tied it, put a patch on it, "Go on back to work." [laughs] That's the kind of conditions that the men out there were living under, you see.
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All right. All right. Those were just a few of the unsafe features, but you had to work in all kind of inclement weather. Some of us worked outside, you know, and we had what we called "dough pops", those are the guys my father's age, 15 or 20 years of service. In the summer time, they preferred to work outside, because the inside was where they stocked all the red-hot steel, and all, it was too hot, but in the winter time, that steel was comfortable, see, so us young fellas would have to alternate with them to their benefit, I didn't appreciate that either, see. But with regard to, to jobs, you had what you call the run-out table in the 44 and the 36 inch mill, where the slabs, after they're sheared, had to be identified, stamped, a heat number, and they had white fellas, you know, stamping down there, but in the summer time it gets hot, you know, it was too hot for those guys, they'd fall out. Now here I'm chipping, I'm making $4.28 a day, the stampers making labor, you know, 3.76, but his opportunity, after a few months, he can move up to become run-out operator, he can go from there to, to assistant roller, eventually, roller. Roller was one of the highest paid jobs in the industry, you see, but they wouldn't let blacks get incumbent rights to that stamping, but when that guy burn out, they'd come and get me. Now I worked four hours chipping, $4.28 a day. Now I'd go down there and work say from one o'clock to three o'clock stamping, after this guy had fallen out. At the end of the turn I'd get my card, I got eight hours of stamping, $3.76. Complain about it, you don't like it, you can stay home. That's the kind of attitudes they had. And another thing, in those days, for those cheap rates, your supervisor stood over you like a king, and you'd have to go to toilet, you know? "Where you going?" "I'm going to the toilet." "Be back in 10 minutes." Well, you know, some of the guys, you know, had to stay longer than 10 minutes. He'd go to the wash-house, "What's the matter?" "Well, you know, my stomach, I'm constipated," this and that. When he come out, "You stay home until I send for you," maybe a week later. He's got a wife, he's got children. That's the kind of attitudes they had out there, you see. I've seen all of that. Now another thing, they had what we call the soaking pits, that's where they brought in these red-hot ingots, you know, after they'd been stripped, after being poured at the open hearth. They would strip 'em, and send lines of 'em in, and then they would put 'em in these pits, and heat them to the temperatures, desired temperatures, for rolling, you see. In these soaking pits, you had to throw coke-breeze in, it'd come in by the big carload, and here us young fellows, they'd put us in there with these big shovels, you know, to shovel that coke-breeze onto a big bucket, like, the crane brought, you know. Then he would dump it in front of these ovens, and they had like, a shield they put over it. It had a big hole in it, you could throw your coke-breeze, you could throw it all over, and you had to work maybe a day or two before your eyes could discern, you know, looking at all that red. I'm surprised my eyes are as good as they are today, you see, and dust, and gases, you know? I'd come home and cough all night, you know, not realizing the, the toxidity [sic] in all that stuff, breathing gases and inhaling dust and smoke. I can recall in 1945, when the War was on, you know, prior to '45, '42, '43, we were assigned, us chippers were assigned a special yard to chip special steel. They had to pickle it all, because they made the Garand rifles, but you had to take a brush and brush the dust off the steel where they pickled it in the sulfuric acid, and when you start chipping, those pneumatic hammers, you know, blowing air, it would blow dust up, you couldn't even see the crane in the car. We're working, breathing that air, you see. Oh it was, it was horrible. It was horrible.
OK, now you told me about how bad the working conditions were, the pay, and so forth. What about vacations and that sort of thing?
[laughs] You know, the union was about, I had been a member of the union about four years, this was, say, in 1939. The union was able to get vacations in the contract.
What about before that, though?
No vacation. No vacation. And that's another thing, how did we work, how did our shifts go? You work day-turn, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Know when your next turn was? Midnight, that night. You come 'bout midnight, you worked 12 to eight. The whole cycle, you finish up at eight in the morning, you know, on a Sunday morning, you come out to work four to 12 that same day. You'd have 13, 14, 15 days on the pay, and you didn't have much over $150.
