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

By Nelson Lichtenstein | Go to book overview
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19
FROM 1968 TO BLACK LAKE

It is hard to change institutions fundamentally. That is why there are revolutions in the world.

Walter Reuther, 1968

Reuther had begun the 1960s as one of the figures who defined the left wing of social and economic liberalism. By 1967 he had influence and access in Washington, London, and Bonn, but on the most vexing issue of the day he let "history" pass him by. His dilemma and his pain were summed up on an April evening that year when Walter, May, and their youngest daughter, Lisa, attended a Seder with some of their closest friends—among them, Roy Reuther and his wife Faina, and their hosts Irving and Thelma Bluestone. Present also were twenty-two-year-old Barry Bluestone and his girlfriend of that time, Leslie Woodcock, daughter of the UAW vice president. It had taken some special persuasion on the part of the elder Bluestones to secure their son's attendance, because Barry and Leslie were furious with Walter Reuther.

At the University of Michigan the young couple were antiwar activists, riding the cusp of a movement that was finally bursting off the campuses and into the mainstream of American politics. On April 4, in a forceful and radical sermon delivered at Riverside Cathedral in New York, Martin Luther King, Jr., had put his great prestige on the line to declare that "this madness must cease." Ten days later antiwar marches filled the streets of San Francisco and New York, the largest demonstrations in U.S. history up to that time. Each Sunday the New York Times carried yet another antiwar manifesto to which thousands of clergy, writers, faculty, and student leaders put their names. On the college circuit administration liberals

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