The action against GM brought the tactic of sit-down strikes and their effectiveness to the attention of the general public. At the time of the strike, GM was a huge and powerful corporation, while the unions behind the strike were relatively weak.
Sit-down strikers read newspapers at General Motors’ Fisher Body plant in Flint, Michigan, in 1937.
On January 11, 1937, police stormed Fisher Body Plant Number 2 but were driven off by the strikers. This became known as the Battle of the Running Bulls, a play on words recalling the U.S. Civil War’s Battles of Bull Run (1861, 1862).
Michigan governor Frank Murphy, U.S. secretary of labor Frances Perkins, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressured GM’s management to talk with the leaders of the UAW and find a way to end the strike. Finally, after much pressure from Governor Murphy, talks did occur. As a result, GM decided to recognize the UAW as the collective bargaining agent for workers in seventeen plants and to negotiate a contract with the UAW. The workers were thus able for the first time in history to participate in the running of GM.
After the successful sit-down strike against GM, sit-down strikes became recognized as a powerful tool for workers. Such strikes occurred in many other industries, with about one-half million people participating in them.
Many labor historians call the sit-down strike against GM the most important event in labor-management relations to take place during the 1930’s. As a result of the strike and its aftermath, workers became part of the decision-making apparatus in many large American corporations, including United States Steel. The UAW became a powerful union, and the CIO became a powerful organization in American labor and politics.
Beik, Millie Allen. “The General Motors Sit-Down Strike of 1936-1937.” In Labor Relations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005. Fine, Sidney. Sit-Down: The General Motors Strike of 1936-1937. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969. Kuhn, Arthur J. GM Passes Ford, 1918-1938: Designing the General Motors Performance-Control System. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986.