On October 3rd, 1961, the United Automobile Workers Union went on strike for the first time against Ford Motor Company. Quite surprisingly, however, this strike was during an era of relative peace on the part of Ford, a company that twenty years earlier would resort to violence to prevent the labor unions from organizing. Additionally, at the time of the strike, the workers were paid what is the modern-day equivalent of $20 an hour, $6 per hour more than what the corresponding workers in Ford are paid today.
It turns out that the workers were not striking because they wanted economic benefits. GM, by going on strike a month earlier, had successfully earned economic benefits including a 7 cent increase in the workers’ hourly wage. The UAW were striking because they wanted changes in production standards, the speed of the assembly line, parking and cafeteria facilities, and work protocols. About a week after the strike began, the UAW and Ford reached agreement at the national level, but locally, there were still some disputes. Another week later, there was only one plant still on strike. This plant reached an agreement with Ford the next day, and work resumed as normal.
To me, what is so interesting about this incident is not the fact that UAW chose to strike on October 3rd, because they certainly had a justifiable reason for doing so, but that if they were willing to strike in 1961, why didn’t they strike 20 years earlier when Ford resorted to violence against its workers. It seems to me that someone’s boss being violent is a much more serious issue than the issues they were dealing with, although both fully warrant going on strike.