The Unrelenting Genora Dollinger

— Sol Dollinger

GENORA JOHNSON DOLLINGER was called the Joan of Arc of labor for her role in the Flint sitdown strikes of 1937. At the age of 23 she organized the Women’s Auxiliary of the United Automobile Workers Union and the women’s Emergency Brigade. The latter were armed with clubs in defense of the sitdowners from the hired Pinkerton strikebreakers, the plant police of General Motors and the Flint City Police dominated by the corporation. Her militant actions were the subject of two award-winning documentaries: "The Great Sitdown Strike," made by BBC, and the Academy Award nominated documentary, "Babies and Banners."

Genora was born April 20, 1913 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where her mother took her to give birth, but the family residence was in Flint. In 1931 she became a charter member of the newly organized Flint Socialist Party, which was later to play a pre-eminent role in the leadership of the sitdown strikes.

Her first husband, Kermit Johnson was the only member of the 1937 city-wide strike committee working in the historic Flint Plant Four of Chevrolet. He conceived the stratagem for the capture of the engine plant with a diversionary tactic centered on Plant Nine of the huge General Motors Complex. This proposal was originally rejected by Walter Reuther and other leaders of the Socialist Party. It was Genora’s stubborn, unrelenting insistence in support of the taking of Plant Four that overcame the opposition’s hesitancy. The capture of Plant Four has been described as the greatest strike strategy in the history of American Labor. It resulted in a social revolution in capital and labor relations in the United States.

In 1938-39 Genora helped organize the first unemployed union affiliated with the UAW and served as its secretary. During the war she dodged the black list by moving to Detroit. She was employed by Briggs.

In 1945 she was vice-chair of the Shop at Stewards Body and elected to a committee to investigate the physical beatings meted out to prominent members of the local union.

She became the third victim of a lead pipe attack while asleep in bed. Six years later the Senator Kefauver Crime Committee confirmed that the beatings of five Briggs workers and the shooting of Walter and Victor Reuther were instigated by well known Detroit corporate officials in collusion with the Mafia.

Genora joined the Socialist Workers Party in late 1938, and was a founding member of the American Socialist Union in 1953. She was also a charter member of Labor Party Advocates.

From 1960-66 Genora was the Development Director of the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union. She was one of the first presidents of Women for Peace, an anti-Vietnam organization, and, while in office, enlisted most of Detroit’s union leaders into public opposition of the war.

In 1977 she was invited by the officers of the union and GM to attend the fortieth anniversary banquet celebration of the sitdown strikes and the winning of union recognition. Always the stormy petrel, Genora flew to Detroit to denounce the union leaders for their participation in the love fest as an example of "Tuxedo Unionism."

In October 1994 Genora was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Michigan Women’s Historical Center in Lansing. On her induction, Victor and Sophie Reuther wrote, "Genora is of the great tradition of Mother Jones who in an earlier generation was to the Mine Workers what Genora became to Auto Workers. A living legend in her own time!"

Genora was one of the foremothers of the women’s liberation movement. She is survived by her husband Sol, son Ronald, granddaughter Danielle Genora and grandson Kenneth Vincent.

ATC 60, January-February 1996