The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor

By Nelson Lichtenstein | Go to book overview

6
GENERAL MOTORS AND
GENERAL MAYHEM

The whole trouble in the UAW is that it is too democratic. Thus, it can't be controlled by its leaders. They are out in front and the mob, led by the belligerent minority of radicals, are always at their heels.

- Stephen DuBrul, GM chief economist; January 1938

In November 1937, 282 union delegates from General Motors plants across the country met for two days in the Arabian Room of the Tuller Hotel just off Grand Circus Park. The meeting was not a festive one: the chandeliers and plush velvet of the glitzy ballroom seemed to mock the spirit of the hard-driving UAW activists. Long gone was the euphoric mood of February and March 1937. In its place, the unionists felt only anger, confusion, and a sense of betrayal. General Motors had the whip hand again, and a bitterly divided union seemed unable to respond. Less than ten months after the UAW's famous victory, plant managers had begun to fire union activists and lay off thousands of workers. "The fighting spirit in the union is down low," admitted Walter Reuther, expressing a sentiment that no one bothered to contest. "The important task that we face is to reestablish ourselves with General Motors on the same sort of relationship we had back there during the strike period. We have to make them realize that we still have some fight in the old Union." 1

It would not be an easy task, and things would get a lot worse before the UAW turned itself around. The union still boasted 350,000 members, but it stood at the

-104-

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The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Father and Sons 1
  • 2 - Life at the Rouge 13
  • 3 - Tooling at Gorky 25
  • 4 - Radical Cadre and New Deal Union 47
  • 5 - The West Side Local 74
  • 6 - General Motors and General Mayhem 104
  • 7 - Power under Control 132
  • 8 - 500 Planes a Day 154
  • 9 - Faustian Bargain 175
  • 10 - Patriotism and Politics in World War II 194
  • 11 - On Strike at General Motors 220
  • 12 - Uaw Americanism for Us 248
  • 13 - The Treaty of Detroit 271
  • 14 - An American Social Democracy 299
  • 15 - Reuther Abroad: "Production Is the Answer" 327
  • 16 - Democratic Dilemmas 346
  • 17 - Uneasy Partners 370
  • 18 - A Part of the Establishment 396
  • 19 - From 1968 to Black Lake 420
  • Epilogue - What Would Walter Do? 439
  • Notes 447
  • Index 551
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