Filed Under Labor

Fisher Body Strike

The Fisher Body Ohio Company in Collinwood - located on E. 140th Street and Coit Road - began production in 1921. This new division of General Motors was one of the many industrial plants that emerged and proliferated due to the neighborhood's rail yard and Cleveland lines. Spread across three shifts, 7,000 employees at Fisher Body worked to manufacture Chevrolet bodies almost exclusively.

At 2 p.m. on 28 December 1936, approximately 200 workers at the Fisher Body plant abruptly stopped work and staged a sit-down. Once the news spread of the strike, 125 picketers marched on the street in support of the strike. The workers gave their demands: They wanted their hours cut to three seven-hour shifts so layoffs could be avoided. On holidays and Sundays the workers expected to be paid double. Finally, they wanted the union members who discussed the settlement of their terms be paid for the time they spent negotiating. However, negotiation proved to be long and difficult The men remained inside Collinwood's Fisher Body for more than a month.

Other General Motor plants were in the middle of a strike when Collinwood began their sit-down, and others followed. The situation was severe enough to gain the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was not pleased with General Motors' refusal to budge, and the federal government stepped in to see that negotiations began between strikers and General Motors Corporation, which "account[ed] for about one-twentieth of the economic activity of the United States."

Finally, on February 12, 1937, General Motors held a conference in Flint, Michigan. The following day a band marched through the streets of Collinwood followed by members of the United Automobile Workers of America union and other Fisher Body employees. The parade ended at Public Hall where union members voted on the agreement struck between General Motors and the U.A.W.A.

The loss of $1,800,000 in wages over the six-week period had hit both the families of the strikers and a number of Collinwood businesses hard. In Cleveland, the strike caused the greatest unemployment since 1929; the year of the stock market crash that began the Great Depression. According to the Plain Dealer, "Word of the strike settlement was received with rejoicing by the whole Collinwood district, where many of the strikers live and where merchants had felt the financial effect of the stoppage of thousands of weekly pay envelopes."

Images

After the Strike After the strike ended, Fisher Body production went back to normal until World War II. During the war, the GM factory's 14,000 employees worked to manufacture parts for tanks, guns, and B-29 airplanes. After the war ended, Fisher Body's employment continued to decrease until it closed in 1982. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Entertaining the Picketers While picketers gathered outside of the Fisher Body plant in Collinwood in the winter months of 1937, a local band tried to entertain the strike supporters. The members of the band were both UAWA union members and fellow picketers. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Supporting the Strikers Once the news spread of the strike, picketers and family members gathered outside of the Fisher Body plant and "shouted words of encouragement" to the sit-downers. 125 picketers wearing sashes that read "Picket" marched along up and down the E. 140th Street and Coit Road, in support of the sit-downers. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Tense Moments, 1939 Although the Fisher Body strikes were generally nonviolent in Collinwood, there were some tense moments, such as the one shown here during a later strike in 1939. Another incident occurred on the first night of the Fisher Body strike on December 28, 1936. Picketers blocked the departure of a train that was meant to transport the car bodies manufactured by the plant earlier that day. Eight Cleveland police were sent to try and break up the picketers, but the strike supporters remained for three hours. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Sit-downers Pull Up Supplies During the month spent inside Collinwood's Fisher Body, the sit-downers received food, coffee, 100 decks of cards, and blankets from their family and the United Automobile Workers of American union. The men would pull up the supplies by ropes from the factory windows. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Passing the Time There were 150 to 200 "sit-downers" in the Fisher Body Plant. The exact number was hard to determine because some may have been part of the strike while others may have just not had any work to do when the factory came to a halt. To pass the time inside the plant, the men played card games, ate, and slept. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
GM Strikes Elsewhere At the beginning of January of 1937, while Collinwood strikers gathered outside their plant, former Chevrolet Plant employees did the same in Flint, Michigan. There the United Automobile Workers of America urged the Flint men to join their union. Throughout the strike, the UAWA union supported both members and nonmembers who were involved. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
President of GM Negotiates When the Fisher Body strike first began, President of General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. "refused to attend any conferences until strikers left all their plants." With pressure from President Roosevelt to quickly resolve the strike, Sloan changed his mind. On January 21, Sloan (on the far left) met with the Secretary of Labor and the Michigan Governor to negotiate the strike's ending. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Harris & Ewing Collection, HABS OHIO,LC-H22- D-635 [P&P]

Location

Metadata

Heidi Fearing, “Fisher Body Strike,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 15, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/393.