As Michigan becomes the nation’s 24th right-to-work state this week, WWJ’s Jayne Bower begins a week-long series of reports on the new law. Today – a look back at Michigan’s rich labor history and the Flint sit down strike of 1936.
DETROIT (WWJ) – Geraldine Blankinship, now 93, was 17 years old when her father and hundreds of others at the General Motors Fisher One Plant decided they had had enough.
“Well, I remember my dad coming home from work so tired that he couldn’t eat,” said Blankinship. “They would work them sometimes overtime for no pay.”
“My dad called home on the thirtieth of December and said to my mother, ‘Ida we’re on strike. It’s a sitdown and I’ll be home when it’s over.'”
It wasn’t over until February 11, 1937.
The last known surviving sit-down striker, 96-year old Richard Wiecorek, as 20 when he worked for GM and took part in the sitdown strike.
Blankinship and Wiecorek were among the thousands protesting the passage of right to work which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in December.
Will history repeat itself in a right-to-work Michigan?
“I don’t know if we are destined to repeat history. The only thing that history does tell you is that things change,” said Mike Smith UAW Archivist at the Walter Reuther Library in Detroit.
Smith said the sitdown strike of 1936 was a well-planned reaction to an increase in the speed of an assembly line by a post-depression General Motors — when older workers were unprotected. “Say you’re 45 years old and you can’t keep the pace of an eighteen-year-old, well, you’re out the door and the 18-year-old comes in,” said Smith.
He believes that right-to-work laws will push today’s unions to prove themselves.
“I think the unions can make a strong case … especially where we see certain instances where companies do abuse workers,” said Smith.
Tune in to WWJ Newsradio 950 this week as Jane Bower continues her right-to-work series.