× Upcoming Events About Us Meet our Artistic Staff Thank you to our Donors Volunteer Paramount Theatre Past Events
Great Flint Sit Down Strike: Timeline of Key Events
(with corresponding oratorio movements)

Part One

1933: Wage cuts below the cost of living and vicious working conditions brought a succession of revolts among the autoworkers in 1933. Strikes in seven plants took place in January, and through the year walkouts closed or crippled 33 plants in eight cities–Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Cleveland, Oakland, Edgewater NJ, Philadelphia and Chester PA. 

1934: AFL has lined up more than 210,000 auto workers in loosely organized locals. A general strike is averted by the newly elected FDR; instead, a section of the new NRA code allows for “proportional representation” among competing labor groups: AFL unions, independent unions, and company unions. Transferred from federal unions into craft locals, workers soon discover that this kind of unionism has no value for them. Thousands of disillusioned members drop out of the Federation. 



Nov 18: Strike is in the air. Atlanta GM plant goes out strike. Cause: the usual one, men fired for wearing union buttons. Next, in Cleveland the key Fisher Body plant sits down. Union leaders, frustrated by GM’s tactic of deferring all complaints to local managers, submit a tentative contract to the manager of Fisher Body works, requesting an answer in seven days.

Dec. 30: Overnight, three inspectors in Fisher No. 2 [in Flint] are transferred to undesirable posts because they refused to quit the union. In protests, 125 men in Fisher No. 2 sit down. A few hours later, GM moves dies from the Flint Fisher Body No. 1 to its plants in Grand Rapids and Pontiac. Its workers respond by sitting down. The Great Flint Sit-down strike has begun. 

Part Two: 
LETTERS HOME I: Sitting’ Tight, Feelin’ Fine


Jan. 3: GM claps an injunction on the sit-down strikers, but it is later voided when the judge is found to own a large block of GM stock. Formation of the Flint Alliance: Foremen, supervisors and company union representatives circulate “back to work” petitions and Flint Alliance cards in the plants. 

LETTERS HOME II: “They Shut Off the Heat” 

Jan. 11th: Heat in Fisher Body #2 is turned off without warning. Company and city police try to oust the sit-downers from Fisher No. 2. 14 strikers are wounded by bullets, and scores more felled by tear gas bombs. A second attempt is made at midnight, but the police are held off by water hoses and a barrage of door hinges. The strikers picket all night behind a barricade of motorcars. The injured are treated in hospitals and then arrested. County prosecutor issues 1200 John Doe warrants so that strike sympathizers could be targeted. Governor Murphy sends in National Guard troops to protect the sit-downers from further violence. 

Peace efforts begin: Governor Murphy persuades GM to confer with the union. The union agrees to evacuate the plants as a condition of the talks. Alfred P. Sloan and Knudsen meet with John L. Lewis and other union officials for exactly twelve minutes. Meanwhile, the Flint Alliance requests General Motors to recognize it and confer with it also; General Motors consents. The strike negotiations ended over this betrayal, and Fisher No. 1 and No 2 still sit. 


Now the strike “leaps out of the frame of unionism” and becomes a contest between “economic royalists” like the DuPonts, Morgans, and Sloans, and a President and Governor both favorable to organized labor. 

Jan 25: Escalating violence–a mob attacks a Union meeting at Anderson, Indiana and beats up organizers.

Jan. 26th: GM President Alfred P. Sloan refuses Secretary of Labor Perkins’ invitation to meet with union representatives in Washington to discuss settlement. 

Jan. 27th: A mob assaults four union workers in a Bay City hotel, and later that night sideswipes the workers’ car with professional expertise, sending four men to the hospital. 

Jan. 28th: Union workers are mobbed at the train in Anderson. “Strike leaders feel the growing pressure of the forces working against them


Feb. 1: Union organizers plan and pull off a brilliant piece of strategy: they “leak” at a meeting where stool pigeons were known to be present that a strike will begin in Chevrolet 9, and carefully guard the secret that their real objective is Chevrolet 4. Company police and city detectives pour into Plant No. 9, as outside, picketers help draw attention to Plant No. 9. Meanwhile, 500 union members shut down the startled workers in Plant No. 4. When the police redirect their attack to the Plant 4, which has now been occupied, access is blocked by a long line of Women’s Brigade members, standing with locked arms and singing a protest march. 

Governor Murphy communicates with President Roosevelt; the President himself exerts pressure. Within twenty-fours Alfred Sloan and a GM representative begin negotiations with John L. Lewis and the auto unions. Governor Murphy serves as go-between. 

Feb. 3rd: Judge Gadola issues an injunction making the union liable for $15,000,000 in fines if they do not vacate the plants. When the strikers ignore the order, Gadola orders the sheriff to arrest them for trespassing. The Sheriff claims he hasn’t the manpower, and asks the Governor to order the National guard to help evacuate the plants. The strikers send telegrams to Governor Murphy, protesting that they are unarmed. Zero hour for the eviction coincides with Women’s Day. Five hundred members of the Women’s Emergency Brigade came to march in Flint. 

Meanwhile, vigilante troupes are set up by city authorities to preserve “law and order.” The Flint Alliance threatens to “shoot the streets clear” if the demonstrations are repeated; to “shoot out the plants; to “shoot the workers down like dogs.” 

Feb 12: After a tense week, General Motors finally settles with the union.