QUESTION #2: Select any two primary source documents. What do you think of the two primary
source documents? What are the specific themes or ideas in the two primary source documents
that illustrate one or more signficant historical trends, historical themes, or historical points that
are in the Lesson lecture? Base your thoughts on your two selected primary source documents and the
lesson lecture, and feel free to add any of your thoughts comparing any time within 1929-1945 to twentyfirst-century America.
Below are the two selected source documents:
Auto Workers Strike
From The Student Outlook, v.1, n. 4 (March, 1933)
1. ONE YEAR AGO a complacent public was shocked by the news of the Ford Riot in
which four workers were killed and forty wounded. Added to this tragic method of
education comes the latest Briggs' strike and the other related strikes which have all
slowly and painfully had their effect in educating the public as to the true conditions in
the auto industry.
2. The American Federation of Labor once made an effort to organize the auto workers
through the Machinist's Union, but because of craft limitations in a craftless industry, the
Machinist's Union did not scratch the surface of the nut it hoped to crack. Not until 1926
at their convention in Detroit did the A. F. of L. seriously consider the organization of the
production workers of the industry. The hope that a militant and constructive program of
unionization would grow out of the convention was shattered when the A. F. of L.
strategists permitted their plans to degenerate into a plea to the "enlightened" capitalists
to accept the leadership of a responsible labor group rather than be exposed to the
dangers of radicals and agitators. The complete failure of the A. F. of L.'s attempt to
organize the production workers resulted in its leadership voicing the attitude that the task
of unionizing the auto workers was impossible.
3. The challenge to organize the production workers was taken up by the Auto Workers
Union, which is organized on a broad industrial basis and is founded on the principle of
the class struggle. At one time the union was affiliated with the A. F. of L., but its charter
was revoked over a question of jurisdiction. During the years 1919 and 1920, when the
auto industry was going through a period of rapid expansion, the membership in the
union grew to 45,000 and many successful strikes were staged in some of the plants.
4. The success of the union, however, was short-lived, for the depression of 1921 so
paralyzed the auto industry that the union was broken and it declined until in 1924 the
membership numbered only about 1500. As the power of the union declined, the
employers became more aggressive and wage cuts, speedups, and excessive hours were
thrust upon the workers. The corporations, realizing that the union might come to life at
some future date, inaugurated a period of personnel management and sham industrial
democracy. The Chrysler Industrial Corporation, the welfare scheme of the Chrysler
Corporation, in which the workers have a voice only in the management of the baseball
team typifies the extent of industrial democracy afforded by this plan.
5. In the face of overwhelming odds, the remnants of the Auto Workers Union, under left
wing leadership kept up an unceasing struggle to unionize the auto workers into a
militant, class conscious industrial organization.
6. After years of constant and untiring propaganda work and agitation through the
departmental committees, working secretly and under great pressure, and by selling and
distributing small shop papers, such as the Ford Worker and the Briggs Worker, at the
gates of the plants, the Auto Workers Union finally felt that it had sufficient strength and
that the time was ripe for action. It called a strike at the Briggs Waterloo Plant. The strike,
while it was consciously planned by the union was nevertheless the expression of the
Briggs' workers en masse against the starvation wages, long hours and further wage cuts
which have given the Briggs Corporation the reputation of being the most vicious sweat
shop and hell hole in Detroit.
7. Threatened with a twenty percent wage cut, 600 tool and die makers of the Waterloo plant
struck 100 percent strong against the Briggs industrial aristocracy.
8. A strategic moment had been selected for this first strike as the tools and dies for the new
Ford car were about seventy-five percent complete and production could not begin on
schedule without their completion.
9. The strike so completely paralyzed the Briggs Corporation that after three days of
picketing, the company was compelled to withdraw the wage cut, recognize the union
shop committees and furthermore, to reinstate the former wage rate in the other three
Briggs plants where the cut had already gone into effect. The solidarity of the Briggs'
workers in their successful strike caused the Hudson Motor Company to remove the signs
in their factories announcing a ten percent wage cut and replacing them by notices
announcing the withdrawal of the wage cut.
