Current President of the UAW, R.J. Thomas, was born in East Palestine, Ohio. He left college to work and help support his family working in a number of automobile plants. He soon became active in the efforts to mobilize the automobile industry against the GM empire. He later became president of Chrystler local 7 when it became affiliated with the AUW. In 1937 he lead the Chrysler sit-down strike and was elected vice president of the UAW. That same year president Homer Martin was driven out of his seat in the presidency and Thomas replaced him.
Walter Reuther was born September 1, 1907 in Wheeling, West Virginia. His father was a German immigrant. Both his father and grandfather were Socialists, and believed in fighting for worker’s rights. Reuther’s dream from an early age was to work in a factory glass shop. Through apprenticeships, he became an excellent tool and die cutter, and got a job at Wheeling Corrugated, leaving high school early. He worked there until 1927, when he moved to Detroit. Reuther briefly worked at Briggs, a body shop, before proving his skill to the dubious skilled trades foreman. He began work at Ford’s Highland Park factory in April 1927, but was transferred to The Rouge Factory six months later. He was sent to help build a Ford factory in the Soviet Union in the late 1920’s, but was let go in 1932. Ford records maintain he quit voluntarily, but Reuther said it was because of his increasing visible socialist activities. After this, he and his brothers went to work in another factory in the Soviet Union, from 1933-35. When he returned to the United States, he became president of a small Detroit west side local of the UAW. While there were only approximately 100 members, the local represented about 100,000 workers in nearby plants. He was a key organizer of the Kelsey-Hayes Strike. Reuther’s most striking labor victory so far, came in the form of the so-called “Battle of the Overpass.” Reuther and Richard Frankensteen (a member of the international executive board) were among the key strategizers in what would become one of the most well-documented attacks on union leaders by factory owners as of yet.
Walter Reuther was appointed to be head of the General Motors department of the UAW by President RJ Thomas, earlier this year, in May 1939. Reuther continues to be a strong and ardent union organizer for the UAW.