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Injunction: A Tool by Industrial Management in Labor Conflicts

Injunction: A Tool by Industrial Management in Labor Conflicts

An injunction is a court order instructing a party to do, or refrain from doing, a specified act.Beginning in the 1880s, the injunction was requested by industrial management and granted by sympathetic courts to end strikes and boycotts. Its effectiveness was demonstrated during the Pullman Strike of 1894. The injunction long remained a prime tool used to curb labor union power.In 1932, the Norris-La Guardia Act enumerated labor practices to be rendered exempt from judicial injunction, including the strike. In the wake of this law and other New Deal measures, many state legislatures enacted laws enhancing the powers of unions.Following World War II, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), which allowed the courts to resume the use of injunctions under specified circumstances. The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (1959) further broadened the courts’ authority to issue injunctions.

Injunction: A Tool by Industrial Management in Labor Conflicts - History

The life of a 19th-century American industrial worker was far from easy. Even in good times wages were low, hours long and working conditions hazardous. Little of the wealth which the growth of the nation had generated went to its workers. The situation was worse for women and children, who made up a high percentage of the work force in some industries and often received but a fraction of the wages a man could earn. Periodic economic crises swept the nation, further eroding industrial wages and producing high levels of unemployment.

At the same time, the technological improvements, which added so much to the nation's productivity, continually reduced the demand for skilled labor. Yet the unskilled labor pool was constantly growing, as unprecedented numbers of immigrants -- 18 million between 1880 and 1910 -- entered the country, eager for work.

Before 1874, when Massachusetts passed the nation's first legislation limiting the number of hours women and child factory workers could perform to 10 hours a day, virtually no labor legislation existed in the country. Indeed, it was not until the 1930s that the federal government would become actively involved. Until then, the field was left to the state and local authorities, few of whom were as responsive to the workers as they were to wealthy industrialists.

The laissez-faire capitalism, which dominated the second half of the 19th century and fostered huge concentrations of wealth and power, was backed by a judiciary which time and again ruled against those who challenged the system. In this, they were merely following the prevailing philosophy of the times. As John D. Rockefeller is reported to have said: "the growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest." This "Social Darwinism," as it was known, had many proponents who argued that any attempt to regulate business was tantamount to impeding the natural evolution of the species.

Yet the costs of this indifference to the victims of capital were high. For millions, living and working conditions were poor, and the hope of escaping from a lifetime of poverty slight. As late as the year 1900, the United States had the highest job-related fatality rate of any industrialized nation in the world. Most industrial workers still worked a 10-hour day (12 hours in the steel industry), yet earned from 20 to 40 percent less than the minimum deemed necessary for a decent life. The situation was only worse for children, whose numbers in the work force doubled between 1870 and 1900.

The first major effort to organize workers' groups on a nationwide basis appeared with The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor in 1869. Originally a secret, ritualistic society organized by Philadelphia garment workers, it was open to all workers, including blacks, women and farmers. The Knights grew slowly until they succeeded in facing down the great railroad baron, Jay Gould, in an 1885 strike. Within a year they added 500,000 workers to their rolls.

The Knights of Labor soon fell into decline, however, and their place in the labor movement was gradually taken by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Rather than open its membership to all, the AFL, under former cigar union official Samuel Gompers, focused on skilled workers. His objectives were "pure and simple" and apolitical: increasing wages, reducing hours and improving working conditions. As such, Gompers helped turn the labor movement away from the socialist views earlier labor leaders had espoused.

Still, labor's goals -- and the unwillingness of capital to grant them -- resulted in the most violent labor conflicts in the nation's history. The first of these occurred with the Great Rail Strike of 1877, when rail workers across the nation went out on strike in response to a 10-percent pay cut. Attempts to break the strike led to rioting and wide-scale destruction in several cities: Baltimore, Maryland Chicago, Illinois Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Buffalo, New York and San Francisco, California. Federal troops had to be sent in at several locations before the strike was ended.

The Haymarket Square incident took place nine years later, when someone threw a bomb into a meeting called to discuss an ongoing strike at the McCormick Harvester Company in Chicago. In the ensuing melee, nine people were killed and some 60 injured.

Next came the riots of 1892 at Carnegie's steel works in Homestead, Pennsylvania. A group of 300 Pinkerton detectives the company had hired to break a bitter strike by the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers were fired upon and 10 were killed. The National Guard was called in as a result, non-union workers hired and the strike broken. Unions were not let back into the plant until 1937.

Two years later, wage cuts at the Pullman Palace Car Company just outside Chicago, led to a strike, which, with the support of the American Railway Union, soon tied up much of the country's rail system. As the situation deteriorated, U.S. Attorney General Richard Olney, himself a former railroad lawyer, deputized over 3,000 men in an attempt to keep the rails open. This was followed by a federal court injunction against union interference with the trains. When rioting ensued, President Cleveland sent in federal troops, and the strike was eventually broken.

The most militant of the strike-prone unions was the International Workers of the World (IWW). Formed from an amalgam of unions fighting for better conditions in the West's mining industry, the IWW, or "Wobblies" as they were commonly known, gained particular prominence from the Colorado mine clashes of 1903 and the singularly brutal fashion in which they were put down. Openly calling for class warfare, the Wobblies gained many adherents after they won a difficult strike battle in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912. Their call for work stoppages in the midst of World War I, however, led to a government crackdown in 1917, which virtually destroyed them.

Injunction: A Tool by Industrial Management in Labor Conflicts - History

Industrial Workers of the World

Sherman Antitrust Act (1890)

&ldquoYou have no right to be poor. It is your duty to be rich&hellip. It is cruel to slander the rich because they have been successful. They are not scoundrels because they have gotten money. They have blessed the world.&rdquo

&mdashfrom the speech &ldquoAcres of Diamonds&rdquo by the Rev. Russell H. Conwell, 1900


The United States went from being primarily a rural nation after the Civil War to the world&rsquos leading industrial power by the 1920s. This period is often known as America&rsquos second industrial revolution (the first began in the 1820s with the development of a mechanized textile industry in New England). Essential to this transformation was the use of new technologies to increase productivity. Several factors contributed to this change, including an abundance of natural resources, an available labor source, a host of new inventions, and rapidly expanding markets. The effects of industrialization were profound. Reverend Conwell, in the quote above, sings the praises of industrial giants. Huge corporations developed, wielding unprecedented power. Labor relations became increasingly quarrelsome, and a reform movement developed to challenge the power of the new large corporations. America became a more urban nation, as farmers and immigrants were drawn to industrial work.


Mass Production

New techniques introduced in the post&ndashCivil War period greatly increased productivity. Giant factories brought many operations under one roof. Standardized, interchangeable parts were introduced to a variety of processes. Factories became more mechanized as machines, rather than workers, began to make products. The cigarette-making machine is a good example. These mass production techniques brought a flood of goods to the market.

Natural Resources and Industrial Development

Anthracite coal was the most important fuel of the second industrial revolution. The burning of coal was used to generate steam. Steam engines replaced water, animal, and human power in a number of operations.

Oil and oil refining became important in the post&ndashCivil War period as kerosene, a by-product of oil, was used to light lamps. In 1859, Edwin L. Drake successfully used steam power to drill for oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, making it practical to access large amounts of oil from beneath the earth&rsquos surface. Oil, second only to coal in importance as a fuel during the last part of the 19th century, would become even more important in the 20th century with the development of automobiles.

