Do You Know The Names of these Men and Women?

Flint Sit down strike

I don’t. I wish I did, because I owe them a lot, and, if you’re American—maybe even if you’re not—so do you. These were participants in the Flint sit-down strike of 1936. Along with brothers and sisters in Minneapolis and San Francisco, along with steel workers and coal miners, garment workers and retail workers at Woolworth, they were part of the great strike wave of the 30s that shook American society to its core, and frightened the capitalists and their government so much that, trembling, and through gritted teeth, they gave us unemployment insurance, welfare, social security, a minimum wage, and legal protection for the right to organize.

But give the bosses credit: though they surrendered part of their wealth, they were not without cleverness. And as they gave up a few little bits of their plunder out of fear that if they didn’t they’d lose it all, they pulled their last trick: they pretended it was an act of generosity.  And they put on their fake smiles, and hoisted Roosevelt on their shoulders, and said, “See what happens when you elect the right guy?  That’s all it takes,” they said.

And some people bought it. Some people are still buying it. But if you want to know who to thank for those few things we’ve managed to wrest from those who get rich on our labor, don’t thank Roosevelt.  Thank the men and women in that picture.

I wish I knew their names.

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I play the drum.

10 thoughts on “Do You Know The Names of these Men and Women?”

  1. No gifts. These were won. And the reaction was already happening. Now, my employer tells me “Unions are unnecessary, because the are a layer between us: we want to hear directly from you.” Yes, so you can be fired for being a malcontent.

    Thanks to what was wrung from owners, false conscious flourishes. I applaud this post, and agree, I wish I knew the names of the people in that image. More, I would that I knew their stories, in their own words.

  2. I was using the term “gave” ironically when referring to Labor Day, as it is a largely meaningless symbol. But I will accept the correction, since the point is so important: the masters will yield not one iota unless they do so out of fear of the masses, not the media darling quisling mouthpieces for the “resistance.”

  3. No: I don’t know who these valiant groundbreakers were; and I am probably not related to any of them (unless very distantly, through some Eastern European stock that emigrated to America? :) ).

    But despite being a Brit I HAVE heard of the Flint Sitdown Strike: largely through the efforts of Michael Moore. They still celebrate it in parades in Flint to this day apparently!

    However. The thing is, as Roger And Me sadly showed, this type of resistance stops working when the rulers realise that all they have to do is move manufacturing to Third World countries which aren’t (functioning) democracies, tend to kill their strikers, and which in so many cases *have no tradition of democracy*, which for some reason appears to be a tradition unique to the West.

    Sigh. I suppose there could always be an Amazon Sitdown Strike..

  4. I keep saying unions are like hygiene. Superficially they might look unnecessary, but wait until a large population doesn’t have any and watch what happens – you won’t like it and neither will they.

    For reference, I’m a union member at my work.

  5. I helped organize an SEIU local years ago. Now I’m retired. With all my cynicism re unions, VAE has it right. The fact of unions is necessary to insure some rights and representation. The crushing of the union movement, currently by legal structures defining “independent contractors” and short schedules to avoid membership and benefits has gradually destroyed those protections. But don’t think that should workers get uppity, there won’t be more allowance of unions to take off the pressure. As there was in the 30s.

    skzb. I’ve read Sf and fantasy for more than 55 years. I avoided your work out of a slight aversion to fantasy. Decided to pick them up due to your friendship with Roger Zelazny and have read all the Vlad books over the last two months. Thank you.
    Speaking as an old socialist, I appreciate your non-doctrinaire use of class and other tensions in your books. Comment?

  6. Thanks kindly. It usually isn’t conscious, but the economy of a secondary world has to at least make a certain amount of sense of I can’t lose myself in it, which means I can’t write it. More to the point, one of the reasons for creating a secondary world is that it permits us to look at certain things in our world in a way we otherwise could not. You have to be outside your house to see what your house looks like.

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