Great Depression


Unorganised workers in textile plants and coal mines, hammered by the recession but also inspired by Franklin Roosevelt’s promise to look after industrial workers, began a series of desperate struggles against pay cuts and job losses. In order to win, they had to opt for the most disruptive tactics, weathering the violence of strikebreakers, police and in some states the imposition of martial law.

These tactics included the “flying squadrons” of pickets marching from town to town during the textile strike of 1934, urging workers to walk out. This was particularly important because these workers were often distributed in small production facilities, and had little industrial muscle by themselves.

A second key moment was a series of sit-ins by workers in steel and auto factories. This involved workers obstructing production simply by occupying a strategic area of a plant and refusing to move: a highly effective tactic that was also less violent than the picket lines and was later used by civil rights and anti-Vietnam war campaigners.