UAW’s First Strike: How Flint, Michigan Changed the Workplace
In 1936 the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was in its infancy and General Motors (GM) was the world's largest automaker. The fledgling union had been going plant to plant in its efforts to increase membership. One year before President Roosevelt had signed the Wagner Act into law, which required employers to negotiate with organized unions.
How the UAW Lifted an Entire Companies Workforce and Community By Sitting Down
Despite the new law, automakers continued to either refuse to negotiate or find reasons not to. Rather than continue to single out individual operations, the UAW opted for a much larger pursuit. The whole of GM's workforce.
Related: The Abandoned Neighborhoods of Flint
The biggest hurdle the union faced when thinking about a strike was replacement workers. So instead of making room for someone else, the Flint Sit Down Strike began.
On December 30th, 1936 Flint GM employees stopped working and sat down. This occupation of the GM plant would keep the auto giant from replacing the workforce. Families and friends would show their support by providing fresh clothing and food.
With the community behind them, the hourly workers settled in for the long haul. GM pushed hard for the government and police to intervene.
Flint area police and Michigan Governor Frank Murphy denied GM the assistance they requested as they sided with the workers. The Michigan State Guard was brought in however, they too refused to take any action against UAW members. Even the President of the United States of America expressed his support for striking workers by not intervening.
After 44 days, GM relented and recognized the UAW as the representative union for the workforce. Sit-down strikes followed at Chrysler who also began negotiations with the union. The final holdout was Ford, who eventually opened their doors to the UAW in 1941.