Labor History in 2:00

November 21 - Autoworkers Join the Postwar Strike Wave

November 21, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1945. 

That was the day that 320,000 United Auto Workers went out on strike against General Motors.

The strike was part of a wave of work actions that washed over the country after World War II. 

Workers were growing more and more frustrated that company profits were soaring while workers’ wages remained stagnant.

During the war, most unions had abided by ‘no strike’ pledges. 

But once the war was over, workers wanted their fair share of the growing American economy.

In just one year 5 million workers participated in more than 4,500 strikes. 

The GM strikers demanded a thirty percent pay increase.

Walter Reuther, President of the UAW, also insisted that the company could meet this demand without raising the prices of their vehicles. 

He asked the company to open their books, so workers and the public could see the full details of company’s profits. 

GM refused. 

They characterized Reuther as a socialist for even making such an outrageous request. 

During negotiations, Harry Coen, the GM assistant director of personnel, told President Reuther, “Why don’t you get down to your size and get down to the type of job you are supposed to be doing as a trade-union leader, and talk about money you would like to have for your people, and let the labor statesmanship go to hell for a while."

The GM strike lasted for 113 days. 

The workers won a 17.5 percent pay increase, and improvements to vacation and overtime. 

But they did not get to look at the GM books or gain a say in how GM vehicles were priced.

 

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