10. Instilled with confidence by the activities of the Briggs' workers, fifteen hundred men
from the Motor Products Co. went out on strike against a fifteen percent wage cut levied
several weeks before. As a result the Motor Products Co. was also forced, after three days
of strike activity, to rescind the wage slash, to recognize shop committees, to establish a
minimum wage rate of thirty cents for women and forty cents for men on production. In
many cases this meant an actual increase of fifty percent in wages.
11. Two successful and well-organized strikes within one week filled the workers of Detroit
with a spirit of revolt against capitalist feudalism and paved the way for a rapid
succession of strikes unparalleled in the history of the auto industry.
12. Fired with enthusiasm by the success of the strike at the Briggs' Waterloo plant, and
encouraged by the splendid display of solidarity among the ranks of the employed and
unemployed, 10,000 Briggs' workers from the Highland Park and Mack Avenue plants
walked out on strike on January 23rd against starvation wages and the "dead time" policy.
So low were the wages at Briggs that some of the woman workers claimed that their pay
ranged from five cents per hour upwards, while men on production were getting from
thirteen cents upward per hour. The "dead time" policy of the company was the source of
much grievance as some employees were compelled to wait as long as three hours for
material without compensation for "dead time," the period they had to wait.
13. The workers of the Waterloo and Meldrum Avenue plants soon followed the action of the
other plants and pledged their solidarity and agreed among themselves to go back to work
only after their rights were recognized and their grievances settled. The strikers met,
endorsed the leadership of the Auto Workers Union, outlined their demands, elected their
department representatives to the general strike committee and immediately began the
picketing of the various plants.
14. Insofar as the strike paralyzed all four Briggs' plants, the strike was one hundred percent
successful. The workers instead of returning to their jobs, joined the others in the fast
growing picket line, despite the fact that the press carried headlines to the effect that the
strike was settled and urged the strikers to return to their jobs.
15. As a whole the strike was most orderly except for a few instances where strikers molested
scabs who were leaving the plant and sent several of them to the hospital. In one case
when bodies from Briggs were being transported on trucks, a group of strikers
demolished the bodies. Further shipments ceased.
16. All day and all night the picketers marched in front of cold winds, disregarding their
empty stomachs. The sight of these thousands of hungry and poorly clothed industrial
workers carrying their protest banners; the inspired sound of their chants, urging the
workers to "organize, unite and fight" had the usual effect upon the already frightened
owners of industry who feared greatly this latest revolt of their machine-tenders. The
police were there in full force. Dearborn's mounted of Ford Riot fame, Detroit's riot
squads, Highland Park's police, Wayne County scout cars, and Governor Comstock's state
troopers were all on the spot, equipped with guns, tear gas and clubs. As many as 250 of
them were stationed at one plant. Aside from arresting a few picketers, the police were
very conservative in their activities. They did not seem eager to become violent with a
crowd of desperate strikers. Perhaps they had learned their lesson from the Ford Riot.
17. At first the strikers were quite hostile toward the police, but soon became quite friendly
with them (for they didn't desire violence either), and the picketers began singing to the
effect that after they had won their own strike, they would organize the cops. Many of the
"workers" in uniform stated they had already had too many salary cuts and would
welcome a union that could secure for them a decent living.
18. Production at the Ford River Rouge plant, crippled by the Briggs' strike, was shut down
completely. Workers were notified that they could not return until the strike at Briggs was
over. Ford's strike-breaking role was one more demonstrated when he shut down his tool
and die rooms which were not dependent upon production at Briggs. Ford's giving notice
to his workers that it was the Briggs' strike that was responsible for their layoff was but
another attempt by Ford to break the strike by making his workers and public antagonistic
to the strikers. So interested was Ford in breaking the strike that he even closed his
Highland Park Store.
