Labor Unions Rise
The rise of labor organizations resulted
from the growth of industry in the 1920s
and the devastating effects of
the Great Depression in the 1930s.
During the Great Depression, unemployment was high. Many employers tried to get as much
work as possible from their employees for the lowest possible wage. Workers were upset
with the speedup of assembly lines, working conditions and the lack of job security.
Seeking strength in unity, they formed unions.
Automobile workers organized the U.A.W. (United Automobile Workers of America) in 1935.
General Motors would not recognize the U.A.W. as the workers' bargaining representative.
Hearing rumors that G.M. was moving work to factories where the union was not as strong,
workers in Flint began a sit-down strike on December 30, 1936.
The sit-down was an effective way to strike. When workers walked off the job and
picketed a plant, management could bring in new workers to break the strike. If the
workers stayed in the plant, management could not replace them with other workers.
This photograph in the Labor Gallery shows the broken windows at General Motors' Flint
Fisher Body Plant during the Flint sit-down strike of 1936-37. You can see a video program
about the sit-down strike in the gallery.
The Women's Auxiliary organized a first aid station, provided child care and collected
food and money for strikers and their families. Some of the women organized the Emergency
Brigade, an offshoot of the Women's Auxiliary. These women picketed the auto plant to
divert management while another plant was seized. They smashed the auto plant's windows
after they heard that the strikers had been gassed inside the building.
The women wore red tams, arm bands and political buttons such as these, which were loaned
to the museum by the Walter P. Reuther
Library, Wayne State University. The button with the words "Roosevelt: Labor's
Choice" reflects labor's growing support for President Roosevelt.
On March 12, 1937, the Flint sit-down strike ended with an agreement under which
General Motors recognized the United Auto Workers as the bargaining agent for their
workers. The success of the U.A.W. inspired others. Unions grew across the nation.