Interviewing The Union Activist Mike Widman Cultural Studies Essay

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Mike Widman was a union activist who was interviewed by Stud Terkel and later the interview was published in his book hard times. Wildman was instrumental in planning and executing the great Ford strike in 1941. Mike Wildman was appointed director of the campaign to organize the ford motor company with assistance of the CIO. Ford Company was one of the last companies to holdout against the UAWU. Wildman helped Ford employees who worked at the assembly line to give up their fear of losing their jobs to stand up for their rights. Despite there being the great depression Widman helped workers of the assembly line fight for proper treatment at their work place. Some of the workers were usually beaten down and laid off without reason. The company would fire people from wearing the wrong color of shirt. Wildman through his union activities challenged Ford to hold an election for the company in a bid to get better working conditions for the workers in the company. (Zeitlin N. 1996)

On April 1st 1941 due to the firing of five men on Wildman's grievance committee, Wildman and his union called a strike. The strike was called at 12.15 just after midnight. The demonstrators advocated for the reinstatement of the five employees fired the day before but Ford would have none of it. Therefore Widman led union member employees to block roads that led to the plant. They blocked all fourteen highways that led to the company's plant. Even the governor at the time intervened and asked for the roads to be opened but the demonstrators did not agree not unless the plant remains closed. The strike lasted for about nine or ten days when the company consented to the UAWU elections to be held and everyone went back to work without discrimination. The UAWU won the vote with 70% and got certified. Ford also agreed to all the other grievances that had been presented. It was stated that the company would pay better. The company promised to march what rival companies were paying their employees. (Zeitlin N. 1996)

The company also offered the employees the power to vote for which foreman they would want to work under. The success of this strike gave the employees a new sense of freedom to demand for fair working conditions and from there on there was a rush of strikes and employees were able to bring their grievances for settling.

Mary McLeod Bethune was born in 1875 and died in 1955. . She was born in Maysville, Southern California to former slaves after the end of the American Civil War. She was an American educator of African American descent. She was a leader for women and fought for their rights in the 1930s. She also fought for equal rights to education and freedom from discrimination of minorities. She advocated and preached that through education blacks in America could be able to make an honest living in a country that was opposed to racial equality. She was best known as one of the best advisers to several Presidents of the United States. She herself was lucky since she gained an education. (Mary McLeod Bethune 2001)

She started school at the age of 11 and later gained a scholarship to attend Scotia Seminary which was a school for African American girls and graduated in 1983. In 1904 she opened the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls. The school would later on accept boys. The school was situated on a rented flat in Daytona and had six pupils in total. The school lacked for equipment and students had to make do with what they had. As the school began she was the teacher, head and administrator of the school but as time progressed she was able to hire staff to work at the school. The fees charged by the school was 50cents a week which was only enough to maintain the running of the school. (Mary McLeod Bethune 2001)

Bethune also opened a high school and hospitals for the blacks who were immensely segregated at that time. In 1923 her school merged with the Cookman institute to form the Bethune Cookman College. She was also involved in politics. She is celebrated for fighting for black people rights ii nth Red Cross. It was through her effects that blacks working for the Red Cross were allowed to perform the duties of the white.

Other achievements include:

She was named president of the FFCW (Florida Federation of Colored Women) IN THE LATE 1920s she was also the president of the National Association of Colored Women. In 1935 during the great depression she formed the National Council of Negro Women. The main task of the National Council of Negro women was to advocate the rights of women and those of black people. Bethune served as director of the National Youth Administration's Division of Negro Affairs in 1936 and also served on President Truman's Committee of Twelve for National Defense in 1951 as an advisor.

She was able to be close and advice the following American Presidents: Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Theodore Roosevelt on the rights of minorities, child welfare, housing, unemployment, women's rights and education. Mary McLeod Bethune died on May 18, 1955.

My character is an uneducated black man who is unemployed living in Detroit in the 1935. My unemployed status is due to the recent lay off without any reason by the Ford Company. I did not have a chance to get an education since most schools at the time I was growing up did not let me gain an education. I am also finding it really hard to get a job since I am black and there is racial segregation and my lack of education.

The reason I chose Mike Widman was because he advocated for the organization of assembly plants in the 1930s as well as advocated for equal rights for the minorities. This will help me build a better setup and a better. I chose Mary McLeod Bethune also because she also advocated for equal rights for the minorities and also lobbied for education for the minorities.

The setup

The setup of this dialog is that me, a young man from Detroit has just been laid off by the Ford Company due to no apparent reason and I am meeting with Mike Widman and Mary McLeod Bethune who both advocate for the rights of minorities. The main issue for our meeting is due to the treatment of minorities, the problems of working at an assembly line and unions that champion for the treatment of employees. I am also going to discuss with them the plans they have in ensuring that the rights of minorities and employees are going to be protected from exploits. I am also going to discuss with them the championing of empowering minorities in America through education/.

The Dialogue

Me: How are both of you? I am really glad that you have agreed to have a sit down with me so as to discuss a few issues that I have.

Mike: I am more than glad to be of your assistance

Bethune: Me too. I hope we could shed more light on your issues and be of more assistance.

