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

Nelson Lichtenstein, Author
Nelson Lichtenstein, Author Basic Books $35 (0p) ISBN 978-0-465-09080-8
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Onetime Ford Motor die-maker Walter Reuther launched a sit-down strike in 1937 that forced General Motors to bargain with a multiplant union. Another key strike against GM, led by the indefatigable, self-confident United Automobile Workers (UAW) president from Wheeling, W.Va., ended in 1946 in a Pyrrhic victory for labor, setting off a wage-price upward spiral and marking the onset of the fragmentation of union power. Liberal, ex-socialist Reuther (1907-1970), who, as Congress of Industrial Organizations president, helped engineer that group's merger with the American Federation of Labor in 1955, was a magnetic figure to the noncommunist left. Yet, in allying himself with Lyndon Johnson's administration and fixating on the gamesmanship of auto industry bargaining, he missed an opportunity to forge ties among an insular trade union movement and the working and middle classes, suggests Lichtenstein, history professor at the University of Virginia. The author sees Reuther as a tragic figure, a man imprisoned within institutions and alliances largely of his own making. This vivid biography holds vital lessons for today's moribund labor movement. (Nov.)
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