John Anderson: Comments and Transcript
Midland Steel sit-down strike; UAW Local 155; Communist Party


John Anderson transcript

PF: I spoke to racehorse, Oscar Oden,
JA  Oh, racehorse, yeah
PF  how did you first meet him, how you knew to get in touch with him?
JA  I dont recal.  I remmber talking to the preacher, the colored guy, but I dont remmber talking to racehorse

0:55  I met the colored preacher at his house how did you know to get in touch with him?
JA  welll you know, when your organizing you get information.

PF  you must have had your foothold in this plant as result of MESA

JA  got name of preacher from one of the poeple in the plant
PF  how long before strike did you get name of preacher.  3 months?
JA  only a matter weeks
PF I have names of preachers
JA dosent recall
PF  Oscar Oden claims that there was no such influential preacher in the plant.
JA  wellthere was, and I met with him.  I was organizing other shops at that time

4:30  PF going over list of names, JA rembers some
Frank Carr, doesnt remmber
Jim Howe, turned out to be a stook pidgeon



JA: let me put this in perspective.  when the strike was over, we won the strike, and I recall the planning of that, keeping one shift in and one shift out, and all the women out of the plant I remember, and meeting in the Slovak hall, and Strong I guess is the name of the street, and the agreement was accepted unanimously, you know.  But then after that I got onto other shops and I think that they, they wanted a chapter of their own.  I think they called it 410.  There was a lot of politicians ??? [I imagine] inside there that wanted to get offices.  I was concerned with organizing, not power.  I didn’t give a damn, as long as you were in the union.  whether they were in 155 or not

PF: do you mean that the difference between staying in 155 and forming their own local would have something to do with the number offices that were available?

JA:  well, that entered it.  And then of course I was a Lefty and some of them didn't like that.  I mean they were quite willing to take the amount of money I gave them you know, but you see success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.  And since they was the first strike they called themselves the Pioneers

PF: right

JA: [accurately??] speaking, there was nobody in the plant particularly that played a key role in the sense of the strike.  They were followers, not leaders.

PF:  yeah.  that’s the impression I’ve gotten already from talking to a lot of people.

JA: Another thing also was that, I got a letter of thanks from them . . . and I think they had their own paper, but they never mentioned me in it at all hardly, you know, and of course the right wing and (in?) the union didn’t want to give me any credit for it.  You know with a key strike in a sense, it was the first sitdown strike in Michigan, you know.  And the guys in the plant were very proud of the fact that they were pioneers as they put it, they were very proud of that.

PF: yeah, you know the local became a Homer Martin stronghold—

JA  that’s right—

PF at least in that first leadership group 

JA that right—

PF  and from what I’ve picked up from talking to other people who have been in the shop for twenty or thirty years, this was a group of fairly conservative Irish Catholics.

JA yeah 

PF That was the largest single group   10:30

JA Probably that was true becuse I was never close to them after that . . . following that was the General Motors strike, and Lewis through Phil Murray asked me to go up into Flint, and so I didn’t have to much to do [with Midland Steel] after that

PF:  How many people who were working in Midland Steel at the time did you actually deal with?

JA:  The only ones I deal with would be the steering committee  11:00 

PF:  So that would with what, about six people?

JA:  Oh no.  There was more than that.  You see, we had a meeting the night before we sat them down, and at that meeting, as I remember, there was at least two dozen people, as I recall.  You see, there was key guys in the shop, and I didn’t know then all by name.  There was two in particular that were good men, and I asked them to watch Jim Howe, to be his body guard, to see that there was no skuldugery, you know, and of course I was very proud of that.  They were good guys, but I don’t remember their names now.

PF:  Maybe I’ll go down a list of these chief stewards, and there might be a few people on this list, because it’s likely that they would become chief stewards when the union got established.

Bud English

JA:  uh uh

PF:  Doesn’t ring a bell?

JA:  No.

PF:  Glenn Snyder?

JA:  Maybe, but I couldn’t be sure.

PF:  OK.  George Watson.  12:15

JA: uh uh.

PF:  Somebody by the name of Borovich

JA:  Well I don’t know.  There was a Borovich, I think he was a welder, I’m not too sure, but

LIST . . .

