Theory & Struggle

Trade unions, communities and struggles: US sit-down strikes and their potential: from the Committee for Industrial Organisation to the age of austerity

Theory & Struggle (2018), 119, (1), 100–106.


In the United States, the sitdown strike, or plant occupation, was an innovative tactic that the embryonic industrial unions of the Committee for Industrial Organisation (CIO), later renamed the Congress of Industrial Organisations, used predominantly from 1936 to 1938. A direct-action tactic where workers commandeer a workplace and halt production, this specific type of work stoppage provided a number of advantages compared to conventional strikes. Sit-down strikes could be more effective as workers’ barricades could prevent replacement workers from entering the facility. Furthermore, employer fears of possible destruction of machinery, equipment and inventory meant law enforcement and company security personnel were more hesitant in attempting to retake the plant. This article identifies a number of the key struggles of the past that have used the sit-down strike weapon. These include the fights for civil rights and against rising income inequality. The article concludes by raising questions as to what might have followed, if plant occupations had remained legal and continued as a form of direct action throughout the second half of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first century.

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Author details

Devinatz, Victor G.