This year, February 11, 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Great Flint Sit Down Strike.
It was this 44 day sit down strike in Flint, Michigan from 1936-1937 that won the right to industrial unions in the US. Twenty-five years ago, on February 11, 1987, we celebrated the 50th anniversity with some of the sit down pioneers in Flint, Michigan.
We were privileged then to have met and learned about the sit down and the developments before and after from some of the labor pioneers who had waged the battle to win the right to unions in the large industrial factories in the US.
Some of these pioneers that we met and had the chance to know included Jack Palmer, Roscow Rich, Kenny Malone, Doc Wilson, and Floyd Hoke-Miller. There were of course, many more pioneers that we only met occasionally or learned about, but these five are some of those who especially stand out as having passed on some of the story and above all the spirit of ’37, of resistance to tyranny that the sit down in the Flint auto factories in 1936-7 represented.
Floyd Hoke-Miller’s labor poems, Doc Wilson’s labor cartoons and the writing in the Searchlight newspaper by Kenny Malone and others who we only met through their articles like George Carroll, and Carl Johnson, represented were some of the legacy of labor literature left by the Flint labor pioneers.
In honor of the sitdowners we put together four small books, collections of different sorts documenting the achievement of the sit downers. The book “A Laborer Looks at Life: Then and Now” was a collection of Floyd’s labor poems that had appeared over the years in the Searchlight, the union newspaper of the Plant 4 workers whose achievement in occupying the Chevy Engine Plant helped to win the victory of the Flint Sit Down Strike.
Another book was “The Story of the Searchlight: the Voice of the Chevy Worker” documenting how Flint labor pioneers maintained and spread the spirit of their sitdown years afterwards in their articles and poems and cartoons published in the Local 659 newspaper “The Searchlight”. This newspaper maintained their militant spirit and so it became the subject of censorship by the international union of the UAW in early 1950s. “The Story of the Searchlight” tells the story of how this labor journalism helped to build the union that the sitdowners had won the right to by the victory of the sitdown.
The introductory article in “The Story of the Searchlight” is the article “Lest We Forget: In Tribute to the Pioneers of the Great Flint Sit-Down Strike”.
The article opens with the opening lines from one of Floyd Hoke-Miller’s poems, titled “Subversive”. The full text of the poem reads:
by Floyd Hoke-Miller
Remember when the “Sit Down” came?
And all the papers laid the claim,
Against each Union Member’s name?
‘Twas then the “Big Shots” howled with fear,
“The revolution now is here;
The stand they take is naught but sheer.”
You worked in chains that galled your pride,
And when you tried to save your hide,
The “Bulls” and “Bears” stook up and cried:
The economic ills you feared
And increased crops of “Stools” appeared,
But when you called their hand they jeered:
Still another of the little books put together to document the achievements of labor in Flint was the book “Tough Cookies: Pioneers of the Flint Labor Press”. This documented some of the different forms of labor journalism that helped to build the UAW in Flint in the period after the victory of the sit down strike.
The little book “Holding the Fort: A Sit Downer’s Diary” tells the story of 44 days inside the Fisher No. 2 factory, one of the Flint auto factories that took part in the Great Flint Sit Down Strike. This diary was published in one of the Flint union newspapers. The anonymous diary from December 1936 to February 11, 1937 is reprinted in this book with an introduction by Jay Hauben.
The early issues of the Amateur Computerist newsletter, whose first issue was published on February 11, 1988, contains articles not only from auto workers and others interested in labor and computing issues at the time but also the newsletter includes articles by some of the sit down pioneers who were still alive then, especially contributions from Floyd Hoke-Miller. And when Floyd died, there is an issue including tributes to him. (See especially,Michael Hauben’s article in tribute to Floyd, “A Common Man of Greatness”)
In these times of economic and political crisis, the labor movement needs to understand the heritage left to it by those labor pioneers of the past. Hopefully on this special anniversary of one of the important labor struggles in the US, there will be a renewed sense of the importance of building on the lessons and heritage of the past.
Anonymous, “Holding the Fort: A Sit-Downer’s Diary”, with introduction by Jay Hauben, Flint, Michigan, August, 1986.
Ronda Hauben, “The Story of the Searchlight: the Voice of the Chevy Worker”, Flint, Michigan, 1987
With introduction “Lest We Forget:
Floyd Hoke-Miller, “A Laborer Looks at Life: Then and Now”, Flint, Michigan, 1984
Michael Hauben, “A Common Man of Greatness”, Presented at Memorial in Honor of Floyd, July 14, 1990
Ronda Hauben, “Tough Cookies: Pioneers of the Flint Labor Press”, Flint, Michigan, May, 1986.