Let's stop here for a second, let's stop for a second, this is important. Yeah—
Now, you said "day-turn". Now, a lot of people are not going to—
Yes, in clarifying the turns that you work, "day-turn" is eight a.m. to four p.m. daily. The afternoon shift is four p.m. to 12 midnight, and the midnight shift is 12 midnight until eight in the morning, you see, and this was the way we rotated, but we rotated backwards so they could get maximum time. We had no time off. The only we would possibly get time off, something would break down, and they'd send everybody home.
So tell me again what your shift was, in terms of hours and days.
Well, I would work one week, one week day-turn, eight a.m. to four p.m., a week, and then that following week, I'd get off at four p.m. on Saturday, I had to come out Saturday night 12 to eight, 12 midnight 'til eight in the morning, and work five or six days there. Vacations, we had no vacations, until 1952, and the best agreement the union could get, was 15 years or more service, you got two weeks, and five years of service, you got one week. So I worked five years to get one week vacation.
OK, we have to try not to jump to beyond '40, '41. We don't want to get to the '50s, OK?
Yes, all right.
You talked to me about this a little bit before, but the relationship between workers and management, you know? In the pre-interview, you told me that you, that they treated people like animals, and that you had seen foremen kick men.
Can you tell me that story again?
Oh, yes. Even after, shortly after I was hired as a chipper, in fact, you were an all-around guy. Your badge said chipper, but they could put you carrying water, they could put you sweeping the floor, they could put you helping the bottom makers, they could give you any kind of a job. You had no job descriptions. You had no classifications. There were men doing the same work daily, and one was paid more than the other man. But anyway you would, you would work these jobs, and—I forget what you asked me.
We were talking about the foremen, the relationship.
Oh, the foremen, and these men would work, and I would see some of these older fellows would come to work, and they didn't feel well, you know, you work with them every day and you know it. White, black, Mexicans, we had the three, we didn't have Puerto Ricans or anything like that in the mills at that time, and we would tell him, look, go on over someplace and lay down and take it easy, we'll do the work for you. The foreman would come by, "Where's so-and-so?" "Oh, he went to the canteen," or something like that, you know, we'd cover for him, you see. But then, at other times the foreman would come in, and the guys, you know, had already chipped the steel, but the inspectors were reluctant to come out and inspect it so that you could turn it over. When they would, the foreman come out and see 'em sitting down, he'd kick 'em, you know? You know, the way, I told one foreman, I said, "Look, why don't you kick me?" I said, "I'll wrap this wrench around your damn head." You know, I was a crazy militant, you see, so they said I was crazy. But I've seen 'em mistreat individuals, I've seen men, "Oh, don't send me home, I got a wife, I've got four or five children," and, you know, "Go on home 'til we send for you." But I didn't care if they sent me home, 'cause I was living at home, you see. Oh yes, I recall that very clearly.
All right. Oh yes, I was a youngster...1919, I was five, 1920, I was six, so about 1921 I understood, that's about seven years old, the W. W., what is it—
Let's back up, it was actually, actually the 1919 Strike.
The 1919 Strike? OK, oh yeah, he told me, my father told me about the International Workers of the World, IWW. In those days, because of the kind of treatment the men were getting in the plant, they decided to, to organize it, unionize it, but in, in attempting to unionize, they would not take Mexicans, and they wouldn't take blacks into the union. Only whites, you see, and these whites were, you know, of ethnic origin, Greeks and Slovaks and Serbians and like that. After they thought they had just about organized all of them, they called a strike. Now my father told me this, and when they called a strike, the company countered by calling the Mexicans and the blacks together. "Can you do this job, can you do that job, can you run a crane, can you do this?" Said, "Yeah." "Well, those jobs are yours, go ahead." They began to run the mill, and all these whites that were on strike had to come back crawling, took what they could get, you see, and that broke it up.
