The union is democracy at work - the union contract a worker''s bill of rights.
Armed with the new law guaranteeing the right of representation at work, the United Auto Workers union was chartered in 1935. In December 1936, workers in Flint, Michigan began a sit-down strike for recognition at General Motors that would last 44 days. Among their demands were a thirty-hour week to share work with the unemployed, UAW recognition, an end to line speed-up, minimum pay rates and seniority rights. A triumph for workers across the country, the strike ended with GM recognition of the UAW and a negotiated contract.
With a permit for leaflet distribution at the Ford Rouge plant gates in 1937, Walter Reuther and other UAW organizers and sympathizers, including many from the women''s auxiliary, were surrounded and severely beaten by Ford thugs. This scene is from that Battle of the Overpass, which was well documented by the press, creating more support for union organizing.
Ford recognized the union and negotiated a first contract in April 1941 after a nine day strike. That struggle produced racial solidarity and added 10,000 black Ford workers to the UAW membership rolls, creating at that time the largest local union in the world and the strongest biracial union in America.
Voices From History
What more sacred property right is there in the world today than the right of a man to his job? This property right involves the right to support his family, feed his children and keep starvation away from the door. This...is the very foundation stone of American homes...the most sacred, most fundamental
property right in America.
-Homer S. Martin,
First UAW President
Did You Know?
On May 17, 1937, a UAW local charter was granted to the workers at General Motors'' East Delavan plant in Buffalo, making Local 424 the oldest auto
workers'' local in the Northeast. In June, a successful three and a half-day sit-down strike galvanized organizing efforts of auto workers at other
Western New York plants.
In May 1937, UAW Local 425 representing workers at Ford Motor Company''s
assembly plant in Buffalo held its first meeting, but it would not be until 1941 that the UAW won union recognition at Ford.
In 1938, the first engine was produced at Buffalo''s Chevy Plant, today the largest engine plant in the world.