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Let me give a list of the virtues and advantages of the sitdown as a method of labor aggression from the point of view not so much of the rank-and-file organizer or radical agitator as of the average workingman in a mass-production Industry like rubber.

1. The sitdown is the reverse of sabotage, to which many workers are opposed It destroys nothing. Before shutting down a department in a rubber plant, for instance, the men take the compounded rubber from the mills, or they finish building or curving the tires then being built or curved, so that nothing is needlessly ruined. Taking the same precautions during the sitdown as they do during production, the men do not smoke in departments where benzine is used. There is no drinking. This d1scipline -- of which more in a moment -- is instinctive.

2. To say, as did a New York Times reporter, writing from Akron last winter, that the sitdown "resembles the old Oriental practice of passive resistance" is a bit far-fetched, but it probably is a sort of development of the old I. W. W. "folded-arm" strike and of "striking on the job"; only it is better, manlier than the latter, which required men to pretend they were working, and to accomplish as little as possible without being discharged, which was more fatiguing than to work according to one's capacity, as well as contrary to the natural inclinations of the best class of workers.

3. The sitdown is the reverse of the ordinary strike. When a sitdown is called, a man does not walk out; he stays in, implying that he is willing to work if-

4. Workers' wives generally object to regular strikes, which often are long, sometimes violent and dangerous, and as likely as not end in sell-outs and defeat. Sitdowns are quick, short, and free of violence. There are no strike-breakers in the majority of instances; the factory management does not dare to get tough and try to drive the sitting men out and replace them with other workers, for such violence would turn the public against the employers and the police, and might result in damage to costly machinery. In a sitdown there are no picket-lines outside the factories, where police and company gunmen have great advantage when a fight starts. The sitdown action occurs wholly inside the plant, where the workers, who know every detail of the interior, have obvious advantages. The sitters-down organize their own "police squads," arming them-in rubber-with crowbars normally used to pry open molds in which tires are curved. These worker cops patrol the belt, watch for possible scabs, and stand guard near the doors. In a few instances where city police and gunmen have entered a factory, they were bewildered, frightened, and driven out by the "sitting" workers with no difficulty whatever.

5. Most workers distrust-if not consciously, then unconsciously-union officials and strike leaders and committees, even when they themselves have elected them. The beauty of the sitdown or the stay-in is that there are no leaders or officials to distrust. There can be no sell-out. Such standard procedure as strike sanction is hopelessly obsolete when workers drop their tools, stop their machines, and sit down beside them. The initiative, conduct, and control of the sitdown come directly from the men involved.

6. The fact that the sitdown gives the worker in mass-production industries a vital sense of importance cannot be overemphasized. Two sitdowns which completely tied up plants employing close to 10,000 men were started by half a dozen men each. Imagine the feeling of power those men experienced! And the thousands of workers who sat down in their support shared that feeling in varying degrees, depending on their individual power of imagination. One husky gum-miner said to me, "Now we don't feel like taking the sass of any mot-nose college-boy foreman." Another man said, "Now we know our labor is more important than the money of the stockholders, than the gambling in Wall Street, than the doings of the managers and foremen." The sitdown technique is still in the process of development, but already one man's grievance, if the majority of his fellow-workers in his department agree that it is a just grievance, can tie up the whole plant. He becomes a strike leader; the other members of the working force in his department become members of the strike committee. They assume full responsibility in the matter: form their own patrols, keep the machines from being pointlessly destroyed, and meet with the management and dictate their terms. They turn their individual self-control and restraint into group self-discipline-which probably is the best aspect of the sitdown. They settle the dispute, not some outsider.

7. Work in most of the departments of a rubber factory or any other kind of mass-production factory is drudgery of the worst sort-mechanical and uncreative, insistent and requiring no imagination; and any interruption is welcomed by workers, even if only subconsciously. The conscious part of their mind may worry about the loss of pay; their subconscious, however, doesn't care a whit about that. The sitdown is dramatic, thrilling.

8. All these factors were important in the early sitdowns. They still are important. In addition now there is in Akron the three-year-old tradition that when a sitdown begins anywhere along the line of production everybody else is to sit down, too. And while we are explaining the men's solidarity in sitdowns, we mustn't forget also that the average worker in a mass-production plant is full of grievances and complaints, some of them hardly realized, and he knows or feels instinctively that when he and his fellow-workers get ready to act, they will need the support of all the labor in the place, and they will get it only if they back the men who have initiated the current sitdown.

9. The sitdown is a purely democratic action, as democracy is understood in America within the capitalist system.

10. The sitdown is a social affair. Sitting workers talk. They get acquainted. And they like that. In a regular strike it is impossible to bring together under one roof more than one or two thousand people, and these only for a meeting, where they do not talk with one another but listen to speakers. A rubber sitdown holds under the same roof up to ten or twelve thousand idle men, free to talk among themselves, man to man. "Why, my God, man," one Goodyear gum-miner told me, "during the sitdowns last spring I found out that the guy who works next to me is the same as I am, even if I was born in West Virginia and he is from Poland. His problems are the same. Why shouldn't we stick?"

Show Transcript Speaker: Louis Adamic. Interviewed by U-M Flint Labor History Project. Date of interview: 12-5-1936. Edited by Michael Van Dyke.

Copyright: ©2002 Michigan State University.