WARREN, Mich. — Representatives from local labor and community organizations gathered on March 17 for the annual Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice dinner to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Ford Hunger March and to honor current workers’ struggles in the Detroit area.
The keynote speaker was longtime UAW Local 600 activist and Ford hunger marcher Dave Moore, 95, who told the story of the march and urged the audience to continue the struggle for workers’ rights.
On March 7, 1932, several thousand unemployed workers, organized by Detroit-area Unemployed Councils, peacefully marched to Dearborn, Mich., to demand jobs or relief at the employment office of the Ford Motor Company.
Nearly one-quarter of a million workers were unemployed in Detroit that year. And with a government that refused to take action, the workers were desperate to make a statement.
As the marchers crossed the city boundary into Dearborn, they were confronted by police who demanded to see their permit to demonstrate.
Having been denied a permit weeks before, the marchers continued on Miller Road. As they neared the gates of the Ford plant, Dearborn police turned water hoses on them. But they kept going.
Dozens of police and Ford company goons on horseback and motorcycles and in cars appeared. Some carried machine guns; others carried batons. The march continued.
Soon shots rang out and the crowd scattered.
Five marchers, Joe York, Joe DeBlasio, Jim Bussell, Coleman Leny and Curtis Williams, lay dead or dying on Miller Road. “They were martyrs for the cause,” Moore said.
Dozens more were injured.
“My hope is that those of you who are younger than I will pick up the torch of those five martyrs who died on Miller Road,” he added.
Moore stressed the importance of the interracial unity of the workers during the Hunger March. “We were white, Black, Mexican, of all religions and creeds,” he recalled.
The Hunger March launched the subsequent unionizing drive at the Big Three. In 1937, following the sit-down strike in Flint, Mich., the UAW successfully organized General Motors and Chrysler.
But it wasn’t until 1941, after a drawn out battle that Ford sat down at the bargaining table with its workers.
It was the Hunger March that inspired the union drive, and it was the racial unity inspired by the marchers that helped overcome the divisiveness provoked by the Ford Motor Company, Moore said.
Moore called for continued struggle: “The fat cats have changed their tactics, but they have not changed their ways.”
“Everyone here is aware that we stand on the shoulders of giants like Dave Moore and those who lost their lives that day,” Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams remarked.
Some of the ensemble cast of “The Forgotten,” a musical which celebrates the Ford Hunger March and the drive to organize the Big Three, sang a selection of songs from the show, including “Sit Down, Sit Down.”
Also recognized at the evening’s events were the members of Utility Workers Local 223, who have been campaigning to keep local customer services offices open and utility rates down in Detroit, and Detroit Federation of Teachers Local 231, which struck this past fall to block a city proposal to gut wages and benefits.
jwendland @ politicalaffairs.net