In Minneapolis where an organization of businessmen known as the Citizens

In minneapolis where an organization of businessmen

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police and the National Guard. In Minneapolis, where an organization of businessmen known as the Citizens Alliance controlled the city govern- ment, a four-month strike by truck drivers led to pitched battles in the streets and the governor declaring martial law. San Francisco experi- enced the country’s first general strike since 1919. It began with a walk- out of dockworkers led by the fiery communist Harry Bridges. Workers demanded recognition of the International Longshoremen’s Association and an end to the hated “shape up” system in which they had to gather en masse each day to wait for work assignments. The year 1934 also wit- nessed a strike of 400,000 textile workers in states from New England to the Deep South, demanding recognition of the United Textile Workers. Many of these walkouts, including those in Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco, won at least some of the workers’ demands. But the textile strike failed. T H E R I S E O F T H E C I O The labor upheaval posed a challenge to the American Federation of Labor’s traditional policy of organizing workers by craft—welders or machine repairers, for example—rather than seeking to mobilize all the workers in a given industry, such as steel manufacturing. In 1934, thirty AFL leaders called for the creation of unions of industrial workers. When the AFL con- vention of 1935 refused, the head of the United Mine Workers, John L. Lewis, led a walkout that produced a new labor organization, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). It set out to create unions in the main 8 7 2 Ch. 21 The New Deal, 1932–1940 T H E G R A S S R O O T S R E V O L T Signs carried by striking cotton mill workers in Lumberton, North Carolina, in 1937 illustrate how the labor movement revived the nineteenth-century language of “wage slavery” to demand union recognition.
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bastions of the American economy. It aimed, said Lewis, at nothing less than to secure “economic freedom and industrial democracy” for American workers—a fair share in the wealth produced by their labor, and a voice in determining the conditions under which they worked. In December 1936, the United Auto Workers (UAW), a fledgling CIO union, unveiled the sit-down, a strikingly effective tactic that the IWW had pioneered three decades earlier. Rather than walking out of a plant, thus enabling management to bring in strikebreakers, workers halted produc- tion but remained inside. In the UAW’s first sit-down strike, 7,000 General Motors workers seized control of the Fisher Body Plant in Cleveland. Sit- downs soon spread to GM plants in Flint, Michigan, the nerve center of automobile production. When local police tried to storm the Flint plants, workers fought them off. Democratic governor Frank Murphy, who had been elected with strong support from the CIO, declared his unwillingness to use force to dislodge the strikers. The strikers demonstrated a remark- able spirit of unity. They cleaned the plant, oiled the idle machinery, settled disputes among themselves, prepared meals, and held concerts of labor songs. Workers’ wives shuttled food into the plant. “They made a palace out
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