Thursday, January 03, 2008

Flint Sit Down Strike, Part III

Mich. governor Frank Murphy
Photo courtesy of Detroit News
Murphy's refusal to use the Michigan National Guard to remove the strikers meant that GM officials could not count on the government to assist them in breaking the strike, but was not enough to bring the corporation to the bargaining table. In order to accomplish that, the union had to prove not only that they could hold the factories that they already occupied, but that they had enough support among autoworkers in Flint to seize other plants.
Aerial view of the Chevrolet complex along the Flint River, ca. 1937
Photo courtesy of Detroit News

The difficulty in accomplishing this was that the membership of the union in Flint was rife with spys. In the LaFollete hearing after the strike, it was discovered that GM spent thousands of dollars on maintaining its spy network in the plants that it operated; while having no idea of the size of the operation, its was evident to those union officials running the strike in Flint that GM was aware of most things the union planned. In response to this situation, Bob Travis devised a plan to bait the corporation into protecting the wrong strike target. At a strike strategy meeting, it was made known that the next target for a strike attempt was Chevrolet Plant 9. After the committee broke up, Travis called back several trusted associates to fill them in greater detail--that the real target was Chevrolet Plant 4, which made nearly all the engines for the Chevrolet Division.

The next day, a large contingent from the union attempted to take Plant 9. They were met with an even larger contingent of GM security. While engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the plant, a second union contingent arrived at Chevrolet Plant 6, and were met my a detachment of security personnel from Plant 9, with backups from the security force at Plant 4--leaving the real strike target only lightly guarded. The union was able to occupy the plant with minimal resistance, and production of engines was shut off.

Bowing to reality, the corportation finally began negotiating with the union in good faith, and on February 11, 1937--a month after the Battle of Running Bulls--GM and the UAW signed their first contract agreement.

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