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August 29, 2008

Labor Day/March on Washington Tribute

The focus on the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington was, appropriately enough, on Martin Luther King, Jr., and the impact of his soaring oratory on that day on American society.  But I would like to pay brief tribute to the man who preceded him on the podium that day, and who was one of the most significant Americans of the Twentieth Century in terms of the struggle for justice.  Indeed, I think one would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of people who had more impact and did more good than Walter Reuther, although his name is almost unknown today.    

Reuther led the United Auto Workers union from 1946 until his untimely death in 1970.  Prior to that time he was a central figure in organizing the industry during the Great Depression.  He survived beatings and assassination attempts in his relentless quest to bring about economic and racial fairness in the United States.  The UAW under his leadership underwrote a great deal of the activities of the Civil Rights movement, doing everything from paying for the costs of the March on Washington to providing bail money to the Freedom Riders.  Much of this was due to the single-minded vision of Reuther. 

He was also a tremendously effective political player, who met weekly with Lyndon Johnson during his presidency.  It's difficult to imagine a labor leader having such access in this day and age, and sadly, harder to imagine one with the scope and vision that this man had. 

So happy Labor Day to you all.  If you ever get the inclination to learn more about Reuther, I highly recommend this book by Nelson Lichtenstein:  "Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit."    


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I just sent this to my 81-year-old, former steel worker, benefitting-from-union-but-now-wants-to-deny-that-privilege-to-everyone-else, rightwing uncle.

It won't matter. He inhabits an evidence-free bubble.

And the UAW is still at it. They got the American auto makers to add same-sex domestic-partner benefits and add sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination policy back in (IIRC) 1999 or so, for which my partner and I are eternally grateful. The UAW is one union that has consistently pursued a progressive agenda that goes beyond getting more pay and benefits for their members.

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