19. The Murray Corporation using tactics similar to Ford's, and demonstrating along with
Ford, capitalist solidarity with the Briggs' concern, locked out approximately 4,000
production workers in an attempt to break the strike`, but to their surprise the tool and die
division went out on a strike in support of the Briggs' strikers and the locked out workers.
20. In the meantime the Auto Workers Union had been carrying on a great deal of
propaganda in the other auto plants in an attempt to secure the support of all auto
workers. Through the formation of inside groups, 3,000 body workers of the Hudson
Motor Body plant at Connors and Gratiot Avenues walked out on strike "against wage
cuts and working conditions" as one of the workers' committee expressed it. While this
committee which represents the Hudson strikers claims that their strike is independent of
the Briggs' strike, it is quite evident that their strike was planned by the same union that
called the one at Briggs. As a result of the Hudson walkout, both of the Hudson plants are
shut down completely.
21. At the Mack Avenue plant of Briggs', one of the most encouraging features of the entire
strike occurred when several thousand unemployed formed a picket line across the street
from the picketing strikers and demonstrated their solidarity with their fellow workers.
22. As in many other present day strikes, the students also played their part. About twenty
students from the College of the City of Detroit (both Communists and Socialists)
marched in line with the Briggs' picketers, singing and carrying signs reading "City
College Students Unite With Strikers."
23. The tremendous effect this cooperation from the "respectable young intellectuals" had in
breaking down the antipathy of the bystanders and minimizing the "red scare" can best be
illustrated by the fact that during the first few critical hours of the strike when it was most
difficult to get the workers to fall in line with the picketers, this group of students through
their songs and general militant activity aided in swelling the numbers of the picket line
from fifty to four hundred in but a few hours. So effective was the work of the student
group that it was not long before the company ordered the police to take the students off
the picket line. The police surrounded the group and took them inside the plant for
questioning. The school authorities were notified and a general attempt was made to
intimidate the students. But the reply was a larger group of students on the line the next
The present strikes in the automobile field are the most significant and encouraging
developments in the history of the industry. The union claims it has the key men in the body
plants organized 100 percent and production cannot be resumed without them. If the workers win
it will be the beginning of a new era in the struggle of labor to emancipate itself.
The Detroit Strike
By Samuel Romer
Detroit, February 2
1. AT nine o'clock on Wednesday morning, January 11, a worker at the main tool-and-diemaking plant of the Briggs Manufacturing Company was told by his foreman to step into
the office and receive a wage cut. Instead, the worker went to the head of his shop
committee and then, along with the other workers in his department, from floor to floor,
announcing that a strike against wage cuts had been called. There were only about 450
men working in the plant then–but every one of them put away his tools and walked out.
So began the first major labor struggle in Detroit since the period immediately following
2. Today there are between 10,000 and 14,000 * workers on strike at the four plants of the
Briggs Company and at the Murray Manufacturing Company's plant. The huge Ford
factories all over the country have shut down–admittedly because they cannot get bodies
from the two factories crippled by the strikes; the Hudson Motor Company has shut
down; and the Chrysler Motor Company plant is working on part time when ordinarily it
would be operating at the peak of production. The story of these strikes is the story of
how manufacturers seeking "low production costs" slashed wages, disregarding or
dismissing the possibility that the victims might revolt, and of how unorganized workers
spontaneously struck at a time when, according to the estimate of the Mayor's
Unemployment Committee, there were more than 175,000 jobless in Detroit. It is a story
of remarkable unity, not only between the strikers and the workers at other plants, but
also between the employed and the unemployed. Incidentally, it exposes the class
character of the Detroit daily newspapers.
3. Detroit in the past ten years has won renown among chambers of commerce as an openshop area second only to Southern California. Advertisements by the various industrial
associations boasted of an "open-shop paradise," while the vested interests were able to
prevent effective enforcement of such social legislation as was passed by a reluctant
legislature. Nevertheless, during the war period and immediately after, there was a strong
Auto Workers' Union in Detroit. It boasted some 20,000 dues-paying members and was
growing rapidly. But anti-red hysteria and the split in the Socialist movement caused the
union slowly to lose strength, until in 1925 it was completely broke as the result of an illadvised strike at the Fisher Body Corporation. The Auto Workers' Union became merely
another Communist paper union.