22:00  purpose of midland!!!
JA:  . . . I know that the purpose of midland steel was a twofold purpose.  One it was a general thing to get a better break for the men in the shop.  The other thing was that if we were able to carry on a successful sit-down strike in Detroit there were some repercussions that would help organizing.  And if we won, we knew it would, you know.  But you see, you gotta remember one thing.  In those days there wsn’t too many people with experience in the first place.  Reuther himself had come back from the Soviet Union and didn’t know shit from shinola about the union.  he was [head] of activities on the west side.  but he was an unpaid board member, and and an active guy too.  He did a lot more work for free than some of the staff that would be paid for doing it.  But nobody wanted to take that chance because when I went to the executive board of the UAW they were for the most part scared.  They didn’t want to get too deeply involved.  The kind of feeling was [?] do it you know, but I had a hell of a time getting the OK to do it in the first place.

PF:  was there any real opposition?

JA:  wll there was more of a silence than oppositon.  The only ones that the one that stood out was Mortimer.  he spoke in favor of it.  But Homer Martin didn’t have much to say about it at all [and none of the others did].

PF:  what about g addes, what was his attiude?

JA: well, I dont remmber one way or the other

PF: wha about Frankensteen?

JA: i dont recall, i dont think he opposed it though

PF: and was Reuther on the Board?

JA:  He was on the bd, yeah.  I think he would be because he went on the bd [at South Bend].

PF: do you remmber what his attitude was?

JA:  It was not promnent one way or the other, you know. 

PF: so it was mainly Mortmer . . .

JA: Mortimer was the main one

PF:  Ah, that’s very interesting.  From what I know  of Mortimer he was the kind of guy to see those possibilities . . .

25:00  JA:  yeah, but  he had more than that.  He  had courage.

PF:   yeah.  he had courage, and also understood what it took to  organize.  you couldn’t go slowly at certain times.

JA:  he did more to organize Flint than anybody else.  He did the Jimmy Higgins work.  Then after that out went bob travis and roy reuther, but walter didnt  play any role at all.

PF: let me get back to your thinking about why midland steel looked like a good target.  Dod it have anything to do


 . . .  flint, travis, reuther
25:25 why midland (PF)  poles and jews stood out
did pick midland for showdown? LISTEN TO THIS!
Cleveland connection.  Mort got call from Kulas, but Kulas thought well of Mortimer 28 00 !!!

29 00 kulas afraid of reprisals
30 30 re Dodge strength; Frank. didnt make it known to me

32 30 they were not 100% for strike, but majority were

34 00 Gillespie and Chief of Police . . . JA worked in ford ’29, ’34 story of getting hired in 34 after CP run for gov

37 30 how signal given, JA in negoitiations at time sitdown started.  decided on sitdown a few days before; got bd authorization a couple of days before the strike “I wasnt about to have sitdown strike without getting the ok of the bd. nobody was going to cut the legs out for under me and have a situation of a strike and then you get hedlines there where the uaw orders the men back to work.  So I told them what the situation was at the bd and asked for the autorization to sit them down, and got it.

42 20 RE LEADERSHIP, secondary and top leadership.  No top leadership.  nothing came from within the plant
45-46  two classes TD and Welders

48  Mort and I questioned the wisdom of the no-strike pledge


Discussion of syndicalist vs. political wings of CP

caucuses at conventions, at night meeting with central committee boys

they would start theorizing  51 00

Cleveland convention “that’s when i soured on the party” 53 00  that ws beginning of the end of party influence in the auto workers union

John Anderson October 30, 1975 - BAD AUDIO

56:20 - 1:25:00


56:20 to 1:00:00

midland steel was organized, before, but there was no majority memberhsip, that was why I concentrated on the [plant] because I had . . . connections.  The only name I remember is Jim Howe.  Jim Howe turned out to be a stool pidgeon.


PF  how about Bob Brenner?

JA  well i don’t remember, I look back and I—there was a lot of Polish guys in there too, I remember that . . . you see my main problem is that in the course of my 15 years in the union I met thousands of people.  the ones I remember more vividly than any of the others were those guys who were professionals, you know like Tracy Doll was an International rep.  I saw them quite often.  But it’s not as though—the guys at Midland—you see in my own local 155 I knew all kinds of people because I met them in monthly meetings.  Midland steel was a flash in the pan.  It was strike and then nothing after the strike . . . so I didn’t meet with them after that, so my dealings with them were practially confined to the strike period and shortly before that.  58:40

PF: Do you remember if Nat Ganley was at the meeting where the strike vote was taken?

58:45  JA: No, he had nothing to do with it.

PF: Was he involed in any way with Midland steel

JA not with Midland, no.

