Hidden History: The Great Depression, Henry Ford and Detroit’s Unemployed Workers Councils

1929 The Great Depression Part 1 – A Job At Ford’s

PBS (1993)

Film Review

This is Part 1 of a fascinating 7-part PBS series on the Great Depression, one of the many topics Americans never study in school. The series reveals much hidden history unfavorable to the ruling elite – I doubt that PBS would air documentaries this honest in the current political landscape.

This first episode examines the rapid US industrialization of the 1920s, exemplified by the stellar growth of Ford Motor Company.

Henry Ford’s goal in perfecting assembly line manufacturing was to produce Model T’s so cheaply they would cost less than a team of horses. Ford’s River Rouge complex in Detroit was the largest industrial plant in history, employing 50,000 workers and producing 6,000 cars per day. The availability of credit, another new phenomenon, to purchase cars and other durable goods also played a major role in post-World War I expansion.

Squeezing Workers to Cut Costs

By paying the unprecedented wage of $5/hour, Ford attracted workers from all over the US and Mexico. Over time, however, he cut the hourly wage and sped up the assembly line to further reduce costs. He also created an extremely repressive private security force that relied on 9,000 worker/informants to weed out employees who couldn’t keep up or expressed anger and/or frustration with the speed-ups.

Detroit’s Unemployed Workers Councils

Following the Wall Street crash in October, 1929, the US was the only industrialized country without a government safety net (eg unemployment insurances, old age pensions, welfare benefits, etc) for the millions of Americans who lost their jobs. President Hoover believed the solution to the Great Depression was to increase business investment (and production)* and called on charities and local government to provide relief for homeless and starving families.

The city of Detroit provided relief to destitute families for over a year but ran out of money as unemployment climbed from 20 to 50% in 1930. It climbed to 80% in August 1931, when Ford closed his factory and laid off 60,000 workers.

Assisted by Communist Party organizers, Detroit’s unemployed workers formed a dozen unemployed workers councils, which organized marches and rallies demanding jobs, unemployment compensation and protection against evictions.** The councils also organized direct actions to block sheriff’s officers from removing families’ furniture from their home.

In March 1932, 3,000 unemployed workers organized a hunger march on the Ford factory. In addition to using fire hoses to spray them with freezing water, local police and Ford’s private security force shot 25 of them (many in the back). Four, including a New York Times photographer died instantly.

Ford’s Anti-Semitism

This episode also explores Ford’s anti-Semitic writings in the Dearborn Independent and his book The International Jew, as well as the mutual admiration he and Adolph Hitler shared. It fails to mention the considerable direct and indirect assistance Ford provided the Third Reich in rebuilding the German military machine. See Ford and the Fuhrer


*Hoover’s views flew in the face of most economists, who viewed the Great Depression as a crisis in overproduction and under-consumption.

**At the height of the depression, 150 Detroit families were evicted everyday and someone died of starvation every seven hours.

12 thoughts on “Hidden History: The Great Depression, Henry Ford and Detroit’s Unemployed Workers Councils

  1. The crisis of “overproduction” and under-consumption was deliberately created by the reduction in available money from the non-Federal Reserve System. Further, it was not caused by tariffs. The Federal Reserve Board created the crash. It was corrupt banking, possible in any system with such control of a nation’s money printing.

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  2. A similar story told by Orwell in “The Road to Wigan Pier”. It is shocking how the desperate in-between war years are not conveyed to the younger generation who are encouraged to view old people as having had it easy.

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    • ” – the rich tend not to be good at long term strategy.” WHAT!!! Globalism goes waaay back, the plan to bring back serfdom/slavery has long been part of the plan. Just for part of the picture, England did not stop trying to control us after their military loss of the Revolutionary War. It continued through economic warfare, and our resistance to English banking control of us led to the war of 1812. The private, foreign-controlled “Federal Reserve Bank” has been running us into Sadr and the ground since 1913. The continuing war is for power over humanity, and it has led to the murder of three of our presidents. May it not lead to another try. In any case, the war is ultimately against the U.S., UK, NZ, … All of us.

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      • In my view, marblenecltr, these institutions go way back because once the rich seize the levers of power they destroy anyone who goes up against them with military, police or economic violence. It’s evidence of ruthlessness, not long term thinking. If they were capable of long term thinking, they wouldn’t be systematically killing off their descendants with toxic chemicals and radionucleotides.

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        • Woman from the other side of the world gives us words written with great wisdom! (I hope you take that as meant, a compliment.) True, people who gain power usually want to increase it, but, in any case, never want to let it go. Until George Washington, who wanted to neither become king nor run for a third term. I can blame those evil beings (fairly normal humanoids) for what they have done, but I understand their failure to see the extent, even the existence of, toxic chemicals and radionucleotides. (Fitting last word for Fukushima circumstances.) Recent generations, no excuse, painted themselves into a corner and too greedy to easily get out.

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