Henry and Edsel: The Creation of the Ford Empire

By Richard Bak | Go to book overview
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15
An Invitation to Organize

The idea that Ford is adored by his men has certainly never existed except
outside Detroit. It is probably true that the lay-offs and speed-up due to the
present depression have made them at this time particularly bitter; but one
heard more or less the same story back in 1917, when the first blush of the
high wages was beginning to fade. Today the Ford workers complain not
only of being overworked, but also of being spied on by Ford's secret police
and laid off on trumped-up pretexts. The Ford plant is infested with “spot-
ters” looking for excuses to sack people. Mr. Cunningham tells of an old
man who had been working for Ford seventeen years but who was dis-
charged for wiping the grease off his arms a few seconds before the quitting
bell, and of an office boy sent into the factory on an errand and fired for
stopping off, on his way back, to buy a chocolate bar at a lunch wagon.

—Edmund Wilson, 1931

Just days after Henry Ford dedicated his new museum, the stock market, a runaway train stoked by years of overspeculation, easy credit, and paper profits, finally flew off the tracks. On “Black Tuesday,” October 24, 1929, millions of shares were dumped, touching off a panic that would soon affect every American, investor or not. Detroit, perhaps the city that benefited most from the boom times of the 1920s, was devastated by the resulting economic depression, which came quickly and would linger for most of a decade. Between March 1929 and August 1931 (when Ford closed his factories for five months to change over from the Model A to the V-8), the Ford work force shrunk from 128,000 to 37,000 people. Other businesses that did not

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