Tag: Black History Month

UAW Black History Month Spotlight: Ruben Burks

Ruben Burks’ long history of unionism and advocacy for social justice started  in 1955 when he began working as an assembler at the former General Motors Fisher Body Plant 2 in Flint where he joined UAW Local 598. He steadily rose through the ranks of the local, serving in various leadership posts, including shop committeeperson and executive board member. In 1970, then-UAW President Walter Reuther appointedBurks to be an International representative in Region 1C. By 1989, he was the director of Region 1C and held that position for three terms. In 1998, he became the first African-American International UAW Secretary-Treasurer, ... Read more

UAW Black History Month Spotlight: Ben Gross

Ben Gross was not only a leader in the labor movement, but also an icon in the civil rights movement and in the fight for racially integrated housing. His accomplishments eventually led him to elected office and then positions within UAW leadership. When Gross passed away in 2012, the city of Milpitas held a memorial service and named a street in his honor. Below is an interview conducted with Ben Gross in 2011 by UAW staff, reflecting on his life and accomplishments: Ben Gross: 62 years of service and still growing strong After 90 years there is still a sparkle ... Read more

UAW Black History Month Spotlight: Marc Stepp

Marc Stepp  was moved to strive for social justice after what he saw during World War II. He was drafted into the Army right after beginning work at the Chrysler Highland Park Plant. In the Army  he saw the authoritarian regimentation of the military which led to his belief that unions are key to individuals having a strong voice in an organization. When he returned to Chrysler, he began years of devotion to union ideals and held numerous leadership positions in UAW Local 490. From 1974 to 1989, he served as vice president of the UAW Chrysler Department. After negotiating ... Read more

UAW Black History Month Spotlight: Nelson “Jack” Edwards

February is Black History Month, and we’re taking a look back on the contributions of African-American leaders within the UAW like Nelson “Jack” Edwards. Jack Edwards would eventually be called Walter Reuther’s “point man for civil rights.” The road to that designation was filled with dedication to civil rights and the UAW for many years. His achievements for workers are remembered because of the improvements he won at the negotiating table for foundry working conditions and safety equipment. He helped establish the UAW’s Independents, Parts and Suppliers Council, and later became the council’s director. From 1962 to 1970, he served ... Read more

Unions and the Fight for Civil Rights

The following article appeared in the Detroit Free Press and was written by UAW Vice President and Director of the National Ford Department, Jimmy Settles. As we celebrate Black History Month, it is important to remember the historical importance of organized labor to black workers and their families, and unionism’s continued relevance today. It was once legal to discriminate against minorities in hiring and wage equity. Even when it became illegal to discriminate against minorities in the workplace, bias against minorities was widely practiced and tolerated. Unions were at the forefront of the battle fighting for equal wages and an ... Read more

Remembering the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Today is an important date in civil rights history. Eighty-nine African-Americans, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, voluntarily turned themselves in to authorities in Montgomery, Alabama, on Feb. 22, 1956, after being indicted under a 1921 law “prohibiting conspiracies that interfered with lawful business.” The statute, designed to break trade union action, outlawed boycotts against businesses without “just cause.”  UAW President Walter Reuther was an avid supporter of civil rights at a time when people didn’t always speak out in support.  Reuther was later a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the UAW supported the movement in ... Read more

UAW Black History Month Spotlight: Marc Stepp

Marc Stepp  was moved to strive for social justice after what he saw during World War II. He was drafted into the Army right after beginning work at the Chrysler Highland Park Plant. In the Army  he saw the authoritarian regimentation of the military which led to his belief that unions are key to individuals having a strong voice in an organization. When he returned to Chrysler, he began years of devotion to union ideals and held numerous leadership positions in UAW Local 490. From 1974 to 1989, he served as vice president of the UAW Chrysler Department. After negotiating ... Read more

UAW Black History Month Spotlight: Ben Gross

Ben Gross Gross became a UAW member in 1949 when he joined UAW Local 560 at Ford  Motor Co. in Richmond, California, and began a 62-year long affiliation with the UAW that included  a string of groundbreaking positions. In 1950, he became the first African-American elected to the local’s bargaining committee. Four years later, as chair of the local’s housing committee, he helped create the Sunnyhills cooperative development in Milpitas, California, the first labor-sponsored, planned, interracial community in the United  States. It was especially noteworthy in a city that, according to U.S. Census data from 1960, was 94 percent white, ... Read more

UAW Black History Month Spotlight: Lillian Hatcher

Lillian Hatcher World War II was the start of Lillian Hatcher’s many years fighting for social justice. While doing defense work at Briggs Manufacturing in Detroit, she noticed that African-American women were passed over for promotions to riveter positions. Determined to do something about it, she joined UAW Local 742 and the Double Victory Club, an African-American group that advocated for equal rights in the war industries. She eventually was promoted to a riveter position. From there, she won election to Local 742’s executive board and soon after was appointed an International representative with the UAW’s newly formed Women’s Bureau, ... Read more