The 1930’s was a time of pain, reform and ultimately growth. The need for change and demonstration started long before the 1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike, although, the Flint Sit-Down Strike was the most successful.
Automobile workers were often overworked, underpaid and often at the mercy of their foreman. These conditions negatively effected many workers. This is evident in the case of the Kelsey-Hayes company. Kelsey-Hayes was a producer of Henry Ford parts. A woman worker within the complex was underpaid and was very concerned about providing for her children. The amount of pressure was too much and she fainted. This was the amount of stress workers were forced to deal with in order to earn a living. With her help, and the organization of her brother, Walter Reuther, workers protested. The protest was successful but there was still more change that needed to be done.
On December 30, 1936 General Motor workers began their first Sit-Down Strike. Workers came to work, and then they sat. They did absolutely nothing for GM, they did not produce anything. A Sit-Down Strike was exactly what the automobile industry needed. Being present insured that others could not replace their position and it also completely stopped the company from producing. This form of protest was the most effective for automobile workers. The protest ended up lasting a long time, over a month. During this time, General Motors tried various measures to get the workers to leave the plant. They turned off the heat and blocked food distribution. I cant imagine how the workers felt at this time but their strength and resilience prevailed. On February 11th the protest came to an end and the UAW became the representative of GM workers.
The Sit-Down Strike became the way many protested among other companies. Ford Motors was not a fan of the Sit-Down Strike and understood the impact that a Sit-Down Strike can have. Ford Henry took measures to insure that it would not happen at his plant. They armed the plant with security. During Fords defiance, their most appalling example of their resistance took place, the “Battle of the Overpass.” Security at Ford Henry badly beat UAW officers. This resulted in a public outcry. Ford finally came to an agreement with the UAW. The Sit-Down Strike is significant in that it also became a form of protest that many others used with other companies. It changed how employers and employees related, as employers had to listen to their employees for production to continue. It gave the employees an opportunity to express the changes they wanted and it was effective. The Flint Sit-Down Strike set the stage for great changes. Not just for the automobile industry as seen with GM and Henry Ford but for all employers and employees.
Flint Sit-Down Strike Video 1 and 2
Rubenstein, Bruce A., and Lawrence E. Ziewacz. Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State. Wiley, 2014.