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Sit-Down Strike at the Fisher Body Company

The UAW Sit-Down Strikes at the Fisher Body Company

Late in December of 1936, members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) formed only a year earlier took the first major move to be recognized and become effective in representing the Nation’s auto workers. The first Fisher Body Company strike is reported to have started on December 28, 1936 at 2p.m at the Fisher plant in Collinwood, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. After a noontime meeting that day, the workers decided to stage a sit-down strike and take possession of the plant that manufactured body shells for Chevrolet.

Two days later on December 30, 1936 at the Fisher Body No. 1 plant in Flint, Michigan, workers there joined in the UAW sit-down strike after apparently learning that General Motors anticipating a strike there planned to remove the body dies from the plant and take them to another facility to keep production going. With the Cleveland plant shutdown and effectively bringing Chevrolet production to a halt, top management was trying to prevent the same thing from happening to the rest of the automakers product line.

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  • Strikers in the Fisher Body plant in Flint, Michigan with a crudely constructed stage and PA system.

A support network was setup consisting of fellow workers, family members and friendly vendors from outside the plant to supply meals and other needed items to the striking workers in the plants. On January 11, 1937, the Flint Police Department took action to stop the delivery of food and also attempted to enter the Flint Plant. Workers fought back by throwing car parts out the windows and turning the plant’s fire hoses on the police. The situation quickly escalated when the police turned to the using tear gas against the workers. Gunfire also erupted and as many as fourteen workers were injured.

The situation soon stabilized when the Governor of Michigan, Frank Murphy sent in the Nation Guard to maintain peace and order during negotiations between the UAW and the automaker. Later in January, the power and heat in the plant were turned off in an effort by General Motors to to end the strike; by early February the workers had suffered through several weeks of harsh conditions. Finally on February 11, 1937, after extended negotiations the manufacturer accepted the one remaining demand of the strikers and recognized the UAW as the workers sole bargaining agent and effectively ending the strike.

The remarkable must-see documentary video (above) was produced two years ago on the 75th anniversary of the strike. The chronicle includes excellent period footage, some of which is quite dramatic along with interviews of surviving workers; it paints a picture of the harsh conditions workers faced in the Fisher Flint plant at the time before the strike. The video produced by whatantics is courtesy of the UAW.

Further information and photos can be seen covering the Cleveland Sit-Down Strike at Cleveland Historical. You can also view our earlier coverage of the strike and the Fisher Body Company here. The images used in the post were taken by Dick Sheldon, a photographer for the Farm Security Administration and are courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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