(02/11/14) - Seventy-seven years ago, the Sit Down Strike in Flint came to an end when
General Motors recognized the United Auto Workers.
Tuesday, UAW members remembered that date and its significance in labor history.
White Shirt Day is partly a patriotic rally and partly a political gathering. Every Feb. 11, those who attend remember the great strides made by the Sitdowners.
The rostrum was lined with UAW leaders - past and present. They wore white shirts as a symbol that the blue collar rank and file are as important in business as is management.
Only one original Sitdowner and one member of the Women's Brigade were able to make it to Tuesday's event. The original Sitdowner still remembers those fateful 44 days in the plant.
"People would come and go, tell us what to do. I was only 20 years old. We had bean soup," said Richard Wiecorek.
All who gathered at the union hall sang "Solidarity Forever" and they enjoyed the traditional bean soup, bread and apples - the meal that sustained the strikers during the 44-day Sit Down.
While they remember the efforts of those who changed history, they also looked at where the labor movement stands today and the hope they have for its future. Speakers mentioned the controversy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where some Republicans are trying derail efforts by the UAW to organize at the Volkswagen plant. There was also talk about the need to increase the state's minimum wage.
"Why not the right to belong to the union if you so choose to do so without someone threatening your job and your livelihood? That's wrong," said Norwood Jewell, UAW Region 1-C director.
Although the ranks of the Sitdowners are thinning, White Shirt Day will continue.
"We're still going to honor them. We should do that for the rest of our lives," Jewell said.
UAW members also heard from the leading Democratic candidate for governor, who says he'll repeal the Right to Work law passed in December 2012 if he is elected. That got an energetic response from the UAW.
"Right to Work was an attack on working people. Really, it means to reverse what these Sitdowners and Women's Brigade accomplished 77 years ago. They stood up for good wages, for dignity, for worker safety and a strong middle class," said Mark Schauer, Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate. "This is a day when we remind ourselves that sometimes the best way to stand up for what's right - is by sitting down."
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