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CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
And, we're set.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, so what did your father think about strikes?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, my father and I think about the same thing about strikes, most strikes are useless. I've never seen a strike that wasn't named by the unions as being caused by the company, and I've never yet seen a strike that was actually caused by the company. It's very rare that the company would close down or lockout, or something like that. The union always said, We were driven to it, but I never saw the chauffeur. I believe that most strikes are useless, nobody wins, most of the settlements of strikes take place these days, are settled on the basis of one of the last offers or the very close to the last offer of the steel companies, or the company involved. And whereas the union says that they win most of the strikes, the lost wages, the lost time, the lost productivity, is more than enough to counteract what gain has taken place, most of the time. So, I think a strike is practically a no-win situation, and I don't believe it's a necessary evil, although I think the unions would have trouble justifying their existence if they didn't say they won all the strikes that go on. I think my father felt pretty much the same way about it, and I don't think he would approve, well, he didn't approve of the '37 strikes. He fought them as hard as he can, and as far as 'little steel' was concerned, they outlasted the union and temporarily won a victory which prevented them from signing up the union for several years, which took place right before the War on a patriotic gesture, as a—
INTERVIEWER:
How did your father fight them as hard as he could?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, he kept the plants running, kept the plants open and in condition, and he started them up, he got them back to work. I don't say he got it, but there was a back to work movement started and the plant started, and when enough people came back to work to gain some wages, the strike was over, and the union capitulated temporarily.
INTERVIEWER:
What can you tell me about that strike? What do you know about it, what do you remember your father saying about the strike of '37?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
I can't tell you too much, because I was in the Middle West, at that time, in the oil business. There were lots of confrontations at the gates, there were a lot of people locked in plants that couldn't get out on account of union pickets, there were a lot of illegal things that went on like stopping the mail, or stopping the delivery of food. In one of Republic's plants they flew food in with airplanes, and the airplanes were shot at by people at the ground. None of them were hit enough to seriously cause a crash or something, but there were definitely holes in some of them that were shot at. All of those things were, angered a lot of people, and eventually a back to work movement started, and the strike was over.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, your father, in Bootstraps, said that it was more like an 'invasion' than a strike. What did he mean?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well,
if you were in a house, and somebody came along and stood at the front door with a gun and said, You can't get out, you'd say that somebody was invading your privacy, invading your rights. In effect, that's what the unions did. They blockaded the entrance to the plants, so that the people that were in there, that stayed in there, couldn't get out, couldn't get food, couldn't get mail, couldn't get home to see their families.
It was definitely illegal...it was definitely wrong, I don't know whether under the Wagner Act, as such, it was illegal or not, I think it was, but that's just on my opinion. Fortunately, I was in Oklahoma at the time, and I was not subjected to any of that. I came to work for Republic after the strikes were over, after they had signed a contract with the Union.
INTERVIEWER:
And what, what did—
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Can we cut for just one second? Susan—
INTERVIEWER:
OK, you're on.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
In the 1937 strike, the union in Chicago, historically, and til the days when I left, up until the days when I left, to retire, was one of the more radical unions in the CIO, or the United Steelworkers. I'm not an authority on all of the CIO, but on the United Steelworkers, I think I am.
The radical elements created picket lines out there, and brought people that were not connected to the plant in on the picket line,
and caused a lot of hubbub going along, and there was a riot at the plant. Some plant guards fired some shots, and I think, I'm not sure what the outcome was anymore, it's been so long, but I think people were killed, if I'm not mistaken, isn't that right?
INTERVIEWER:
Mm-hm.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
The
one fellow that was out there at the time,
and I don't remember his name exactly,
told me that he was in the line as an observer.
He worked for a newspaper, and I can't tell you his name, I don't remember, and I don't remember what newspaper he worked for.
But he said there was a picket he talked to that was carrying a sign that said \"Kill Tom Girdler.\" He said, I asked him, Who's Tom Girdler? He said, I don't know, I just was handed this sign.
Those kinds of things went on, precipitated the trouble.
It was unfortunate, unnecessary, and got completely out of hand, but to say that the company caused it is an entire fabrication, and I don't know who should shoulder the blame,
and that's about all I know about it.
INTERVIEWER:
OK. Can you tell me what your father thought about FDR and the New Deal?
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
INTERVIEWER:
OK, we're gonna let this plane pass. OK.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
And, now's OK.
INTERVIEWER:
Can you tell me about, how—
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
What my father thought of Franklin Roosevelt? I don't think it would be polite if I used the exact words.
Father thought Franklin Roosevelt was a disaster to the United States,
to which I fully agree. He started, he was elected on a platform of doing certain things, and he did just the opposite. He was a publicity hound, he enjoyed the spotlight, and some of the things that he thought were good for the company, or he said he thought were good for the company, were, in my opinion, very disastrous. For instance,
it was during the Roosevelt years that
I think
the adversarial relationship between the unions and the companies was promoted to the greatest extent by the unions, and backed by the government.
The Roosevelt administration did everything they could to further the interests of the working people. By the working people I mean the union people, because there was more votes there than there were any other place else, and I think it was primarily for that reason.
