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Core Democratic Values Module
Educator Notes: GG02

Flint Sit-Down Strike - Educator Notes

The purpose of this activity is to permit students to learn about an historic event from primary resources created almost 60 years ago. This activity does not intent to teach everything about the event, or even provide the important historic contextual information preceding and following the Flint Sit-down Strike. Due to the reading level of the student, the content has been honed down to essentials that will achieve the following student goals:

  • use authentic archival primary resources to form an opinion
  • use facts and data collected throughout the activity to build and defend a position
  • gain practice answering a MEAP like question
  • witness how different people have divergent opinions
  • experience the differing voices from the a different era and understand "why"

The Flint sit-down strike was selected as an interesting historical subject to feature because in its most simplified state, it can be presented as an excellent historic example of the classic debate public policy question and as a MEAP sample test question. The editors recognize that this highly complex and controversial historic event could be viewed as too challenging for elementary level students. However, the ample availability of primary resources, the clear cut opinions voiced by all players in this historic drama, and the ease with which a position can be established and defended makes it an excellent MEAP practice activity.

As an educator, you will be fascinated by the story as it is told through the daily Flint Journal articles. Excerpts from scholarly books and UAW materials are included to provide balance. Please keep in mind the basic civic concepts listed below as they are introduced in the Michigan Curriculum Framework.

Flint Sit-Down Strike Timeline:
Here is the Complete Chronology of Developments in U.A.W.A. Strike in G.M. Plants

Nov.18 United Automobile Workers start sit-down strike at Fisher Body plant, Atlanta, GA., Chevrolet assembly line also closes.

Dec.15 Fisher Body workers at Kansas City strike protesting dismissal of a Chevrolet employee; both plants close.

Dec.21 Homer Martin, U.A.W.A. President, requests conference with General Motors officials to discuss collective bargaining.

Dec.22 Martin told by William S. Knudson, executive vice president of General Motors, that grievances should be taken up with individual plant managers.

Dec.23 Martin in second letter to General Motors reiterates demands; sit downers vote to leave Fisher plant in Kansas City and continue picketing.

Dec.28 Sit-down strike closes Fisher plant at Cleveland.

Dec.29 Union calls conference at Flint Jan. 3 of its representatives in 10 General Motors cities; Fisher plant at Memphis closes.

Dec.30 Sit-downs close Fisher plants No. 1 and 2 at Flint; Chevrolet assembly line suspends; General Motors sends temporary stop orders to hundreds of automotive supply companies throughout country; Martin telegraphs second conference request to Knudsen.

Dec.31 Knudsen writes Martin that sit-downers are trespassers, advising them to vacate plants prior to discussion of grievances; union renews demand for general conference: strikes spread to Guide Lamp plant at Anderson, Ind., fisher and Chevrolet at Norwood, Ohio. General Motors suspends Buick assembly and Chevrolet sheet metal departments at Flint and curtails Fisher operations at Grand Rapids; total corporation employees idle reaches 30,000.

Circuit Judge Black issues sweeping injunction against Fisher sit-down strikers; Sheriff Wolcott gives them half hour to leave, but withholds action in absence of warrants.

Jan.3 Union meeting at Flint forms strategy board empowered to call strikes in all General Motors plants; Fisher plant strikers hold positions.

Jan.4 Alfred P. Sloan, jr., General Motors president, says no G.M. employee need join any organization to get or keep a job, that corporation will not recognize any union as sole bargaining agency; Martin demands immediate conference; policeman, two pickets hurt in clash at Cleveland Fisher plant; sit-down strike closes Toledo Chevrolet plant; Delco-Remy at Anderson, closes. Hyatt Roller Bearing plant at Harrison, N.J., curtails operation.

Jan.5 Martin says general stoppage of General Motors under way; sit-down strikes close Fisher and Chevrolet plants at Janesville, Wi., work curtailed in Buick departments at Flint and Ternstedt plant in Detroit; President Roosevelt and Secretary Perkins confer; union charges judge who issued Flint injunction owns $219,000 of General Motors stock.

Jan.6 Martin says union not seeking closed shop but "fighting for social and economic freedom."

Jan.7 Gov. Murphy joins federal conciliators; fist fights make change of shifts at Flint Chevrolet plant; federation of labor craft unions request reopening of Cleveland Fisher plant; Flint Alliance formed to give expression to auto sentiment; Chevrolet Iron Foundry at Saginaw closes; G.M. transfers injunction suit to Judge Gadolas court.

Jan.8 Governor presses conciliation efforts; sit-down closes Cadillac plant at Detroit; Chevrolet plant at Detroit, Flint, Bay City, and Muncie, shut down, bringing total idle to 88,500.

Attempts at conciliation reach stalemate; union list prenegotiation demands; General Motors says "we cannot permit occupancy of our plants contrary to law."

