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Walter Reuther

From Academic Kids

Walter Philip Reuther (September 1, 1907-May 10, 1970) was an American labor leader.

Reuther was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, the son of a socialist brewery worker from West Virginia. He was the most ambitious and successful of three brothers who all went into the United Auto Workers (UAW). Walter rose from the rank-and-file of the UAW in West Side Detroit, Michigan in the 1930s, then took power in the bruising intra-union political battles in the UAW in the 1940s. His rise to power ended the internecine warfare, but also marked the end of truly contested elections for union office at the international level within the UAW. From that point forward the UAW was a one-party union.

Reuther delivered contracts for his members while keeping the UAW active in the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Toward the end of his life, however, when he took the UAW out of the AFL-CIO for a short-lived alliance with the Teamsters Union and marched with the United Farm Workers in Delano, California, Reuther seemed to be dissatisfied, looking for the ability to challenge the injustices that had made the union movement so vital in the 1930s.

He died in a plane crash in 1970 near Pellston, Michigan. On a flight to the UAW conference center at Black Lake, the pilot misjudged the altitude of the plane as he approached the airfield and crashed into the trees. Some leftists, such as Michael Parenti, believe that the altimeter of the plane was tampered with and cause of death was not accidental. They point out that there had been previous attempts to murder Reuther, and that the crash occurred just a few days after Reuther vocally expressed his opposition to Nixon’s Vietnam strategy and the shooting of student protesters at Kent State University in Ohio.

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