3. “Bennett’s Pets”
Among the feverishly active workers at the River Rouge Plant, there were always a number of conspicuously idle men. Muscular hulking fellows, with broken noses, cauliflower ears and scarred faces, they sauntered up and down the busy assembly lines, stood beside the doorways to the various shops, and hovered near the gates leading into the plant. They were members of the Service Department’s strong-arm unit. Ford workers called them “Bennett’s pets.”
The strong-arm unit of the Service Department was composed largely of former prizefighters, discharged police officials, ex-convicts, gangsters and gunmen. A typical member of the strong-arm unit, and one of Bennett’s favourites, was Kid McCoy, a former boxing champion who had served a term of imprisonment at San Quentin for murdering his wife . . .
Bennett was in a highly advantageous position to augment the number of criminals on the payroll of the Ford Service Department. He not only had his numerous personal contacts in the criminal underworld; he also was a member of the Michigan Parole Board.
These are a few of the criminals who were paroled from Michigan jails to enter the employment of the Ford Motor Company:
MURDER, 2ND DEGREE — James B. Soldan, Charles Stover RAPE — Anthony Cevette, Joseph Laborn MANSLAUGHTER — Tom Kaschuk Samuel S. Smith INDECENT LIBERTIES — Herlon Carver GROSS INDECENCY — Frank Gage FELONIOUS ASSAULT — Melvin Campbell, George King, Geo. Maid, alias Mallo, Leo Pimpinalli ASSAULT TO ROB — Arthur Fodov, Chas. Foster GRAND LARCENY — Ramon Cotter LARCENY — Frank Ditzek, Archie Forgach, Henry Jones, Robert Paul Lawson, Harry Douglas, Alex Guba, Steve Paley FORGERY — Louis F. Randall ROBBERY, ARMED — Willard Cleary, Robert Cook, Dennis Coughlin, Gilbert Cunningham, John Doe (Frank Korvcinski), Stanley M. Edwards, Gerald Fahndrick, Trevor Falkner, Albert Gazie, Stanley Heay, Taft Hicks, Kenneth Hilliard, George Kalburn, Peter Poppy (alias Popy), William Thomas, Unice Thompson, Marion Williams, Leo Waller BURGLARY — Ray Carney BREAKING AND ENTERING — Walter Hatbowy, Harold R. Harrison, Jefferson D. Haskins, William G. Crane, Francis Dolson, Ernest Martin, Leo Mazzarello, Morris Nadorozny EMBEZZLEMENT — Roy D. Jones VIOLATION DRUG LAW — Lorenzo Sachez BANK ROBBERY — Floyd E. Drennan
“We don’t tolerate rough stuff or thugs in the Ford organization,” Bennett once told a newspaperman visiting the River Rouge Plant. Pointing to a group of bulky Service Department men standing nearby, Bennett added, “These fellows thugs? Why, it’s to laugh! They have nice families and homes in Detroit.”
Such genteel qualities, however, were not reflected in the practises of the strong-arm unit . . .
A typical instance of the strongarm unit’s mode of operation occurred on March 26, 1937. On that day, having previously obtained a permit from the Dearborn City authorities, members of the United Automobile Workers went to distribute union leaflets at the gates of the River Rouge Plant. At the top of the stairway of an overpass leading to the plant, the union men found a group of Ford Servicemen barring their passage.
“This is Ford property,” said one of the Servicemen. “Get the hell off of here!”
As the union men turned, the Ford Servicemen suddenly attacked them from behind.
The Reverend Raymond P. Sanford, a Chicago minister who was acting as an observer for the Conference for the Protection of Civil Rights, later gave this description of the assault on Richard Frankensteen, the director of the UAW Ford Organizing Committee:
A separate individual grabbed him by each foot, by each hand and his legs were spread apart and his body was twisted over to my left, and then other men proceeded to kick him in the crotch and groin and left kidney and around the head and also to gore him with their heels in the abdomen or the general region of his solar plexus.
While members of the Dearborn police force stood by and watched, union men distributing leaflets near the overpass, and not on Ford property, were assaulted with equal ferocity. One of the UAW members, William Merriweather, was clubbed to the ground and stomped upon by Ford Servicemen shouting: “Kill him . . . Bash his face in . . . Kick his brains out . . .” Doctors who later examined Merriweather found that the Servicemen had broken his back.