Jan.11 28 persons injured at Flint in street battle between strikers and police, outside Fisher plant No. 2.

2 Gov. Murphy orders 2,300 national guardsmen to Flint; asks both General Motors and union heads to meet with him at Lansing Jan 14; sit-down strike closes Fleetwood plant in Detroit; Fisher Body plants at Pontiac and Lansing shut down because of glass shortage; warrants issued at Flint for injured strikers, leaders, sit-downers.

Knudsen and Martin accept conference call; strike disorder warrants help up at governors request; new U.A.W.A. strike at Fisher-Chevrolet plants in St. Louis; total General Motors idle passes 114,000 as Pontiac and Oldsmobile assembly lines shut down.

Governors peace conference starts at 11 a.m., continues through night; federal conciliators report some progress made; Fisher and Chevrolet plants at North Tarrytown, N.Y. start gradual shutdown.

Opposing leaders reach truce to evacuate sit-downers, agree to open negotiations on union demands Jan. 18; Martin hails decision as victory for union; General Motors says negotiations will not prejudice rights of any workers not represented by union; strike cost to corporation and workers set at close to $10,000,000; Harrison Radiator division at Lockport, N.Y., reduces operating schedule.

Jan.16 Knudsen and Martin arrange negotiations procedure; guardsmen stay in Flint; prosecutor, dropping charges against riot-injured strikers, plans to prosecute seven union leaders; two Chevrolet parts plants at Saginaw shut down; sit-down strikers begin evacuation of plants in Detroit and Anderson, Ind.

Jan.17 Evacuation of Flint plants refused by union after General Motors expresses its willingness to deal with the many thousands of workers who are not members of the union. Board of strategy meets in Flint and announces that stay-in strikers will remain in plants.

Jan.18 Scheduled negotiations between General Motors and the union called off after union refuses to evacuate plants under terms of truce. Union charges G.M. broke faith by agreeing to recognize non-union workers. G.M. charges union broke faith by refusing to evacuate plants.

Jan.19 Dismayed by turn of events, Gov. Murphy goes to Washington and confers with Lewis and Secretary Perkins.

Jan.20 Sloan and Knudsen go to Washington and confer with Secretary Perkins. Lewis and Martin also hold conferences with labor secretary.

Washington conferences collapse when Lewis refuses to agree to evacuate plants. Lewis calls on President Roosevelt in intervene in behalf of strikers.

General Motors announces it will reopen as many plants as possible to provide part-time work. President Roosevelt rebukes Lewis for his demand that President support strikers.

More than 40,000 workers return to part-time jobs in plants not closed by strikes. Secretary Perkins invites Sloan and Lewis to meet with her. Sloan refuses to take part in any negotiations until plants have been evacuated.

Jan.26 Secretary Perkins makes bitter attack upon General Motors for refusal to obey her request to negotiate. More than 8,000 attend mass meeting in I.M.A. auditorium sponsored by Flint Alliance. Resolutions adopted condemn John L. Lewis and call upon Gov. Murphy to make definite answer to question whether he will guarantee protection to Flint men and women who wish to return to work.

Jan.27 Flint delegation calls upon Gov. Murphy and is rebuked when definite answer is demanded. Governor blames Flint Alliance for previous breakdown in negotiations. Six union organizers attacked when they try to hold meetings in Bay City and Saginaw.

General Motors files petition in circuit court here asking mandatory injunction compelling immediate evacuation of plants and cessation of all picketing. Hearing set for Feb. 1.

Jan.29 Sloan and Secretary Perkins hold secret conference in Washington, but without definite results.

Jan.30 Secretary Perkins again launches bitter attack on Sloan, charging "he ran out on me." G.M. president denies that he had agreed to any truce, tentative or otherwise.

Rioting again breaks out in Flint, this time at the Chevrolet, where more than a score of women, members of the "Emergency Brigade," attack the No. 9 plant with clubs. While attention is centered there, a mob of strikers takes possession of Chevrolet No. 4 plant. More than 25 persons hurt in the rioting. National guardsmen called out to preserve order. They occupy the entire Chevrolet and Fisher No. 2 area.

Feb.2 Circuit Judge Gadola issues mandatory injunction ordering all stay-in strikers to evacuate the Fisher Body plants here and to cease picketing. Sheriff Wolcott and Deputy Gerald Ruddy serve injunction on strikers in both plants and warn them they have until 3 p.m. the following day to evacuate. Penalty of $15,000,000 fine is included in court order in event union fails to evacuate within 24-hour deadline.

