One of the biggest victories for workers’ rights in the United States happened during one bitterly cold winter in Flint, Michigan.
“Midnight in Vehicle City: General Motors, Flint, and the Strike That Created the Middle Class,” by Edward McClelland, tells the horrific details of working conditions at a GM plant in 1936 that led line workers to occupy the factory for nearly two months, eventually winning the right to unionize.
That hard-won victory created the United Auto Workers, says McClelland. “It was a time of unprecedented inequality in America. The sit-down strike began to change all that,” he says.
The new union became one of the most powerful organizations in the country, setting a new standard for wages, creating worker benefits like medical insurance, paid time off for illness and vacation, and defining safety standards at factories.
Historians like McClelland credit the UAW with the birth of the American middle class.