Strikes Were Once a Powerful Tool for Labor
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The strike was once labors' most potent and often-used weapon. Nothing drove home a union's demand better than the refusal to work if that demand was not met.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Early strikes could result in violence. There were confrontations, like the Homestead steel strike of 1892 near Pittsburg. That culminated in a battle between strikers and private security agents.
NORRIS: But gradually, over the years, workers gained muscle. By 1937, autoworkers could successfully strike GM in Flint, Michigan. They were led by a charismatic and iron-willed man name Walter Ruther.
WALTER RUTHER: I didn't join the labor movement to sit on may fat bottom. I joined the labor movement to get on with the job for which the labor movement was organized.
NORRIS: In the years after the Second World War, it would be common for Americans to wake up to news of yet another labor strike.
SIEGEL: The production line ground to a halt at the Buick plant of General Motors today in Detroit. GM blame the work stoppage in a steel plant, Midland Steel in Cleveland.
SIEGEL: There were newspaper strikes, like the one in New York City, which resulted in Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia taking to the airwaves to read the comics.
FIORELLO LAGUARDIA: Now, children, I know you're all disappointed today that you didn't get the funnies. So gather around - ah, you think play safe.
SIEGEL: Sometimes, the government stepped in to counteract the growing power of labor, opposed to our railroad strike, threatened to grind the whole economy to a halt, and President Harry Truman was forced to clamp down.
HARRY TRUMAN: Unless the railroads are manned by returning strikers, I shall immediately undertake to run them by the Army of the United States.
SIEGEL: Those rail workers resisted, and Truman drafted all the strikers into the Army and forced them back to work.
NORRIS: But for the most part, the threat of strikes became as effective as strikes themselves.
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