4. The Detroit workers, in contradiction to the widely advertised Ford gospel "high wages,"
were never really well paid. The automobile industry is a seasonal one. The factories
slacken production during the fall months in order to prepare for new yearly models; and
the automobile worker had to stretch the "high wages" of eight months to cover the full
5. The automobile market collapsed with the crash of 1929, and the period of steady work
was cut to three and four months or even less In the mad scramble of the manufacturers
to grab a slice of what little market there was, labor costs were slashed and slashed again.
The workers took the cuts apathetically. They grumbled, it is true, but they were also
aware of the fact that there were plenty of men ready to take their places if they did not
care to work. The Auto Workers' Union endeavored to organize the men, but because of
the powerful spy system in the automobile industry, the union had to function
underground and it met with little success. A strike was called at the Fisher Body plant in
Flint last year. It was greeted with cries of "red" and police brutality. The strike was lost
and the few men who had harbored any idea of an automobile workers' revolt gave up
hope. Wage cuts continued, the conveyer belt was stepped up, and conditions in the
factories became increasingly worse. Men reported for work daily, waited around for
hours, and if they were lucky, secured two hours of work. In one instance a worker
received for two weeks the munificent sum of 49 cents. His total wage for the two weeks
was $2.49, but $2 was held out by the company for factory insurance. During the two
week, however, he had been called to work six times, spending 12 cents car fare each
time. His net loss, therefore, was 23 cents.
6. It was after a 15 per cent wage cut at the huge Mack Avenue plant, which was regarded as
a preliminary to cuts in the Briggs Company's other factories, that the men in the Vernor
Highway plant began talking strike. Accepting the advisory leadership of the Auto
Workers' Union, "hey elected shop committees and decided to meet the expected cut with
a walkout. The cut came in less than a week and the men walked out. After a futile
attempt at arbitration, the strike was called and a picket line established. The mere calling
of the strike had immediate reverberations. In the Mack Avenue plant the cut was
rescinded. At the Hudson Motor plant, where a 10 per cent wage cut had been posted, the
cut was shortly after withdrawn.
7. At the striking plant, after fifty-two hours of picketing, the cut was rescinded–the first
victory for strikers in Detroit since 1920. This victory was due to several causes, among
them the refusal of tool-and-die-makers in other plants to accept the Briggs dies and the
fact that pressure was undoubtedly brought to bear upon the Briggs Corporation by the
Ford Company to hurry production in order that Ford might get his share of the market.
8. The daily newspapers carried not a word of the strike at the Vernor Highway plant,
although every city desk was informed of the strike by telephone. During the strike one
small item appeared to the effect that Briggs was hiring men, but the settlement was
reached before any concerted attempt was made to break the strike. Despite this total lack
of publicity, news of the victory spread among the workers like wildfire. And on the
Thursday following the victory of the Briggs workers, between 900 and 1,400 employees
of the Motor Product Company, manufacturers of automobile parts, walked out against a
15 per cent wage cut which had been announced January 1. Strikers said that girls
working at the plant were getting as little as 8 cents an hour and men 17 cents. Under the
slogan, "Give Us a Living Wage," the strikers drew up a list of demands which included
rescinding of the wage cut, minimum wages of 40 cents an hour for men and 30 cents for
women, recognition of grievance committees elected by the workers, and no
discrimination against strike leaders. After an attempt by the Briggs Company to send its
employees into the Motor Products plant and the refusal of these men to scab, the
company granted not only each of the strikers' main demands, but also a 15 per cent
9. The daily newspapers at the beginning published nothing about the strike. The men had
appointed a publicity committee to deal with the newspapers, but at the strike meeting the
publicity committee naively announced that it had no report to make since the
newspapers had published nothing. Their ire aroused, the strikers elected a committee to
call upon each city editor and threaten him with the picketing of his newspaper office if
publicity were not given. Immediately following the action the newspapers grudgingly
printed one-inch and two-inch items buried on inside pages, and even after the strike had
been won, they mentioned only the fact that the men had gone back to work. The victory
was not reported.
