For over 44 days GM workers committed themselves to the sit-in strike, a tactic inspired by European workers. Unlike conventional strikes in which union members often leave the workplace and establish a picket line to discourage other employees from entering, in a sit-down strike, the workers physically occupy the plant, keeping management and others out and separated from the tools and machinery. By remaining inside the factory, striking workers prevented owners from reopening the plant and bringing in strikebreakers to resume production. Striking GM workers cultivated their own civil system to manage the operations. A mayor and other governing officials were elected by the body of workers to maintain order within the plant. On Jan. 11, 1937 the police attempted to stop food delivery to the plant. A violent confrontation eventually ensued as police officers, armed with riot guns and tear gas, attempted to storm the Fisher Body plant. The strikers inside fought back spraying hoses and hurling hinges, bottles, and bolts, withstanding several waves of attack at the plant gates for 20 minutes. A crowd of sympathizers gathered and protected the striking workers, forcing the police to retreat. The confrontation was dubbed “the Battle of the Running Bulls” by the local press. Word of the violent clash soon reached Frank Murphy who promptly mobilized 4,000 National Guardsmen; however, instead of using them against the workers, Murphy insisted on utilizing them as a peacekeeping force to maintain order and oversee negotiations. News of the strike and ensuing battle eventually reached president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s desk. Facing increased pressure from the mayor, the public, and the president of the United States, General Motors and UAW eventually reached an agreement on February 11, 1937. The aftermath of the Flint sit-down strike marked the first major victory for unionization in America's history and led to an explosion of similar movements. Within two weeks, 87 sit-down strikes began in Detroit. Within a year, membership in United Auto Workers grew from 30,000 to 500,000 and wages for autoworkers increased by as much as 300%. The strike not only transformed the UAW from a collection of isolated trade unions into a major labor union, but it also acted as the catalyst for unionization in the domestic automobile industry across the country.



“Sit-down Strike Begins in Flint.”
History.com, A&E Television
Networks, 27 Jan. 2010,



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Angie Byrd