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July 8, 1969 – Dodge strike rocks Detroit; adds focus to civil rights movement

On this day in 1968 the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), which consisted of black auto workers, went on a wildcat strike to protest working conditions at Dodge’s Hamtramck assembly plant. A wildcat strike is one that is supported or endorsed by the leadership of the Union of which the workers are members of, in this case the United Auto Workers.  At the time of the strike it was estimated that 70 percent of the workers at the plant were black, yet it was exceedingly rare for black men or women to rise to any sort of management position or higher within the auto industry. 

The strike was observed by some 4,000 workers, lasted two and half days and prevented the production of 3,000 cars. In the subsequent Local 3 union election, DRUM ran as an alternative slate, but it did not win. However, the new organization drew notice for its militancy and willingness to challenge the UAW hierarchy. The strike itself has been viewed as an important component of the era’s civil rights movement. 

The “Revolutionary Union Movement” form of organization spread from DRUM to other Detroit automobile plants. FRUM (Ford Revolutionary Union Movement) started at the Ford River Rouge Plant, and ELRUM (Eldon Avenue Revolutionary Union Movement) began at the Chrysler Eldon Avenue plant. These organizations were brought together in the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW), which formed in June of 1969.

The formation of the LRBW was an attempt to form a more cohesive political organization guided by the principles of Black liberation and Marxism-Leninism. A primary goal of the group was to gain political power and articulate the specific concerns of Black workers through political action. While the LRBW was only active for a short period of time, it had a significant impact on increasing participation of Black workers in the United States in political action.

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