Now, what effect did that 1919 Strike, and those bringing blacks in, have on the second, the second time they organized?
Well, they learned one hell of a lesson from that, you see. In 1941, or say '36, '36, '37, '38, they took everybody into the union, blacks, Mexicans, everybody, you see, and—
I need for you to put it into context of 1919. I need you to tell me, because of what happened in 1919.
Oh yeah, right. [laughs]
Yeah, because of their, their negative experience in attempting to, to organize the steel workers in 1919, they decided to be more fair, and more practical, in later organizing attempts of steel workers. So, they attempted to sign everybody. Well, people were anxious to join a union, but they knew also that when you joined a union, if management found out, they'd fire you. We didn't have any organizations like we have today, where you could grieve, you see. And so, you would pay your dues, I think the first dues was 50 cent [sic] a month, and when you'd pay your dues, it's just like, this is December, it would have December on a little pin. You would pin it inside your shirt, or inside your work-cap, you know, because if a guy would come around recruiting, you know, hey, we want you to join a union, you'd show him, see, and he'd go, well, "Who out here doesn't belong?" We would show him, you see, but no one knew, only the union members, who were members of the union, you see. Now, after that kind of activity, finally, they, they did strike, and this strike was only for recognition.
OK, I don't want, don't take me there yet, I'm trying to work through this chronologically. Now, when you were first, tell me about the employee unions, the ERPs.
The things that were there before.
Oh, yes, they attempted to discredit a legitimate union, they had this company union, that's what we called it. They would take the leadership, this alleged leadership, attempting to organize a legitimate union, and they would make them leaders in the company union. Of course, the Wagner Act had passed, they couldn't fire us now because of being members of a union. Roosevelt was president, and all, and so this little company union, you know, these, these guys would try to ameliorate, they would try to pacify you, see, and that was another obstacle we had to overcome, and I think I've told you about the means we used in our meetings, where you had to know the password.
OK, we'll get to that. Now tell me, how did you all feel about, this is before the Wagner Act, OK, how did you all feel about people that were associated with the company trying to fail, trying to, trying to form these unions, how did you feel about those guys that were trying to get you to deal with the company union?
Well, you know, your welfare was at stake, the welfare of yourself and your family, so you just went along with them, you know, and they would give you easier tasks, you know, and things like that, but all the time we were holding out little secret meetings in basements and in individual homes, planning on what we were going to do.
OK. Now, the Wagner Act does pass in 1935.
What happens inside the mill, at that time, you know? I mean, is that a crucial moment, does that give you guys momentum to move forward? Take me back to that time and tell me what happened.
Oh, yes, you know, the steel-worker union, the United, the USWA, the United Steel-Workers of America Union, was started with what we call SWOC, Steel-Workers Organizing Committee. Now this Steel-Workers Organizing Committee was introduced by John L. Lewis, the president of the mine-workers' union. He gave a certain amount of money, and he sent Phillip Murray and David J. MacDonald, from the mine-workers' union to come into these industrial, steel industrial towns, and organize, you see, and this is how we began to get organized. Of course, everybody loved John L. Lewis, he was quite a speaker, you know, whenever he'd come on. No TVs, radios. You'd go out in the street and you could here John L. Lewis on everybody's radio, oh yes. [laughs]
Now, can you remember anything John L. Lewis used to say? Did he have any special phrases or anything, that really inspired you?
Well, the only thing I can remember now, and John L. Lewis's wife on the stand was a Shakespearean scholar, and she taught him how to use these Shakespearean phrases and, you know, he had that air about him, but I don't remember exactly, all I know is "Organize, organize." [laughs]
OK. Now, who first approached you, how were you first approached about joining SWOC?
