Battling “Fordism” in 1937
On May 26, 1937, Bill May was a twenty-jour-year-old wire service reporter new to the labor beat when he innocently hitched a ride to history with several top union organizers. May later became a reporter and photographer for the Muskegon Chronicle and retired in 1974 as the paper's managing editor.
I remember one day in the spring of 1937 when I went down to the River Rouge plant, looking for workers to ask what they thought of the UAW I'd ask questions, but mostly I got silence and a look that clearly indicated suspicion. I could hardly blame them. Most of them were too frightened to talk to reporters. They just wanted to hold onto their jobs.
But there was one fellow not far from the plant. He was sitting by some rail tracks, eating lunch from a brown paper bag, and he let me sit down by him. He spoke with a heavy accent, in English I could hardly understand, and he, too, didn't feel like talking much. I explained to him how Henry Ford had warned his employees about joining the union, and how Ford had praised the benefits of working in a nonunion company.
He listened to me and then he was quiet for a minute. Then he said, “Well, if Meester Ford say that, eet mus' be so. Meester Ford—he's all right man.”
This conversation took place shortly before the “Battle of the Overpass,” when Richard Frankensteen, Walter Reuther, Robert Kanter and