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May 23, 2020: Auto Lite Strike


Today is Saturday. May Twenty Third Twenty twenty on this day in Nineteen thirty four of five day. Standoff began thirteen hundred Ohio National Guard troops face down six thousand striking workers and unemployed civilians in Toledo Ohio. Welcome today in true crime. Apart cast original. Due to the graphic nature of today's crimes listener discretion is advised today. We're covering the boiling point of the auto lite worker strike in Toledo Ohio when more than six thousand employees engaged in a deadly. Five Day clash with the State's National Guard. Let's go back to the mid western city of Toledo during the throes of the Great Depression on May Twenty Third Nineteen thirty four spring in Toledo was brisk never mind that it was already may the chilling winds of the morning whipped at the backs of the men standing outside the downtown factory. They told their callers. Just a little bit higher. Many were members of the American Federation of Labor and a good portion had been longtime employees of the electric auto lite plant. That was until they'd staged a walkout nearly a month before the hope was that without them. There'd be no more factory production no more glass city as Toledo had come to be known. Even some of their colleagues from neighbouring factories had declined to go to work in favor of joining the auto. Lite workers strike their demands. Were clear more money and better. Working conditions without higher pay. The workers would soon be unable to keep food on the table for their families. Let alone feed themselves and a full stomach was critical to surviving shifts at auto light granted. The unholy hours in the sweltering factory there was little margin left now to go without in fact. The men employed at auto light constantly feared for their jobs. It was impossible not to be paranoid. That one slip up would leave them without paychecks and then their families would be out on the streets. The grip of the Great Depression was tightening and these workers needed relief by noon. On May twenty third. The strikers started the day six thousand men strong but as hundreds of men approached their daily picket line outside the factory that morning. They had reason to believe things might have already gone south before long. Toledo Sheriff pressed for more backup namely from. Ohio's then governor George White. The two agreed that tougher action was needed to wrangle the protesters they should deploy the National Guard. Governor White was in agreement with the Sheriff that neither Toledo's Mayor. Nor its police could or would tamp down the strikers in fact most city officials supported the union workers and their demands so the sheriff was granted permission to press ahead with two orders. One was for the National Guard to break up the picket line. Outside the factory the second was to evacuate the strikebreakers who were still inside working. The arrival of the National Guard indicated that hope for a peaceful resolution was all but gone as they tried to advance into the factory. The guardsmen were barred by hordes of protesters with this. The Guard troops were permitted to fire directly into the crowd. All out bedlam erupted. The authorities dropped tear gas from the top of the warehouses roof and even took to turning on fire hoses to beat back the crowds in return the strikers threw bricks at the guardsmen. Those that couldn't Rangel weapons simply took to brawling with their fists. The Madness continued for nearly seven hours by the next morning. Two hundred would be injured and two dead coming up the fallout of. Ohio's deadly gamble in the face of the auto lite strikers. Now back to the story the early nineteen hundreds had ushered in manufacturing boom for Toledo and by May Twenty Third Nineteen thirty four. The glass business was a cornerstone of the city's automotive industry. It was the perfect product being made in the perfect location. Just a few hours. North in Michigan Detroit's Assembly. Lines churned out new car after new car and each would need its share of glass. Naturally the demand for glaziers was high and Ohio. Did its best to build out. State manufacturing but with the onset of the Great Depression. Conditions had deteriorated. Such was the case when these men many of them local union workers walked off the floor of the electric auto lite plant in mid April of Nineteen thirty four inciting the strike. They'd hoped the walkout would give them leverage to barter for more human hours and higher wages while this wasn't ideal given the wheezing. Us economy it did seem more than justified granted. The atmosphere inside auto light. According to Toledo's the blade journalists Jay Skibbe the conditions inside the plant were brutal. Auto Lite Inc. A bench system meaning benches were set up on the factory floor. Where anyone off? The street could enter. Take a seat and wait for a job to open up. The foreman had the authority to hire and fire any employee on the spot so when a portion of its union workers walked off in protest. Auto light simply turned to the unemployed. The plant immediately hired nearly fifteen hundred strikebreakers to keep the belt lines moving desperate for any wage they were willing to put up with the abysmal conditions. By May Twenty Third One thousand nine hundred ninety four. The strike of Toledo's auto light automotive factory had separated into two bitter factions. The workers versus the authorities and the glass manufacturing plant was lodged directly between the two auto. Light wasn't willing to negotiate likely because it was so worried about its own demise. It made sense granted that the factory owner also owned Ohio Bank which had notoriously bottomed out early in the depression. It was later confirmed that the Toledo bank blatantly drained the accounts of its patrons without repayment thus angry and nearly penniless workers. Turn to their former employer looking for reparations but auto lite wasn't going to go down without a fight it lobbied for a legal restriction on picketing this created even more of an uproar with Toledo so-called unemployed league who'd also joined the picket in solidarity to enforce such a ban was a heady task though local. Police arrested a handful of strike leaders. The town small municipal court stood no chance of upholding the picket restrictions against the remaining thousands of protesters with this small victory. More men gathered outside the gates each day. It seemed they were making progress. The factory was sure to cave soon and negotiate by morning. The national guardsmen had freed the strikebreakers but failed to disperse the crowd. Upon a second order to fire two of the strikers were killed upwards of two hundred more would sustain injuries with the surges of assaults subsided. The bloodshed of the strike became known as the Battle of Toledo. Such violence turned the eyes of the nation to a high. Oh as the press covered the injured union workers still showing up to protest for better conditions. Auto light lost the Higher Ground. Finally nearly a month after the most gruesome five day stretch. The factory reached an agreement realizing their workers contributions auto light bowed to their demands according to historical writers Brandon and dawn peril when the plant reopened management had agreed to recognize the AFL as the employees collective bargaining agent introduced a slight wage hike and rehired. Most of those who had gone out with the strikers. The Great Depression would rage on for nearly five more years with various automotive strikes to follow yet the auto lite strike from with Ohioans to this day the Battle of Toledo is commemorated by a plaque and statues. Outside the old downtown factory reminding passersby. How workers fought for their right to join the United Auto Workers Union so many decades ago. Thanks for listening today and true crime. I'm Vanessa Richardson. If you enjoyed hearing this union tale you might also like our episode on Jimmy Hoffa from the podcast original historical figures. Today and true crime was created by Max Cutler and is a podcast studios original it is executive produced by Max Cutler sound designed by Nick Johnson with production assistance by Ron Shapiro Carly Madden and Freddie Beckley. This episode of today and true crime was written by Mackenzie more with writing assistance by Maggie. Admire. I'm Vanessa Richardson.

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