Wednesday, February 11, 2009

White Shirt Day

On 11 February 1937, the sit down strike at the General Motors Fisher Body Plants in Flint, Michigan ended. John L. Lewis, of the C.I.O., spoke for the workers, while GM met in another room refusing to speak to the union. The governor of Michigan, Frank Murphy, would relay messages between. Collective bargaining and union recognition had been won. General Motors would, henceforth, negotiate with their employees through the United Auto Workers. Now, this had not been easy. The UAW was new, and General Motors controlled Flint, and the first injunction granting judge, and the police. The workers held the plant through the siege. There were other GM plants on strike also.

Now, a sit down strike is different than most strikes, where workers would not enter the workplace. A sit down strike is a physical occupation with a cessation of work. This strike began on 30 December 1936. On 11 January the guards, and police, tried to stop food deliveries to the strikers. The police, then using riot guns, were repelled by fire hoses, from within the plant. Windows were broken to allow tear gas to waft out, and back towards the police. The police retreated.

The workers were fortunate, they could have been mown down by machine guns of the national guard, such things were an american norm. Governor Murphy was a Democrat, and President Roosevelt was friendly to labor and national opinion sided with the workers. Laws had recently been passed to restrict automatic and blanket injunctions. Sit downs were new to America*, later the Supreme Court outlawed them in 1939. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 was still in the future. The workers had a rare opening in opportunity.

The strike is the strongest, and most significant act, of organised labor. It is civil and economic disobedience versus economic royalists and their minions in government. Later in Poland, it began the fall of communism. In the United States it has become rarer and rarer, a legacy of reaganism; the rest of the, now expanded, “free world” finds it more frequently employed.

In 1948, on the anniversary, the first White Shirt Day was celebrated in Flint. All workers are to wear white shirts, and attempt to keep it as clean as their, white collar bosses. The observance of health, and safety rules are to be encouraged. Now, in the current troubled economic times, will such a commemoration expand or contract about the nation?
*it was a mediƦval french idea resurrected about europe

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