You can say I'm prejudiced, and I guess I am. I think the Roosevelt years started the tenor of the working man in this country down-hill, to where, before, they used to work to earn a living to support their family and improve their lot in life, that changed to where everybody thinks that the world owes them a living, and somehow they're gonna get it even if they work for it or not. To a certain extent that's still true today, but it was much truer at that particular time than it is now. The hearings that took place at that time in the government on the strikes, were all set up by government to the advantage of the unions. The LaFollette hearings were probably the most unfair, uncalled for judicial inquiries that were ever perpetrated on the people of the country. You can see I have rather positive opinions of this, but I firmly believe that if we had not had about half of the things of the New Deal, the New Deal proposed, the country would have been better off in the years that followed. Roosevelt had his good points. His actions during the World War crisis were commendable. He was a good leader during the war years, but as far as his relationships with the, the labor union as opposed to the management of the industry of this country, he was—
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
—a disaster. Let's stop it at that.
INTERVIEWER:
Are we out?
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Yeah.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
INTERVIEWER:
You're great, you go right on cue. It's great.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Any time.
INTERVIEWER:
OK.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
You asked about father's opinion of the LaFollette hearings and similar hearings, I guess there were others, I'm not sure. Father told me that, in his opinion, the LaFollette Committee was the most unfair committee he ever appeared before in Washington. The hearings were slanted in favor of the union, and all the questioning by the government questioners were slanted in favor of the union, and that if the company tried to get anything in to their advantage, it was squelched, or thrown out, and that it was always conducted in such a way that, if the Union had a big point to make or a big topic to present, it was always presented at the end of the hearing, in such a way that they could rush to the evening news deadline and get it published in time for the papers that night. There wasn't much television in those days. His opinion of LaFollette was not high, let's put it that way.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, do you have any thoughts on why the committee was so one-sided?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Sure. It was the tenor of the whole Roosevelt Administration...the people involved in the administration and the people involved in the hearings were out, all out looking for votes, and they were looking to support Roosevelt, and Roosevelt was doing everything he can to favor them. It was uncalled for, but it happened. That's one of the reasons I'm not a Roosevelt fan.
INTERVIEWER:
Do you remember how your father reacted when the National Labor Relations Act was passed?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
No, I wasn't around.
INTERVIEWER:
Do you know what he thought about it?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
He thought about it as little as possible. I can't answer that, honestly, that's something that we never discussed. The National Labor Relations Act was one-sided, as was all, almost all of the labor... most of which, in my opinion, was unneccessary. They were trying to cure the ills of a few misguided people who were abusing their employees by putting an onus on all employers, and that's about what turned out to be the case. I, I'm skating on thin memory here, because I really don't know too much about it anymore, I hadn't thought of it in twenty years.
INTERVIEWER:
Well, say, generally, among people like your father, do you know what the reaction was when the Supreme Court upheld the NLRA?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, I'm sure I know what it was, but I don't know that I have any reason, any concrete reason to have it expressed it to me. I'm sure it was one of utter disgust and dismay, but, how they expressed it or what they said about it, I don't know. I never found out that the National Labor Relations Board was any more unbiased than the LaFollette Committee, or the rest of them, and I dealt with them indirectly or had dealings with them over the results of some of their rulings several times in the course of my career in this business. It was always the same.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, how about when U.S. Steel gave in, can you tell me how your father responded to that?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well,
my father, and all the heads of the small steel companies, little steel, Bethlehem, Weirton, were all utterly disgusted and dismayed that Myron Taylor would sign a contract with the CIO,
United Steel Workers, when they all were, most of the people in U.S. Steel, as we understand it now or at that time, were opposed to the signing of the contract, but Myron Taylor thought he'd make himself a big name by signing the contract. He took it upon himself to do that, as I remember. It was not popular.
INTERVIEWER:
And what did your father think should happen?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, Little Steel decided to oppose it. They knew they were facing a strike if they opposed it, they figured they could win the strike, which they did, but that didn't help very much. The government was on the side of the unions, specifically and thoroughly, and it didn't last.
INTERVIEWER:
And the sit-downs that happened at the beginning of 1937, what effect do you think that had on organizing?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, to my knowledge, there was no sit-down strike in the steel business...
INTERVIEWER:
It was in other—
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
In the automotive business. Well, it was just the tenor of the times. You got, the radical heads of the unions decided that was one way to beat the employers into submission, and if they had the support of the government and the local authorities, why, they could do it. Nobody looked very kindly at it, but it was something that happened, that was all. Ford Motor Company was the first one that it happened, you probably know about that. But Ford Motor Company had a lot of trouble. We've supplied Ford Motor Company, father was a friend of Henry Ford's. They talked about it, but I don't know what they talked about, and if I did, I wouldn't say.
INTERVIEWER:
Sort of a general question, how do you think the Great Depression changed this country?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
INTERVIEWER:
So what did your father think of John Lewis?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
He thought he was a louse.
INTERVIEWER:
Can you say, \"My father thought John Lewis\"?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
My father made the famous statement that before he'd sign a contract with John L. Lewis, he'd go back to raising apples on the farm, and he lived up to his word, he never signed the contract. He had somebody else sign it. John L. Lewis, in my opinion, was a louse, and in his opinion, the same thing.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Philip Murray wasn't much better.
Series
The Great Depression
Raw Footage
Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 2
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Blackside, Inc.
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Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
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Interview with Tom Girdler conducted for The Great Depression.
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Raw Footage
Genres
Interview
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Copyright Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode).
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Credits
Interviewee: Girdler, Tom
Interviewer: James, Dante J.
Producing Organization: Blackside, Inc.
Writer: Malkames, Rick
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: cpbaacip1516w96689027__fma261980int20120515_.h264.mp4 (AAPB Filename)
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Citations
Chicago: “The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 2,” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 31, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-js9h41k93j.
MLA: “The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 2.” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 31, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-js9h41k93j>.
APA: The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 2. Boston, MA: Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-js9h41k93j