On the night of December 30, the majority of employees who had
been working their shift at Fisher 1 and Fisher 2 left the plants.
Some left only to celebrate the New Year and returned later. Others
took up picket and food-gathering activities on the outside. The
lives of those who remained on the inside for the duration quickly
fell into a disciplined and organized pattern. Committees for such
things as cleaning up, exercise, security, entertainment, and defense
were quickly assembled, and the property of the company was strictly
kept from harm. This discipline and organization was maintained
through the insistence of strike leaders Bob Travis and Roy Reuther,
both of whom were already veterans of this new way of striking.
General Motors brass and many Flint residents were horrified at
the sit-down tactic employed by the strikers. They saw it as an
offense to the American tradition of property rights and assigned
the blame for its introduction in Flint to "outside agitators",
"radicals", and "reds." The extent to which
this was true is still unclear, yet it is obvious that most of the
sit-downers were patriotic American citizens who were otherwise
unworldly and reactionary in their views on politics and society.
A good percentage of them supported Franklin Roosevelt and Frank
Murphy simply because those politicians portrayed themselves as
champions of the little guy, and not because of any perceived ideological
slant to the Democratic platform. While several leaders of the strike,
including the Reuther brothers, Bob Travis, Genora Johnson, Bud
Simons, and Joe Devitt had leftist credentials, none passed out
Communist or Socialist literature during the strike. Their politics,
which came to light after the strike, simply helps to explain their
great devotion to the strikers' cause.
For those in Flint who opposed the strike or who were unsure what
to think about it, there were plenty of influences in town to move
the ambivalent towards hostility, and the hostile towards violent
action. The Flint Journal, whose editorial board was planted firmly
in GM's pocket, carried headlines every day that either exaggerated
the nature of the strike or spouted the company's biased interpretations
of events. Words like "chaos", "radical", and
"mob" were prevalent. Schoolchildren, including sons and
daughters of strikers, were told by their teachers to write essays
about why the strike was wrong. Churches, for the most part, were
piously silent or cautionary on the topic of the strike, and the
judges who rendered decisions on the legality of the strike were
preemptively opposed to it. Judge Black, for instance, handed down
an injunction against the strikers even though his holding of over
$200,000 in GM stock constituted a massive conflict of interest;
Judge Gadola once said from the bench that the UAW would be required
to compensate GM fully for all of its lost sales during the strike.
The two most famous events of the strike were the Battle of Bulls'
Run and the takeover of Chevrolet Plant No. 4. The former occurred
January 11 when city police in riot gear tried to storm the weakly-held
Fisher 2 plant. The latter occurred on February 1 and was accomplished
through a remarkable diversionary tactic in which the union let
it "leak out" that they were going to try to take over
Chevrolet Plant No. 9. Company spies did their job, and on the night
of February 1 all of the company's resources were diverted to No.
9. In the meantime, workers from Chevy 6 came over to help shut
down the massive No. 4 plant, encountering only token resistance.
The Chevy 4 sit-downers constituted the largest group of strikers
in Flint, and although they only had to occupy the plant for ten
days, their actions precipitated a crisis for General Motors that
ultimately forced its recognition of the union.
In both of the major battles of the strike, women played a key
role in the union's successes. From the beginning, a large number
of non-working women refused to sit on the sidelines while the strike
was going on. Instead, they formed the Women's Auxiliary, which
visited the homes of sit-downers to convince their wives that the
strike was worth the sacrifice they were experiencing. Later, a
smaller group formed the Women's Emergency Brigade, which took the
front lines on several occasions against the police and company
"goons". Many of these women even enlisted their children
in picket duty and ended up giving them an education they could
not have received in Flint's schools. Genora (Dollinger) Johnson
became the most famous of these women activists, though many dozens
besides her put their lives on the line, daring GM to step over