As Michigan’s Legislature considers whether to make ours a right-to-work state, an MLive political column on the issue calls it “…  the single most divisive issue in Michigan, where the union movement was born during the Flint sit-down strikes nine decades ago when police bloodied workers for having the audacity to fight for a union to secure a livable wage.”

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This repeats an un-nuanced “cartoon” version of history that focuses on Flint worker victimhood while ignoring the deeper context of those events. A Detroit News article referenced in that piece gives a more complete picture, describing not just the infamous incident of police using buckshot on strikers, but the train of union violence against police and property leading up to those deplorable incidents. The News points out that police officers “were injured principally by missiles thrown from the plant by the stay-in strikers” after the officers were called in by the property owner to dislodge an illegal occupation.

 Another useful piece of context shared by The News is that even back then this property owner — General Motors — was referred to as “Generous Motors” by many seeking jobs there.

Other historical accounts of the strike include the record of gunshots fired by strikers located inside the plant. Historian Burton W. Folsom described the events this way in his book, “New Deal or Raw Deal”:

They (unionized GM workers) took control of GM property, refused to leave or to allow any work to be done there, and fired bullets at any strikebreakers or policemen who tried to move them off GM’s property. is not the only news outlet to blithely ignore union violence and hooliganism. Each year during the anniversary of the strike (Dec. 30, 1936, to Feb. 11, 1937) stories appear all but celebrating the result of the lawlessness, if not the lawlessness itself.

When the current media covers union-related issues, they have a duty to avoid painting a false picture by ignoring the intimidation, aggressive politicking and other unseemly characteristics of what today is not so much a “movement” as just another powerful special interest in the state and national political establishment. Whitewashing Big Labor’s long and not-always pretty history does a disservice to readers.


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