Monday, November 18, 2013

The Flint Sit-Down Strike and the Rise of the CIO

The video shown in class Monday is Sit-Down and Fight: Walter Reuther and the UAW. Material below will supplement the viewing of that video.

The Rise of the CIO – initially these letters stood for the Committee for Industrial Organization; after the break away from the AFL, the organization became known as the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

A) Formed in the fall of 1935 – by unionists inside the AFL who believed that unions had to begin organizing workers by industry to begin combating the economic clout of large corporations.

1) John L. Lewis – president of the UMW; to this point Lewis was an autocratic leader (and he remained that in the UMW). Lewis’ change of heart was probably dictated by his unions inability to organize “captive” mines—that is, the mines owned by the steel companies.

(a) Communist organizers – Lewis utilized numerous Communist and Socialist organizers in his drive, mainly because of their superior organizing results. When asked if he were concerned that these organizers might persuade workers to join these other organization, Lewis replied, “Who gets the pheasant, the dog or the hunter?”

B) Flint Sit-Down Strike (1936-1937) – in many ways, this strike was the defining moment for the early CIO, and certainly for the fledgling United Automobile Workers (UAW).

1) GM employed 80% of the Flint workforce at this time, either directly or indirectly, so the economic impact of the company on the community was huge, and the corporation could usually rely upon city government to be compliant with their wishes.

2) GM workers began strikes around the country in November and December of 1936.

(a) Toledo GM workers – had successfully struck the Chevrolet Transmission plant on Central Avenue in the spring of 1935, with hardly any violence; many Toledo union members had advocated asking other GM workers to go out on strike as well—in fact, a caravan drove to Flint. The AFL representative actively discouraged this action, however. The corporation responded by pulling out half the machinery in the plant over a Thanksgiving lay over, with a resultant loss in jobs.

(b) UAW plan – the leadership of the union planned to strike Fisher Body plants in Cleveland and Flint after the start of the year, when workers received a bonus from the corporation, and more labor-friendly administrations took office in Ohio and Michigan

3) The Sit-Down Strike – this tactic allowed a militant minority to shape events; by occupying the building, workers were able to ensure that their would be no scab replacements—and that the threat of attacks on the workers would be minimized because they were inside with all of the expensive machinery.

(a) First utilized in Akron – this tactic was first used by tire workers in Akron, even if Flint workers get most of the credit.

(b) Battle of Running Bulls (January 11, 1937)

(c) Workers seizure of Chevrolet Plant #2 forced GM to bargaining table.

No comments: