The 1937 Flint strike was in part enabled by the creation of the Committee for Industrial Organization, which included the United Automotive Workers (UAW) in 1935. The creation of the UAW is important to note because up until 1935, the only prior union available was one that was run by the company. However, even with the creation of the UAW management refused to bargain with them, because the union was new and viewed as weak. The 1937 Flint Strike changed this and more.
The 1937 Flint strike was one of the first of its kind. Prior to the Flint strike, the “sit-down” technique was used in 1936 by rubber workers in Akron, Ohio. This technique was beneficial to the autoworkers for several reasons, namely because they were unskilled workers. Meaning that if they were to use regular strike techniques, they were easily replaceable. Another key reason that the creation of the UAW was beneficial was that due to the unskilled nature of their labor the American Federation of Labor, a craft union, refused to accept the auto workers as members leaving them with little to no options in terms of fair representation. By utilizing the “sit-down” strike technique, the UAW members believed that they would have a better chance for collective bargaining, because by remaining in the automotive plant, management would be less likely to take action that would damage equipment.
Ultimately the 1937 Flint strike lasted for 44 days and is known as the first major unionization victory in the United States. It created a wave of intense union activity, resulting in wage increases, seniority benefits, maximum hours, ending “speedup” production, and the replacement of security forces with uniformed guards. Eventually the “sit-down” technique spread to nonautomotive businesses, with the majority of the strikes settled to labor’s advantage. While the 1937 Flint strike played a key part in automotive workers unionizing and moving forward in bettering their working conditions and pay, it was the New Deal that truly made the 1937 Flint strike possible.
The National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act 1935 was a New Deal reform passed by President Franklin Roosevelt. This was important for workers because it protected the rights of them and their employer, while encouraging collective bargaining. The passing of the Wagner Act made it lawful for the workers to strike as they did in 1937. Which is important to note because at different points in time during the Flint strike, General Motors attempted to unlawfully end the strike.
One could imagine that the automotive workers were simultaneously terrified and hopeful by what the outcome of the strike could be. I’m sure that they missed their families and friends, yet it seems that they had plenty of support by their loved ones. In the end, one would assume that they all felt it was worth the inherent risks that were taken given they strike was victorious in the end.
“Flint Sitdown Strike–Pt. 1”. YouTube, uploaded by James Von Shilling 6 January 2010,
“Flint Sitdown Strike–Pt. 2”. YouTube, uploaded by James Von Shilling 6 January 2010,
French, Amy. Impact of the Automobile PowerPoint Week 4.
Rubenstein, Bruce A. and Lawrence E. Ziewacz. Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State. Wiley Blackwell, 2014.