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INTERVIEWER:
OK.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
All right.
Father's opinion of John L. Lewis was not the highest. In fact, he thought he was a louse.
I'd stress that a little bit, put it in stronger terms, if possible.
Father said that, before he would sign a contract with John L. Lewis, he'd go back to raising apples in Indiana.
He lived up to his word, he never signed the contract, he had the Industrial Relations men sign it for him when they finally signed up in 19—the late '30s, early '40s.
Philip Murray,
who was the Steelworkers head under John L. Lewis,
was just as bad.
They were, I don't think father's definition of them as being Communist-influenced is probably a hundred percent correct, but they were certainly radical in their approach, and they were ruthless in their methods of obtaining, laws meant nothing to them. They would shut down a plant and barricade it, cut off all facilities to it they could, all at the drop of a hat. Those things were all un-American, in my opinion, but at the same time, they happened. So I, I don't look with much favor on the early leaders of the Steelworkers. I think today they have more, as I know it, they have more enlightened management, they're not as militant, they're facing the realities of the day better. Where today, you can't force something on people that make you non-competitive with the world, which is part of our problem. Things that were forced on us, contracts made us non-competitive with the Japanese and have caused a lot of our troubles. Those are just thoughts I have.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, in terms of the Wagner Act, going back to that for a minute, it did not include farm-workers, specifically. Do you know why that happened?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
No, I have no idea.
INTERVIEWER:
Can you say anything about agricultural workers and the Wagner Act, or what, what the rural sector was up against that was different from what was happening in cities?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
I don't have any comments on that, I'm afraid.
INTERVIEWER:
OK. Do you think, not necessarily in the steel industy, but do you think that there were violations of civil liberties, workers' civil liberties in certain places?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
I'm sure there were, in certain instances. I think a lot of the cause of the labor movement was due to the fact that there were people who abused their employee. There was definitely some of that, but not to the extent that it was publicized, pushed, or empha—stressed by the union. I think that more good was done for the employees than bad, although there was definitely reasons for improvement. I think that the healthcare provisions that have come out of all this, even though it's breaking the country today, were a step forward and in the right direction. I'm not so sure that some of the retirement functions are as good as they were. The world changes, and I don't know that I've changed as much as I might, so I don't know if my word is as good as it might be.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, do you know, did your father fear a CIO takeover?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, I don't know what you mean by that...
INTERVIEWER:
Was he, I mean, he, I mean, he still had this very adversarial relationship between the company and the union. Was he, was he worried that the union was going to crush the management, or the business?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
No, I don't think so. I don't think that ever occurred to him, but I believe father felt that the cost of some of the things that were taking place as a result of the union contract was such as to seriously hamper the ability of industry to survive as it had survived. The productivity of the average worker went down, considerably, which made it harder to compete, and a lot of our problems in the world since that time have been generated by that lack of ability to work for a living. I know that, employees I had working for me in the '40s and '50s always felt that they were guaranteed a job. We had, not all of them, but that was the tenor of the Union approach, and I don't know, it dismays me to think of it that way.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, back in Aliquippa, I know that J and L didn't, you were telling me that J and L didn't want the Union to form, and some of what I've read is that, J and L prevented workers from meeting. Do you know how that happened?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
No. I have no comments on that.
INTERVIEWER:
OK.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
I don't know.
INTERVIEWER:
OK. Can we cut for a minute?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
INTERVIEWER:
You were saying, can you start with, J and L may have prevented people from meeting?
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
EP, take seven.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Meeting on company property, but I don't know that they ever did anything to prevent a meeting on property that wasn't company property. I don't know that that ever happened. I'm sure that, if it did happen, there was meetings on company property, that J and L probably had somebody listening at the meeting. I know that during several strikes in the '40s that I was involved in, Wildcat strikes, they'd have meetings and we'd have somebody there to inform us what was what, but we never did anything vicious or uncalled-for or out of order to circumvent the meeting, we were always in favor of the people getting together and discussing their problems, and deciding what they wanted to do about them. There always was a hope that some cooler head would appear and talk a little sense into some of the people, but that very rarely happened.
INTERVIEWER:
Well, let me ask you this, you say they would not let them necessarily meet on J and L property, but J and L also, from what you told me, owned a lot of the town, so would that—
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
They, I'm talking about the mill property, I'm not talking about the town itself. J and L may have owned a house or two, which they did, they owned a lot of houses, but I don't think they ever prevented anybody from meeting in those houses. I'm talking about mill property.
INTERVIEWER:
I see. Can we cut for a minute?
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Yeah.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
OK.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
You ask about father, about what kind of an executive he was. As I said before, I think he was the best business executive I ever met. One of the reasons I say that is, there are few men in this world who have ever had the job of taking a bunch of illogically-mated companies and putting them together in the midst of a depression, and then bringing them through successfully, to the third-largest steel company in the world, which he was successful to do. He did it by perseverance, by smart management, and by, as much as anything else, picking good people to work with him. He was horrified to think that the government felt they could run things better than industry, the industry itself, and I believe he was justified in his belief. He worked hard. He was a hard-working man. He had very little time for his four children during the 1930s. Because of the demands of business he was constantly on the go, but to bring Republic through to a successful company, which it was when he was there, through the times and through the conditions they were in, was a major accomplishment, and I've had people tell me, that they doubt that many people could have done that job as well as he did it. So I think I'm justified in being very proud of my father, very grateful for what he did for the country.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
During the War, he—are you done?
INTERVIEWER:
OK. That was wonderful.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, that's all, I—
INTERVIEWER:
Yes, thank you so—
Series
The Great Depression
Raw Footage
Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 3
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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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cpb-aacip/151-s46h12w116
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Interview with Tom Girdler conducted for The Great Depression.
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Interview
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Credits
Cameraman: Malkames, Rick
Interviewee: Girdler, Tom
Interviewer: James, Dante J.
Producing Organization: Blackside, Inc.
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Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: cpbaacip1516w96689027__fma261981int20120515_.h264.mp4 (AAPB Filename)
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Citations
Chicago: “The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 3,” 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-s46h12w116.
MLA: “The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 3.” 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-s46h12w116>.
APA: The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 3. 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-s46h12w116