Unemployed Detroit auto workers conduct Hunger March to protest Ford Motor Company's policies, United States, 1932

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Time Period:  
6 March
12 March
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Detroit, Michigan & Dearborn, Michigan
The right to organize unions, jobs for laid-off employees, increased wages, medical aid, end to racial discrimination in hiring

During the Great Depression, Detroit, Michigan, and its auto-industry suffered an exceptional amount. After the stock market crash of 1929, around 80 percent of the industry was no longer producing and by 1932 large numbers of Detroit's citizens were dying of starvation. The Ford Motor Company, one of the richest employers, had laid off two-thirds of its employees. The Unemployed Councils, United Auto Workers, and communist union-organizing groups decided to organize a march against the Ford Motor Company and its employment policies.

On 6 March 1932, a group of Ford factory workers gathered to prepare for the march and demonstration planned for the next day. William Z. Foster of the Trade Union League spoke before the group of factory workers regarding their grievances against the Ford Motor Company. The workers' fourteen-point list of demands included jobs for laid-off employees, the right to organize unions, medical aid, an end to racially discriminant hiring, and increased wages.

On the morning of 7 March 1932, approximately 3000 people, former and current Ford workers as well as other unemployed members of the community, met together at the edge of Detroit. The marchers planned to walk to Dearborn, Michigan, to the Ford River Rouge Complex, the main Ford factory that housed the company's employment office. One of the march leaders, Albert Goetz, gave a speech to the protesters, emphasizing the need for peaceful resistance and orderly behavior during the march.

Upon entering Dearborn, however, the protesters encountered city police. The Dearborn police launched tear gas against the marchers, some of whom began throwing stones and dirt clods at the police in response. The police temporarily retreated, and the marchers continued toward the Ford factory. When they arrived at the factory, Dearborn police, the Dearborn fire department, Detroit police, Michigan state police, and Ford Motor Company's private security force blocked the marchers from proceeding further. The Fire Department attacked the protesters with cold water from their fire hoses, and the protesters continued to throw stones. The police and Ford security began to shoot at the crowds of marchers, killing four marchers and injuring over sixty more. Goetz and the other leaders called off the demonstration and police arrested almost fifty marchers.

The Ford Hunger March also became known as the Ford Massacre and sparked an outcry against the police brutality of unemployed protesters. On 12 March 1932, around 60,000 people came together for a funeral procession for the four dead marchers, all four of whom were members of the Young Communist League. The procession marched through Woodward Avenue in Detroit to the Woodmere Cemetery. At the gravesite, the demonstrators sang "L'Internationale," the socialist anthem.

The Ford Motor Company continued to repress workers. The company fired employees for possessing socialist literature. The march did not immediately lead to changes in the Company's policies but did inspire other movements of workers and unions to voice their demands.

In 1935 Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of the Wagner Act helped the cause for unionization, guaranteeing workers the right to collective bargaining. Also, the march inspired other movements of workers and unions to voice their demands in other areas of the auto-industry, such as the 1936-37 sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan, that led to the unionization of Chrysler Corporation and General Motors (see Michigan autoworkers win strike for union rights, 1936-37).

On 1 April 1941, Ford workers conducted a walkout in order to protest the firing of eight union members. Because of the strike, the River Rouge plant was forced to close temporarily. Some workers remained at the plant even though work could not occur. On 11 April, Henry Ford agreed to sign a contract with the United Auto Workers union, enabling all Ford workers to be protected under the union.

Research Notes

Autoworkers win strike for union rights in Flint, Michigan, 1936-37 (see Michigan autoworkers win strike for union rights, 1936-37)

Grevatt, Martha. "The Ford Hunger March of 1932." Workers World. 25 March 2009. <http://www.workers.org/2009/us/ford_hunger_march_0402>.

"How the Great Depression changed Detroit." The Detroit News. 4 March 1999. http://blogs.detroitnews.com/history/1999/03/03/how-the-great-depression-changed-detroit/

"Victims of the Ford Hunger March." http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=3217

"The 1932 Ford Hunger March massacre:The unemployed get bullets, not bread." Pennsylvania Federation. 3 February 2012. http://www.pennfedbmwe.org/?zone=/unionactive/view_article.cfm&HomeID=95500

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Fatimah Hameed, 03/03/2013