In a new video, Gavin Strassel, UAW Archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, shares historical items that belonged to UAW President, Leonard Woodcock.
Woodcock served as president from 1970 to 1977. He was elected by the International Executive Board after the untimely death of Walter Reuther in a plane crash on May 9, 1970. Only a few months after he assumed office, Woodcock led 400,000 autoworkers on a 67-day strike against General Motors. It was the first time the union had taken on GM in a quarter century. By the end of the strike, the UAW had won significant wage increases, better healthcare, an end to caps on cost-of-living allowances and the ability for workers to retire with a full pension after thirty years of service, regardless of their age.
After retiring from the UAW in 1977, Woodcock was appointed head of the United States Liaison Office in Bejing by US President Jimmy Carter.
“Leonard Woodcock was such a skilled negotiator as UAW president, U.S. President Carter made him the top diplomat for the United States and China,” Strassel says. “He was able to use his skills and work with Deng Xiaoping (China’s deputy prime minister) to bring the two countries together and normalize relations, in what was known as one of the biggest diplomatic feats of the 1970s.”
In the video, Strassel showcases a porcelain seal that hung above the front entrance of the US Liaison’s office in Bejing during Woodcock’s time there, as well as a US flag that flew outside the office until it closed.
“These items are important reminders of the global impact of the UAW,” Strassel says.