PF: cause i’ve run accross some —not  hard facts but rumors, people remember that at the meeting at which the strike vote ws taken, well, one guy remembers that it was you who announced the results—was it a hand vote or a secret ballot, would you remember that?  59:20

JA:  oh i dont remember that

PF: cause what this guy remembers is that the vote was actually against the strike, but that when you read  off the figures you read them off in reverse

JA: im not too sure of that, i dont remember clearly.  I might have exagerated, in other words i might for the purpose of publicity exagerated the vote in other words if there was a vote for just a slight majority for the strike i would say it wa ten to one or something, but I was doing that for public relations, 1:00:00 but i dont recalll having reversed something

PF: this story is hard to pin down because everyone remmbers something difrently . . .

JA:  no i dont know, i cant see myslf tdoing that.  Apart from the quetion of honesty, the questonfof [going] iinto a strike when you didnt have a majority, now i dont mean an overwhelming majority, if you didnt have least a simple majority, its a very hazaardous undertaking, apart form any other considertion, the honesty of the thing the tctical qusto comes in

1:00:50  re BLACK PREACHER

PF: LET me sk you a qustion now—you mentioned there was a preacher that you met, a black preacher.

JA: yeah i dont know his name, he was a colored guy, he lived there was a coclored district near 14th and McGraw, around there  1:01:00     {this is hard to decipher.  JA is talking about the neighborhood where he met the ‘colored preacher’

PF: you met him in his house

JA: yeah

PF: was it on hartford st  1:01:45

JA: I dont know name of st

PF: how about stanford st.  was he light skinned guy?  1:02:00

JA: that i dont remember, i just remember he told me  . . . the neighbors were not too anxious about the union.  I remmber him saying to me that the unions have done nothing for the colored man  1:02:20 . . . I vividly remember [that conversation]

PF: maybe this name will ring a bell.  Pop Warfield?

JA: i dont remember

PF: then there’s papa hicks

JA: hicks . . .

PF: you think it was popa hicks

JA: it rings a bell  1:02:47

PF: in 1937 his address was 945 rowena

JA: whereabouts in detroit?

PF: i’ll take a look.  I know this is very difficult for you to think back like this when you weren’t even working there and knowing these people, but you see I was able to get into the company personnel records, and so between that and the other workers in the plant that i spoke to gave me some info on thee guys, I’m just trying to see  if i can get at  least a resonable idea about

JA: unclear

PF: i dont even se rowena.  You say he lived in the district at 14th nd mcgraw

JA: yeah, around the corner

PF: it has to be one of five, or four, hicks warfield, or merril, 1:04:10

JA:  but of course what puzzles me . . . recall more names, because no one guy

unclear . . . 1:05:20   The only name i remmber was Jim Howe(?) Frankensteen called me the evening before the strike {we had that meeting of two guys}  . . . a guy called [Harman?] was in the LaFollette Committee, ws congressional comm industrial spying, he gave Frankensteen  a galley proof 1:05:58 of the operatives [meaning company spies].  and among them was Howe . .  what the hell!  he was the chmn of the strike commitee!  1:06:06  That’s why I remember that! 

The thing that stuck in my mind clearly ws the actual negotiations in the plant 1:06:40
 When the deputy chief of police came in and they had a writ for the posession of the dies and all the rest of the stuff . . .  and there was John Gillespie who was Harry Bennett’s right-hand man, and a New York attorney.  That I remember.  I rremember when I reported back to the Slovak Hall about what we won, they was tearing up the chairs with joy.  I began to read what was in there, because it was the first 1:07:20
 . . . industrial union in Detroit, because Briggs had gone out on strike . . . 1:08:04 I remember a guy from the AFL who was a . . . Max Gabin.  Max did an excellent job, he fed the strikers in the plant, and the food ws great.  He did a real good job.  We were there at Crhistmas time, and he made up a menu,  he had been a chef at the Book Cadillac, and he made up a menu in French with all the . . .   1:08:38  it was the best dinner they ever had.

109:00 PF: I just wanted to ask you about this rumor that’s floting around on vote.  No one has a very definite idea, so this is just one of those vague things that i’ll have to let slide

JA: you know when you say that I reversed it, it’s possible but not probable. 1:09:30
but obviulsy

PF: I guess this will just one of those things thats an intrguing idea  but that’s all.

JA: yeah.


1:10:00  PF asks about who to talk to radicals