Monday, December 31, 2007

Flint Sit Down Strike, Part II

The importance of the new governor, Frank Murphy, would become evident when GM chose to change tactics. Murphy, the former mayor of Detroit, took office on January 1, 1937. Because the situation in Flint remained peaceful, Murphy resisted pleas from Flint officials (particularly the mayor and police chief) and GM officials to mobilize the Michigan National Guard to remove the strikers from the plant. The situation remained peaceful for nearly two weeks--GM allowed the union to supply the strikers with hot food, the building remained heated, and the company security force made no move to attempt to interfere with the strike. The situation was relaxed enough that a number of strikers inside began to slip away to visit their families and sleep in their own beds, rather than on the car seats that served that purpose inside the factory.

This situation changed dramatically on January 11, 1937. Plant security turned off the heat, and prevented the delivery of a hot meal. By early afternoon, the Flint police force had massed in front of Fisher Body plant #3 (which supplied bodies for the Chevrolet factory across Chevrolet Avenue). The police began firing tear gas into the factory in preparation for their entry.

At this point, the Women's Auxilary Brigade (WEB) sprang into action. The WEB had provided support for the strike since the beginning, cooking meals and staffing a first-aid station; the group had also been enthusiastic picketers.
When the police began their attack, the women used the wooden handles of the picket signs to break the ground-floor windows of the factory to ventilate the building--which also allowed the men to throw the gas cannisters back out of the building. With the assistance of a fortuitous change in wind direction, the use of freezing water from the fire hoses and the prodigious use of door hinges from the roof of the factory, the Flint police withdrew from the "Battle of the Running Bulls" after a six-hour battle.

This changed the dynamic of the strike. Word of the battle was quickly relayed to Gov. Murphy, who was driven to Flint witha state police escort.

To be continued

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