Women distributing union leaflets were also attacked. Ford Servicemen grabbed them, twisted their arms to make them drop the leaflets, and beat them mercilessly. Reverend Sanford subsequently related:
The girls were at a loss to know, apparently, what to do, and then one girl near me was kicked in the stomach and vomited at my feet, right at the end of the steps there, and I finally shot an imploring glance at one of the mounted policemen, to whom I had previously spoken, and he dashed over on horseback to the west side of the fence, and in a rather pleading tone . . . said: “You mustn’t hurt those women; you mustn’t hurt those women.” … he seemed to speak as one not having authority in the situation and seemed to be pleading, rather, not to injure the women.
Next day, Harry Bennett released a statement to the press. The Ford Motor Company, he said, was in no way responsible for what had happened. “The union men were beaten by regular Ford employees,” stated Bennett. “The employees of the Ford plant want to be left alone by CIO organizers so they can do their work here in peace . . .’1
1. Ford motors, rear ends, body pieces and other car parts were shipped from Dearborn, Michigan, to these assembly plants.
4. The Dallas Affair
In the spring of 1937, Harry Bennett was informed through a report from one of his undercover agents that the International Union of the United Automobile Workers of America was about to launch an organizational drive among the workers at the Ford assembly plant at Dallas, Texas.
The Dallas plant was one of sixteen Ford assembly plants in the United States. * Since the unionization of any one of them would establish a precedent for the others, Bennett dispatched one of his most dependable aides, a man named Warren Worley, to Dallas to help forestall the anticipated union drive.
As soon as Worley arrived at the Dallas plant, Rudolf F. Rutland, general body foreman and head of the Dallas branch of the Service Department, summoned the key servicemen in the plant to his office to confer with Bennett’s emissary. Worley and Rutland outlined a plan of action against UAWA organizers. “We don’t want any of them rats in the plant,” declared Rutland . . ..
“Fats” Perry, a massive thug and onetime wrestler weighing 230 pounds, was placed in charge of a special strong-arm squad. He chose as his chief aides a former pugilist, “Sailor” Barto Hill, and a violent, sadistic ex-convict, “Buster” Bevill. The squad as a whole was composed of about forty criminals, gunmen and professional thugs.
A large and varied arsenal of weapons, including blackjacks, whips, brass knuckles, steel rods and clubs, was maintained for the use of the strong-arm squad. “The boys got their own guns,” stated “Fats” Perry later, “and the blackjacks, they were made in the maintenance department.”
Perry also kept on hand a supply of lengths of leaded rubber hose that he called “persuaders.” They were for use on reticent union men. In Perry’s words: “We persuaded them to talk by applying the rubber to them.”
Under Perry’s supervision, special cruising detachments were organized to keep a constant watch in all parts of Dallas for any union activity, and to check at bus stations, train depots and hotels for the possible arrival of union organizers. The vigil soon extended to Fort Worth, Houston, Beaumont and other neighboring cities. “We knew if they got into those cities,” explained “Buster” Bevill afterwards, “they’d be in Dallas next, and so we went after them.”
As soon as the cruising detachments located a union man, they got in touch with “Fats” Perry. Then the strong-arm squad went into action . . .
On June 23, 1937, a UAWA official named Baron De Louis arrived in Dallas with Leonard Guempelheim, a member of the executive committee of the union’s Kansas City Local. Even before they registered at the New Dallas Hotel, “Fats” Perry knew of their presence in town.
Later that same day the two union representatives were eating lunch in a drug store when Perry and a group of his thugs strolled up to them.
“You’re a union organizer, aren’t you?” Perry asked De Louis.
“If you call it that,” De Louis replied. “I’m trying to line some of the boys up.”
Without warning, Perry smashed his fist into De Louis’ face, knocking him backwards over the soda fountain. At the same time, the other Ford thugs attacked the two union men with fists and blackjacks. Breaking away, De Louis ran from the drugstore. Guempelheim was less fortunate. He was dragged to a nearby schoolyard, knocked down, kicked and repeatedly lifted to his feet and battered to the ground again. Finally, the beating stopped.
“Now you get the hell out of town,” Perry told Guempelheim, “and take that other CIO son-of-a-bitch with you and never come back to Dallas.”
His face covered with blood and several of his ribs broken, Guempelheim staggered down the street and made his way back to the New Dallas Hotel.
