Pinback button issued to members of United Automobile Workers (UAW) who contributed $1 toward the Ford Drive, a campaign to organize workers at Ford Motor Company, 1937. Bastian Bros. Co., Rochester, New York.
Of the "Big Three" auto makers, the Ford Motor Company, based in Dearborn, Michigan, resisted unionization of its factory workers the longest. In early 1937, following sit-down strikes at plants in Atlanta and Flint, UAW had won recognition by General Motors and Chrysler. Their next target was Ford, but they were met with staunch resistance. Founder Henry Ford detested organized labor, and his manager Harry Bennett used brute force to keep the union out. A euphemistically named "Ford Service Department" was set up as a security, espionage and intimidation unit within the company, and was not reluctant to use violence against union organizers.
The confrontation came to a head on May 26, 1937, as union organizers were handing out leaflets during a shift change at the River Rouge Plant. A Detroit News photographer asked several UAW leaders to pose on a pedestrian overpass, with the Ford complex in the background. As they were posing, as many as 40 Service Department thugs approached from behind and began beating them. The Service Department men later tried to confiscate the film, but the photographer switched rolls and photos of the attack appeared in newspapers across the country. The incident became known as the "Battle of the Overpass" and increased public support for UAW. Despite the photographic evidence and the bad press, Bennett claimed no one working for the company was involved, and refused to make any concessions. Ford did not recognize UAW until 1941.
Photo courtesy National Archives (not included).