Walter Reuther

1907- 1970

Labor Union Leader




Labor leader Walter Reuther was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, and attended Wayne State University in Detroit. In 1936, he was elected president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) Local 174 in Detroit.

Reuther and his brother, Victor, led a major strike at the Kelsey-Hayes plants. By the end of 1936, the strike had spread to the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan. In 1937, as a result of the strikes, both GM and Chrysler recognized the UAW as the bargaining agent for automobile workers.

After the end of World War II, Reuther demanded that GM workers be given a 30% pay raise to compensate for lost overtime and premium pay for war-releated efforts. GM refused, and Reuther led the first major post-war strike, a strike which resulted in a 113-day walkout (1945-46) of 200,000 workers.

Although the UAW strike sparked strikes in other industries -- including steel, electrical and meatpacking -- the automobile workers were only able to obtain a wage increase of 18.5 cents an hour. As a result of his aggressive stance during the strike, Reuther gained the support of UAW radicals, and was elected president of the entire union in 1946.

In 1951, he was elected president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and was actively involved in the union's merger with the AFL in 1955. In subsequent years, Reuther came into conflict with AFL-CIO president George Meany and in 1968, the UAW withdrew from the AFL-CIO. A year later, the UAW merged with Jimmy Hoffa's International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The newly formed organization was named the Alliance for Labor Action.

Reuther and his wife were killed on May 9, 1970, in a plane crash in Michigan.