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When the United Automobile Workers and the Committee for Industrial Organization with which the union is affiliated chose the automobile industry as their first base of operations, they did not pick a weak link in the national set-up of Wall Street. For G.M. is one of the giant corporations of America - its assets of $1,268,532,025.85 being topped in the field of manufacturing enterprise only by those of the American Telephone and Telegraph and United States Steel. General Motors stands by itself in the automobile industry; its assessed value equals that of Ford, Chrysler, and Studebaker combined, with a few of the lesser shops thrown in for good measure. In 1935 the 350 officers, directors, and managers of General Motors received an aggregate reward of $10,000,000 in salaries, bonuses, and commissions. This represented, for eleven executives, an increase in wages of from 50 to 100 per cent over 1934. In the same period, General Motors granted a 5 per cent increase in the hourly rate of its wage workers. But although G.M. has been more than generous with the top layers, ordinary workers have received an average yearly wage of $1,525, according to the 1935 report. This figure is, of course, too high-it includes the non-automobile worker and the highly skilled craftsman along with the men on the assembly line and at the punch presses. Independent reports have established something under $900 as closer to the annual wage of the average automobile worker. G. M. has been no shining exception to the rule in the automobile industry that “high wages” may be a fine-sounding slogan to sell cars but nothing to worry about in actual manufacturing operation. G. M. boasts of the wide diffusion of its stock ownership: there are 337,218 share-holders, the financial report declares. But nearly half of these, or about 140,000, hold ten shares or less. The du Ponts themselves hold only about 10 per cent of the stock, but nevertheless retain control by pyramiding their holdings into nearly 33 per cent. G. M. has followed the orthodox tradition of the automobile barons in its dealings with its employees. The men, even their private lives, are considered company property. Its espionage organization is almost as highly developed as the feared Ford service; cities like Flint and Pontiac-and Detroit-are completely under its thumb. Long before the notorious Black Legion appeared in the down-river Ford area, G. M. workers in Pontiac dreaded the “Bullet Club,” a secret political organization whose officials practically displaced the formal employment agencies in hiring and firing.

Show Transcript Speaker: Samuel Romer. Interviewed by U-M Flint Labor History Project. Date of interview: 10-13-2001. Edited by Michael Van Dyke.

Copyright: ©2002 Michigan State University.