Labor History in 2:00

November 27 - Sitting Down at Midland Steel

November 27, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1936. That was the day 1200 production workers at Detroit’s Midland Steel sat-down for higher wages, an end to piecework and union recognition. The strike was called just before noon. When 800 on the second shift arrived for work, they readily handed their lunches, cigarettes and newspapers through the windows to the sit-downers. The UAW had embarked on a massive organizing drive throughout the country. Days earlier, the GM sit-down strike had begun in Atlanta, spread to Kansas City and would eventually reach Flint, Michigan. But the UAW was also organizing parts suppliers like Midland, who produced car body frames for the industry. The UAW first used the tactic of the sit-down strike ten days earlier at the Bendix Products brake plant in South Bend, Indiana. There, workers had just organized with the UAW. They braved eight days in an unheated factory during winter, demanding the company union be dismantled. At Midland, workers stayed in the plant, stating they would hold out till Christmas if they had to. Within a week, the Midland strike had idled 72,000 workers at Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge, Desoto, Briggs and Ford’s Lincoln-Zephyr plants. Stakes were so high at Midland that strikers threw a suspected company spy out a second story plant window. Just as Midland workers returned victorious to their job ten days later, thousands of others began sitting down at their jobs. Rubber workers in Akron, glass workers in Ottawa, Illinois, bus drivers in Flint, Kelsey Hayes brake workers and aluminum workers just two blocks from Midland were all sitting down for union recognition, wage increases and better working conditions. The massive strike wave had begun.

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