On this day in labor history, the year was 1937.
That was the day Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins announced that sit-down strikes were “unsuited” to America and believed labor unions would abandon using the tactic altogether.
Her declaration came in the form of an open letter to Republican Congressman William Ditter of Pennsylvania
In the wake of the Flint Sit-Down strike, he had insisted on clarification of her perspective towards sit-down strikes.
1937 had been rocked by sit-downs everywhere.
Workers made huge gains using the tactic, especially during the historic GM strike in Flint, Michigan
During the strike, Secretary Perkins asserted that the legality of sit-downs had not yet been determined.
In her open letter, Perkins noted that she accepted the opinion of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
That court had just ruled that thousands of striking hosiery workers at Apex Hosiery in Philadelphia had acted unlawfully when they employed the tactic in their tumultuous strike weeks before.
She added, “It is not and never has been an official position of the Department of Labor or of the Secretary that sit-down strikes are either lawful, desirable or appropriate. In fact, the officers of the Department and the Secretary have urged union leaders and members not to use the method and to bend every effort to take men out of a plant where used… It is also full of hazards to the progressive, democratic development of trade unionism and to the orderly process of collective bargaining and cooperation with employers on the basis of a recognized status.”
Perkins’ statement helped provide the basis for a legal backlash against the tactic, ruled illegal just two year later.
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