Steel&mdashwhich is produced by removing impurities from iron and adding alloying elements&mdashbecame cheaper and more available as a result of the Bessemer process, developed in the 1850s. Steel, more flexible and stronger than iron, became an important material in barbed wire, plows, rails, bridges, and tall buildings.

Perhaps the most important technological development of the 19th century was the railroad. Railroads allowed for the transportation of agricultural products, raw materials, and manufactured goods over great distances, creating, in effect, a national rather than local economy. The companies that built and operated the railroad lines amassed enormous power and became embroiled in scandal and accusations of abusive practices.

Americans clamored for a route to the West before the Civil War. The first transcontinental railroad, built by Chinese and Irish immigrant workers, was completed when the Union Pacific, building westward from Nebraska, and the Central Pacific, working eastward from California, met at Promontory Point, Utah, in May 1869. In the following decades, other lines were completed to the Pacific Ocean.

Railroad companies lobbied the government to create standard time zones, to end the confusion of time being slightly different from town to town. The creation of &ldquorailroad time&rdquo in 1883 demonstrated the enormous power of the railroad companies.

The unbridled power of the railroad companies was evident in the Credit Mobilier Scandal (1867). Stockholders in the Union Pacific railroad set up a construction company to lay track at inflated costs. These stockholders would gain the windfall profits for themselves. They also offered stock to members of congress to keep them quiet.

Railroad companies also abused their power by fixing prices and charging exorbitant fees. Farmers in the West had to pay the fees because they needed to get their crops to market, and often only one line would serve an area. Railroad practices were a focus of agrarian protest movements.


Just as with the railroad industry, the economy became increasingly dominated by a few very large companies. A few of these companies exercised near-total control of certain industries their owners exercised enormous power, both in the economy and in the political sphere. Reformers made some mostly unsuccessful attempts to check the power of these corporate giants. Contemporaries and historians have debated how these owners should be remembered.

Methods of Control

Owners of large corporations used a variety of methods to gain and maintain control of a particular industry. Companies combined, or merged, to form larger companies. A horizontal monopoly involved several companies in the same business combining, effectively controlling an industry. Vertical integration occurred when a company gained control of the various aspects of an industrial process for example, from the mining of raw materials to transportation to manufacturing to distribution. A trust was formed when competing companies would create a single board of trustees to oversee operations of the various companies. Thus, control was more tightly exercised, and competition was reduced.

&ldquoCaptains of Industry&rdquo or &ldquoRobber Barons&rdquo?

Observers at the time had mixed feelings about the emerging class of corporate giants. Some marveled at the technological wonders and abundant consumer goods produced by industry. Others saw the dangers and abuses of power exercised by these &ldquorobber barons.&rdquo

Jay Gould is generally regarded as the most ruthless business owner of this era. He gained this reputation through bribery, threats, and conspiracy against competitors. His operations included railroad speculation, stock trading, tanneries, and newspaper publishing.

History has looked more favorably on Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant, illustrated the &ldquorags-to-riches&rdquo story, as he rose from being a child employee in a cotton mill to exercising control of the steel industry. Carnegie invested money in new technologies in his steel mills and, consequently, lowered production costs. He gained control of all aspects of steel production, from mining iron to running railroads, creating a vertically integrated company. Carnegie is known for his philanthropy he donated his entire fortune to public libraries, museums, concert halls, and institutes of higher education.

John D. Rockefeller achieved a monopoly in the oil-refining business through horizontal integration. Rockefeller&rsquos company, Standard Oil, went from refining 2 to 3 percent of crude oil in the United States in 1870 to over 90 percent of it a decade later. He pushed out competitors through a variety of methods, such as arranging rebates with freight lines. His techniques were exposed by muckraker Ida Tarbell in her 1904 book The History of the Standard Oil Company, though Rockefeller defended them as legal and fair.

Attempts at Reform

The government responded to popular pressure to rein in the power of big business with the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), which stated that any attempt to interfere with free interstate trade by forming trusts was illegal. However, it proved to be difficult to enforce.

LABOR CONFLICTS (1877&ndash1914)

Although big business became increasingly profitable in the post&ndashCivil War period, many workers believed their lives were growing more difficult and less rewarding. They were also threatened by the growing power of industrial giants and the new methods of production, which removed any semblance of control they had over the work process. Owners of large corporations, on the other hand, believed that in an intensely competitive economy, they had to maintain, or even cut, wages, while at the same time increasingly mechanize the work process. As a result, a series of intense labor battles occurred between 1877 and the turn of the century.

Conditions in Factories

Factory workers were routinely subject to long hours (12 or more per day), repetitive and often dangerous work, and low pay. Factories lacked ventilation and light. There were no medical, unemployment, disability, or retirement benefits. Child labor was common. Women and children tended to make even less money than men.

Formation of Unions

To improve their lot, workers formed unions, organizations that could negotiate with owners for better pay and conditions. Unions could use a variety of techniques to press their case, but striking (stopping work) proved to be the most successful in the long run.

Industrial unionists believed that the key to success lay in organizing skilled and unskilled workers in a specific industry. An important early industrial union was the Knights of Labor. The union was open to men and women of all races and skill levels. It advocatedarbitration rather than striking. It grew under Terrence Powderly&rsquos leadership in the 1880s but declined by the century&rsquos end. Another example was the American Railway Union, which was founded by Eugene V. Debs. Industrial unionism would not achieve great success until the 1930s.

The American Federation of Labor, founded by Samuel Gompers in 1886, was a coalition of craft unions. Craft unions, such as Gompers&rsquos cigar makers&rsquo union, attempted to organize skilled workers in a particular field. The AFL encouraged strikes and was largely successful in winning improvements for its workers.

After the disastrous Pullman strike (see next section), Eugene Debs came to believe that the problems that workers faced were inherent in the capitalist system itself. He and others turned to socialism, a political ideology that advocated the eventual end of the private enterprise system and the advent of a worker-run society. The more radical labor union, Industrial Workers of the World, under the banner &ldquoOne big union,&rdquo combined socialist and anarchist ideas but failed to attract a mass following. Their members were called the Wobblies.

Significant Strikes and Incidents

The Great Railroad Strike (1877) began when workers went on strike in West Virginia to protest a wage cut. The strike spread from New York to San Francisco, virtually halting rail traffic in the United States. President Hayes called in military troops to put down what is the closest the United States has ever come to a general strike (a cessation of work by the majority of workers in every industry).

The Haymarket Riot (1886) began as a peaceful demonstration for the eight-hour day. After a rally protesting police violence was ordered to disperse in Chicago&rsquos Haymarket Square, someone threw a bomb. The police fired into the crowd. A total of seven police officers and four others were killed. Eight anarchists were tried, with little evidence four were executed. The incident turned many people away from the labor movement and crippled the Knights of Labor.

The Homestead Strike (1892) against the Carnegie Steel Company was broken up by gun-wielding private Pinkerton guards (labor spies). A daylong gun battle at the Homestead plant in Pennsylvania left 10 dead. The Carnegie plant reopened after the National Guard was sent in. The strike was a thorough defeat for Carnegie&rsquos workers. Indeed, in its wake, the entire steel industry rid itself of union activity by 1900.

The Pullman Palace Car Company built luxurious sleeper cars for the railroads. Its workers lived in what was touted as a model community of the same name near Chicago. When Pullman announced a wage cut, the workers were incensed. The Pullman Strike(1894) began when Debs organized a nationwide sympathy strike of workers who handled Pullman cars. The federal government issued an injunction against the strike because, it claimed, the mail was stopped. President Cleveland sent in troops to break up the strike.

