1940s >> 1940 >> no-432-august-1940

How Henry Ford Smashes Trade Unions

[The following article, from the “Nation,” New York, May 4th, 1940, throws light on the attitude towards Trade Unions shown by Henry Ford in the U.S.A.]

The Ford Reich

  Labour-union organisations are the worst thing that every struck the earth because they take away a man’s independence.— From “Ford Gives Viewpoint on Labour,” a booklet distributed in Ford plants.

In June, 1937, “Fats” Perry, then a trusted employee of the Ford plant at Dallas, was assigned to special work of a confidential, and strenuous, nature. On the twenty-third he informed his Superiors that two C.I.O. organisers were on their way from Kansas City. A few hours later two representatives of the United Automobile Workers of America arrived in town and went to a drugstore near the plant frequented by Ford workers. Several Ford workers introduced themselves. Three of them were stool pigeons, and one hurried across to the plant to report the presence of the organisers. Another sought out “Fats” Perry. “ I walked over there,” Perry later testified at the Labour Board hearing, “and one of the boys says, ‘There they stand back there ’ . . . . I heard them say something about Kansas City. I walked up and listened a few minutes . . . and I said, ‘Who was talking so much about Kansas City? ’ He says, ‘ I was talking to some of my friends.’ I said, ‘You are a union organiser, aren’t you? ’ He said, ‘If you call it that.’ He says, ‘ I am trying to line some of the boys up.’ I said, ‘ You line up out of that door before I throw you out.’ ”

One of the organisers, after being knocked down by the 226-pound “Fats” Perry, managed to escape. The other, a small man, was knocked down and carried out to a waiting car.   An unidentified man in a Ford Motor Company official car,” according to the N.L.R.B. trial examiner’s report, “drove up and told the group who had Guempelein (the organiser) to take him down by the schoolhouse and ‘beat hell out of him.’ ” They did.

Perry had a squad of beefy fellows, most of whom had been members of the Ford plant’s champion tug-of-war team. They were paid regular wages but assigned special work. They kept their ears open. They “made the rounds of cafes, domino parlours, barber shops, and similar places in the outlying districts of Dallas.” They were equipped with “persuaders”—blackjacks, pistols, whips, lengths of hose. When not in use these “persuaders,” according to the trial examiner, were kept in the desk of the man who was head of the Ford service department in Dallas. The word “service” has interesting connotations in a Ford plant.

On July 3rd, Baron De Louis, the U.A.W.A. organiser from Kansas City who had managed to escape from Perry and his helpers in the encounter of June 23rd, returned to Dallas. Through a friend in Dallas, De Louis arranged an appointment with a Ford employee. The employee at once notified the Ford office of the meeting. Perry’s service squad was on hand and administered another beating. The squad was kept very busy that July. “On one occasion in mid-July,” according to the trial examiner’s findings, “Rutland (general body foreman at the Dallas plant) received word that two of the company employees had made some pro-union remarks while on a fishing trip He arranged to have them kidnapped by the strong-arm squad, taken into the country, questioned, and dealt with by that group.” On another occasion in July several men suspected of union sympathies, were ambushed at the home of a stool pigeon and beaten. On July 10th every member of the “service” squad was given a picture of W. J. Houston, Dallas attorney, who had acted for the U.A.W.A. An organised search for him was begun. He was located in a drugstore, where he was having a cup of coffee with a friend. One member of the group engaged him in conversation while the others assembled at the soda fountain. As Houston started to leave, he was attacked, knocked down, and severely beaten before police arrived. “Fats” Perry testified that Rutland was pleased. ”He [Rutland] said, ‘I heard you picked up Mr. Houston down there.’ I said, ‘Yes, they picked him up and like to beat him to death.’ He said, ‘That is a good job then. Maybe that will learn him to listen.’ ”

The service squad was thorough. On August 2nd an assistant foreman from the Kansas City plant was in Dallas on a vacation trip. He visited the Dallas office. When he came out, he found Perry and his subordinates waiting for him. They took him for a ride. He succeeded in proving that he was a foreman and anti-union. Perry then drove him back to town, ”shook hands . . . and wished him well.” A travelling salesman who had expressed sympathy for the union had a brother, an identical twin. He was beaten so badly on August 4th, 1937, that he never recovered his health. He died of pneumonia a few months later. The squad did not confine its activities to the automobile industry. On August 6th or 7th, according to the findings of the trial examiner, the general body foreman at Dallas called Perry in and told him “he had received a call from the City Hall police station, telling him that there was a union organiser in town who had been giving them trouble. . . .”

The organiser was George Baer, an official of the United Hatters, Cap and Millinery Workers. Some of the boys picked Baer up outside a millinery house, knocked him unconscious, took him to the outskirts of town, and beat him up. When Perry arrived, “they greeted Perry with the statement that Baer was . . .  ‘in pretty bad shape. You better come look at him.’ . . . They found Earl Johnson (one of the ”service” men) sitting on Baer on the floor of the car, with one knee in his stomach and the other on his head. Baer’s eye had been knocked out of its socket. Blood covered his face, his nose was smashed, his head was bleeding, and his teeth had been knocked out.” Perry testified, “I said, ‘Well, you had better get rid of him. You better put him somewhere.’ And Buster Bevill suggested, ‘Let’s take the son of a bitch down and throw him in the river.’ I said, ‘No, we couldn’t do that.’ So we drove down the highway a ways and drove up in a field and throwed him out.”

These were some of the methods used by the Ford Motor Company to encourage workers in Dallas to do their bargaining individually. The facts set down here are taken from the record of hearings before the National Labour Relations Board of the Sixteenth Region.