The UAW remembered the 75th anniversary of the “Battle of the Overpass” Friday.
Many union members see the event as a pivotal point in Detroit--and national--labor history.
On May 26th, 1937, UAW President Walter Reuther and other union leaders were trying to organize workers at the massive Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn.
A confrontation ensued, and some union leaders were badly beaten by members of Henry Ford’s security team.
Bernie Ricke is President of UAW Local 600, which represents Ford Rouge workers today.
He says the incident sparked public awareness about labor struggles—particularly at Ford.
“There was a Detroit News photographer there, so it couldn’t just be swept under the rug,” Ricke said. “It sent a public signal that something was terribly wrong at Ford. And it took four long years after that to organize Ford.”
Ricke says the UAW used to have a terrible relationship with Ford. But he says that’s changed over the years, and now union members and Ford management work well together.
In fact, Ricke credits that good relationship with keeping Ford out of bankruptcy. “We proactively did things with the company prior to the recession, that we feel was a big reason for Ford not going bankrupt,” he said.
Today’s Rouge complex is still Ford’s largest facility. It houses 6 factories with about 6000 workers.