The auto-lite strike and the fight against wage slavery

In April, 1934, workers at the Auto-Lite plant went on strike, demanding that their employer recognize their union and engage in collective bargaining with them. Despite the ill effects of the Depression on Toledo and an unemployment rate of over 50%, workers at the Auto-Lite transmission plant risked their jobs and the possibility of employment at other factories for what they believed were fundamental rights - the rights to organize into a union, engage in collective bargaining, and strike. With help from the Toledo Central Labor Union and the AWP, the Auto-Lite workers resisted an injunction and enforced their right to organize on their own through collective action. As of 1934, the Constitution had yet to emerge as a major public issue. Unlike the sit-down strikers in 1936 and 1937, a period in which the courts considered the constitutionality of the NLRA, the Toledo strikers rarely raised constitutional issues. Nevertheless, we conclude that the Toledo strike was one episode in a long-term popular movement for constitutional change. In later interviews, those workers stressed that the deplorable conditions and the way that their employer treated them that led them to strike. While most leaders of the Auto-Lite strike did not mention the Thirteenth Amendment, a number of them invoked opposition to wage slavery in their speeches and leaflets to rally their supporters. In this manner, the workers on the Auto-Lite picket line carried on labor's tradition of recognizing the right to organize as a human right as well as an economic right. This article thus considers an important chapter in the history of American popular constitutionalism, the belief of labor activists that they had a fundamental right to organize into a union, and Congress' codification of that belief in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
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