(Click on photograph to enlarge).
Pulitzer Prize for Photography
Milton Brooks of Detroit News
"Ford Strikers Riot”
The Ford Motor Company was the last American automaker to hold the line against unionisation. In April 1941, Ford’s head of security, Harry Bennett, reputedly fired eight union members prompting the Ford workers to walk out in a wildcat strike and to blockade the plant. Some writers have suggested that the strike was actually a planned move by outside communists who had infiltrated large numbers of communist workers into the Ford plant. The plant already paid higher wages than competitors, actively recruited black employees and was innovative in tying compensation to productivity. The black employees, appreciative of the equal opportunity employment, and others who remained loyal to Ford remained inside the plant, leading to pitched battles with baseball bats. Had not the Ford company stepped in and induced those opposing the strike not to take part in violence, there may well have been a race war. The dayshift workers, when they attended for work in the morning, found the entrances blocked. The few who sought to make their way inside were surrounded and beaten. An automobile blockade was set up, plant property was sabotaged and damaged. After ten days Henry Ford, urged by his wife, Clara, capitulated, making concessions beyond union demands. He agreed that Ford Motor would be a closed shop, meaning all employees had to be union members, and that it would initiate a “dues check-off” provision, which would allow union dues to be deducted from payroll and sent directly to the union.
Brooks’ photograph, taken during the strike, won the first Pulitzer Prize for Photography in 1942. It shows a striker beating a strikebreaker who is trying to protect himself by pulling his head and coat over his face. Brooks commented on the photograph "I took the picture quickly, hid the camera under my coat and ducked into the crowd. A lot of people would have liked to wreck that picture."
Some other pucs of the strike:
Ford workers and their children picket in April, 1941, with signs comparing Ford to Adolf Hitler (above). The strike at times became violent (below).