The brutal assault, which had been witnessed by a number of bystanders, was promptly reported to the Dallas Police Department. No arrests were made . . .
To guard against possible infiltration of the Dallas plant by union organizers, every applicant for a job was carefully questioned. Those suspected of “union leanings” were given the “third-degree” by the strong-arm squad. “We would whip them,” Perry later related, “some with fists, some with blackjacks, some with lashes made out of windshield cord.”
If workers were so badly injured that the local authorities had to make inquiries, members of the strong-arm squad temporarily left Dallas. As Perry put it: “When things got too hot for the boys, they beat it out of town for a while.” The Ford office ordinarily advanced travelling expenses for these hasty trips.
As these expenses mounted, and there was also the occasional necessity of paying fines and fees to bondsmen and attorneys, the Dallas Service Department chief, Rudolf Rutland, declared to have the workers in the plant help defray the costs. A glass jar was placed every payday on a stand which workers had to pass after receiving their pay checks. Members of the strong-arm squad stood nearby and told the workers to “hit the jar.” After each payday’s collection, Perry took the jar to the office of W. A. Abbott, the plant superintendent. The money was turned over to Abbott’s secretary, Leon Armstrong, who had opened in his own name a special account for the “fighting fund” at the Grand Avenue State Bank of Dallas . . .
On August 7, 1937, Rutland received a telephone call from the Dallas Police Department advising him that an official of the United Hatters, Cap and Millinery Workers International Union named George Baer had arrived in Dallas for the purpose of organizing the millinery workers in the city. The police inspector recommended, “Perry’s boys go after him.”
Two days later, Baer was kidnapped by some of “Fats” Perry’s men and taken to the Sportatorium, a stadium on the outskirts of the city.
Shortly afterwards, the Ford thugs telephoned “Fats” Perry from the stadium. “You better come down and look at Baer,” Perry was told. “He’s in pretty bad shape.”
Together with “Buster” Bevill, Perry drove to the Sportatorium. The car containing Baer and his captors was parked in back of the stadium. Baer was lying on the floor. Blood covered his disfigured face. His nose was smashed and most of his teeth had been knocked out. One eye was hanging from its socket.
“Well, you better get rid of him,” said Perry. “You better put him somewhere.”
“Buster” Bevill pulled Baer out of the car and let him fall on the ground. “Let’s take the son-of-a-bitch,” said Bevill, “and throw him in the river.”
The Ford thugs put Baer back in the car, drove along the highway for a few miles and threw him out into a field.
As the strong-arm squad was driving back to Dallas, Bevill said, “We better call the McKamy Cambell Funeral Home and have them pick him up.”
But despite the fearful punishment he had received, George Baer did not die. In a semi-conscious state, he crawled out to the highway, was picked up by a passing motorist and taken to a hospital. Ten days later, Baer was well enough to leave the hospital. He was, however, totally blind in one eye.
Within six months after the arrival at the Dallas plant of Bennett’s aide, Warren Worley, approximately fifty union members, “suspects” and organizers had been assaulted by “Fats” Perry’s strong-arm squad on the streets of Dallas, or kidnapped and taken to the outskirts of the city, where they were flogged, blackjacked, tarred and feathered, and tortured. A mood of suspicion and fear permeated the plant. Not knowing who might be a company spy, the workers were now afraid even to mention the subject of unions. The UAWA efforts to organize the Dallas plant were at a standstill.
An expression of the management’s satisfaction with the antiunion drive was contained in a letter sent by the Plant Superintendent, W. A. Abbott, to “Fats” Perry, the day before Christmas, on December 24, 1937. The letter read:
Dear “Fats”: “RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW”
That statement covers a lot of territory, and it means that you personally have taken many steps, so to speak, since last December 25th.
For your various steps toward better cooperation, a better understanding among your co-workers, and the best organization in the company, I wish to express sincere appreciation from the writer and from the Company.
I know that you have on many occasions tackled problems that seemed difficult to solve— but you made the grade. Though you may not have realized it, your efforts and ability to carry on enabled the Dallas Branch to pass another milestone and hang up the sign “PRODUCTION NOT INTERRUPTED.” That too covers a lot of territory.
I thank you for your genuine loyalty to the Company and for your individual accomplishments to maintain harmony and efficiency . . . You kept the Dallas Branch ahead another year, in more ways than one. LET’S CARRY ON.
