Born On This Date In 1907: Walter Reuther

"Profits know no patriotism..."

Socialist and leader of United Auto Workers (UAW)

He built the benefits package that workers now take for granted, from health care to pensions. But his agenda was bigger than unionism.

Walter Reuther, the son of a trade union and socialist activist, was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, on 1st September, 1907. At sixteen he became an apprentice tool and die maker and three years later moved to Detroit.

In 1929 Reuther enrolled at Detroit City College to study law. He became president of the Social Service Club (the campus arm of the Socialist Party). While at college Reuther arranged for leading socialists such as Norman Thomas and Scott Nearing to speak at meetings.

Reuther joined the Ford Motor Company but his union activities resulted in him losing his job in 1933. Unable to find work during the Great Depression, Reuther left the United States and eventually found employment in an automobile factory in the Soviet Union. Unhappy with the lack of political freedom in the country, Reuther returned to the United States where he found employment at General Motors and became an active member of the United Automobile Workers (UAW).

Reuther remained active in the Socialist Party and in 1937 failed in his attempt to be elected to the Detroit City Council. However, impressed by the efforts by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to tackle inequality, he eventually joined the Democratic Party.

Reuther led several strikes and in 1937 and 1940 was hospitalized after being badly beaten by strike-breakers. He also survived two assassination attempts during this period although one attack left his right hand permanently crippled.

Read more about Walter Reuther.

Read Time magazine's Time 100 profile on Reuther.

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