The Flint Militants
Eighty years ago, the Flint Sit-Down Strike showed the power of a determined rank and file and a class-conscious leadership
Publisher: Jacobin Magazine
Date Written: 13/10/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21451
In 1937 hundreds of autoworkers seized two General Motors (GM) plants in Flint, Michigan, paralyzing the massive corporation's production line. The workers' new tactic - the sit-down strike - threatened to fundamentally change the balance of power between workers and management.
After years of industrialization built on their backs, workers were standing their ground - and actors across the economy, from GM bosses to labor leaders, were forced to take note. Spurred on by socialists and communists, organized labor grabbed a seat at the table, much to the chagrin of the ruling class.
Just a decade later, however, the sparks that fueled mass unionization had been smothered. The Supreme Court, privileging property rights over workers rights, ruled in 1939 that the sit-down strike was illegal. And in 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act opened the door to a widespread purge of radicals from union leadership. By the time the CIO merged with the AFL in 1955, the militant minority had been driven into isolation.
In the decades since, conservative leaders have dominated the American labor movement, treading the path of business unionism. This conciliatory approach has cost workers wages and rights, and compounded the severe structural issues facing the movement. Today, organized labor is almost as weak as it was before the great strikes of 1934: union membership hovers at 6 percent in the private sector and 11 percent overall. But if things seem dire now, we should remember how bad things were back then.