Management Resists Demands by Organized Labor

The outcome of a particular strike depended on a number of factors, including the strength of the union, the condition of the economy, and the strategy of management. Yellow-dog contracts mandated that employees agree not to join unions. Owners also hired replacement workers, called &ldquoscabs&rdquo by unions. Finally, employers circulated blacklists of &ldquotroublemakers,&rdquo who were not to be hired.

Government Supports Management

In general, local, state, and federal governments used their power to side with the owners of companies. As with the Pullman strike, the government often issued orders, or injunctions, for a particular strike to end. Once an injunction against a strike was issued, strikers were considered lawbreakers and were subject to arrest or the use of force by police officers or federal troops. At times, strikers armed themselves as well, but they were outmatched by the firepower of the government.

The Supreme Court asserted that strikes violated the Sherman Antitrust Act on the grounds that they were combinations in restraint of free trade. The Act was used more frequently against labor unions than against trusts.


The South was much slower to industrialize than the North, despite the hope of some Southerners to create a &ldquoNew South&rdquo in the 1870s. The South had fewer cities and lacked money to invest in industry. What money that did exist was invested in rebuilding after the Civil War. Also, fewer Europeans immigrated to the South. The South remained agricultural, with Northern-owned railroads exerting control over transportation and Northern corporations resisting competition from the South. Late in the century, the South developed furniture and textile industries, as well as a steel industry in Birmingham, Alabama, but eventually even these came under the control of Northern capital.

The &ldquosecond industrial revolution&rdquo dramatically changed the American economy, as small manufacturers gave way to powerful corporations. Americans began to purchase most of the goods they used, rather than making or growing them at home. A national, and eventually international, economy was created. Some workers and farmers feared&mdashand organized against&mdashthe growing power of the corporate giants that came to dominate America in the late 19th century. In the labor battles, the tactics of owners, along with the government&rsquos cooperation, tilted the scales in favor of management.


&bull Anthracite coal: A type of coal, noted for being hard and clean burning

&bull Blacklist: A list, circulated among potential employers, of alleged &ldquotroublemakers&rdquo not to be hired

&bull Craft unionism: The movement to form labor organizations made up of skilled workers within a particular field

&bull Horizontal integration: The joining together of companies engaged in similar business practices to create a virtual monopoly

&bull Industrial unionism: The movement to form labor organizations that represent every worker in a single industry, regardless of his or her level of skill

&bull Injunction: A court order stopping a specific act, often used against unions to end a strike

&bull Mass production: Techniques used in industry to produce large quantities of goods using interchangeable parts and moving assembly lines elements of mass production were developed in the 19th century the process was perfected by Henry Ford in the 1910s

&bull Robber baron: Critical term for the owners of the big business of the Gilded Age who accumulated great wealth and power

&bull Scab: Derogatory term used by the labor movement to describe workers who cross picket lines

&bull Socialism: An economic system in which the state controls the production and distribution of certain products deemed necessary for the good of the people

&bull Trusts: Large corporations created by the consolidation of competing companies to form a monopoly or near monopoly

&bull Unions: Worker organization formed to press for workplace demands, such as better wages and safer working conditions

&bull Vertical integration: The joining together of companies to control all aspects of the production process of an item, from the mining or growing of materials through production and distribution of the final product

&bull Yellow-dog contract: Agreements employers forced potential employees to sign in which the employees agreed not to join unions or go on strike


(A) required African Americans to agree to work as sharecroppers.

(B) were the result of collective bargaining by unions and owners.

(C) were part of the strategy used by owners to prevent the establishment of unions.

(D) were welcomed by craft unions.

(E) were emblematic of Gilded Age corruption.

2. The Bessemer process created an inexpensive way to

(B) assemble the parts of an automobile.

3. The Sherman Antitrust Act

(A) was used successfully to break up trusts.

(B) was welcomed by Andrew Carnegie.

(C) was consistent with the philosophy of social Darwinism.

(D) was used most effectively against striking unions.

(E) strengthened the Clayton Antitrust Act.

4. An important trend that characterized American society during the Gilded Age was

(A) harmony and peace at industrial sites.

(B) clean, efficient government.

(C) a decline of rail transportation and an increase in truck and automobile use.

(D) the continuation of rural traditions.


Some employers required potential employees to sign &ldquoyellow-dog&rdquo contracts before hiring them. These contracts stated that the employee would not join a union. Unions opposed these contracts, and they were eventually declared illegal. &ldquoYellow-dog&rdquo contracts were forced upon potential employees&mdashthey were not the result of negotiations. No specific legislation required African Americans to work as sharecroppers. However, many of the black codes made owning property difficult for African Americans. No legitimate union would welcome &ldquoyellow-dog&rdquo contracts. The contracts are not examples of corruption they were not secret contracts involving kickbacks or slush funds.

The Bessemer process allowed for the inexpensive processing of iron into steel. As a result, steel became a more common building material and was used extensively on bridges and skyscrapers. No one person is associated with developing the oil-refining process, but Rockefeller is associated with bringing the industry under his control. Ford is associated with developing the process for mass producing automobiles, thus reducing costs. Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper in the 1850s, making harvesting grains easier and cheaper. Edison built the first commercial electric-generating station in New York City in 1882.

The Supreme Court ruled that strikes were illegal combinations that stood in the way of free trade, making the Sherman Antitrust Act an effective tool to block striking unions. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was not very successful in breaking up trusts vague wording rendered it ineffective. In general, the owners of big business, such as Andrew Carnegie, were opposed to government attempts to rein in their power. A strict adherent of social Darwinism would reject any attempt by the government to interfere in or regulate the economy. The stronger Clayton Antitrust Act was passed in 1914.

Industrial expansion fueled an overall growth in the American economy. The era was fraught with battles between labor and owners. Government during the Gilded Age was known for its corruption, most notably during the Grant administration and during &ldquoBoss&rdquo Tweed&rsquos reign in New York City. Choice (C) is incorrect for the Gilded Age it would be correct if the question were about the post&ndashWorld War II period. Though rural traditions might have held on in pockets of America, the era is noted more for change than tradition.

The 1936 Strike That Brought America’s Most Powerful Automaker to its Knees

The General Motors body plant in Flint, Michigan was usually a thankless place, filled with loud sounds and the feverish, dangerous work of turning metal into auto bodies. But in January 1937, the sounds of whistling and conversation filled the air. Instead of toiling over dangerous machinery, workers gambled, wrestled and played ping-pong on the usually busy factory floor. “We made a ball out of it,” recalled Earl Hubbard, a GM worker, in an oral history.

The workers weren’t on vacation: They were on strike. Over 44 days in 1936 and 1937, members of the fledgling United Auto Workers union managed to bring an auto behemoth to its knees in a sit-down strike that became one of the most decisive victories in American labor history. Exhausted by the industry’s dangerous demands and sharpened by the Great Depression, over 100,000 auto workers changed labor history without picketing their plant. Instead of walking out, they simply sat down and refused to leave.

Early in 1935 in Flint, Michigan, the United Auto Workers staged the first successful sit-down, forcing General Motors to come to terms. It was a major victory and the sit-down spread to other areas.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Historically, striking workers had risked their lives on the picket lines. Though unions often formed in response to dangerous working conditions, going on strike exposed workers to the danger of physical violence from hired thugs or police that served as companies’ strong-arms. Unions had long struggled to create unions across industries. Instead, craft unions that organized workers across specialties were the norm.

