70th Anniversary of the Flint Sit-Down Strike: December 30th, 1936 – February 11th 1936

Seventy years ago, one of the most important episodes of American labor was begun in the auto plants of Flint, Michigan. As the United Auto Workers (UAW) and General Motors (GM) faced off in a titanic battle over the unionization of the vast auto industry, workers in Flint occupied the Fisher #1 plant in order to stop the company from moving the means of production to another location.  By doing so, the workers not only stopped production at that one plant, they disrupted the entire industry and graphically posed the question: who really controls the workplace – the bosses or the working class?

By the time the strike ended, the strike had included not just GM workers in Flint, but had spread to GM plants in Detroit, Wisconsin, Ohio, Atlanta, St. Louis, Kansas City and Toledo. The sit-down strike involved 140,000 out of 150,000 GM production workers, using a combination of plant occupations and picketing. The autoworkers defied two court injunctions, heat being cut off to the plants in the dead of winter, attacks by police and vigilantes, and the machine guns and howitzers of the Michigan National Guard. By militancy, determination and without any pretense about “partnership” with the bosses, they were able to occupy $50 million worth of GM property and win a national bargaining agreement, cementing trade unionism in the auto industry for decades to come.

The Flint Sit-Down Strike remains one of the most important chapters of our history, and the lessons learned by the UAW in this struggle seventy years ago need to be learned and remembered by all trade unionists, activists and rank and filers. Recovering our class’ historical memory is a pressing task for the new generation of labor activists and Marxists.

While we prepare to enter the New Year, trade unionists, activists and working people – organized and unorganized – should take a moment not only to remember those that paved the way and laid the traditions of trade unionism for working people today, but to compare the methods of the Flint Sit-Down strikers to the results of the “team concept” today.

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