Devoted his life to the cause of worker’s rights and benefits, serving as president of the United Auto Workers Union from 1946 until his death in 1970.
Negotiated the first labor contracts that linked wages with the cost of living, the first long-term labor contracts, and agreements providing unemployment benefits, and employer-funded pension programs and medical insurance.
Walter Reuther was an hourly worker at heart, and his efforts on behalf of fellow workers resulted in agreements that forever changed the American workplace. Reuther came to Detroit at age 19 to work as a tool and die craftsman. After working a full day at a Ford Motor Company factory, he attended college classes at night school. During the 1930s, Reuther traveled around the world, spending almost two years working in an automobile factory in the Soviet Union. Returning to the United States, he became involved in trade union activities with a focus on preventing the spread of communism, which he had come to detest in the Soviet Union. Although hard-nosed bargaining — and even violence — are often associated with Reuther’s activities, he was also at the heart of many peaceful endeavors. He worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. to organize the highly successful 1963 Freedom March in Washington, and was an early supporter of President John F. Kennedy’s proposed Peace Corps. Reuther was also instrumental in applying pressure on the South African government to end Apartheid.