Fox is at it again, bashing unions. Of course the panel on Bulls & Bears thinks this is a fantastic idea other than their one out-gunned "Democratic strategist" -- GM may link vehicle quality, employee pay incentives. This might be a good time for a reminder of just what it took for American auto workers to get rid of things like piece work in the first place.
The feisty young United Auto Workers launched the first of a series of sit-down strikes against General Motors at Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint. The goals were to earn recognition for the UAW as the bargaining agent for GM workers, and to make the company stop shipping work to plants with nonunion workers. The strike lasted 44 days and became the first of many union victories. [...]
On Nov. 18, 1936, the UAW struck a Fisher Body plant in Altanta. On Dec. 16, they hit two GM plants in Kansas City, and on Dec. 28, a Fisher stamping plant in Cleveland. Two days later they struck Fisher Body No. 1 in Flint. Within two weeks, approximately 135,000 men from plants in 35 cities in 14 states were striking General Motors.
As the nation was emerging from the Great Depression, the striking workers enjoyed the sympathy of most of the people, including Michigan governor Frank Murphy and popular New Deal President Franklin Delano Roosvelt. Roosevelt had promised in his inaugural speech to drive out the "economic royalists," a pointed reference to the General Motors officials. [...]
The News gave this account: "The guardsmen forming a line around the No. 4 plant were part of a contingent of 1,200 who formed a bayoneted ring of steel around the 80-acre grounds which house all 12 plants of the Chevrolet Motor Car Co. at Flint. Machine guns emplacements were at strategic approaches and except for a small group of pickets outside the gates of the No. 4 plant, all visitors were barred unless they had special military passes.
"The guardsmen surrounded the grounds and 'enforced peace' on orders of Gov. Murphy, following the rioting."
The News also gave the union version: "Then company police and hundreds of thugs, armed with tear gas pistols, tear gas bombs, blackjacks and clubs manufactured in the Chevrolet woodshop, attacked all workers in the plant, using floods of tear gas. It was a clear case, apparently, of company thugs against the workers since all the injured workers were found in the plants and no one was injured on the outside of the company property. City police do not seem to have been involved."
The National Guard fixed bayonets and halted any delivery of food to the occupiers. But the governor never ordered the troops into action.
The strikers vowed a hunger strike until their families could bring them food, or their demands were met. The sit-downers appealed to the governor.
President Roosevelt asked GM to meet with the union once more. The tension subsided. General Motors signed an agreement with the UAW, giving the union bargaining rights in 17 GM plants shut by sit-downs.
Employees at the 17 plants involved got 5 percent pay hikes and were allowed to speak in the lunchroom. The company agreed not to discriminate against union members and agreed to begin negotiations on other matters.
A synopsis of the issues included in the union demands:
1. Recognition of UAW as sole bargaining agency.
2. Abolition of piece work in favor of straight hourly rates.
3. A 30 hour week and 6 hour day, with time and a half for overtime.
4. A "minimum rate of pay commensurate with an American standard of living."
5. Seniority rights based on length of service.
6. Reinstatement of all employes "unjustly discharged."
7. Mutual agreement on "speed of production."
The dramatic military style battles depict the times and the desperation of those involved. The outcome much later in time proved that both the union and the company could coexist and indeed prosper beyond anyone's expectations. Those who made the cars could finally afford to buy them, pouring profits back to the stockholders. Spreading the wealth caused more to be created. The pension and wages won by the workers raised the standard of living for the whole country.