On March 7, 1932, the Ford Hunger March was organized by John Schmies, communist candidate for mayor of Detroit, and led by Albert Goetz. 3,000 marched from Detroit to Dearborn asking for union recognition, full employment (Ford had undergone massive layoffs) and a 6-hour work day with no reduction in wages. When Dearborn police attempted to stop them at the border, rioting resulted, killing 4 marchers and injuring around 60. A fifth participant later died as well.
Tear gas fills the air as Dearborn Police and Ford Motor Company Servicemen attack demonstrators outside of the Rouge Plant during the 1932 Ford Hunger March. Photo courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library.
The press vilified the Hunger Marchers as communist radicals. But Henry Ford was already unpopular among some middle class workers. Despite news reports, popular opinion was on the side of those who participated in the Hunger March.
After the Hunger March, Ford employees were forbidden to even talk to each other before starting work and during lunch breaks at the Ford plant.
Within a few days of the Hunger March, Ford discharged thousands of workers. If there was any suspicion that a worker was even sympathetic to the Hunger Marchers’ cause, they were let go.
If you’re on the shop floor in 1935, and you start speaking about labor organizing, you were escorted out,” Mike Smith, Archivist for the Michigan Historical Collections at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, says. “In fact, Henry Ford was the last of the Big Three to organize. Ironically, he gave the UAW its best contract, because if he was going to let a union organize, he didn’t want to be outdone by GM or Chrysler.”
“CuriosiD: What was the 1932 Ford Hunger March?“, WDET, August 10, 2015.
“4 Die in Riot at Ford Plant; Murder Charges Asked After Red Mob Fights Police”, Detroit Free Press, March 8, 1932, front page.
John Lippert, “Hard Times ’32: A Hunger March”, Detroit Free Press, March 7, 1982, p. 13.