The automobile industry had long discouraged unions. Workers knew they could lose their jobs for trying to organize, and faced corporate spies who reported any pro-union activity back to management. According to historian Timothy P. Lynch, General Motors invested $1 million in surveillance between 1933 and 1936. For many auto workers, unions simply weren’t worth risking their jobs—pay was relatively good, and when workers were laid off they were often rehired at higher rates once a company’s profits rose.

But then the Great Depression hit in 1929. Car sales collapsed, and the industry’s production levels sagged. Automakers slashed jobs, axing thousands of employees with no regard for seniority. Those who did keep their jobs tolerated abysmal working conditions, afraid to speak up lest they be laid off, too. The story was the same across the entire economy, and stoked discontent among jobseekers and workers alike.

Meanwhile, the nation’s largest automaker, General Motors, was actually experiencing an uptick in sales thanks to its aggressive response to the Great Depression. When the economy had begun to spin out of control, GM had slashed prices, cut production of some more expensive models, and laid off huge swaths of its workforce. The moves helped keep GM on top.

By 1936, writes historian Stephen W. Sears, it dominated more than 43 percent of the domestic market, and was the nation’s most profitable automaker. But GM had maintained its grip on the automobile market at the expense of its own workers. After laying off thousands, it hired many back, but didn’t take seniority into account and paid lower wages than before. 𠇊ssembly lines were speeded up mercilessly to raise productivity and restore profit levels,” writes Sears.

Workers chafed at the grueling pace, the dangerous work and the company’s habit of laying off workers at will. “I have absolutely seen them hire a hundred men and fire a hundred all the same day,” recalled Ray Holland, a Chevrolet worker, in an oral history. You never knew whether you had a job or not.”

Though the Depression brought suffering for workers, a flicker of hope came in the form of the National Labor Relations Act. Known as the Wagner Act, the 1935 law guaranteed workers the right to organize and join labor unions and to engage in collective bargaining and strikes. It also set up the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency designed to enforce labor law.

The United Auto Workers, a recently formed trade union, had slowly and secretly begun organizing at GM. If the union was to bring the automobile industry together, it had to go after its largest employer𠅊nd do so strategically. Organizers decided to focus on the Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint, Michigan, home to 7,000 workers and the place where car bodies were made. Organizers met with Flint workers at their homes and talked them out of walking off the job right away. Instead, organizers planned to stop production through a sit-down strike in January of 1937, after Christmas bonuses had been paid and a new labor-friendly governor was in power in Michigan.

That plan was derailed on December 30, 1936, when workers at the body plant saw critical equipment being lugged onto railroad cars to be sent to other factories. Word was out that the Flint factory was a union stronghold. Workers gathered for an emergency meeting, then flooded back into the plant. The strike was on.

A young striker sleeping on an assembly line of auto seats in the body plant factory.

Now, men who had worked in the plant occupied it around the clock. They slept on sheepskins, piled-up car mats and makeshift beds, and ate food donated by local grocery stores, farmers and families. Outside the plant, women raised funds, took care of families and even formed human shields to fend off police.

General Motors had been taken by surprise though it had suspected workers might strike, it wasn’t aware that they would use the new tactic of “sitting down,” or occupying the plant. “Sitting down was a way of ensuring the factories wouldn’t operate and workers wouldn’t be replaced,” says labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian who directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Though GM tried to stop the strike in the courts, and even received an injunction that said the workers were trespassing, the effort backfired. “The strikes were technically illegal, but when you have a mass democratic insurgency you really create new law on the ground," says Lichtenstein.

GM had the law on their side, but they risked public humiliation and legal consequences of their own if they used physical force to evict the workers. Instead, 13 days after the strike began, GM cut off heat in 16-degree weather. When workers went outside to complain, security guards and police rushed in. As tear gas filled the plant, workers fought back, throwing everything from automobile bolts to pieces of roof on the attackers before the police finally fled. Workers dubbed the melee the �ttle of the Running Bulls.”

In response, Michigan governor Frank Murphy mobilized the National Guard. “Law and order must be maintained in Michigan,” he told the public. In the past, news of 1,200 guardsmen descending on Flint to impose law and order would have been devastating to workers, who knew they would be used as a weapon against them. But Murphy was labor-friendly, and didn’t use troops to intimidate workers. Instead, the National Guard became a peacekeeping force that ultimately protected the workers and facilitated negotiations.

Under the order issued by Governor Frank Murphy, the troops are commanded to preserve order, to protect property of General Motors and strikers as well. Here is a machine gun company in full kit and with gun unlimbered.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

“This allowed for the first time for the union and the company to be equal around the (negotiating) table,” historian Jason Kosnoski told MLive.

Eventually, the strike spread to 17 GM plants over 44 days. The spotlight was on GM, which at first refused to budge. The company tried to fight the strike in court, but the strikers ignored an injunction and Murphy refused to enforce it with the National Guard. Then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged GM to negotiate. The combination of those pressures got GM to the negotiating table.

In the deal that followed, the UAW gained union recognition and a promise the company would not discriminate against workers who had struck. General Motors also raised wages by five cents an hour, likely in response to wage hikes by other automakers terrified the sit-down strike would spread to them. Murphy’s refusal to use the National Guard to break up the strike was considered the most decisive factor in ending the strike at GM.

On February 11, 1937, workers paraded out of the plant, victorious. “Suddenly in the distance we heard them singing ’Solidarity Forever,’” recalled Shirley Foster, the wife of a union organizer, in an oral history. “It was an enormous celebration all over the city that night. Flint would never know a feeling like that again.”

Strikers cross off number of days they have been on the sit-down strike at General Motors&apos Chevrolet auto plant in Flint, Michigan.

Tom Watson/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

The strikes had lasted for 44 days, left 136,000 GM workers idle and caused 280,000 cars to go unbuilt. Though much of the public was against sit-down strikes and considered labor unionists to be dangerous rabble-rousers, GM’s public image had suffered, too. And labor would never be the same. Union membership ballooned from 3.4 million workers in 1930 to 10 million in 1942, and the majority of the automobile industry swiftly unionized, gaining benefits and pay they never would have obtained without organizing.

“They were the most important strikes in American history,” says Lichtenstein. For decades, he says, industrial unionism reigned supreme, leading to a higher standard of living for working Americans. Today, the UAW has over 400,000 active members and more than 600 locals around the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Though few actually went on strike in 1936, Lichtenstein notes, they had an outsize impact on American society. “It required a vanguard to show what was possible,” he says. The Flint sit-down strike proved sitting still was just as powerful as walking off the job. 

Labor-Management Conflict

Updated April 2013


For reasons of political issues that go back more than a hundred years, this concept is used somewhat differently in different countries. In the U.S., the term "labor-management conflict" generally refers to disputes between an employer and a group of employees, while a conflict between an employer and a single employee acting alone is usually referred to as an "employment" dispute. An organized labor union is usually involved in labor- management conflicts, though these conflicts can be as basic as two employees approaching a supervisor with a shared complaint about overtime or some other working condition.

Many conflicts in the workplace involve groups other than organized unions see also workplace conflict and employment conflict. In the U.S., groups raising race or gender equity issues with an employer are more often described as engaged in "employment" than in "labor" conflicts, unless a union is also involved. This is because U.S. laws requiring employers to deal fairly with unions, and laws requiring employers not to discriminate on grounds of race, gender, or certain other criteria, are part of different legal frameworks supervised by different government agencies. In other countries, the pattern can be quite different.


