Flint Sit-down Strike (1936 - 1937)

Flint Sit-down Strike (1936 - 1937)
Flint Sit-down Strike

During the Great Depression rapid advances in industrial technology allowed employers to reduce their workforces while demanding increased production; layoffs, speed-ups, and reduced pay burdened destitute auto workers who were overworked, underpaid, harassed, and threatened with unjustified termination.

At 10:00 p.m. on December 30, 1936, workers at Fisher Body Plant Number One in Flint, Michigan, noticed rail men loading machine dies into railcars, an indication that General Motors planned to move their jobs to nonunion plants.

In response the employees began a nonviolent, legal work stoppage by sitting down near valuable equipment, a relatively new organizing tactic. They then refused to leave the plant.

Previously, protesters who had chosen the picket line as a means of demonstration were beaten by local police, the Black Legion, or National Guardsmen in corporate violation of New Deal legislation; by remaining inside and blocking doors and windows, the strikers were assured a high degree of safety. Shortly thereafter workers shut down Plant Number Two.

On January 11, 1937, the Women's Emergency Brigade, consisting of wives and supporters of the men locked inside Plant Number Two, delivered food to the strikers. The Flint police, at the urging of General Motors, attempted to storm the plant; tear gas and bullets were answered with a hail of auto door hinges, bolts, and streams of cold water from fire hoses. The ensuing retreat came to be known as the "Battle of Bull's Run," for police were commonly referred to as "bulls."

By January 29, 1937, strike strategists floated a rumor that the union would try to take over Plant Number Six while feigning an attack on Plant Number Nine. Company spies reported this plan, but guards and security personnel were unprepared for the union's real objective—Plant Number Four, General Motors' largest producer of Chevrolet engines. Both diversions were successful, and on February 1, 1937, union men easily took control of Plant Number Four, paralyzing national production.

Frank Murphy, Michigan's prolabor governor, refused General Motors' request to break the strike with the intervention of National Guardsmen, and on February 11, 1937, day 44 of the sit-down, the company signed a contract with the United Auto Workers, recognizing the union as the sole bargaining agent for all members in all plants. Within two months of the "Strike Heard Around the World," the Wagner Act was passed, guaranteeing workers the right to bargain collectively.