MotorCities National Heritage Area



Born in Poland in 1903, Stanley Nowak immigrated to the United States when he was ten years old. Out of work in the Great Depression, Nowak ended up in Detroit and was one of the first five organizers hired by the fledgling United Auto Workers union in 1936. After assisting in the Bohn Aluminum Strike near Hamtramck, he was instrumental in the successful organization of the largely immigrant and mostly female workforce at the General Motors Ternstedt plant in Southwest Detroit. The popularity of his Polish language radio show contributed to his success as well as the connections he forged with immigrant workers social organizations and also because of innovative tactics like the slowdown, which involved more motion than production. 


After leaving Local 174, Nowak entered politics, in part, to offer a public voice on behalf of the UAW’s campaign to organize Ford. After becoming a naturalized citizen in 1938, Nowak went on to serve ten years in the Michigan State Senate where he was a championed the rights of labor, immigrant communities and African Americans, as well as fighting for other social welfare measures. In 1941, he ran unsuccessfully for Detroit City Council with Charles Diggs, Sr. on the CIO’s first racially integrated slate. Beginning in 1942, state and federal officials threatened him with loss of citizenship and deportation for allegedly concealing his association with left wing political parties in the 1920s when he’d applied to be a US citizen in 1938. In 1958, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, exonerating him. He remained active in Detroit’s Polish community as an editor and contributor to the newspaper, The People’s Voice (Glos Ludowy).


Click to view

Stanley Nowak - Labor Minute, this DPTV /WTVS video shares the recollections of organizing among Detroit’s ethnic communities during the sit-down strike era.


Recommended Reading:


Margaret Collingwood Nowak’s memoir, Two Who Were There (Wayne State University Press, 1989).