After a difficult 44-day sit-down strike at the Fisher Body plant in Flint, Michigan, General Motors (GM) President Alfred P

Thursday 11th February 1937

After a difficult 44-day sit-down strike at the Fisher Body plant in Flint, Michigan, General Motors (GM) President Alfred P. Sloan signed the first union contract in the history of the U.S. automobile industry. Organised by the Union of Auto Workers (UAW), the strike was intended to force GM to give ground to its workers. GM workers had protested before, and they’d been fired and replaced for it. The UAW decided they needed to achieve the total shutdown of a working plant in order to bring company executives to the negotiating table. On New Year’s Eve, 45 minutes after lunch, union leaders ordered the assembly line halted. Executives kept the belts running, but the workers wouldn’t work. GM turned to the courts, winning an injunction against the workers on the grounds that the sit-down strike was unconstitutional. The injunction was overturned when it was discovered that the judge who presided in the case owned over $200,000 of GM stock. Twelve days after the strike had begun, with the workers still dug in, Sloan ordered the heat in the building turned off and barred the workers access to food from the outside. Police, armed with tear gas and guns, surrounded the building. The police fired–first tear gas and later bullets–into the plant. Sympathetic picketers outside, many of them family members of the strikers, helped to break all the windows in the plant by hurling rocks from were they stood. Others, braver still, broke the picket line with their automobiles to form a barricade that prevented the police vehicles from overrunning the building the strikers occupied. Finally, days after the Battle of the Running Bulls, as the violent confrontation came to be known, Michigan Governor Frank Murphy called in the National Guard with the intention of quelling any further violence. The presence of the National Guard bolstered the strikers’ confidence. Realizing the futility of their position, GM executives came to the bargaining table. After a week of negotiations over which Governor Murphy personally presided, an agreement between GM and the UAW was reached.

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