Why you should wear a white shirt on 11 February
This year, as every year since 1937, US auto-worker trade unionists will be wearing white shirts to commemorate the day that US manual workers began to form the middle class that created the American dream of the mid-20th century. They wear the managerial white-collar uniform in memory of their blue-collar forebears who beat the bosses at the Flint General Motors factory.
We’re giving you a week to plan your wardrobe for the day – so you can encourage others to learn about the commemoration and get them involved too!
The 44-day sit-down strike changed the United Auto-Workers (UAW) from a group of isolated branches into what became a giant among US labor unions. Workers were protesting against poor health and safety and job insecurity, and locked themselves into the plant until management agreed to recognise their union and negotiate pay and conditions.
The strike was marked by violence from the management and the local police, who attempted to storm the plant on 11 January using tear gas. Eventually, the Governor of Michigan, Frank Murphy, mobilised the national guard – but rather than use them to expel the strikers, he ordered them to protect the workers from the police and corporate thugs. That’s a stark contrast with the anti-union behaviour of the current Governor, who has forced through a “right to work (for less)” law.
A report of the 75th anniversary last year is posted on the UAW site, with many quotes from surviving strikers and their relatives. And the latest issue of UAW magazine “Solidarity” contains an interview with Geraldine Blankinship – whose father was one of the strikers – who was part of the women’s brigade that, in her words, was sometimes thought of as “a group of women whose role it was to make soup and other food for the strikers. The brigade certainly had that role, but it did much more. For instance, Women’s Emergency Brigade members placed themselves in harm’s way to protect strikers.”
The Flint sit-in strike showed that workers and unions could win, and helped bring dignity and respect to workers – as well as the better wages and secure jobs that enabled the USA to build domestic demand and an economic miracle. It’s what we’re still fighting for, 76 years later, in the US and the UK.