February 11 – White Shirt Day

 Posted on February 11, 2017

Today people are encouraged to wear a white shirt, blouse, or T-shirt in order to show their support for working-class people and their right to unionize and pull together for better pay and working conditions. (Some people have changed the name of the holiday to White T-Shirt Day.) Also, there is a long-standing tradition of lunching on bean soup and bread.

This date was chosen to commemorate the end of a strike by employees of General Motors, on this date in 1937. The Sit-Down Strike occurred in Flint, Michigan -- yes, the place that's been in the news for its tainted water. The striking workers ate a LOT of bean soup and bread, which is why those foods are part of the commemoration.

The Sit-Down Strike started when a night shift's worth of autoworkers locked themselves in and sat down, refusing to work. The GM company tried to force the workers out of the plant by turning off the heat and, later, cutting off their food supply. Finally, weeks and weeks after the strike started,  Franklin Roosevelt convinced GM to recognize the autoworkers' union, and 44 days after the strike started, an agreement was reached and signed, and the strike ended.

The striking workers were members of the United Auto Workers.

Strikes and boycotts are techniques generally used by workers and consumers to effect change and win concessions from corporations, governments, and other sources of power and wealth. These techniques are supposed to be peaceful -- although, during the Sit-Down Strike, the attempt to cut off the autoworkers' food supply did erupt into violence, and 16 workers and 11 police officers were injured.

Remembering the strength it takes to speak to power, the courage it takes to stand up for a living wage and equal rights and good working conditions, and the character it requires to solve even huge problems with negotiations and non-violence seems more important these days than ever. 

(By the way, just like owners and company executives aren't perfect, workers and union heads aren't perfect. Sometimes a union or a union leader can hurt particular workers or can stand for the wrong thing. None of us should make assumptions - we should judge problems and movements and causes by evidence, not by identity labels such as "liberal" or "conservative," "big business" or "union thugs.")

Also on this date:

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