The Flint Sitdown Comic

Against the Current, No. 164, May/June 2013

Ethan Heitner

The 44-day Flint stidown at General Motors resulted in a victory because workers and their families fought to defend their rights. Its example led to a wave of sitdowns—of hotel workers, steelworkers, autoworkers, department store workers, cigarmakers, candy store workers—and turned the tables on the corporate elite. Click here for a PDF of the comic.

IS ORGANIZED LABOR going extinct? Is the power of working class people a relic from a bygone era?

As Michigan becomes a “Right to Work for less” state, it’s useful to remind ourselves how industrial unions were built in the first place.  Before workers had the “legal right” to organize and to strike, they took that right by doing it — and no example was more important than the magnificent 44-day Flint sitdown strike of 1936-’37.

This turning point in U.S. labor history has been retold in books and film, but it comes alive again in the important but underutilized medium of the comic. Artist Ethan Heitner has produced the rendering of the Flint events that appears in ATC 163 and 164; and we are presenting it here as a PDF. Thanks to Ethan for permission to publish the comic, and to our friend Paul Buhle for bringing it to our attention.

We do not suppose, of course, that the rebirth of working class mobilization will look like the 1930s and ’40s. Just as the sitdown strike of that era was a new form of struggle, the upsurges to come will find their own new forms and methods — as we’ve begun to see in the movement of Walmart workers. Quite likely, they will involve both old forms of union organization and new ones yet to be born.

It is inspiring to remember what earlier generations of worker militants achieved and left to us — not to be awestruck or to feel that our generation could never accomplish so much, but to understand the potential we have and to know that rights already won can be lost if they are not zealously defended.

Note: The story of the strike is based on Striking Flint: Genora (Johnson) Dollinger Remembers the 1936-37 General Motors Sit-Down Strike by Susan Rosenthal.

See about Striking Flint for information on Susan Rosenthal and her work.

March/April and May June 2013, ATC 163 and 164

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