The 1930s Flint Autoworkers Strike That Changed History
There's a little park in Flint that was made as a memorial to the 1936-1937 sitdown strike at the GM Fisher Body Plant.
According to History.com, it was on December 30, 1936 when GM employees barricaded themselves in the plant and refused to work. Why? They wanted the UAW to be their only bargaining agent, stop sending work to non-union plants (they caught wind of GM's plan to move the dies for the vehicle body parts), and a fair minimum wage. Aside from that, there was no overtime pay for men, women were not allowed to work overtime, conditions were hot & miserable, and employees – especially the women - had hardly any time to take a bathroom break.
The strikers figured it was too cold to picket outside, and if they locked themselves in the plant, GM “would have to get past us”. It would also deter any scabs that could be brought in. Female employees were not allowed to stay inside with the men.
Without the vehicle body parts no longer being produced, the plant basically had no choice but to shut down most of its production. Flint had one of only two sets of GM body dies, so without them, the whole company would suffer nationwide.
After awhile, tempers flared between the strikers, the strike-breakers, and the police; GM officers turned the heat off and police tried to cut off their attempts at getting food. Michigan's Governor Frank Murphy finally had to deploy the National Guard to keep peace and protect the strikers from the outside forces. Even President Franklin Roosevelt tried to convince GM to recognize the union.
But GM was feeling the squeeze...their previous December output was 50,000 – in February, only 125 vehicles were produced.
44 days after the strike began, on February 11, 1937, an agreement was concluded between the UAW and GM, and the strike was ended.
So what did the sitdown strike accomplish? Among the provisions were:
For 6 months, GM would not deal with any spokesperson except those from the UAW without the governor's permission.
Everyone who was on strike would be re-hired.
All court issues involving union members were dissolved.
Workers received a 5% raise in pay.
Employees were given permission to speak about the union in the lunchroom.
Plus, through this strike, the UAW was seen as more legitimate.
It ended up being “the most significant American labor conflict in the twentieth century”. To remember and recognize this historic milestone, the Sitdowners Memorial Park was created at the junction of Executive Plaza Drive and Penbrook Lane in Flint.
Take a look at the gallery below.
By the way, Flint filmmaker Michael Moore's uncle was one of the strikers.
Sitdowners Memorial Park in Flint
Michigan Man Created the Four-Way Traffic Light, 1920
ARZENO SELDEN, THE STRATOSPHERE MAN
The Michigan General of the Spanish-American War