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Who Sat First?

July 2024
1min read

I very much enjoyed Stephen Sears’s fine article in the April/May issue, “Shut the Goddam Plant!” There is, however, one minor point of contention. The strike is referred to as the “first sit-down strike.” A few early instances of sitting-in can be put aside as being unrelated to the modern labor movement, but the strike, in 1934, against the General Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, cannot be so easily dismissed. That dispute had two aims: to gain wage parity with the big three of rubber manufacturing—Firestone, Goodyear, and Goodrich—and to gain union recognition for the AFL local. The company refused both, arguing on the latter point that the workers already had an “Employees Representation Plan”—a euphemism for company union.

The sit-down was suggested by the union president, Rex Murray, as an alternative to conventional strike methods. The sit-down only lasted a few days, after which, assured of noninterference from the courts, the workers walked away from the plant and continued their strike outside. The sit-down became a viable tool in the CIO’s drive to organize the mass-production industries.

I realize that this is a rather trivial point, but I simply wanted to set the record straight. I think this article is especially poignant at a time when we may be on the verge of a new era in labor-management relations in the auto industry.

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