Well, you know, in those days, they had what they called "left-wingers", you know? They were alleged Communists, you know, Reds. These individuals would give you the very shirt off their back, they would help you, as an example. People were laid off, you know, during—you see, steel had its ups and downs, its peaks and its valleys, and when the valleys would occur they would lay people off, because they couldn't pay their utilities, they couldn't pay their rents. They would get eviction notices, and the sheriff of Lake County would come, and evict these people, put all their belongings right out on the street. It was Gary Heat, Light, and Water Company in those days. NIPSCO wasn't here. They controlled the water, they controlled the electricity, and they controlled the, the gas, you see. Now, when these people, these sheriff's deputies would leave these people outside, children, wife, and all, these so-called Reds would come and put the dad-blamed furniture back in the house, they would climb the pole, reconnect the electricity, they would turn the gas on, say go ahead, you see. Those kind of people were loved, by everybody, you see. Now, these were the kind of people, they planted them, they got hired in different areas of the mill, and they would talk, join the union, you know, join the union. And this guy in the 44 and 36, I forget his name, it was John something, he kept after me, and I said, "What's the union going to do?" And he said, "Well, you know, you'll get an increase in your pay, you may get vacations, you may get pensions, you know, and all that kind." I said, "Yeah, how much is it?" He told me, so I joined the union. Then I'm watching these guys. Now, here I had about a year's service, I was completely indoctrinated, inculcated into the operation. Here's a young, I graduated from Frebold, see. Here's a young man who graduated from Horseman, here's another graduated from Emerson, they would come in, young fellas my age, and we'd show 'em everything. A month later, a superintendent comes out and says, "That's your foreman." Said, "He's going to be your foreman over there." What the hell? They didn't know anything. We didn't understand that, you see. All right, of course, we wanted a union in there to give us some seniority and recognition, you see. And so these guys kept after me, and when I saw them make these newcomers foremen, "What's the union going to do?"
Well, the union was weak, you know, and I don't know, what are you going to do? Well, nothing we can do. I'd take the pen, I'd throw it away, I'd drop out of the union, you know, but they kept after me, see, and they finally made me understand, and I went back into the union.
Now, was Mr. Kinley one of those who made you understand—
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All right, yes, after I joined the union, initially, we used to meet at 560 Broadway, next door to the Hotel Gary. I went up to the meeting, and
I didn't, I never attended a union meeting before, and there was an outside guard, and this guard asked me where I was going, and I asked him, "Is this a meeting of 1014?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Well, I'm a member, I'd like to go in." He said, "You know the password?" I said, "What password?" I never heard of a password. So, he looked at me, and I guess he recognized I was sincere,
** he says, "I'm going to crack the door and let you look in there, and if you see anybody that you know," and I looked, and I said, "Yeah, I know that guy." So he went and got him and brought him to the door, and he said, "You know this fella?" He said "Yeah, I work with him." "Is he all right?" "Yes." So he invited me in, and the inside guard took me up to the podium where the president sat, and the president shook my hand and greeted me, you know, and said, "You're a member, you paid your dues?" I said "Yeah." I had the pin, you know, the button, and he says, "Do you know the password?" I told him no. He says, "Well look, I'm going to give you the password. You're not to repeat it to anybody, whether they're members of the union or not, and you're not to write it on anything. You have to memorize it." I said OK. And he whispered to me: "expansion". I know it to this day, I know it.
** You can find out how long certain people have been actual members of this union by asking them what was the first password.
Why did you guys have to take those kind of precautions?
Because there were, there were—
You got to [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] my question.
Oh yes. We had to take precaution in our meetings, because the company had all kind of unscrupulous spies. They would give 'em extra days of work, you know, they would let 'em take off on certain days and pay them for it, you see, and these "paid stooges", we called 'em, if they could penetrate a meeting, would go back and tell the foremen everybody that was in the meeting, you see. And the foremen have told me, "I knew who was at your house, who was at your meeting." Of course our union was stronger in those days. [laughs]
Now, the meetings, and the ethnic makeup of the union, can you tell me about that? Was there any segregation or ethnic divisions within the union?
