The Flint Sit-Down Strike Audio Gallery
Designed and hosted by Matrix at Michigan State University. Audiovisual content provided by the University of Michigan-Flint and the Walter P. Reuther Library, Detroit, Mich.
Reviewed March 1–20, 2006.
On December 30, 1936, General Motors (GM) workers in Flint, Michigan, sat down at their jobs. They stayed in the plants until a settlement was reached on February 11, 1937. The forty-four day strike was a victory for the United Auto Workers (UAW), a new industrial union that won the right to organize and represent employees of the largest auto company and one of the largest private employers in the United States. The GM sit-down strike had enormous significance for the history of labor, business, and the state. It also marked a turning point in UAW history and the history of working people in modern America.
This Web site is part of Historical Voices, an online digital library of twentieth-century American spoken word collections. The Flint Sit-Down Strike site is more an electronic essay than an archive of interviews. The site’s creators digitized the tapes of a quarter of the more than two hundred interviews conducted between 1978 and 1984 with people who were involved with the strike. Several interactive formats allow the viewer to hear excerpts from those interviews. Three “audio essays” consider the strike’s organization, the strike itself, and its aftermath on pages that provide historical narrative and analysis interspersed with audio clips of interviews with participants and observers. The clips launch from text links of the interviewees' names and appear in a pop-up window where the clip streams and the text of the clip and a note identifying the speaker and the date of the interview appear. The interview excerpts vary in length from thirty seconds to ten minutes. In all, one hundred audio clips from interviews with fifty people are accessible on the site. Other interactive formats on the site include a timeline, a strike map, and three slide shows.
This interesting site is especially useful for students and teachers. It is clearly organized, searchable, and easy to navigate. A helpful “Transcript Browser” indexes the audio clips. The historical narrative is substantial and sound, drawing on the standard scholarship on the strike and raising important interpretive issues such as the role of communists and socialists in the UAW and the strike, the relationship of leaders to the rank and file, the response of the community to the strike, the role of women as workers and family members, and the implications of the sit-down strike as a challenge to managerial prerogative and corporate rights in private property. The interviewees are always informative, although some are livelier than others. The accents, inflections, ways of speaking, and choice of emphasis tell the story in unique and sometimes more impressive ways than can a transcribed interview or a secondary source.
Biographical information about the interviewees and visual sources other than photographs would enrich and enliven the site. Some consideration of the character of oral history also would be useful and appropriate. The introduction to the interviews refers briefly to the nature of the source. But more could be offered about the malleability of memory and the extent to which the story of the Flint strike has been often told and become mythologized in remembrances. The site has few teaching resources; there are bibliographical references and links to other Web sites but no suggestions for projects and assignments, no questions for discussion, and no consideration of the problem of historical evidence and interpretation, especially as concerns oral history.
West Lafayette, Indiana