Employees who decide to act together to raise a problem with their management, whether through a union or just as an informal group, need to know how labor-management conflicts are typically handled, and what their rights — and management's — are. More regular users of this concept, of course, are professional labor and management representatives, and elected union stewards and other officials as well as elected members of public bodies that deal with employee groups, such as school boards.


Initially, conflict may arise when an employer refuses to recognize a union as representative of its employees in the U.S., these disputes are usually resolved by an employee election supervised by a government agency. More common are contract disputes and grievances. Contract disputes occur when a union contract covering a group of employees is about to expire and the parties disagree about the terms of a new one. Usually wages, health insurance, and other economic issues are at the center of these conflicts, but sometimes they are about other issues, such as seniority, hours, sick leave, overtime, etc.

Grievances are objections that employees make about the way an employer is handling an existing contract. A typical grievance accuses the employer of doing something that violates the union contract, such as firing an employee without "just cause." The union and employer will often negotiate at successively higher levels until the grievance is resolved by the union dropping it, by management conceding it, or by a compromise. Grievances which cannot be resolved by negotiation are typically submitted to arbitration for a final decision some contracts also use mediation.


A common type of labor-management conflict occurs when a contract governing a group of employees is about to expire. Typically, the negotiations over the terms of a new contract will be lengthy although the vast majority of these are resolved without a strike, a significant number run some risk of a strike as the parties compete to get the best deal possible for their side. It is not uncommon for the parties to meet dozens of times, and still to need a mediator as the deadline gets close.

History of Labor Unions Timeline

Uriah Stephens forms the Knights of Labor in Philadelphia. Initially a secret society, the Knights are able to organize workers around the country under the radar of management. They will become an important force in the early days of labor organizing.

Railway Strike of 1877

A strike against the Baltimore & Ohio railroad ignites a series of strikes across the Northeast. The violence and disturbances that follow result in federal troops being called out for the first time in a labor dispute. The strike is crushed, but it gives evidence of the deep conflict between workers and business owners.

Haymarket Riot

A labor rally at the Haymarket Square in Chicago, called in support of the eight-hour day, erupts into chaos when an unknown party tosses a bomb at police, who then fire into the crowd. The incident stains labor's image and creates turmoil within the movement.

Gompers Founds AFL

In the wake of the Haymarket incident, labor organizer Samuel Gompers sets up the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a collection of trade unions that will play a major role in the labor movement throughout the century to come.

Sherman Anti-Trust Act

Congress passes the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Intended to block business monopolies, it will be used effectively by employers against unions.

Homestead Strike

A lockout at the Homestead Steel Works turns violent as 300 Pinkerton detectives hired by the company arrive at the mills by barge. Workers picketing the plant greet the Pinkerton's with violence and the confrontation soon becomes a full-scale pitched battle, with seven Pinkertons and 11 union members killed. Court injunctions help to crush the union, safeguarding the steel industry from organized labor for decades.

Anti-Labor Injunction

A federal court issues the first injunction against a union under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The case, brought against the Workingman's Amalgamated Council of New Orleans for interfering with the movement of commerce, hands managers a potent legal weapon.

Pullman Strike

Union workers walk out of the factory of the Pullman Company in Pullman, Illinois, in spite of the paternalistic treatment the company had afforded to workers. The strike, organized by Eugene V. Debs and the American Railway Union, will end in total defeat.

IWW Founded

Western miners and other activists form the Industrial Workers of the World at a convention in Chicago. The IWW, or Wobblies, is one of the most radical of all organized labor groups. Though they will achieve only limited success in moving their agenda forward, they will inspire generations of labor activists with their militant spirit.

LA Times Bombing

A bomb explodes at the headquarters of the stridently anti-union Los Angeles Times, killing 20 people. Eventually, two men connected with the Iron Workers Union, which has been implicated in other bombings, will confess to dynamiting the Times.

ILGWU Strike

The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) calls a strike in New York, demanding a 20% pay raise and a 52-hour workweek. Within two days, more than 20,000 workers from 500 factories walk off the job. This largely successful "Uprising of 20,000" is the largest labor action by women in the nation's history.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

A fire in lower Manhattan kills 146 women workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. The tragedy highlights the harsh conditions under which the young women had to work, evoking public sympathy for reform.

First State Minimum Wage Law

Massachusetts adopts the first minimum wage law, setting a floor under the pay of women and minors. Other states will pass similar laws beginning the same year.

Federal Department of Labor Established

The United States Department of Labor is established as a Cabinet-level agency. Though established under President Taft, he signs the law after his defeat in the 1912 election. The Department will mostly emphasize the pro-labor stance of the incoming president, Woodrow Wilson, who appoints a United Mine Workers official as the first Secretary of Labor.

Ludlow Massacre

Violence breaks out in a camp housing striking miners in Ludlow, Colorado. National Guardsmen machinegun strikers and set fire to their tents, killing five miners, two women, and 12 children. More than 75 people will be killed over the full course of the industrial dispute.

Clayton Act

President Wilson, a friend of labor unions, signs the Clayton Act, which exempts unions from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. In coming years, the new law will prove toothless, as courts void many of its union protections.

Adamson Act

The Adamson Act establishes an eight-hour workday for employees of interstate railroads, with overtime for working longer hours.

Postwar Strike Wave

A wave of strikes breaks out after World War I. More than 40,000 coal workers and 120,000 textile workers walk off the job. In Boston, police strike, causing chaos in the city. The labor unrest is answered by a "Red scare," in which agitators are rounded up and the public turns suspicious of labor radicals.

Gompers Dies

Samuel Gompers, the most influential of the early labor leaders, dies at age 74.

Sacco and Vanzetti

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are executed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for their alleged participation in a murderous payroll heist in 1920. The two men are anarchists and labor activists, and their case generates tremendous passion on all sides during the 1920s.

Davis-Bacon Act

The Davis-Bacon Act requires that federal contractors pay their workers the wages and benefits prevailing in the local market when working on a public works project. The law keeps employers from importing cheaper workers from outside the region.

Norris-La Guardia Act

The Norris-La Guardia Act proclaims that yellow-dog contracts, which require a worker to promise not to join a union, are unenforceable, settling a long-standing dispute between management and labor. The law also limits courts' power to issue injunctions against strikes.

Perkins Named Secretary of Labor

Frances Perkins becomes Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor, the first woman in U.S. history to hold a Cabinet post. She favors a comprehensive, pro-labor agenda including minimum wage laws, unemployment insurance, old-age pensions and abolition of child labor. Her influence on labor policy in the New Deal will be huge.

Wagner Act

President Roosevelt signs into law the National Labor Relations Act, known as the Wagner Act. The law safeguards union organizing efforts and authorizes the National Labor Relations Board to assure fairness in union elections and during collective bargaining with employers. The new law tilts the playing field significantly in labor's favor, prompting a huge unionization drive throughout the late 1930s.

CIO Splits from AFL

The Congress of Industrial Organizations splits from the American Federation of Labor over disputes about methods of organizing large industries. The two groups will remain rivals until merging back together as the AFL-CIO in 1955.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act sets a 40-hour workweek with time-and-a-half for additional hours. It also establishes a national minimum wage and puts severe restrictions on child labor.

Smith-Connally Act

Congress passes the Smith-Connally Act to allow the government to take over critical industries hit by strikes. Enacted over President Roosevelt's veto, it is the first anti-union legislation to be enacted since the early 1930s. It also prevents unions from contributing to political campaigns.

