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

By Nelson Lichtenstein | Go to book overview

7
POWER UNDER CONTROL

GM PRESIDENT CHARLES E. WILSON: Walter, you are an awful pusher, there is no compromise in you.

WALTER REUTHER: I am a very practical young man and I happen to have a job seven days a week to handle the headaches and bellyaches of your employees.

transcript, National Defense Mediation Board, May 1941

When Walter Reuther assumed control of the UAW General Motors Department in May 1939, he found that only 6 percent of all GM workers were paying dues to the UAW. In Flint there were but five hundred workers in good standing, out of a potential membership of forty-two thousand. He thought the membership "demoralized and disillusioned," with "organization ... practically non-existent" in many corporation plants. 1 Indeed, Homer Martin's supporters had their greatest strength in GM: dual shop committees were present in eleven plants with more than fifty thousand workers, and in twelve smaller plants in the South and East Martin's men dominated the union representation structure. GM officials claimed that they did not know who represented the workers, forcing the UAW's new president, R. J. Thomas, to concede that UAW contracts had become no more than "scraps of paper." 2

Taking charge with characteristic energy, Reuther immediately called into operation the hierarchy of GM councils and subcouncils that had been mandated by unionists determined to institutionalize rank-and-file input at the UAW-CIO's Cleveland convention. Such structures, representing workers in each major corporation or industry sector, were more than expressions of democratic goodwill;

-132-

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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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