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MICHIGAN’S LABOR MILESTONES
Anniversaries of Workers’
Campaigns in 1932-1937
Throughout 2017, Michigan labor will remember and honor the thousands of workers who joined demonstrations, picket lines, and sit-down strikes in the emerging modern labor movement during the years 1932-1937.
Among the events being commemorated are:
- The 85th anniversary of the Ford Hunger March of March 7, 1932, when several thousand unemployed workers marched to the Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn to demand jobs and relief, when they were met with bullets fired by Ford security guards that ended with five workers dead.
- The 80th anniversary of the end of the 44-day Flint sit-down strike on February 11, 1937, resulting in the first signed agreement between the United Auto Workers union and the General Motors Corporation.
- The 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Overpass, on May 26, 1937, when union organizers were attacked and severely injured by Ford company security while distributing flyers to workers on an overpass to the Ford Rouge plant on Miller Road in Dearborn.
- The 80th anniversary of the Lansing Labor Holiday on June 7, 1937, when 12,000 workers staged a nonviolent general strike by blocking traffic with their automobiles on Michigan Avenue in Lansing, effectively limiting commerce in the city for an entire day.
- The 80th anniversary of a series of strikes and sit-downs in the winter and spring of 1937, including a sit-down at the Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck, and the six-day occupation of the downtown Woolworths five-and-dime store by more than 100 young women seeking shorter hours and higher wages.
- The 80th anniversary of a 16-week strike by Upper Peninsula woodsmen that began May 18, 1937, with a walkout by lumberjacks at the Bonifas Camp 2 near Marenisco.
Already, with the help of the MotorCities National Heritage Area and UAW Region 1-A and UAW Local 600, plans are moving forward for development of a park near the Fort Street Bridge across the Rouge River where the Ford Hunger Marchers will be memorialized. It was near this bridge that the marchers began the final stage of their march from Detroit to the Ford Rouge Plant on Miller Road in Dearborn, where they were attacked. Ceremonies were held last summer to announce the park’s development. A large sign at the site includes an artist’s conception of what the park will look like when completed, and fund-raising for the development is underway.
Meanwhile, in Lansing a committee including labor and community representatives is planning an observance of the Lansing Labor Holiday in June.
Later in 2017, the Michigan Labor History Society will issue a special publication on these events, and they will be commemorated at the annual meeting of the MLHS.
Another piece of Michigan history was presented at a recent meeting of the New York Labor History Society. Jon Bloom of the Workers Defense League discussed the work of Debra E. Bernhardt, his late wife, who did extensive research and writing on the U.P. timber strike. Bernhardt, a native of the Upper Peninsula, received her master’s degree at Wayne State University where she wrote a paper on the strike. She later moved to New York, where she launched the Robert F. Wagner Archives at New York University.
(A calendar of events marking these anniversaries will be published on this website as information is available.)
BUS TOUR SHOWCASES DETROIT’S LABOR HISTORY
"What a great event. I learned so much. All the anecdotal stores were terrific."
"Thank you for a great and informative tour."
Those were among the comments we received from guests on our MLHS Labor History Bus Tour last June.
More than thirty guests enjoyed the tour, following the MLHS’ annual meeting at UAW Local 22, visiting the sites of the Battle of the Overpass at the Ford Rouge plant, the 1932 Ford Hunger March, the old Model T-Plex/Studebaker plant, Grand Circus Park, the Woolworth's 1937 sit-down strike, Cadillac Square, and the Labor Legacy Landmark and Underground Railroad monument at Hart Plaza. They also learned about the history of the Detroit Federation of Musicians with a stop outside the Motown Museum, the Diego Rivera Murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts and other stops.
Our labor history tours have become a big hit both among residents and visitors. Last fall, we guided tours for the Wayne State University Labor School and for members of the clerical workers’ union at Michigan State University, who enjoyed lunch afterwards at the worker-owned Colors restaurant in downtown Detroit.
We have scheduled bus or walking tours this winter and spring for UAW education representatives from around the country who will be meeting in Detroit, for delegates to the United Association of Labor Educators convention, and for a visiting student group from the University of Richmond.
With a half-dozen trained guides on hand, MLHS can offer bus or walking tours to other interested groups. There is no charge for our services, but groups must provide their own transportation for bus tours. To book a tour, please call the MLHS office at 313-577-4003 or send a message to email@example.com
NEW PARK TO OPEN WHERE HUNGER MARCHERS GATHERED
On June 9, ceremonies and a press conference were held at the site of a new park to be built near the Fort Street bridge at Fort and Oakwood in Detroit. The park will include memorial signage about the 1932 Ford Hunger March.
Workers who participated in that march gathered at the Fort Street bridge before marching to the Ford Rouge plant, where five people were killed by bullets fired by Ford security agents. The park development is being coordinated by the Motor Cities National Automobile Heritage Area, an affiliate of the U.S. National Parks Service.
‘TRANSCENDING’ GETS A FACE LIFT
All of the sculptures at "Transcending," the Labor Legacy Landmark at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit, have been cleaned and re-waxed, all lights have been repaired, and the new skateboard deflectors have stopped the damage to the dais from skateboarders. The new granite tiles and the re-grouted quote-stones are holding up well, and names of all new donors through December 31, 2015, have been engraved for the walls of honor.
Once again, our thanks to David Hecker and Lisa Canada for coordinating the fund drive for repairs and maintenance, which so far have cost $84,000; other work still to be done includes the plaza surface and a kiosk. There continues to be a constant stream of visitors to the site: wedding parties often come to be photographed, musicians set up to perform for videos, and on TV shows it is a prominent part of the city skyline. "Transcending" truly has become an icon of Detroit.