Michigan Labor History Remembered As Right-To-Work Law Ushered In

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.”

1936 Strike Memory

“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.

1936 Sitdown Striker

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.

Comments

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More From CBS Detroit

Best Fall Festivals In Metro DetroitFrom music to art to special events, there's a little something for everyone's delight.
Best 4th Of July Concerts In Metro DetroitStaying home this weekend? Celebrate the 4th of July by rocking out at one of these shows.

Watch & Listen