Post-World War II Strike Wave

Workers strike to win wage increases in the face of postwar inflation. The wave of strikes is the worst since 1919 and includes general strikes in Hartford, Houston, Oakland, and other cities.

Truman Breaks Railroad Strike

President Truman ends a strike against the nation's railroads by threatening to take them over and draft workers into the army. His hard line is a harbinger that the nation's sympathy for unions is running out.

Taft-Hartley Act

Congress overrides President Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley bill, a landmark piece of legislation that rolls back many of the advantages labor gained in the 1935 Wagner Act. Many Democrats join with Republican lawmakers to curb the power of unions.

CIO Expels Red Unions

The CIO votes to expel 11 unions, with almost 1 million members, because of their association with communism.

AFL-CIO Merger

Representatives of the AFL and CIO sign an agreement to merge, beginning a long period of unity within organized labor. George Meany will lead the organization for two decades, taking labor in a generally conservative direction. "We do not seek to recast American society," Meany says. "We seek an ever rising standard of living." Big Labor gradually becomes a complacent interest group rather than a social movement.

Teamster Corruption

The Teamsters, along with Bakery Workers and Laundry Workers, are expelled from the AFL-CIO for corruption. That same year, Jimmy Hoffa is elected president of the Teamsters. He becomes a lightning rod for additional charges of mob influence and criminality.

Landrum-Griffith Act

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, also known as the Landrum-Griffith Act. The law addresses the union corruption uncovered by Senator John L. McClellan. It holds labor leaders to stricter standards in handling union funds and requires them to file annual reports.

Kennedy Legalizes Public Employee Unions

An order by President Kennedy allows federal employees to organize, join unions, and bargain collectively with the government. It doesn't give them the right to strike. The move begins an era of public employee unionization.

Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act prohibits discrimination in wages on the basis of sex. The result: women's earnings will climb from 62% of men's in 1970 to about 79% today.

New York Teachers Strike

A New York City teachers strike ends after depriving more than a million public school students of an education during 36 school days. Pitting union power against the public interest, the strike adds to the distrust of organized labor and exacerbates racial tensions.

UAW Splits from AFL

The United Auto Workers under leader Walter Reuther leave the AFL, in part because of personal disputes between Reuther and AFL president George Meany. Reuther will die in a plane crash in 1970, but the UAW will not rejoin the AFL until 1981.

Postal Strike

More than 200,000 Post Office workers walk off the job in the first national strike of public employees. Though the action is illegal and President Nixon calls on the army and National Guard to keep the mail moving, the two-week strike proves largely successful and ultimately leads to a modernization of the postal service.

Pension Standards

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) sets minimum standards for most private-sector pension and health plans. It provides key safeguards for employees.

Major League Baseball Strike

Major League Baseball players strike. Team owners want to restore their own prerogatives by requiring a team to pay compensation to another when hiring a free agent. Players fight the move in a strike that wipes out almost 40% of the season before being settled by compromise in August, just in time to save the World Series from cancellation.

Air Traffic Controllers Strike

President Ronald Reagan fires the striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), calling the work stoppage illegal. Reagan's action and the demise of the union sets a new tone for labor-management relations across the country. Employers begin to take tough stands against unions and do not hesitate to replace strikers with replacements. The decline in union membership accelerates.

Hormel Foods Strike

Members of a local of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union in Austin, Minnesota, go on strike against the Hormel Foods Corporation, ignoring the advice of their national union. Highlighting the confusion within the labor movement, the workers continue their action even after the company vows to reopen the plant with replacement workers. Some union members cross the picket lines and the strike drags on for ten months with no gains for union members. The futile action is emblematic of a labor movement in disarray.

UPS Strike

After a 16-day walkout, United Parcel Service agrees to a contract with the Teamsters, marking labor's first successful nationwide strike in two decades. One of the main issues leading to the strike is the company's practice of using part-time workers to avoid paying benefits.

UAW Loses Nissan Plant Election

The United Automobile Workers loses an election to represent the workers in a Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. It's one of a series of defeats in attempts to organize the plants of foreign car makers in the U.S. UAW membership will continue to slide.

Change to Win

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters, and other activist unions leave the AFL-CIO to form a new labor coalition called Change to Win. The move represents a new emphasis on organizing workers to bring them into a labor movement starved for members.

How To Prevent Conflicts In The Workplace

Conflicts are potential threats to any project. And hence once occurred they need to treated carefully.

Hold on! Can’t we prevent the conflicts?

Yes you can. In fact As a project manager your job is to first enrich the environment to prevent any potential conflicts between the team members. In order to do this, you may first perform the following steps.

  • Establish the ground rules – Establish the ground rules for the team members to work together. Eventually when the team strictly follows these rules pertaining to discipline, then you may prevent some of the conflicts from occurring.
  • Ways of working – As a project manager you need to get buy in to the common ways of working agreement with in the team.
  • Planning things ahead – You plan things ahead so as to avoid any conflicts for the resources.
  • Effective communication plan – How the communication should happen within the team, with you as a project manager and with other stakeholders of the project.

Above are some common steps to prevent the conflicts in the team, but are not limited to.

Although the project manager does all the ground work to prevent the conflicts from occurring, sometimes it is unfortunate that the conflicts do occur in the team.

As a project manager, you should be well knowledgeable to apply one of the above 5 conflict management techniques to resolve the conflict.

Significance of the Strike

The use of federal troops to put down a strike was a milestone, as was the use of the federal courts to curtail union activity. In the 1890s, the threat of more violence inhibited union activity, and companies and government entities relied on the courts to suppress strikes.

As for George Pullman, the strike and the violent reaction to it forever diminished his reputation. He died of a heart attack on Oct. 18, 1897. He was buried in a Chicago cemetery and tons of concrete were poured over his grave. Public opinion had turned against him to such a degree that it was believed Chicago residents might desecrate his body.

The 1936 GM Sit-Down Strike Changed Labor History

On July 1, 1930, 200 metal trimmers and polishers at GM’s Fisher Body No.1 (Fisher One) in Flint, MI, laid down their tools and stormed off the job, hollering for others to follow. They were fed up with speedups and piecework payments that plant management imposed to reduce production costs. Some 2,000 other disgruntled workers joined in for two days of disruptive marches and demonstrations through downtown Flint and at Fisher One, where they blocked access to the plant. Parading and chanting with them were members of the Automotive Industrial Workers Association, a Detroit-based communist front that helped organize and lead the strike.

Sixty-five miles north of Detroit, Flint was the bastion of the GM empire—“a gritty monument to the transfiguring power of the industrial revolution,” declared historian David M. Kennedy. The first Buicks were built there in 1904, and the company now employed 47,000 workers in 13 plants in the city of 156,000 residents. Eighty percent of Flint families relied on GM for their livelihoods.

“We won’t have a bunch of Bolsheviks running this town,” warned police chief Caesar Scavarda. The mayor banned picketing, and the chief mobilized 150 local and state police and county sheriff deputies for a showdown. The governor dispatched National Guard troops to back them up.

GM began hiring replacements and reopened Fisher One a week after the walkout, prompting about two-thirds of the 7,000 employees to return to work. State police, riding two abreast and swinging riot clubs, scattered 2,500 jeering strikers and supporters pressed together on the sidewalk across from the plant. Cops on foot walloped resistors with blackjacks and spent the rest of the day arresting “radicals from Detroit” or running them out of town.