Mike: would you please feel free and open up to us. Speak about whatever issue.

Me: as I had earlier told you I lost my job recently at the ford company plant in Detroit known as the River Rogue plant. The grounds on which I was laid off were not justifiable and I would like for someone to step in and try to help me either get my job back or get compensated.

Bethune: Which department was u in?

Me: I was in the assembly line.

Bethune: before we could get into highlighting the issue I would like to ask whether you have any form of formal education

Me: No.

Mike: Why is that so?

Me: I was born and raised in Detroit. I have lived there my whole life. As I was growing up there was no opportunity for me to go to school or get any form of education.

Mike: Why? Aren't there any schools in the neighborhood where you grew up?

Me: there were schools in my neighborhood. The main reason why I did not go to school is because of racial segregation as I grew up. There were not enough schools for young black men. I grew up knowing that all men end up working either in farms or in assembly lines.

Bethune: were your parents interested in taking you to school?

Me: my parents were also uneducated, my father worked in assembly lines too and they did not have enough money to take me to school. I don't blame them but they too did not know the benefits of a good education.

Mike: I see. Therefore you were employed as a casual worker at the assembly line?

Me: Yes.

Mike: What exactly did you do at the assembly line?

Me: my job description was packaging parts like fenders which were meant for transport to the other plants in the country.

Mike: How much were you being paid by the company?

Me: About 4 dollars a day for a whole days work.

Bethune: How could you term the working conditions at the plant?

Me: working conditions in the plant were really poor. Once one reported to work at 8 am the gates were locked and no one was let out till 5 p.m. everyone had to carry their own lunch and buy their own equipment for example overalls and gloves.

Bethune: were there any forms of oppression at the plant?

Me: yes there was. One is under constant surveillance in the plant. There are men in plain clothes around the plant who monitor virtually all that goes on in the plant. One could not go to the toilet without the permission of the foreman. If one was late by only a minute, one would lose the whole hours pay. If one got late more than once they are fired.

Mike: How are the rights of workers in the plant?

Me: The rights of workers are highly violated. Workers have no rights in the plant. The plant has a department called the service department which is made up of men who have served time in prison.

Bethune: Sorry to interrupt but Ford is employing convicted criminals?

Me: Yes he is. They offer an excellent espionage system for finding employees who try go against the company. Employees found you ultimately get fired.

Bethune: is there racial equality at the plant?

Me: to be very honest the company is not racist. It readily offers jobs to black people and white people equally. The company mainly knows that most black people are uneducated and this is their chance of working at an industry.

Mike: this seems like its exploiting your desperation

Me: it may seem so but most of us are uneducated and have no other option or likelihood of getting a better job.

Bethune: it is exploitation since the company is taking advantage of your situation and is using you as cheap labor.

Mike: you know she is right. The company knows the only way to get cheap labor is by readily employing desperate men like you who are uneducated and also those that are from prison.

Me: It does not occur to us. All I want is to put food on the table for my children. Is there any way that I can get help in order to get my old job back?

Mike: A campaign is being planned to organize most companies for example Ford in accordance with CIO. The campaign is going to champion for the rights of employees for example better pay and better working conditions.

Bethune: I will talk to the board of directors of Youth Administration's Division of Negro Affairs to try and intervene in your behalf and try to pressure the Ford Company to give you back your job.

Mike: I am of the idea that it makes no sense to go back to the old work place if the work conditions are still horrible. Let's first fix the system so that even your kids and future generations could benefit.

Bethune: that is very true. We should first concentrate on righting this wrong before we get you back there. How are your jobs searching efforts?

Me: I have tried my best to find a descent job but since I am uneducated I can't find a job. Also the fact that I am black does not help that much. I can't be able to find myself a job. What do you suggest I do in the mean time?

Mike: I could find you a position in another company. A friend of mine owes me a favor and I am going to help you get a job.

Me: Thank you very much. I highly appreciate it.

Mike: You're welcome.

Me: Thank you Mrs. Bethune. I highly appreciate you giving me your time like this. It's a kind and noble gesture. Thank you so much.

Bethune: You're welcome. I am just trying to help you and by helping you I am helping others.

Issues in the 1930s

In the 1930s the major issues outlined by this dialog are Assembly Line Production, unions and the treatment of minors. Assembly lines were riddled with bad pay, poor working conditions and exploitation of employees. This could be attributed to the economic depression then. Many production line companies were cutting costs thus firing employees randomly, others provided very poor working conditions to workers who were desperate and had no money. The growth of union movements is also highlighted.

Union movements tried to bring sanity to most of the companies that were exploiting their employees. They made sure that companies had good pay for their employees and also offered better working conditions.

The treatment of minorities was also a major issue in the 1930s. Most of the minorities could not get an education due to lack of racial equality in the school system. This led to them being desperate for work for assembly line companies that exploited them fully.


The overall perspective of this dialog is that the 1930s was a tough time to live in. this is mostly due to the economic depression. It was a time when people had no money. Money was scarce commodity therefore people were desperate. Also the minorities did not enjoy equal rights. They did not get educated and this made their live even harder.