September 4, 2006
A movie produced by General Motors in 1936 called Master Hands that Christine Barry posted to her blog provided the impetus for today’s Labor Day holiday post. She dedicates it to her grandfather and it’s likely that many of us in Michigan have some relative who took some part (for or against) in the tumultuous labor struggles. Below are several links about Michigan’s most famous strike, the Flint Sitdown Strike of 1936-37 at GM’s Fisher Body #1 plant in Flint.
According to Remembering the Flint Sit-Down Strike at HistoricalVoices.org (an amazing web site that includes recordings of workers recalling the strike):
Working on the line at General Motors in Flint was a job many men needed desperately in the 1930′s, but it was also tremendously difficult. Terrible working conditions, combined with unfair and devious payroll practices, made the auto plants of Depression-era Flint into ripe locations for union organization.
The union was the United Auto Workers. The UAW pages on the 44-day strike that ended Feb. 11, 1937 say that it was the most pivitol event the early history of the UAW. The result was the first UAW contract with General Motors and the establishment of the UAW as the sole bargaining representative for GM workers. This account has a lot of details on the political events surrounding the strike.
A couple more excellent resources are Michigan Epic’s multimedia exploration of the Flint strike, The historic 1936-37 Flint auto plant strikes from the Detroit News, Wikipedia’s entry on the Flint Sit-Down Strike and this great slideshow of the monument commemorating the strike in Flint Sitdowners Memorial Park.
Note: The above photo is credited to the Walter P. Reuther Library of Wayne State University. The keen of eye will see that the striking workers are sitting on car seats.
Also check out The Reo Ramblers at the 1937 sit-down strike from Michigan in Pictures & the Archives of Michigan.