Feb 9, 2011

White Shirt Day marks the historic Flint Sit-down strike

Working people all over Michigan will be wearing white shirts on Friday to mark an anniversary of a courageous event that helped create the middle class and gave workers of all stripes and occupation across the U.S. dignity and a safer place to work.

White Shirt Day marks the historic Flint Sit-down strike, the first of a series of sit-down strikes against General Motors at Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint. The goals of the striker were to earn recognition for the fledging United Auto Workers as the sole bargaining agent for GM workers, and to make the company stop shipping work to plants with nonunion workers.

On Nov. 18, 1936, the UAW struck a Fisher Body plant in Altanta. On Dec. 16, they hit two GM plants in Kansas City, and on Dec. 28, a Fisher stamping plant in Cleveland. Two days later they struck Fisher Body No. 1 in Flint. Within two weeks, approximately 135,000 men from plants in 35 cities in 14 states were striking General Motors. The strike lasted 44 days and became the first of many union victories, but the brave workers had to endure the possible loss of a job during the height of the Great Depression just for uttering the word “union,” cold, a lack of food, tear gas, attacks by police and the threat of attack from the National Guard to win their dignity.

White Shirt Day was first celebrated on Feb. 11, 1948 based on a suggestion from UAW Local 598 member Bert Christenson. He wanted a way to honor the men and women who participated in the 1937 sit-down strike, and the idea took hold. White shirts are worn to work on the anniversary of the end of the strike. This action was intended to send a message to management that "blue collar" workers had earned the right to the same respect as their management counterparts.

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