On this day in 1937, nearly two weeks into a sit-down strike by General Motors (GM) auto workers at the Fisher Body Plant No. 2 in Flint, Michigan, a riot breaks out when police try to prevent the strikers from receiving food deliveries from supporters on the outside. Strikers and police officers alike were injured in the melee, which was later nicknamed the “Battle of the Running Bulls.” After the January 11 riot, Michigan governor Frank Murphy called in the National Guard to surround the plant. However, the governor, who wanted to preserve his reputation as a friend to the workingman, decided against ordering troops into the plant.
The strike was organized by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which wanted GM–then the world’s largest automaker–to recognize it as the sole bargaining authority for employees at the company’s factories. The fledgling UAW, which was founded in 1935, also demanded improved working conditions and job security for GM’s employees. (In addition to the Fisher Body Plant No. 2, workers at other GM plants in Michigan and around the country went on strike during late 1936-early 1937.) Many Americans sympathized with the strikers, and President Franklin Roosevelt was involved with negotiations to end the conflict.
The strike lasted over a month, and ended with GM agreeing to grant the UAW bargaining rights and start negotiations on a variety of issues related to improving job conditions for auto workers. The strike represented a major victory for the UAW. Soon after, workers at Chrysler went on strike and ultimately won the right to be represented by the UAW as well. The Ford Motor Company was the last holdout of the Big Three automakers: Founder Henry Ford was opposed to unions and prevented his company from signing a contract with the UAW until 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 even more retired members in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.