After a six-week sit-down strike by General Motors (GM) autoworkers at the Fisher Body Plant No. 2 in Flint, Michigan, GM president Alfred P. Sloan signs the first union contract in the history of the American auto industry. The strike was organized by the United Auto Workers (UAW), which wanted to be recognized as the sole bargaining authority for employees at GM factories. The UAW, founded in 1935, also demanded improved working conditions and job security for GM autoworkers. At the time of the strike, GM, which was founded in 1908 by William Durant, had been the world’s largest automaker since the early 1930s.
The strike began on December 30, 1936, and turned violent on January 11, 1937, when a riot broke out after police tried to prevent the strikers from receiving food deliveries from supporters on the outside. Officials had already shut off the heat in the factory. Both strikers and police officers were injured in the melee, which was later nicknamed the “Battle of Bulls Run.” After the January 11 riot, Michigan governor Frank Murphy called in the National Guard to surround the plant. However, the governor ultimately decided against ordering troops into the plant. Many Americans voiced their support for the strike, and President Franklin Roosevelt stepped in to help with the negotiations to end the conflict.
In the end, GM agreed to grant the UAW bargaining rights and start negotiations on a variety of issues related to improving job conditions for autoworkers. The strike represented a major victory for the UAW. Soon after, workers at Chrysler went on strike and ultimately won the right to have the UAW as their representative. The Ford Motor Company was the last hold out of the “Big Three” American automakers. Founder Henry Ford was strongly opposed to unions, but his company finally signed a contract with the UAW in 1941.
Today, the UAW has expanded to include workers beyond the auto industry and is officially known as the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America. The UAW has more than 500,000 active members and more than a half-million retired members in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.