Walter Reuther

Dick Meister: It's do or die for the United Auto Workers


By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

Historians invariably cite the sit-down strikes at the country's auto plants in the 1930s as a key to the spread of unionization throughout the automobile industry and throughout American industry generally.

The strikes helped establish the United Auto Workers Union – the UAW – as one of the country's most economically and politically powerful, progressive and influential organizations, and its president, Walter Reuther, as one of the country's important leaders.

But that was then, when the American automobile industry was virtually unchallenged by foreign automakers. Now U.S. automakers face heavy competition from Asian and German firms, especially from the firms that have opened plants in the United States. The steady growth of the non-union plants has been accompanied by a steady weakening of the UAW. The union's membership, once in the millions, has declined to 350,000. Read more »