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Battle of the Overpass: When corporate leaders fought auto unions, and lost

Ford Service Department employees assault a UAW organizer in what came known as the Battle of the Overpass
James E. (Scotty) Kilpatrick of the Detroit News
Battle of the Overpass photo courtesy of the Archives of Michigan

Do corporations have too much power and too little oversight? That question has dominated American society since the Civil War and it does not seem to be going away any time soon.

Over the decades, the political pendulum has swung back and forth between workers’ rights and corporate power.

This Saturday marks the 81st anniversary of The Battle of the Overpass, which many refer to as a turning point in how people perceived the labor movement.

Rachel Clark, an education specialist with the Michigan History Center, joined Stateside to talk about how labor gained more power towards the end of the Great Depression, much to the chagrin of business owners like Henry Ford.  

Listen above to hear how the National Labor Relations Act affected workers; how unions in Michigan grew more powerful before and during WWII; and the strategic ways Henry Ford tried to prevent his employees from gaining bargaining power and more personal freedoms within his company.

To see more images from the Battle of the Overpass, check out the archives from Wayne State’s Walter P. Reuther Library.

The Michigan History Center is currently displaying the jacket worn by labor organizer Richard Frankensteen, the man being attacked in the above photo. The jacket can be viewed at the Michigan History Museum and is on loan from Wayne State University.

This segment is produced in partnership with the Michigan History Center.

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