Module 06: "Which Side Are You On?" The Flint Sit-Down Strike, 1936-37


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Staking out
the Strike
National Coverage
and Broader

Staking out Positions in the Strike

The documents in this section present the official positions of GM and the UAW during the Flint strike. They include correspondence and communication made public during the dispute between the corporation, union officials, and workers.

1. William Knudsen to Homer Martin
January 1, 1937

2. UAW's Demands
January 3, 1937

3. Alfred P. Sloan Memo to GM Employees
January 5, 1937

4. Homer Martin's Reply to Sloan's Memo
January 6, 1937

5. General Motors Statement
January 21, 1937

6. UAW's Reply to General Motors
January 21, 1937

7. The Settlement
February 11, 1937


Experiencing the Strike

The songs, photographs, and video in this section explore how GM employees and their families experienced the forty-four-day sit-down strike.


Participants in protest movements of all sorts had long relied on songs to convey messages, share frustrations, boost morale, and foster a sense of community. Songs proved "better than a thousand speeches" at motivating workers to join in and stay together (Lynch 124). The GM sit-down strikers and their supporters both sang and composed songs about their experiences in and outside the factory. In most instances, they fashioned new lyrics to well-known melodies, a practice that made it easier for fellow strikers to join in.

8. "The Fisher Strike"
Anonymous, 1937

9. "Oh, Mister Sloan"
Gilliland and Beck, 1937

10. "Sit Down"
Maurice Sugar, 1937

11. Untitled Strike Song
Walter Frost, 1937

12. Women's Auxiliary Song
Anonymous, 1937




Photographs provide another window onto the experiences of sit-down strikers. A variety of individuals — journalists, documentary photographers, and GM, UAW, and government officials — recorded images of the strike on film for numerous purposes. Some of the shots were carefully posed; others were more candid. Whatever their intent, the images below capture important dimensions of how strikers and their families survived the six-week ordeal.

13. Photo: Children Picketing in Flint
February 3, 1937

14. Photo: Passing Food to Striking Workers

15. Photo: A Striker Dancing a Jig

16. Photo: A Striker Sleeping in a Makeshift Bed
January 1937

17. Photo: National Guard Troops

18. Photo: Workers Celebrate the End of the Sit-Down Strike
February 11, 1937


In addition to amusing themselves while on strike, members of the community supplied the sit-down strikers with entertainment from outside the factory. The operator of a local theater, for example, sent several entertainers into Fisher One, while the Contemporary Theater of Detroit staged a specially adapted two-act play, Virtue Rewarded, in both Fisher plants. The actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin also donated showings of Modern Times, a film which depicted life on the assembly line.

19. Charlie Chaplin on the Speed-Up
From the movie Modern Times, 1936



National Coverage and Broader Implications

This section provides broader perspectives on the Flint sit-down strike. The first five documents reproduce editorials or cartoons published for national audiences during or immediately after the strike. The last two documents contain graphs depicting membership in labor unions and participation in strikes.

20. Cartoon: Herblock on the American Automobile Industry
January 7, 1937

21. The Sit-Down
Editorial in The New Republic, January 20, 1937

22. Resources Against Extremists
Editorial in the New York Times, January 27, 1937

23. Is the Sit-Down Unfair?
Editorial in The New Republic, February 17, 1937

24. Cartoon: Herblock on the End of the Sit-Down Strike
February 1937

25. Graph: Union Membership in Private Non-Agricultural Employment

26. Graph: Participation in Work Stoppages (Strikes and Lockouts)