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Back to the Future?

- December 9, 2008

It really is the 1930s all over again. The economy is collapsing and now we have sit-down strikes again.

This reminds me of my favorite John L. Lewis anecdote. Lewis was the larger than life union leader who founded the United Mine Workers and the CIO. During the 1937 sit-down strike at General Motors, Lewis met with Frank Murphy, the governor of Michigan. Murphy told Lewis that he was going to call in the National Guard to clear the factories because, as governor, he was duty bound to uphold the law. Lewis responded:

When your father, Governor Murphy, was imprisoned by British authorities, you did not sing forth with hosannas and say “The law cannot be wrong. The law must be supported. It is right and just that my father be put into prison! Praised be the law.”

When the British government took your grandfather, and hanged him by the neck until he was dead, you did not get down on your knees and burst forth in praise for the sanctity and the glory and the purity of the law, the law that must be upheld at all costs!

Tomorrow morning I shall personally enter General Motors Plant Chevrolet Number Four. I shall then walk to the largest window in the plant, open it, divest myself of my outer raiment, remove my shirt and bare my bosom. Then when you order your troops to fire, mine will be the first breast those bullets will strike!

And as my body falls from the window to the ground, you listen to the voice of your grandfather as he whispers in your ear, “Frank, are you sure you are doing the right thing?”

Murphy decided not to call in the Guard.