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THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN DETROIT: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor by Nelson Lichtenstein Kirkus Star

THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN DETROIT: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor


Pub Date: Nov. 22nd, 1995
Publisher: Basic

Labor historian Lichtenstein (Univ. of Virginia) offers United Auto Workers president Reuther's life as a microcosm of the rise and fall of American unionism. The son of a socialist, working-class German immigrant who organized brewery workers in Wheeling, W. Va., Reuther (1907-70) was even born on Labor Day eve. A skillful tool-and-die maker, he would end up following in his father's footsteps on a national scale, rising through the organizing ranks to become a major power in the budding UAW and eventually its longest-serving and most dynamic president. Reuther and his brothers, Victor and Roy, were at the heart of one of the most progressive and spirited of American unions during the Depression and WW II eras. Lichtenstein tells Reuther's story intelligently and engagingly, from his visit with Victor to the Soviet Union in the early 1930s through the brutal battles to organize in the auto industry, Waiter's inventive ideas on using the industry in the war effort, the clashes within the union during the '50s witch hunts, Walter's role in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, and the painful schisms in both the labor movement and the nation over the Vietnam war, about which Reuther was unable to express his misgivings for fear of losing LBJ's favor. Especially interesting is Lichtenstein's description of the way in which the Reuthers worked around the multitude of ethnic cliques in order to create a unified labor group. This is a balanced biography in the best sense of the word, highlighting Reuther's magnificent achievements while not stinting in its analysis of his political and personal failures. The author is particularly good at relating his protagonists' actions to the larger historical picture, with the result that Reuther emerges as a man of his era as well as one who stood above it. A major biography of an important figure in American history.