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

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

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

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

Synopsis

"Walter Reuther, the most imaginative and powerful trade union leader of the past half-century, confronted the same problems facing millions of working Americans today: how to use the spectacular productivity of our economy to sustain and improve the standard of living and security of ordinary Americans. As Nelson Lichtenstein observes, Reuther, the president of the United Automobile Workers from 1946 to 1970, may not have had all the answers, but at least he was asking the right questions. The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit vividly recounts Reuther's remarkable ascent: his days as a skilled worker at Henry Ford's great River Rouge complex, his two-year odyssey in the Soviet Union's infant auto industry in the early 1930s, and his immersion in the violent labor upheavals of the late 1930s that gave rise to the CIO. Under Reuther, the autoworkers' standard of living doubled." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

I never met Walter Reuther, but as a youth growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, his name and voice seemed always before me. The content of his televised speeches and interviews was unexceptional, disappointing in some vague way, but his words demanded the attention of my parents and myself because we knew that this man was powerful in a way that other politicians were not. He commanded the big battalions at the very heart of American industry and politics. Even to small-town liberals in exurban Maryland, the United Automobile, Aircraft, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) seemed exciting and potent allies whose dramatic origins in the great sit-down strikes of the 1930s reminded us of labor's explosive capacity to reorder the world of work and politics. Undoubtedly, my very ignorance about what actually happened inside an automobile factory and the considerable distance between Maryland and Detroit made it easier to put Walter Reuther and his union in a wondrous light.

In graduate school at Berkeley, I learned a lot more about Walter Reuther, but not inside the classroom. In the New Left and among the older generation of radicals who offered guidance, the contours of his career were given a Talmudic reading. Was he a Communist during his two-year sojourn in Stalin's Russia? When and why did he abandon the socialist faith? Was the strike he launched against General Motors in 1945—for wage increases without a rise in the price of cars— a deployment in the United States of Leon Trotsky's ideas? Why did he not organize a labor party in 1948? Our New Left critique charged him with hypocrisy and opportunism, but harsh as it was, even this assault on his person and his politics . . .

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