Walter Reuther - Success, Work and Unions
Walter Reuther (1907-70)
American leader (pictured right) of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) trade (or labour)
union which forced the big car companies to pay its members bigger wage increases.
The Battle of the
Overpass in the History Highlights section, when Reuther and three other union organizers were
beaten up by the car maker, Henry
Ford's (pictured right) employees.
Why was Reuther successful?
He wanted the UAW to:
- satisfy its members’ immediate needs
He saw the value of small, inexpensive cars long before the American car companies did.
Reuther (pictured right with President Harry S.
Truman in 1952):
a) strongly believed in the UAW
(to improve workers’ pay, other benefits (like pensions and longer holidays) and working conditions - see
points 3 and 4).
b) was anti-communist
He was a vehement opponent of the Soviet Union (then the name for communist Russia).
c) supported equality, justice and prosperity for all
He strongly supported:
- the use of car factories for making aeroplanes during the Second World
- civil rights for African Americans.
He spoke at the March on
Washington rally in 1963 (pictured right, second from the right), when Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech
(pictured right below).
3. People first
Reuther fought all his life for the belief that people must come first in business and
He believed that people’s happiness depends on
- their standard of living.
- social issues (like pollution, and the prevention of nuclear war and crime).
“Making progress with the community, not at the expense of the community” was his aim.
He wanted to co-operate with managers to:
- improve working people’s prosperity
- increase profits (so long as workers got a fair slice of the companies’ increased
- support new technology (like mass production and new machinery) to increase
productivity (production per worker) and cut costs.
In 1948 he struck a historic deal in which General Motors (in return for no strikes)
- annual guaranteed wage increases (linked to sales, productivity and inflation).
He forced Henry Ford and Alfred Sloan (at General Motors, pictured right) to
recognize his union, the UAW,
In the Battle of the Overpass
(1937) he and three other union officials were beaten up at Ford’s factory by 40 men, some of
them gangsters, when distributing leaflets for the union.
He helped to organize two major, victorious strikes against:
- General Motors (in 1940).
He also fought against corruption and the influence of gangsters in
A gunman tried to kill him and his wife in their kitchen in 1948, and he was watched for 40 years by J.
Edgar Hoover’s (pictured right above) FBI.
6. Great communicator
He was a brilliant negotiator and publicist.
At the Battle of the
Overpass(pictured right on the left after being beaten up) , he brought along a press
photographer, who sent pictures of his attack throughout America.
He also communicated his messages with snappy slogans like
“Too Old to Work - Too Young to Die” (which supported his negotiations for worker
Key quote on
If you’re not big enough to lose, you’re not big enough to win.
Key quote on
Making progress with the community, not at the expense of the community.
Key quote on objectives and
There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow men. There is no greater contribution than to help the
weak. There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.
Key quote on workers and
Fight for the welfare of the public at large.