Well, when you say union, I don't understand whether you mean in the international union, the local union—
I'm talking about in your local.
In the local union. Well, in the local union, the majority, the overwhelming majority, was what we call white ethnics, you see. They held all of the prime jobs, like president, you know, financial secretary, treasurer, you know, guide, trustees. They were all grievance committeemen, you see, and assistant grievance committeemen. Only one capacity went to blacks, and that was vice-president, and the vice-president never had anything to do, because the president was always there, you see. [laughs] And that's what it was. I was well aware of that, and in 19—1945, I was elected...you don't want me to get into that. [laughs] Yeah.
OK, now, you told me a little bit about it before, but the AFL branded the Steel-Workers Organizing Committee as Communist. How did they do that, what did they do, and what were they trying to do?
Well, you know, anytime there was activity against the, the status quo, you see, you were, you were branded a Red, or a Communist, you see. Meany had a crafts union, and in that crafts union, in order to become a carpenter, your father or your brother.
Yeah, but George Meany is like, much later. At that time it was about William Green, right?
Oh, I don't know too, well, Green was the head, yeah, he was the head of the AFL before Meany.
So can you tell that, at that time, the AFL had a craft union and [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] to any particular person.
They had a craft union...well.
OK, just, can you tell me that now?
Oh yes, the, when Green was there they had a craft union, all the crafts, bricklayers, you know, cement fitters, everything, pipe-fitters and all, but no blacks, no Latinos, you see. The only way you could get in there, you had a brother or father or uncle or something like that, and he would recommend you, you see, and you would get into the apprenticeship program and become a boiler-maker, or whatever, you see. Yes.
OK, but then you were telling me about how they would brand you, the CIO and SWOC, as Communists.
Tell me more about that.
You see, the beginning of the steel-workers, when we were recognized, we had a, Phil Murray had hired a young attorney, what's his name? He wrote the, the original terms and provisions of the first contract. His language, in section one, you know, section two, section three, management, you know, section four, you know, all of those different sections are almost today identical to what it was when he initially set it up. But then, after the union got its strength, you see, and got recognition, they fired him, and said he was a Communist, you see. Oh yes, but it was these left-wingers, really, that organized the union.
Now, you had told me earlier about little things you would do to get people to sign up.
You told me about using people's time clocks, you know, the clock-house.
Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Tell me that story again.
Oh, yes. In the early days, in organizing the union, we had a clock-house, you see, and when you'd come to work, you'd go in the clock-house, and your card is in a rack. You'd pick your card out, your badge number is on there, and you pick your card out, and you put it into the clock to clock, gives the time, you continue through and put it in another rack, see, you're checked in. We had a little gimmick that we tried and we used. As employees would approach the clock-house, we would stop 'em and try to get them to join a union. Hell with the union, we're not going to join the union. So we'd follow them, and we'd see when he took his card out and got it punched, and set it over on the other side. So when nobody was in there, you know, no one coming in and before anyone was coming out and before the timekeeper could get there and collect those cards, just like, as an example, you and I, we're working together. I'd take the card out of the rack, such and such a badge number, such a name, and I'd sign it on our, on our applications, you see. The next one, you would sign the name, and all, and we'd turn in maybe 40, 50 names, all right. Pay day, they would take their initiation fees out, take their union dues out, and they'd raise hell. The company said, "Oh, we got the card with your name, and all, you see the union." They'd go to the union, and we'd talk 'em into remaining into the union [laughs]. And some of them became our most staunch union members, when they found out what it was all about. Oh, we had to do things like that.
That's a great story.
OK. Now, when you all signed with U.S. Steel, when they recognized you all...
Without a strike.
OK. How did you all feel, I mean, what, did that give you guys more momentum, how did you feel?
What do you mean, "without a strike"?
