Fox's Gallagher on 1930s MI labor movement: "organization by way of strikes, votes, violence"


In a report on Michigan's auto industry, correspondent Trace Gallagher of The Fox Report with Shepard Smith stated: "With the 1930s came men like Jimmy Hoffa and the labor movement -- organization by way of strikes, votes, violence." Gallagher did not note the rights that the labor movement secured for workers in Michigan.

During the January 15 edition of The Fox Report with Shepard Smith, in a segment discussing Michigan history and the issues pertinent to voters there, chief correspondent Trace Gallagher asserted: "With the 1930s came men like Jimmy Hoffa and the labor movement -- organization by way of strikes, votes, violence." However, Gallagher did not mention the positive effects of the 1930s labor movement for workers in Michigan.

In a September 4, 1997, article titled "How labor won its day," The Detroit News reported on the unions' actions in Michigan during the 1930s and specifically cited the successful strike by General Motors auto workers in Flint:

On March 6, 1930, 35,000 jobless workers marched down Woodward in national protest against unemployment and hunger. In the early 1930s thousands joined together and walked to the Ford Motor Co.'s employment office in Dearborn. Henry Ford, whose plants had laid off more than one-third of his employees had declared that anyone "who wanted a job could find one." The marchers intended to take old Henry up on his statement.

Violence erupted between the unemployed and police who joined Ford security forces. Shots were fired into the crowd, killing four protesters.

During the following years, a wave of auto strikes spread to other occupations. The cigar and hotel workers and retail clerks struck for job security, better wages, safety and dignity.

Few strikes resulted in major victories for the workers, but the growing militancy of Detroit auto workers taught many employers that cutting wages would only provoke costly strikes.

The breakthrough in union strategy, the 1937 wave of sitdown strikes, began to turn the tide. Employers had been able to defeat the conventional walkout strike with replacement workers. Picket lines suffered the hazards of weather, police and boredom. The sitdown tactic allowed strikers to shut down production and remain protected from the weather. The arrangement also allowed the workers to develop a solidarity difficult to foster with a conventional walkout. The sitdown wave grew rapidly after the historic victory of General Motors workers in Flint. Their 44-day occupation of the Fisher Body plant forced General Motors to sign a contract with the union on Feb. 11, 1937.

In a historical portrait of the Flint strikes, the News detailed the conditions of the agreement between the United Auto Workers (UAW) and General Motors:

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 [sic] "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.

The September 1997 News article placed the events in Michigan in 1937 in the context of the nationwide labor movement:

Nationwide that year there were 177 sitdown strikes that lasted one day or longer, involving more than 130,000 workers. Locally, more than 100 sitdowns erupted in the factories, stores, and hotels in the winter and early spring months of 1937.

Most of the federal laws protecting workers were passed during the 1930s. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which strengthened unions' rights to organize and negotiate with employers, was key legislation.

Further, in 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Fair Labor Standards Act, which, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website, "banned oppressive child labor and set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and the maximum workweek at 44 hours."

From the January 15 edition of The Fox Report with Shepard Smith:

SHEPARD SMITH (anchor): It's the next installment of our ongoing series focusing on how the candidates are handling the biggest issues of the campaign as they battle for the party nomination. Here's the Fox Report's chief correspondent Trace Gallagher and "We've Got Issues."

[begin video clip]

GALLAGHER: For GOP candidates in Michigan, it's all about jump-starting the state's ailing auto industry, retraining laid-off workers.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN [R-AZ]: I want to look you in the eye and tell you some straight talk. The old jobs won't come back.

GALLAGHER: Reinventing the product.

RUDY GIULIANI: We have to expand the use of hybrid vehicles.

GALLAGHER: Reinvesting in what was America's economic engine.

MITT ROMNEY: The auto industry and all its jobs do not have to be lost.

MIKE HUCKABEE: Let's change the policy so we do see them again.

GALLAGHER: For more than a century, Michigan's economy has followed the automotive road. Ford incorporated here in 1903 and five years later rolled out the first Model T on assembly lines that produced an unprecedented number of cars and jobs. In the early days, the Big Three were the Big Four -- Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, American Motors, and the Motor City was rolling.

With the 1930s came men like Jimmy Hoffa and the labor movement -- organization by way of strikes, votes, violence. The '40s saw a much more united front, as the auto industry went into war mode, churning out Jeeps, tanks, and planes. Franklin Roosevelt called Michigan the "arsenal of democracy."

The postwar years were filled with economic starts and stops. U.S. car models were rapidly changing, foreign competition rapidly evolving. In the '50s, American Motors was run by a man named George Romney, who later became governor and whose son still considers himself a child of the auto industry.

ROMNEY: You see, I've got Michigan in my DNA. I've got it in my heart, and I've got cars in my bloodstream.

GALLAGHER: During the energy crunch of the '70s, plants closed, Michigan's unemployment rate rose to 15 percent. A federal bailout of Chrysler in 1979 eventually put the company back on track. Chrysler went on to buy American Motors, but as the century turned, American automakers found it difficult competing with foreign companies. Today, Toyota is Michigan's number-two car company, and the economy is Michigan's number-one concern.

McCAIN: We will move forward and restore America's strength, and also the beginning will be in Michigan.

GIULIANI: What we need is not a bailout. We need a workout. We need something that's going to help get us beyond this problem.

[end video clip]

GALLAGHER: Ninety years ago, Michigan produced 80 percent of the nation's automobiles. Today it's around 25 percent and dropping. And because all of the ups and downs in the auto industry over the years, the state has now diversified and now has a thriving medical industry, paper manufacturing, and furniture. But in Michigan, a huge chunk of the food, shelter, and housing still comes down to good ol' cars.

Posted In
Economy, Labor Unions
Fox News Channel
Trace Gallagher
FOX Report
2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.