White Shirt Day: Celebrate Union Workers’ Struggle for Fair Treatment

Tomorrow, February 11, is White Shirt Day, a day to honor workers who participated in a 1937 strike that led to the unionization of the entire U.S. auto industry.

In 1948, Bert Christenson, a member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, started the tradition of wearing white shirts every February 11 as a way to commemorate the end of the Flint Sit-Down Strike. White shirts are worn to show that “blue-collar” workers deserve the same respect and recognition as their “white-collar,” management counterparts.

The Flint Sit-Down strike began on December 30, 1936, at a General Motors Corporation (GM) plant in Flint, Mich., and ended 44 days later on February 11, 1937. A “sit-down” strike is when workers physically take over a plant or factory and keep management out until the workers’ demands are met.

At the time, the UAW was less than two years old and very small.  Union leaders decided the only way to unionize all U.S. autoworkers would be to go after GM, which was then the largest car company in the country. They choose the Flint plant because it was one of only two GM factories that produced the dies needed to make car body components at other factories. This would keep GM from simply moving production to another one of their factories.

The agreement between GM and the UAW that ended the strike gave the UAW sole bargaining rights for all GM workers, and eventually led to the unionization of the entire auto industry. Today, the UAW has more than 500,000 members, and is one of the largest and most diverse unions in North America. 

Wear your white shirt tomorrow to honor the Flint strikers and all union workers.