10. Following closely on the heels of the Motor Products strike, between 2,000 and 4,000
workers at the Highland Park Plant of the Briggs Company and between 4,000 and 6,000
workers at the Mack Avenue plant of the same concern walked out in protest against low
wages and "dead time." "Dead time" is the name given to the time spent by the workers
in waiting between busy periods or in going from one part of the factory to another. The
two strike committees joined forces and agreed not to go back separately. They were
heartened by the news that the workers at two other plants of the Briggs Company, the
Vernor Highway plant and the Meldrum Avenue plant, had walled out in sympathy and
had declared their solidarity with the strikers in the other plants.
11. The strike committees established picket lines a thousand strong at the various plants, and
then drew up their demands. These included abolition of what the strikers called
"rackets," such as health and accident insurance, a minimum rate of 40 cents an hour, a
nine-hour day and five-day week with time and one-half for overtime, abolition of "dead
time," no victimization of strikers, and abolition of the vicious bonus piece-work system.
The picket lines included not only strikers but many unemployed. Both the Unemployed
Councils and the Unemployed Citizens' League had pledged their solidarity with the
strikers and were using their influence to keep the jobless from strike-breaking. At the
Murray plant, which has interlocking contracts with the Briggs Corporation for Ford and
Lincoln bodies, the men decided to strike. Instead, the company locked them out. The
men, nevertheless, formed strike committees and decided not to return until demands
similar to those of the Briggs workers were granted. In Grand Rapids more than 450
workers walked out against a wage reduction of 25 per cent in the Hayes Body
Corporation plant, which manufactures bodies for Continental Motors.
12. Little was said about the strike in the newspapers until the Briggs Company officials
decided to break it. While they refused to meet with the negotiations committee elected
by the men or to deal with them collectively, they offered a jumbled pay scale and the
abolition of "dead time." Immediately the Detroit News ran a huge two-line scarehead:
"Briggs Raises Rates; Will Open Tomorrow." Over the radio the word went out too–"The
strike is over, the company has conceded the demands of the workers and will begin
production tomorrow." What both the newspapers and the radio failed to mention was
that the strikers in a mass-meeting had voted down the proposed settlement and had
declared that they would go back only as an organized body.
13. The Briggs officials publicly gave as their excuse for not dealing with the strikers in a
body the alleged fact that the strike was Communist. The men, however, vehemently
denied the charge and pointed to the fact that they had picketed with American flags and
had excluded known Communists from the strike committee. The newspapers played up
the proud announcement of the Briggs officials that, contrary to certain rumors, they had
never paid workers less than 25 cents an hour–despite the fact that picketers were
showing checks ranging from $3 to $8 for two weeks' work, which the strikers
maintained meant rates of 8 cents and 10 cents an hour, and that strikers from the sewing
department declared that the girls working there on a piece-work basis averaged from 3
cents to 5 cents an hour.
14. In what strikers declared was an effort to turn public sympathy away from them, Ford
announced the closing of his plants throughout the country and the consequent laying off
of nearly 150,000 men. This story, of course, gained the front pages of the papers. That
the strikers' contention was in many ways correct may be deduced from a leading
editorial on the strike which appeared in the Free Press, organ of reaction in Detroit.
After conceding that the conditions were bad, the writer declared: "They [the strikers] should remember, too, that they owe consideration to their fellow-workers; and that if
they remain idle after securing the ratification of their principal grievance [abolition of
"dead time"] they will be depriving more than 150,000 men and women in other plants of
the means of livelihood, by forcing those plants to remain closed through lack of
15. When Briggs officials asked for workers from the welfare rolls and the employment
bureau of the…