Going on strike is as American as eating a hot dog at a baseball game. My grandfather went on strike against GM with the UAW in 2008 during mass layoffs, teachers are doing it now to get adequate teaching supplies for their students, and fast food employees are still striking today for better wages. We can thank the OG strikers of 1937 from Flint to allow us to do this. Without them, neither Michigan, nor the United States would know how to handle unions, labor laws, and the future strikes of workers wanting change.
Labor unions were seeing gains for days in 37 thanks to Roosevelt’s pro-union stance via the New Deal. FDR’s New Deal was a hodgepodge of programs set into action to help Americans back on their fight and heighten prosperity from sea to shining sea. This change prompted Americans to do more. Flint was one area that decided to do more and strike, a radical concept comping from Akron (Blackwell 247). From the New Deal and the results of the Flint Strikes of 1937 came right to work laws and freedom to work impact wages which have greatly helped workers, especially those in unions like autoworkers (Thick 197-99). From all of this unions became legitimized like the UAW and new unions started popping up for miners, police officers, and firefighters (Thick 198).
The sit-ins started peaceful, non-violent ideas floated in the heads of “men who don’t start trouble when they’ve been preached to” (Thick 182). This mindset was prompted by “our good Governor insisting there will be no violence” while the National Guards took over streets to make sure the controlled burn that was the auto-strike did not turn violent (Thick 191). Murphy pledged to peace and to stop any unnecessary violence. The common autoworker did not face the stress that O’Rourke went through as far as the legal issues went. Strikers dealt with violence and unsafe conditions while O’Rourke faced the dangers of board meetings. His stress levels, along with other factors caused him to “have lost 26 pounds” (Thick 192). This strike took a tole on the autoworkers along with other Flint employees trying to come to a peaceful yet productive resolve. I would have felt scared, personally, trying to protest against my boss for better wages and to stop mass lay offs, but these workers did what they felt was right and revolutionized how we deal with work place conflict forever and instantly legitimizing the UAW.
Today, men and women of all jobs have union options, my grandfather belongs to the UAW, both my parents belong to teaching unions, and one day I will too. Workers got to talk during lunch and got safer working conditions and better wages. These small changes were the dominoes in a long line of union changes. Wages now go up and aren’t frozen and jobs become safer and safer. All of this today is because of what those Flint workers did. They didn’t just change the game for themselves and future workmen, but they also changed the rapport between employers and employees. Employers are now in charge of the safety of their employees, they have to pay proper wages and give proper training, all of this was new (Thick 197). In 37′ if you were injured or weren’t given proper training, well that was on you, but now employers are liable. There is more respect, more understanding, and better understanding now (Blackwell 243-44).
Our present and future clash with our past especially when it comes to jobs. The revolution of striking for better working conditions is nothing new for us to think about but back in 37′ it was radical, but it worked and evoked change. Radical leaders convinced our Governor that mass industry could and should do better by their employees. Now we can talk on lunch breaks and get capped hours with overtime pay and don’t have to worry about unions because that was already worked out in the twentieth century. Our right to work in the state of Michigan has come from this and so many other labor laws. “Two wars we’ve been through and this last one we knew what we were fighting for” (Thick 193). Their battle changed their own worlds and thus changed the future of laborers.
Thick, Matthew R. The Great Water. Lansing, Mi.: Michigan State University Press, 2018.
Blackwell, Wiley. Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State. Mi.: University of Michigan-Flint, 2014.