When U.S. Steel signed, when Myron Taylor and John L. Lewis signed, to avert the strike? In 1937...stop for a second.
All right, you want to know about Roosevelt?
Well, you know, this Depression, devastation prevailed in the whole of the United States, and we were looking for a savior, you see, and when Franklin Delano Roosevelt made known that he was a candidate for president, and we'd had this run of Republicans, you see, all of the people suffering, you know, supported Roosevelt. When Roosevelt was elected, everybody was elated.
What did his presidency mean to labor and to your organizing efforts?
Well, what he did, he did something for all of the common people. He had different organizations that his people organized, putting people, making work for people. These different organizations that they organized, they built facilities at government expense, they built roads, they fixed, you know, even the Civilian Conservation Corps, they did all of those kind of things, you see,
and eventually, progress began to take effect.
[production discussion][slate marker visible on screen] [change to camera roll 315:33] [change to sound roll 315:19]
All right. All right.
When the Wagner Act was passed,
** in 1935, this was a kind of Renaissance for those of us who had undergone all of this medieval treatment in our workplaces. We idolized President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we thought he was one of the greatest men ever born, and he renewed our lives, our inspiration, especially in our unions.
** We, for once, had the right to organize our own, to develop our own unions, have our own officers, elect our own officers, steer our own course, without intimidation or interference of corporations, irrespective as to their size. And we took advantage of it, we moved ahead.
Now, did that also give you more leverage in terms of civil liberties, you know, did you guys feel that your civil liberties had been, had been violated? If so, how?
Well, you know, I didn't tell you about some of our experiences, pre-Wagner Act. We used to meet in little groups. We'd meet in his house one day, we'd meet in your house the next, we'd meet in mine, and we even had friends that had taverns or had businesses, we'd meet in their basements. Sometimes the police would find out, and the police would come in the front door, we'd go out the back door. Oh yeah, we had to run from them, see. So after the Wagner Act, what did we do?
We got our heads together and elected our friends into public office, you see.
** The sheriff, the mayor, you know, the prosecuting attorney, you know, the township trustee, because when we had those strikes, you see, our people without food, shelter, or clothing, they had to have some means of support. If we had a friendly township trustee, he would give the family food, shelter, and clothing, pay their rent, utilities and all, you see. As a matter of fact, we would insist that every member of the union vote. We had carpools pick 'em up as they come off their jobs, take 'em to their polling place, let them vote, when they finished voting take 'em home.
** Some people at home didn't have means to get to their polling places. We'd have cars to pick 'em up and take 'em, volunteers, you see, in our unions. We made, we insisted everybody vote.
That's good, now, can you tell me how it was that you all came to the conclusion that, in order to effect real change in your life, that your struggle and your fight for basic rights had to go beyond just the steel mill, and into the political process?
Give me a little more on that.
Oh, yes. As an example, and it keyed in on me, and I was an innocent person, but I was dedicated. We had a strike, and we advised all our people, "Now, don't go to the township trustee for any help, unless you're out of everything, you see, because his funds are limited." So what happens? The strike was—
I'm sorry, that's not, that's not what I'm looking for. Now I have to cut you off because this is the last roll of film, but, I'm looking at, how you came to the realization that you needed sheriffs and judges and whatnot, that you needed to be involved in the electoral process, you know, because the sheriffs were the people that broke up the strikes, and so forth. Can you give me a little more on that, that's where I want you to take me?
Well, we, we realized who our enemies were, and we recognized that we had to have friends, and so we organized a PAC, Political Action Committees, you see. We used these, and they were collected funds, you know, each member had to pay so much, and to even deduct it out of your paycheck by signing, and we established a financial pool of money, wherein we could influence politicians, you see, and I find out here today, corporations are using it, and they sent us, sent us back a few years. [laughs]
OK, now, in '36, our research shows us that there were great numbers, great increases in the numbers of people voting, particularly African-Americans and recent immigrants, you know? Do you have any knowledge of this? I mean, did you experience this, could you see this, and if you could, can you tell me why you saw this big influx in terms of people involved in the political process that hadn't been involved before?
