The UAW and FCA US realize that in order to move ahead we first have to know where we’ve been. And there’s much to learn from our past sacrifices, challenges and accomplishments. They provide a great vantage point from which to view the present and prepare for the future.
Walter Reuther and Walter Chrysler
By Karen English
From Tomorrow Annual Meeting Issue
Appropriately, Walter Reuther was born just in time for Labor Day, on September 1, 1907, in industrial Wheeling, W. Va. His hardworking German immigrant parents were dedicated union supporters who taught their children to work for social justice.
At 16, Reuther became an apprentice die maker. Three years later he moved to Detroit and found a job on Ford’s second shift. Off the clock, he finished school, always finding time for the struggle to unionize his adopted city.
Reuther’s politics may have cost him his job when the Depression hit. But he took the layoff as an opportunity for an educational tour of Europe.
Significant Chrysler Family Cars over the Years
1924 Chrysler B-70 Phaeston
1928 Plymouth Model Q Coupe
1929 DeSoto Six Roadster
1931 Custom Imperial Dual Cowl Phaeton
1934 Chrysler Airflow Model SE, Sedan
1941 Chrysler Town & Country
1943 Jeep MB
1951 Chrysler New Yorker
1955 Chrysler Letter cars
1960 Plymouth Valiant V-200
1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda Coupe
1978 Plymouth Horizon
1984 Plymouth Voyager Minivan
1988 Jeep Cherokee
1993 Chrysler, Dodge & Eagle LH Trio
- Courtesy of Chrysler Corporate Historical Collection
|Reuther at a 1964 Detroit press conference with former UAW President Leonard Woodcock (left).|
Returning in 1935, he found that the Roosevelt administration was encouraging unions. Previous attempts to organize autoworkers in the 1920s, including the Auto Workers Union Reuther had joined, hadn’t made much progress. But the Depression changed things, and when the United Auto Workers held its first conference in 1935, it found an eager audience. In the fall, Local 174 was chartered, drawing from many plants. Reuther, then just 29 years old, was elected president.
Reuther worked with the UAW to get the Big Three to the bargaining table. Encouraged by its success in organizing General Motors in 1937, the union took on Chrysler, which signed its first agreement that same year.
The UAW then moved in on Ford, a tougher target. Reuther and a few colleagues were passing out leaflets at the River Rouge plant when they were attacked by Ford “security guards.” Even though the union men had a permit to pass out handbills, nearby police didn’t stop the beating. Press photos of the brutality aroused public sympathy for the union and helped immortalize this bloody “Battle of the Overpass” in labor history.
During WWII, Reuther worked to keep defense production high while protecting workers. He was also an adviser to the Roosevelt administration, where his intelligence and idealism served the interests of both labor and Western democracy.
The end of the war unleashed a wave of pent-up labor issues, and in 1946 Reuther rode that wave to the presidency of the UAW, an office he held for 24 years. Under his watch, the UAW matured as an industrial union and a strong presence in the international labor movement.
But Reuther’s tenure was not untroubled. The worst moment was an assassination attempt in 1948 that left him severely wounded. Undeterred, Reuther recovered to lead an increasingly united union during a period of growth — the late 1940s to 1970.
Reuther’s dream was an educational center that would nurture effective union leaders. This center was nearly completed in 1970, when Reuther and his wife, May, were killed in a plane crash.
Today, the busy Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center in Onaway, Mich., is the perfect memorial to this dedicated leader.
Women who made the union stronger
Equal pay, child care facilities and an end to discrimination against pregnant workers are just a few of the battles UAW women have been involved in. Check out some of these powerful women who took a stand and made the UAW stronger.
Helped lead the first auto strike in 1913. She was part of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the first union to unite workers at a whole plant, rather than just a specific trade. Twenty years later, autoworkers came together in one union, the UAW, which even adopted the IWW anthem, “Solidarity Forever.”
Served as a UAW International vice president for six terms (18 years).
She headed up the Aerospace Department and played key roles in such groups as the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the National Coalition for the Reproductive Rights of Workers.
Traveled across the country amazing audiences with her fiery preaching as she fought for women workers’ rights in the mid- to late 19th century. A slave for the first 30 years of her life, she spoke before Congress and two presidents. She is best known for a speech in which she said, “I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me off. And ain’t I a woman?”
Chosen by fellow workers to serve on the UAW’s first bargaining committee.
Headed the UAW’s Women’s Bureau.
Hubcaps in the Sky:
Walter Chrysler’s mega-monument
Since the 1920s, the shiny spire of the Chrysler Building has been a landmark in New York City’s skyline.
Walter P. Chrysler told the architects, “Make this building higher than the Eiffel Tower.” And for a time, it was the tallest building in the world.
Today, it’s not the building’s height that makes us marvel, but its connection to automobile history: