The First Sit-down Strike

By | Feb 11, 2008

Early in the morning of February 11, 1937, the men who on December 30th began a sit-down strike at General Motors Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint, Michigan learned that their strike was over and they had won.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) was only a little over a year old. They were founded in 1935 when some union activists became dissatisfied when the AFL, who were dealing with labor issues with GM, weren’t allowed to name their own leaders.

The plant’s workers, instead of leaving the plant to strike, stayed in the factory. They ate and slept at the plant every hour for each of those 43 days. In previous labor strikes, the workers had left their plants, each time losing. They wanted this one to be different.

There were many obstacles that the strikers faced. One of these was food, but wives and others who supported the strikes brought the strikers food. When tear gas was used against the strikers those supporting the strikers smashed holes in windows to allow the gas to escape.

By the middle of January, after the police attempted to enter the plat on January 11, 1936, the new Governor of Michigan, Frank Murphy stepped in to assist in settling the differences. Since GM refused to meet in the same room with the UAW, Murphy acted as the intermediary.

The agreement was short, less than one page. But it gave the UAW what they wanted, the exclusive bargaining representatives for GM’s employees. Many historians are in agreement that this is the most important strike in American labor history.


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