Feb.3 Gov. Murphy springs surprise by announcing that John L. Lewis and William S. Knudsen have agreed to confer in Detroit and first of important final conferences get under way in courtroom of Gov. Murphys brother. Conference ordered at request of President Roosevelt, Murphy reveals. Stay-in strikers openly defy court order and refuse to vacate plants, sending word to Gov. Murphy that they will die before they will obey. Deadline passes for evacuation under court order, but governor advises sheriff not to take any action to evict the strikers despite court injunction. Flint goes through wild night of terror as thousands mill around Fisher No. 1 plant and take complete possession of that area. Police and sheriffs officers stand by helpless to restore order and national guard refuses to take any action.

Feb.4 With conferences under way in Detroit seeking permanent peace instead of just a truce, no action is taken in Flint to force the eviction of stay-in strikers.

Feb.5 Circuit Judge Gadola issues writ calling upon sheriff to arrest every stay-in striker and every picket at the Fisher Body plants for having violated the injunction. Sheriff wires Gov. Murphy for the use of national guard to enforce the court order. Gets no reply.

Feb.6 Conference continues in Detroit with no progress reported. John Lewis reported holding firm for recognition of union as the sole bargaining agency for all workers in all General Motors plants. Union headquarters in Flint reports 40 stay-in strikers suffering from influenza at Chevrolet No. 4 plant.

Feb.7 Sheriff Wolcott refuses to carry out court order pending definite word from Gov. Murphy. Conferences in Detroit reported near collapse over Lewis demand for sole recognition. General Motors statement reveals that company offered to have Gov. Murphy conduct secret vote to let all workers choose for themselves whom they wanted to represent them in collective bargaining, but that union refused.

Feb.8 With conference in Detroit still reported deadlocked and little hope in sight for settlement, Lewis and Knudsen have telephone conversation with Washington, presumably with President Roosevelt. In Flint, the city commission makes Mayor Harold Bradshaw virtual dictator of the city as an emergency measure.

Feb.9 Military occupation of all industrial areas in Flint rumored unless conference in Detroit comes to agreement. Reported that troops will occupy Fisher No. 1 area as safety measure. Extra guards placed around city property. City Manager Barringer threatens to resign as result of commission action.

Feb.10 With Lewis ill in his hotel room, discussions are continued by Gov. Murphy and James F. Dewey, federal mediator, with individual members of conference. Definite plan of settlement reported being considered with everyone optimistic that settlement is at last in sight. Full conference meets at night in Gov. Murphys hotel suite, with Lewis still absent because of illness. Meeting continues through the night.

Announcement reveals that settlement has been reached made by Gov. Murphy at 2:30 a.m. Reveals that full terms will be made known at 11:30a.m. Agreement brings to an end the paralyzing strike that has continued 42 days.

Basic Civic Concepts

Early Elementary

Authority Government Rules
Justice Freedom Conflicts
Core Democratic Values Decisions Influence
National Events International Events

Added at Later Elementary

State, Local, and National Government Institutions
Limiting Power of Government Campaigns
Declaration of Independence State & Federal Courts
Special Rights (guaranteed by the Constitution) Citizens Responsibilities
laws (making, enforcing and interpreting)

The "debate" question, "Should Governor Murphy have instructed the National Guard to remove the sit-down strikers from General Motors' property?" is the central legal and constitutional issue in the strike documents.

The sequence of the activities is somewhat important, and we advise educators to do each activity in sequence if time permits. You will see from the Cross Curriculum Web that this lesson will cover many Benchmarks.

Debate Forum: Final Assessment

The final assessment can be performed as a verbal debate, written as an argumentative essay, or a MEAP practice test question.

Taking A Stand:

You will now take a stand on the following historic event involving a public policy issue:

Debate Issue: "Should Governor Murphy have instructed the National Guard to remove the sit-down strikers from General Motors property?"

  • You may either support or oppose the position of removing the strikers from the plant.
  • Position Statement: A typical approach to beginning this sort of "debate" question is:
    My position is that &&&&&..
    Support for position: I am taking this position because the facts show that &&&&&.
  • Core Democratic Values: Use of one or more Core Democratic Values, or constitutional rights and liberties is necessary to receive full credit for the answer. Personal property rights, equal protection under the law, common good, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are all constitutional rights that could be used to defend points of view on this debate topic.
  • Evidence from supplied data: The activities provide ample factual data and historic perspectives that can be used to defend either a positive or negative argument. The debater must use at least two pieces of evidence to support the argument.

You will be graded on the following criteria, so be sure your statement includes each of the elements listed below:

  • A clear and supported statement of your position
  • Supporting information using a core democratic value of American constitutional democracy
  • Supporting knowledge from history, geography, civics, or economics that you already know (It is not enough to state only your opinion)
  • Supporting information from the Flint Strike Archive available from you teacher

Remember to:

  • Use complete sentences.
  • Explain your reasons in detail.
  • Explain how the core democratic value you use connects to your position.
  • Write or print neatly.

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