Flint Sit-Down Strike (1936-1937)

 

Workers inside one of the plants mark day 21 on the strike calendar, Flint, Michigan.
Photo: Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

The Flint Sit-Down Strike is known as the most important strike in American history because it changed the United Automobile Workers (UAW) from a collection of isolated individuals into a major union, ultimately leading to the unionization of the United States automobile industry.

General Motors (GM) provided many men in Flint, Michigan with jobs in the 1930’s, but the working conditions were horrible and the pay was unfair. The dangers faced by employees and their overwhelming dissatisfaction made the GM plants the perfect foundation for union organization. While previous attempts to strike occurred in the Flint plants in 1930 and 1934, they were broken up by the company and the Flint police. However, in 1935, Congress passed the Wagner Act, legalizing strikes (Michigan State University, n.d.).

Encouraged by these legal protections, on December 30, 1936 GM employees in the GM Fisher Number One Plant began their 44-day sit-in, during which they refused to work or leave the Fisher One, Fisher Two, and Chevrolet Number 4 plants. Then Governor, Frank Murphy, refused to interfere with the strike, so GM decided to make the plant conditions intolerable by cutting the plants’ heat and electricity and by preventing food deliveries (Eller, 2010). However, the strikers maintained a sense of order and discipline. The two strike leaders, Bob Travis and Roy Reuther, helped to establish committees for cleaning, exercise, security, entertainment, and defense (Michigan State University, n.d.).

General Motors and their sympathizers found this sit-down form of protest to be an affront to American values, such as right to property (Michigan State University, n.d.).  After a series of violent clashes between the strikers, police, and GM “goons,” including the Battle of Bull’s Run, Governor Murphy summoned the U.S. National Guard to reestablish peace. Furthermore, a group of women organized the Women’s Emergency Brigade to similarly organize protests and coordinate deliveries of food and supplies to the men involved in the sit-down strike. Even children joined the protests (Eller, 2010).

On February 11, 1937, with its automobile production severely crippled, GM reached an agreement with  the UAW to end the labor strike. (Eller, 2010).

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References

Michigan State University. (n.d.). The strike. Historical Voices. Retrieved from http://flint.matrix.msu.edu/strike.php

Eller, T. (2010). Subject focus: Remembering the Flint Sit-Down. Walter P. Reuther Library. Retrieved from https://reuther.wayne.edu/node/7092

For further reading:

The Flint, Michigan, Sit-Down Strike (1936-1937)

United Automobile Workers (UAW)

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project (2017). Flint sit-down strike (1936-1937). Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/great-depression/flint-sit-strike-1936-1937/

**Article updated March 27. 2017

 

2 Responses to Flint Sit-Down Strike (1936-1937)

  1. George J. Fulkerson says:

    ACCORDING TO UNION LEADER RICHARD FRANKENSTEIN HE WAS PRESENT AT A MEETING in 1937 OF JOHN L. LEWIS AND GM LAWYERS IN GOV FRANK MURPHY’S LANSING OFFICE REGARDING THE 1937 SIT DOWN STRIKE. HE DESCRIBED IT TO ME IN 1960.

  2. […] and plot events in Bud, Not Buddy. Phase two involves a study of The Great Depression and Flint, Michigan during 1936, which is the general setting of our […]

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