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December 30: Rose Pesotta and the UAW Sit-Down Strike

December 30, 2013
pesotta2The General Motors Sit-Down Strike began in Flint, Michigan on this date in 1936 under the auspices of the newly organized United Auto Workers. By remaining inside the factory rather than picketing outside, striking workers prevented strikebreakers from taking over production. Injunctions were issued, police raids occurred, but the workers, numbering about 2,000, maintained a high level of discipline and self-governance within the plant to withstand the pressure, and by February, GM was forced to negotiate with the UAW, which saw an increase in its membership from 30,000 to 500,000 within the year. Among the labor organizers active on the scene was Rose Pesotta, a Jewish anarchist who worked for the CIO and witnessed the “Battle of Bulls Run” on January 11, in which cops attempting to break the sit-down strike were routed. The police, she wrote, twice tried “to force their way into the plant, but were met by a deluge of cold water from a fire-hose and an avalanche of two-pound steel automobile hinges. The cops’ line broke under this defensive onslaught. Defeated and shamefaced, they left the scene at top speed.” Pesotta had previously that year assisted with the Akron, Ohio rubberworkers’ strike, which had also used the sit-down tactic. “Newspapers and periodicals of various political shades, labor papers, and mystery magazines were among the reading material in evidence. . . . Most of these men had worked for Fisher Body from four to 12 years. They told me it was tough to sit around and do nothing after the speed-up had got into their blood. ‘But I’ll sit here till hell freezes under me,’ said one. ‘I won’t give up the fight for I know where I’ll land if we don’t win this time.’ ” —Rose Pesotta, Bread Upon the Waters