Oh, yes, you see, in 1936 prosperity was coming back, you see, the mills and factories were beginning to bloom. Walter Reuther played one hell of a role, Walter Reuther was one of our giants also, and we recognized the power of the vote. People who had never even entertained an idea. You know, the first argument, only argument I ever had with my father, was to get him to vote Democratic. He'd been voting Republican all the time. See, he came from the South, where they had to get off the street, you know, had to say, "Yes sir, no sir," and he just, he hated Democrats, you know, Bilbo, all those guys. He just couldn't fathom voting Democratic, and I had one hell of a time convincing him, and I finally did, though, and he really appreciated it. Oh, yes.
But you were telling me about people realizing that they had to participate in this process, that there was power there.
Can you finish that thought?
Oh, yes, the power in the unions, we had grievance committeemen, you could file grievances, your union would go to bat for you—
The power of the political process, OK, getting involved and coming out and voting.
If you could kind of just, finish that thought for me.
Well, after, after we got recognition, and all, of course, politicians came to our door, and they dedicated themselves to our program in the event we supported them, and sure, we supported them, and put 'em in. Oh, yes.
OK. The Memorial Day Massacre.
Tell me how you felt, and what that did to your organizing effort after the Memorial Day Massacre.
Well, that was kind of a day that went down in infamy, like Roosevelt said [sic - the "date which will live in infamy" refers to Pearl Harbor]. You know, I was an energetic young fellow, you know, full of vim and vinegar, vigor, and every day my two buddies, both are deceased today, Ted Vaughn and Pat Reilly, Ted Vaughn had an A-Model Ford, and we would go over to this Bethlehem Steel, you know, and picket, you know, help 'em out there-
Say, "We would go over to Republic Steel," because Republic—
Oh, Republic Steel, Republic.
Just say, just pick up right there but say, "We would go over to—"
Yeah, yeah, we'd go over to Republic, I forgot.
Wait a minute—now say it.
We would go over to Republic Steel and, I forgot the name [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , but anyway—
I need for you to say that again, but don't tell me you forgot, just say, "We would go over to Republic Steel, and—"
Yeah. We would go over to Republic Steel, and assist in the picketing and all. And we'd see these company goons, with their guns, and all, and the Chicago police, you see, but they never, we never dreamed they would attempt to harm us, especially since Roosevelt was President, and you know, all this different laws [sic] had been passed. This particular day, Pat Reilly and Ted Vaughn came by and blew the horn for me to come and go with 'em, and I said "Look, I haven't worked a day this week, I'm going to work today," and I went to work. I get off of work, I learn that they had opened up on 'em. Pat, Ted Vaughn had been hit in the leg, Pat Reilly hadn't been hit, and that was a devastating blow. It didn't frighten us, it encouraged us, you see, to move forward, Oh, yes.
Let's stop for a second.
Yes, after the passage of the Wagner Act, and the further and more complete organizing of employees, especially in steel, we recognized and capitalized on the freedom, the new-fought freedom and opportunities that we had, to the extent of increasing our take-home pay, hospitalization, surgery, glasses. You know, prior to the introduction of the union, if a guy got sick, and he went to the hospital, had a serious operation, he spent the rest of his life paying the hospital bill or the doctor bill. Now we have Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and all of this. Aside from that, we have a kind of rest period. We don't have to work with only eight hour interference between your changes of shift, and all, you see. We're mandated, the company's mandated a minimum [sic] of forty hours a week, you see. We have over-time pay, we have holiday pay.
What about the politics of it, though, getting involved in politics?
Oh, yes, yes, well, in the political end, I recall in 1952, the last convention—
'52 is too far.
Too far, all right.
We're talking about '36, about how more people came?
'36, all right, all right [laughs]. The union had become so strong that it was able to—