With best regards, and the Season’s Greetings, I am. Sincerely yours,
s/ W. A. Abbott, Superintendent.
Early in 1940, after many months of preliminary investigation and painstaking collation of evidence, the National Labor Relations Board charged the Ford Motor Company with violation of the Wagner Labor Act at its Dallas plant.
At an extraordinary Board hearing held in Dallas from February 26 to March 28, 1940 there unfolded the whole appalling story of the anti-union campaign waged by the Ford Management at the Dallas plant. Among the numerous witnesses who testified concerning the machinations of the Ford espionage apparatus and the gruesome operations of Perry’s strong-arm squad were former company spies, ex-members of the strong-arm squad, and union organizers and1 ‘suspects” who had been beaten and tortured by the Ford thugs. The total testimony filled 4,258 closely typed pages.
The most comprehensive and damning testimony against the Ford Company came from “Fats” Perry himself, who had turned state’s evidence and who described in full detail his activities as head of the strong-arm squad. Here is an excerpt from Perry’s testimony relating how “union suspects” were “taken for a ride”:
Q. What would you do then?
A. Well, the first thing we would do, we would search them and find out if they had any identification belonging to a union of any kind, or where they were from, or what they belonged to, and give them a good talk, and worked over some of them, ones that we had under suspicion of being a union man or if they had cards on them.
Q. What do you mean “gave them a working over”?
A. We would whip them, beat them up.
Q. With what?
A. Put the fear of God in them as they call it.
Q. What would you whip them with?
A. Some with fists, some with blackjacks.
Q. Anything else?
A. One or two of them we whipped with a regular whip we had made out of rubber wind cord and some of them— one of them was whipped according to whether we thought he could take it or not with brushes off of trees, limbs.
Through such beatings, it was revealed at the hearing, Ford thugs had crippled thirty-five men, blinded one, and mutilated and seriously injured dozens of others.
One of the most shocking revelations at the hearing came during the testimony of Archie C. Lewis, a salesman of fire-fighting equipment in Dallas, whose outspoken pro-union views had incurred the enmity of members of the Ford Service Department. Lewis related how Ford thugs, mistaking his twin brother for himself, had brutally attacked his brother, beating ‘him unconscious with blackjack blows on the head and kicks in the stomach. After the beating, his brother hovered between life and death for several months. Shortly before he finally died, he told Archie Lewis: “You know they killed me, mistaking me for you.”
Ford attorneys offered a singular defense. They introduced witnesses who solemnly declared that the Ford workers “feared” union organizers were going to “invade” the Dallas plant, and had therefore organized gangs to “protect” themselves.
The Ford counsel, Neth L. Leachman, summed up this line of defense with the statement: “The things these people were protecting was their lunch baskets and they did not want to be molested in their happy conditions.”
The evidence against Ford was overwhelming.
“No case within the history of this board,” stated Trial Examiner Robert Denham in his report, “is known to the undersigned in which an employer had deliberately called and carried into execution a program of brutal beatings, whippings and other manifestations of physical violence comparable to that shown by the uncontradicted and wholly credible evidence on which the findings are based.”
The Board found the Ford Motor Company guilty of flagrant violations of the Wagner Labor Act, and ordered the company to cease these practices and to rehire those employees who ‘had been discharged because of their union activities.
It was the eleventh decision of the National Labor Relations Board against the Ford Motor Company.1
1. Other NLRB hearings had been held in connection with the company’s anti-labor operations at River Rouge and Ford branch plants, located in Chicago, Buffalo, St. Louis, Kansas City, Somerville (Mass.), and Richmond and Long Beach, California.
In all of these cases, the NLRB kept the American public largely unaware of the sensational findings. The Dallas hearing, for example, was covered by only one major newspaper, the New York Times. Otherwise, with the exception of the left wing and labor press, the extraordinary revelations at the hearing were almost entirely suppressed by the nation’s press.
When the author of this book was collecting material for a series of articles on Ford in 1939, which were subsequently published in Friday magazine, he learned that a considerable amount of Ford data uncovered by Dallas reporters had never been printed by their newspapers but had, instead, been filed away in the newspaper “morgues.” Among such material, which the author managed to obtain, were photographs of trade unionists after they had been beaten and tortured by “Fats” Perry’s strong-arm squad.