Defeated strikers trudged back to Fisher One, greeted by unrelenting speedups to build bodies for 181,700 Buicks assembled that year. By all accounts, the first big automobile industry strike of the 1930s failed. In fact, it was the opening salvo in a labor war centered in the economic, political, societal and cultural upheaval of the Great Depression. Labor problems continued to plague Fisher One over the next seven years, culminating in a worker takeover that burst open the floodgates to unionization of America’s mass-production industries and permanently transformed the balance of power between management and employees.


By the end of 1932, the depression gripped the economy in a choke hold. GM’s output tumbled to 500,000 vehicles from the 1929 high of 1.9 million, leading to a 50 percent cutback in the company’s workforce. Knowing they were easily replaceable, restive workers avoided any involvement or even interest in a union. Loss of a job could mean swift descent into the ranks of 34 million Americans without incomes.

Franklin D. Roosevelt cruised to the presidency in 1932 on his New Deal plan to restructure the American economy and rekindle hope among the nation’s idled masses. Four months after his inauguration, he signed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), a farrago of 756 industry codes regulating prices, production, minimum wages, and maximum hours for thousands of businesses of all types and sizes. Buried within 13,000 pages of abstruse legalese lay Section 7(a), proclaiming worker rights to “organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing…free from interference, restraints, coercion or discrimination.” These historic phrases launched an era of dynamic union growth under the aegis of the federal government.

An organization drive by the American Federation of Labor (AFL), an amalgam of mostly skilled trade unions, claimed to enlist 100,000 unskilled and semiskilled autoworkers. Whatever the number, it was enough to charter 183 locals placed near OEM and supplier plants. Rebellious young militants in the locals chafed under timid AFL policies and overbearing controls and charged ahead with protest demonstrations and wildcat strikes, often involving pitched battles with police and strikebreakers. Many locals bailed out to form independent unions, while mass resignations by disenchanted members shut down others.

During the summer of 1935, the AFL reluctantly combined the remaining locals and their 23,000 members into the United Auto Workers of America (UAW) and appointed the organization’s president and board members. This was unacceptable, and a year later the fledgling union elected its own slate of officers, and soon after affiliated with the Committee of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO was a coalition of labor organizations cobbled together by John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers, an AFL member union.

Lewis had embarked on a crusade to unite the country’s 35 million mass production workers under the CIO banner. A 230-pound, roughhouse former coal miner, Lewis had a glowering scowl accented by beetle brows that could nest a couple hummingbirds. He would become America’s most prominent and pugnacious labor leader. The UAW embraced him as its national spokesperson, lead negotiator and man in Washington. Freed from AFL constraints, the UAW now had the backing of a well-funded union with experienced, aggressive leadership. The AFL purged the CIO, which promptly retitled itself the Congress of Industrial Organizations.


Other powerful forces coalesced around the UAW. “If I were a factory worker, I would join a union,” President Roosevelt proclaimed at a 1936 campaign rally where he maligned big business as a “degenerate system of financial capitalism that caused the depression.” He won 46 of 48 states, helped by almost $600,000 in CIO donations. The electoral tsunami swept progressive governors into office, among them Frank Murphy of Michigan, former mayor of Detroit and future U.S. Supreme Court justice, who said, “I am in the heart and soul of labor.” The Supreme Court nullified NIRA, but Congress countered with the Wagner Act empowering the National Labor Relations Board to mediate labor disputes, oversee collective bargaining and union elections, and punish labor law violators.

The auto industry did its part, ringing up 3.7 million sales in 1936, highest since 1929, while restoring auto plant employment close to predepression levels. Despite these favorable developments, the UAW Flint local languished at a skimpy 122 members, many of them company stool pigeons. Intimidation and reprisals made membership too risky. A clandestine campaign pulled in 4,000 new members, barely 10 percent of the city’s automotive workforce.

To earn worker trust and the right to speak for them, the upstart union had to confront and defeat GM, the industrial colossus that controlled almost 45 percent of domestic auto sales and employed 240,000 workers in 69 plants. In 1936, GM’s net profits approached $284 million, and its $1.4 billion in gross income exceeded the annual revenues of any American state.

Angry workers forced the issue on Dec. 30, 1936, when they stormed into the UAW hall across the road from Fisher One during their swing shift meal break. They were enraged over the company’s plan to eliminate jobs by removing dies from the plant for installation in a less volatile environment. “What do you want to do?” 27-year-old Robert Travis, UAW Flint leader, challenged them. “Shut it down, shut the goddamn plant down!” they bellowed.

Before the shift ended at 11 p.m., they had overpowered and forced out foremen and guards and barricaded entrances with piles of unfinished Buick bodies. “She’s ours!” strikers cried from third-floor windows. The world’s largest auto body plant went silent, and the most far-reaching labor action of the century was underway.

GM denounced the occupation as illegal, which it was. Employees had seized private property, held it by force and were prepared to resist by violence any efforts to repossess it. “We will not negotiate with a union while its agents forcibly hold possession of our property,” said GM President Alfred P. Sloan. President Roosevelt begged to differ: “What laws have they broken?” he innocently inquired. “The law of trespass? Why can’t these fellows at General Motors meet with a committee of workers?”

A couple days after the takeover, the company secured an injunction ordering strikers to evacuate the plant. The UAW held a press conference and gleefully revealed that the 83-year-old judge who issued the decree owned $219,000 worth of GM stock. The injunction died an obscure death. Gov. Murphy quickly and discreetly unloaded his $104,000 in GM shares.

Seven-hundred strikers (their numbers ranged from well over a thousand to fewer than 200 over the next six weeks) settled in for a long siege. They organized committees responsible for plant security, facility cleanups, worker health and safety, postal services, and picketing duties. Liquor and guns were banned, and everyone had to work six hours a day. Sleeping arrangements were plentiful on makeshift beds stuffed with wadding used in car seats.

A recreation area had plenty of room for ping pong, card games, lectures on labor union history and procedures, and boxing and wrestling matches. A well-stocked library offered books, magazines and newspapers. Local bands and musicians among the strikers, including a “hillbilly orchestra,” serenaded sit-downers, most with origins in Midwest farms and northern Michigan logging camps.

Sensitive to public opinion and concerned over vandalism of million-dollar machines, GM left the heat and lights on, allowed food and meal deliveries organized by the union’s Women’s Auxiliary, and maintained regular trash collections. Union officials and strike leaders met daily in the plant or at UAW headquarters. Politicians and journalists sympathetic to the union cause were welcomed in for tours and interviews. Sit-downers could leave for a few days to visit their families.


Two miles away, a sit-down strike at the much smaller Fisher Two Chevrolet body plant erupted in violence on Jan. 11, 1937, when a flying squad of picketers rammed through the gate that GM guards locked to prevent dinner deliveries. Earlier, plant management turned off the heat on a blustery 16 F day. A hundred or so strikers were shivering inside when a fleet of police cars roared up, sirens shrieking. Officers in gas masks, riot shields and helmets leaped out and shot hissing canisters of tear gas into the plant and lobbed them at picketers. Sit-downers drenched their assailants with icy torrents from high-pressure fire hoses and fusillades of two-pound steel door hinges, milk bottles and bricks. Picketers clobbered cops with blackjacks that strikers had fashioned from rubber hoses and leather-bound lead.

