The Great Sit-Down Strike

The Sit-Down Strike of 1936-1937 had far reaching implications in the American workforce. Prior to the recognition of the United Auto Workers as the sole bargaining agent for General Motor’s factory employees, men and women who depended on the factory for their livelihoods lived in constant fear of losing their jobs. They also suffered from the exhaustive pace and dangerous conditions of the assembly line while often living in poverty due to dubious payroll practices.

On December 30, 1936, during a shift change, workers took over Fisher Body Plant One. As one of one of two auto body stamping plants, the strike immediately got national attention. GM tried twice to use a court injunction to make the strikers leave, but it was discovered that the judges issuing those injunctions were GM stockholders. On January 11, city police tried with guns and tear gas to storm Fisher 2 plant, which had also been taken over by strikers, but failed in what is now called “The Battle of Bulls Run.”

February 1, the strikers took over Chevrolet Plant No. 4, where all of Chevy’s engines were made. Through a remarkable diversionary tactic, the union let it “slip” that they were going to try to take over Chevrolet Plant No. 9. Company spies moved all of the company’s resources to No. 9 to protect the plant; meanwhile, workers from Chevy 6 came over to help shut down the massive No. 4 Plant against very little resistance. With Chevrolet production crippled, General Motors was forced to recognize the United Auto Workers union, which it did ten days later, on February 11, 1937. ♦


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