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January 09, 2014 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2014-01-09

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Labor Legacy

Jewish Influence from page 11

Jews helped to shape the UAW.

Mike Smith

Special to the Jewish News


he United Automobile Workers of America (UAW) marked its 75th anni-
versary in 2010. Although today it can no longer boast of having 1.5 million
members as it did in 1978, the UAW is still the most powerful labor union in
the automotive industry, and a union that has, perhaps, been the most influential in
American history. And, it was a union shaped by its Jewish members.
The UAW was established during the Depression, the worst economic period in
the history of America and the world. At its depths, more than 25 percent of the
American work force was unemployed, and people were desperate for work, food
and shelter. In South Bend, Ind., in August 1935, the UAW was formed as an affiliate
of the American Federation of Labor; a year later, it became an independent union
associated with the Congress of Industrial. From the beginning, the UAW had Jewish
The 30 years between 1890 and 1920 was the period of the greatest wave of immi-
gration to the United States from Italy, Germany, Poland, Russia and many other
European lands. Many Jews also immigrated to America during this era. Many, if not
most, of the immigrants to Detroit, including Jews, found work in the city's rapidly
growing automobile industry.
After the stock market crashed in 1929, America soon found itself in an unprec-
edented depression. In Detroit, thousands upon thousands of autoworkers lost their
jobs; the city itself had 50 percent
unemployment. It was under these
circumstances that the UAW was estab-
lished and grew into the most powerful
union in the nation, a union that Jews
helped build and lead, from the fac-
tory floor and local unions to the UAW
Headquarters in Downtown Detroit.
For one example, take Iry Bluestone.
Bluestone was born in New York in
1917. He earned a degree from City
College of New York and, while study-
ing in Europe, experienced firsthand the
Anschluss, the occupation and annexa-
Iry Bluestone
tion of Austria into Nazi Germany, in
1938. It was then that Bluestone decided
that a career in the labor movement was
the "best antidote to fascism:' his daughter Maura Bluestone said.
He joined the UAW in 1942 in New Jersey and soon came to the attention of labor
leader Walter Reuther, who brought him to Detroit in 1947 to join the UAW's General
Motors Department. After working closely with Reuther and other UAW leaders,
he was appointed director of the UAW's GM Department in 1970 and was elected
UAW Vice President in 1972. Bluestone retired from the UAW in 1980 and became
a professor at Wayne State University, a position he held until 1999. Bluestone was
universally recognized as a keen mind and labor intellectual, but he was also revered
for his decency and humanity. Former UAW President Douglas Fraser described him
as "pure gold:'
Another Jewish leader in the UAW during its heyday was Nat Weinberg, the union's
top researcher and bargainer for many years. He was born in New York City in 1914,
attended Brookwood Labor College in Katonah, N.Y., and received a bachelor's degree
from New York University in 1942.
Weinberg joined the UAW in 1947. Weinberg soon came to the attention of
Reuther, who named Weinberg the union's director of special projects and economic
analysis in 1957, a position he held until he retired in 1974. Along the way, Weinberg
developed a reputation as a great researcher, a keen mind and a very tough negotia-
tor. It was said about Weinberg that, if you gave him "a few hours, cigarettes and a
pot of coffee, he would figure a way to split a penny five ways." His skills were such
that he often worked as a consultant to the United Nations on international econom-
ics and labor.
Thousands of Jews have worked in the automotive business, and many worked in
assembly and parts factories. Moreover, many Jews became members of the UAW
and shaped the union's philosophy and policies. This is the story of Detroit in the
20th century. The city's factories were the melting pot of the workday, and Jews were
a prominent part of the story.

12 January 9 • 2014



Albert Kahn

He spent some time traveling in
Europe before returning to Detroit
in 1892 to become chief designer for
architects Mason and Rice, where he
worked until founding the Albert Kahn
Associates architectural firm in 1895.
The next year he married Ernestine
Krolik of Detroit. The couple would have
four children.
He designed his first factory in 1901
for the Boyer Machine Co. of Detroit,
Then he was hired to design a factory for
Burroughs Adding Machine Co.
Kahn built his first auto factory, the
Packard plant in Detroit, in 1903. Some
of the buildings still stand, a testament
to the first large use of reinforced con-
crete, a Kahn innovation.
Other factories followed: George
N. Pierce Plant, Buffalo, N.Y. (1906);
Grabowsky Power Wagon Factory,
Detroit (1907); Chalmers Motor Car Co.
plant, Detroit (1907); and Ford Motor
Co.'s Highland Park plant (1910) dubbed

Ford's Heir Apparent

from page 11

quickly through the Ford ranks. He
held managerial positions at offices
in California, Dearborn and Detroit
before he became assistant managing
director of Ford Argentina in Buenos
Aires — then managing director a
year later when his predecessor took
ill. In two years there, he helped turn
the affiliate around from a $100 mil-
lion loss to a $2 million profit.
After that, it was off to Hiroshima,
Japan, for several posts at Mazda,
leading up to his appointment as
president and CEO. Ford owned con-
trolling interest of Mazda at the time.
That performance earned Fields'
promotion to executive vice presi-
dent of Ford of Europe and CEO of
the company's Premier Automotive
Group, handling all activities of the

"the Crystal Palace which had
many windows and skylights, a
Kahn trademark.
He went on to build the
Dodge Brothers Co. plant
("Dodge Main") in Hamtramck
and a Hudson Motor Car Co.
plant in Detroit in 1910. The
next decades saw him design-
ing numerous Fisher Body
plants in Detroit as well as
his most important plant,
Ford's River Rouge Complex in
Dearborn, for many years the
largest industrial facility in the
All total, Kahn built about
50 major factory complexes;
that is, numerous buildings on
a single site.
He also built the General Motors
Building in 1922, the Fisher Building
in 1928 and several buildings on the
University of Michigan campus in Ann
In short, Albert Kahn Associates
becomes one of the largest and most
famous architectural firms in America.
By the 1920s, Kahn was the undisputed
champion industrial architect in the
He won numerous international
awards, including the Legion of Honor in
France and a special award in 1942 from
the American Institute of Architects.
One point of controversy marred his
career. Kahn continued to design facili-
ties for Henry Ford after Ford purchased
the Dearborn Independent newspaper,
which published a series of anti-Semitic
diatribes in the 1920s.

company's premium vehicle business,
including cars like Jaguar and Aston
Bill Ford Jr. then summoned
him from Europe to take over the
Americas organization during the
trying times beginning in 2005.
Fields has followed the same basic
philosophy throughout his Ford
career: "What's important is that
everybody is pulling together to
solve issues and not score points," he
maintains. "At the end of the day, it's
all about the company and not indi-
vidual success?'
Ford Motor Co. board member
Edsel Ford II said last month that
CEO Mullaly will be staying on
through the end of 2014, but accord-
ing to a Wall Street Journal report,
the auto giant has begun to push
Fields into a more public-facing role
as the transition approaches.

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