In 1937, in Flint, Michigan the owners and executives of General Motors tried to break the United Auto Workers union by locking workers out and hiring scabs. Blackwater-type security guards "protected" the strikebreakers willing to cross the picket lines. The courageous workers, who were only demanding the right to form an independent union and to collectively bargain, stood firm and refused to be locked out. They staged a "sit-down" strike and seized the Fisher body plant buildings. Even though unemployment was astronomical and the nation was gripped by the Great Depression the workers chose to fight for their union.
General Motors sealed off the plant to try to starve the workers out. Then GM shut off the heat to try to freeze the workers out. And when these tactics failed, GM ordered its goons to fire tear gas into the buildings to gas the workers out, knowing full well that firing gas into enclosed areas was illegal and could injure or kill people inside.
The equally courageous UAW's "Women's Auxiliaries," which were the wives, mothers, girlfriends, daughters, and sisters of the striking workers inside, grabbed clubs and baseball bats and smashed as many windows as they could in order to let the tear gas escape from the buildings while the men inside cowered with wet cloths wrapped around their faces. The women then set up a perimeter around the buildings and made sure that the men inside had plenty of sandwiches and water and blankets. There wasn't a damn thing General Motors and its hired thugs could do about it. The community had spoken, and the community was in favor of the workers, not the repressive tactics of the corporation.
The United Auto Workers strike set the stage for the gains of working people throughout the nation. They were men and women of the "greatest generation" that Ken Burns celebrates in his documentary, The War.
Seventy years later, General Motors' strike-breaking specialists and clever lawyers have mastered public relations. They will try with the help of their fellow travelers in the corporate media to turn American opinion against the 73,000 UAW workers who have gone out on strike. We know that beneath the slick PR surface lurks the same old General Motors, the embodiment of entrenched power and repression.
If Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislature can swiftly pass a bill that forbids the state's pension funds from investing in any enterprise connected to Iran, then surely they can swiftly pass a similar bill divesting from any holdings connected to General Motors until the behemoth corporations signs a just contract with the United Auto Workers.
At what point will members of the dying American middle class finally figure out that if they do not start fighting back now they will continue to see their living standards deteriorate?
The current UAW strike is a courageous action that must succeed or other unions will become demoralized and the corporations will become even more emboldened.
The UAW is not only striking for itself, it is striking for all of the people in this country who work for wages, play by the rules, and wish to be treated with a semblance of dignity and respect. Every American should boycott General Motors until this strike is settled. That means no one should buy a Cadillac or a Corvette or any other product associated with General Motors.
The Democratic presidential candidates should be walking the picket lines with the striking UAW workers. The current strike also illustrates the nation's need for universal health coverage.
Like they did 70 years ago in Flint, the United Auto Workers will be victorious!