American Vanguard (Paperback)
The United Auto Workers During the Reuther Years, 1935-1970
Wayne State University Press, 9780814332979, 624pp.
Publication Date: September 23, 2005
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The struggles and victories of the UAW form an important chapter in the story of American democracy. American Vanguard is the first and only history of the union available for both general and academic audiences. In this thorough and engaging narrative, John Barnard not only records the controversial issues tackled by the UAW, but also lends them immediacy through details about the workers and their environments, the leaders and the challenges that they faced outside and inside the organization, and the vision that guided many of these activists.
Throughout, Barnard traces the UAW's two-fold goal: to create an industrial democracy in the workplace and to pursue a social-democratic agenda in the interest of the public at large.
Part one explores the obstacles to the UAW's organization, including tensions between militant reformers and workers who feared for their jobs; ideological differences; racial and ethnic issues; and public attitudes toward unions. By the outbreak of World War II, however, the union had succeeded in redistributing power on the shop floor in its members' favor. Part two follows the union during Walter P. Reuther's presidency (1946-1970). During this time, pioneering contracts brought a new standard of living and income security to the workers, while an effort was made to move America toward a social democracy-which met with mixed results during the civil rights decade. Throughout, Barnard presents balanced interpretations grounded in evidence, while setting the UAW within the context of the history of the U.S. auto industry and national politics.