Labor Matters: A Tribute to Auto Workers
The Automobile The Factory The Workers The Union Patriotism Democracy Teamwork Progress
  Early Struggles for Dignity and Fairness

Mural detail: StrengthAt the end of the Roaring 20s, U.S. auto production was the largest manufacturing industry in the world, with 5.5 million vehicles rolling off the assembly lines in 1929. Mass production had created mass consumption. Just three years later in the depths of the Great Depression, auto production bottomed out at 1.3 million vehicles, leaving 80% of the indutry''s capacity idle.

Ads that fueled American capitalism had us driving in style. But the Great Depression revealed right under the facade of material prosperity a battle over how the American Dream would be shared.

Mural detail: man in carOn March 7,1932, three thousand demonstrators marched on Ford''s River Rouge Plant to demend jobs. Backed by Ford security forces, police fired on the marchers, killing four and wounding many more. In the words of a Ford Hunger Strike supporter, They came for bread. Ford gave them bullets.

Thousands of people from different cultures and experiences were gathered together in the factories. Rural whites, sons and daughters of slaves and immigrants from far away places shared hardships on the shop floor and a common struggle against exploitation. Of nearly 100,000 Detroit auto workers listed in the 1930 census, 42 pecent were foreign born. Dodge reported in 1928 that 57 nationalities were represented in its workforce.

No matter the language, workers rolled up their sleeves to hard labor, persevered to provide for their families, and stood tall for the diginity of work.

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  Voices From History
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Did You Know?
In 1931, unemployment in Buffalo reached 26% while 21% of the employed workforce worked only part-time.

Ford built a new assembly plant on Fuhrman Boulevard in 1930-31. Struggling through early years of the Great Depression, organizing battles and World War II, that plant produced an estimated 2 million Fords before ending production in 1958. At the time it was built, reports circulated that it might be a "disassembly plant," as Henry Ford imagined even then that autos ought to be taken apart and materials recycled