A New Social Order
The day they walked out of Ford, one of the Italian company guards who
was an ex-convict, pulled out a gun in the machine shop and he went to
the guys. He said, “If you leave the machine, I'll blow your brains out.”
Another Italian boy, who was a union man, appeared from somewhere
between the machines and he pulled out a knife and cut this company
guard's belly wide open. His guts came out and they had to take him to the
hospital right away. Now the guys could walk out. I mean, the thing got so
bad. Finally, we succeeded.
—Nick DiGaetano, recalling the climactic 1941 strike
Foundry worker Shelton Tappes, called back to the Rouge after a layoff, made the mistake of marching in the 1939 Labor Day parade in downtown Detroit without attempting to disguise his identity. “I didn't wear a mask like I was supposed to, because I thought, 'This is a free country,'” Tappes remembered.
When he reported to the Ford employment office the following day, he was told: “Oh, you like to walk, don't you? Well, you walk yourself out that door, and you just keep on walking, 'cause you don't work here anymore.”
With that, Tappes's name was added to the ever-lengthening list of arbitrarily fired Ford employees petitioning the National Labor Relations Board to get their jobs back. While waiting for his case to wind its way through the legal system, he worked full-time for the union, receiving $15 a week in car fare and 60 cents an hour when he distributed handbills.