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REUTHER, Walter Philip (1907-70)

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REUTHER, Walter Philip (1907-70), American labor leader, born in Wheeling, WV. He began working in the steel mills of Wheeling at the age of 16; later he worked in various automobile plants in Detroit and attended Wayne University (now Wayne State University) there. Discharged by the Ford Motor Co. in 1932 for his trade union activities, he spent three years abroad studying labor conditions; for two years he worked in an automobile factory in Gorkiy, USSR (now Russia). Upon his return to the U.S. in 1935, Reuther joined local 174 of the United Automobile Workers of America (UAW) in Detroit. He became president of the local shortly thereafter and organized the first sit-down strikes in 1936. Reuther's union rapidly grew in power and influence, and in 1937 the General Motors Corp. recognized the UAW as principal bargaining agent. Later that year Reuther was injured during a unionizing effort at the Ford Motor Co.; Ford withheld recognition of the UAW until 1941. In 1942 Reuther was elected vice-president of the UAW, and in 1946 he became its president. The UAW had joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1939, and in 1952 Reuther was also named president of the CIO. Three years later he became president of the CIO division of the merged American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). In 1969, the year after the UAW withdrew from the AFL-CIO, Reuther was a leader in the organization of the Alliance for Labor Action, a merger of the UAW with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He served as president of the UAW until his death in an airplane crash in 1970. In addition to gaining respect from management for trade unions and combating Communist influence within unions, Reuther was known for his innovations in worker benefits. Under his leadership emphasis shifted from simple wage gains to such items as a guaranteed annual wage, profit sharing, pension plans, and more holidays. He was also active in the areas of civil rights, low-cost housing, health insurance, and control of air and water pollution.

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