Police retreated to regroup while a mob gathered to help repel a second attack fought in swirling mists of tear gas. The melee ended when outnumbered cops backed off, leaving behind destroyed scout cars. Twelve officers were injured, and 14 picketers were treated for buckshot wounds from police riot guns. The conflict passed into UAW lore as the Battle of the Running Bulls—the bulls, 1930s slang for police, ran away.

Gov. Murphy, just 11 days in office, sided with the strikers, but was appalled by the violence and sent in 1,200 National Guardsmen to maintain order and billet in an abandoned school until the strike ended. “The people of Flint will not be terrorized,” he said. “The state of Michigan will reign supreme.” He also emphasized that the Guard was there as a neutral peacekeeping force, not to evict sitdowners from the two plants. “I will not go down in history as Bloody Murphy,” he vowed.

By late January, the strike reached an impasse. Bored and restless sit-downers, concerned that they had signed up for a lost cause, were leaving to rejoin their families. Thousands of unemployed Flint autoworkers clamored loudly and often to return to work and restore their incomes. The Flint economy tanked. Things were worse at GM. Fifty plants in 35 communities and 14 states were either on strike or shut down, idling 135,000 workers. Normal production runs of 1,500 to 2,000 vehicles a day trickled down to 120 a week.

Both sides went for the knockout blow. GM filed for a second injunction to evacuate the plants, careful to choose a judge unencumbered by GM stock holdings. The UAW counterpunched with a secretive plot for a coup at Chevy Four, an impregnable fortress where 14,000 workers turned out a million engines annually for all Chevrolets, the company sales champ. The union planted a phony story with company spies about a planned strike set for Feb. 1 at the Chevrolet Nine bearing plant. GM swallowed the bait and assigned extra guards, removing them from their normal shifts at other facilities, including Chevy Four.

On the allotted day, the beefed-up plant protection detail attacked Chevrolet Nine workers who refused to leave at the end of the first shift. Workers from other plants raced to the scene and battled police and guards outside. The Women’s Brigade, the militant branch of the Women’s Auxiliary, shattered plant windows with crowbars and stove pokers to allow tear gas fumes to escape. The fracas left 17 injured but allowed time for 2,000 strikers at Chevy Four to force out the understaffed guard unit and initiate the real sit-down. Gov. Murphy felt betrayed and rushed in 2,200 more National Guard troops to augment those in place.

Thirty-four-hundred guardsmen, bayonets fixed to automatic rifles slung from their greatcoats, formed an 80-acre cordon around Chevy Four and Fisher Two, blocking all access to the plants—a “ring of steel,” as one newspaper headlined it. Machine guns capable of firing 500 rounds a minute and howitzers loaded with smoke cartridges were mounted on surrounding hills and streets, pointing directly at the plants. On Feb. 2, the judge issued an injunction ordering evacuation of the three striking facilities by the following afternoon.

UAW “shock troops” from Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, and other GM strongholds swarmed into the city, weapons in hand, and joined 10,000 others surrounding Fisher One, all prepared to combat any attempts to enforce the evacuation ruling. Inside, sitdowners, some with handguns and rifles, had pledged a “fight to the death” rather than be forced out. Five hundred Women’s Brigade members wearing red berets and armbands marched through Flint on their way to join the impending battle. The entire Flint police force was on call, and hundreds of state police and sheriff deputies stood by with GM plant protection personnel and a thousand vigilantes deputized by Flint city officials.

The slightest provocation could have ignited industrial warfare, catastrophic loss of lives, and intervention of federal troops. Losing $2 million a day in sales and sitting on a powder keg with a lit fuse, GM announced it was ready to negotiate. Tensions eased but no one backed off.


Negotiations took place in Detroit in the office and jury room of Judge George Murphy, the governor’s brother. GM Executive Vice President William Knudsen, who had no serious problem with collective bargaining, represented the corporation, joined by the company’s anti-union finance and legal chiefs. John L. Lewis, all shrewd bluff and bombast, argued the union case, accompanied by UAW Vice President Wyndham Mortimer, the organization’s leading communist. The UAW had one overriding goal: achieve recognition as sole bargaining agent for all GM production facilities. GM refused to consider the demand, or any other issues, until sit-downers vacated the plants they were “holding for ransom.”

Gov. Murphy arbitrated tense, unyielding sessions stretching deep into morning hours, while maintaining close contact with the White House. At one point, the president called Knudsen who had scheduled an announcement that negotiations were deadlocked and GM was withdrawing. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins placed an emergency call to Lewis, who acceded to limiting union representation to 17 GM plants on strike around the country. The talks continued.

On Feb. 11 at 2:36 a.m. on the 44th day of the strike, an exhausted governor announced a six-month agreement in which sit-downers would leave the occupied plants on condition that GM refrain from bargaining with any other labor union during this period. In effect, but without acknowledging it, GM had conceded exclusive bargaining rights to the UAW for its industrial operations.

Perhaps fittingly, the top two signatures on the watershed pact were William Knudsen, for the exemplar of industrial capitalism, and Wyndham Mortimer, the hardcore union communist. John L. Lewis, the supreme pragmatist, signed the one-page, eight-paragraph document from his sick bed in the Statler Hotel in downtown Detroit, brought down by chronically scarred lungs carried over from his days in the coal mines. A few weeks later, UAW members approved the contract, and welcome blasts from plant whistles beckoned GM employees back to work.

The UAW went on a tear, signing deals with independent carmakers Studebaker, Hudson and Packard, and with major suppliers. Chrysler came aboard April 6 with an agreement covering workers in its Detroit facilities. Four turbulent years passed before Henry Ford caved in and gave the UAW sole bargaining power for his plants.

10(j) Injunctions

Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act authorizes the National Labor Relations Board to seek temporary injunctions against employers and unions in federal district courts to stop unfair labor practices while the case is being litigated before administrative law judges and the Board. These temporary injunctions are needed to protect the process of collective bargaining and employee rights under the Act, and to ensure that Board decisions will be meaningful. The section was added as part of a set of reforms to the Act in 1947. Over the years, all NLRB General Counsels have made use of this effective enforcement tool, as shown in this chart.

There are 15 categories of labor disputes in which Section 10(j) injunctions may be appropriate, listed here. Under NLRB processes, potential cases are identified by Regional Offices and reviewed by the General Counsel, who must seek authorization from the Board before proceeding to court. Below is a list of all 10(j) injunction cases authorized by the Board since September 1, 2010, with status updates.


Originally courts granted only prohibitory injunctions, on the grounds that the performance of affirmative orders could not be easily compelled or supervised. In the 19th cent., though, affirmative (mandatory) injunctions began to be used, and they are now granted in unusual circumstances. Injunctions issued while an action is pending are termed preliminary, or interlocutory they are intended to protect the plaintiff's interest so that a final judgment will not be worthless, and they cannot, for the most part, be reviewed by higher courts. If irreparable injury would result even before notice of a hearing could be served, the court may grant a temporary restraining order, which is binding on the defendant until a hearing can be held. A final or perpetual injunction is part of the final judgment of the court, and may be issued after all the evidence has been heard.

Injunctions, like most remedies of an equitable nature, are usually granted by a judge sitting without a jury. The broad discretion courts have enjoyed in using this power has, however, been limited by statute in many areas of the law. An injunction is essentially a personal order, and a defendant who disobeys may be punished for contempt contempt,
in law, interference with the functioning of a legislature or court. In its narrow and more usual sense, contempt refers to the despising of the authority, justice, or dignity of a court.
. Click the link for more information. . An injunction in force may be terminated or modified by the court.

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