U.S. Supreme Court rules that sit-down strikes are illegal

Even those who had jobs during the Great Depression were suffering. Workers at car factories in Michigan were receiving paltry wages in less than ideal working conditions. Many belonged to a union, and determined to use sit-down-strikes to compel their employers to spend more money on them. Workers in Flint, Michigan were famously successful in their battle against GM, encouraging others to follow the same road. Before the practice could spread too far, however, the Supreme Court intervened.

On this day, February 27, in 1939, the Supreme Court decided in the case of NLRB v. Fansteel Metallurgical Coorp. that sit-down-strikes, where the strikers occupy their stations, preventing replacement workers from taking over, were essentially illegal.

The sit-down tactics were already outlawed by the National Labor Relations Board, a government agency, but the Fansteel workers believed they had a legitimate case because it was the factory, not them, who made the first illegal move — their strike was just a response. The Court ruled that workers who violated the law, regardless of whether that violation was provoked by a violation of the company, did not have to be reinstated. In other words, any worker who broke the law during a strike could be fired, no matter what.