Walter Reuther Quote Collection

Walter Reuther was the visionary president of the UAW who led the union through some of its toughest battles, greatest victories, and largest expansions. Throughout his career, he was renowned as a powerful public speaker. Some of his best quotes are collected here on uaw.org:

Since all the workers in the industrial community get the benefits of these services performed by the union, made possible by the union, we believe that since all the workers share in the services all the workers ought to share in the cost of providing those services.
—Walter Reuther

Management has no divine rights.  Management has only functions, which it performs well or poorly.  The only prerogatives which management has lost turned out to be usurpations of power and privilege to which no group of men have exclusive right in a democratic nation.
1948

There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.
UAW Constitutional Convention 1970

There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow man.  There is no greater contribution than to help the weak.  There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.
– date unknown

There is no power in the world that can stop the forward march of free men and women when they are joined in the solidarity of human brotherhood.
– 1970 UAW Convention, April 1970

Our membership are the strength of the UAW, and the membership and the families of our members, they are the purpose of the UAW. And in the years ahead, this union must remain true to its commitment to the welfare and the well-being of our rank and file. This union is not about Solidarity House; it is not about your local union headquarters; this union is about the men and women that we represent, and behind them their families.
– 1970 UAW Convention, April 1970

I think we, all realize that we live in a very troubled world. Collective bargaining, as we know it, does not take place in a vacuum. Our members do not live in a vacuum; they live in a real world, a world filled with all kinds of challenges, all kinds of changes, and all kinds of crises.
– 1970 UAW Convention, April 1970

We in the UAW have been in the forefront of every basic struggle in the country, and we have learned some very simple, fundamental truths; that you cannot solve a human problem by pitting one human being against another human being. We have learned that the only way you can solve human problems is to get people to join hands and to find answers to those problems together. And it’s for this reason that we reject the voices of extremism in America, whether they be white or black; for there are no separate answers. There are no white answers to the problems, there are no black answers; there are only common answers that we must find together in the solidarity of our common humanity.
– 1970 UAW Convention, April 1970

Wage increases are no longer the major issue in the dispute which is holding up our progress toward the goals of full employment, full production and full consumption.  The major issue is now prices.
– The National Hour – NBC – Feb 10., 1946

We want, and we are fighting for, an increase in real wages – an increase in purchasing power.  We want wages that will buy more food, more clothes, better housing – more of the good things of life that we need for ourselves, our wives and our children.
– The National Hour – NBC – Feb 10., 1946

If you’re not big enough to lose, you’re not big enough to win.
– date unknown

Profit sharing in the form of stock distributions to workers would help to democratize the ownership of America’s vast corporate wealth which is today appallingly undemocratic and unhealthy.  The Federal Reserve Board recently published data from which it is possible to estimate the degree of concentration in the ownership of publicly traded stock held by individuals and families as of December 1962. Preliminary analysis of these data indicates that, despite all the talk of a “people’s capitalism” in the United States, little more than one percent of all consumer units owned approximately 70 percent of all such stock.  Fewer than 8 percent of all consumer units owned approximately 97 percent—which means, conversely, that the total direct ownership interest of more than 92 percent of America’s consumer units in the corporation-operated productive wealth of this country was approximately 3 percent.  Profit sharing in a form that would help to correct this shocking maldistribution would be highly desirable for that reason alone.… If workers had definite assurance of equitable shares in the profits of the corporations that employ them, they would see less need to seek an equitable balance between their gains and soaring profits through augmented increases in basic wage rates. This would be a desirable result from the standpoint of stabilization policy because profit sharing does not increase costs. Since profits are a residual, after all costs have been met, and since their size is not determinable until after customers have paid the prices charged for the firm’s products, profit sharing as such cannot be said to have any inflationary impact upon costs and prices.
– Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Feb. 20, 1967

The breakdown in collective bargaining in recent years is due to the difficulty of labor and management trying to equate the relative equity of the worker and the stockholder and the consumer in advance of the facts….  If the workers get too much, then the argument is that that triggers inflationary pressures, and the counter argument is that if they don’t get their equity, then we have a recession because of inadequate purchasing power. We believe this approach (progress sharing) is a rational approach because you cooperate in creating the abundance that makes the progress possible, and then you share that progress after the fact, and not before the fact.  Profit sharing would resolve the conflict between management apprehensions and worker expectations on the basis of solid economic facts as they materialize rather than on the basis of speculation as to what the future might hold…. If the workers had definite assurance of equitable shares in the profits of the corporations that employ them, they would see less need to seek an equitable balance between their gains and soaring profits through augmented increases in basic wage rates. This would be a desirable result from the standpoint of stabilization policy because profit sharing does not increase costs. Since profits are a residual, after all costs have been met, and since their size is not determinable until after customers have paid the prices charged for the firm’s products, profit sharing as such cannot be said to have any inflationary impact upon costs and prices…. Profit sharing in the form of stock distributions to workers would help to democratize the ownership of America’s vast corporate wealth.
– Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Feb. 20, 1967

Walter Reuther was being shown through the Ford Motor plant in Cleveland recently.  A company official proudly pointed to some new automatically controlled machines and asked Reuther: “How are you going to collect union dues from these guys?”  Reuther replied: “How are you going to get them to buy Fords?”
– Nov 1954 UAW-CIO conference report published in Jan. 1955

The giant corporations are getting more than their share, they’re getting a disproportionately large share. And because they are keeping more than their proper share, this is creating a serious imbalance out of which unemployment and recession is developing.
– Mike Wallace Show, Jan 25, 1958

Well, I’m not sure what Reutherism is, but I can tell you what I believe. I believe to begin with, that free labor and free management have a great deal more in common than they have in conflict.

And I believe that freedom is an indivisible value, that you can’t have free labor without free management, and that we both need to learn to work and cooperate together to preserve our free society in a free world.
– Labor and the OPA – June 1, 1946

We believe that free men, free labor, free management, working together within free government, in a free economic system, have the glorious opportunity of cooperating in the creating and the sharing of economic abundance. We believe that this is the first time in the history of human civilization that we can solve man’s economic and material needs: food and clothing. And we can facilitate the growth of every human being, as a social being, as a cultural being, as a spiritual being.
– Labor and the OPA – June 1, 1946

Give England planes and there will be no need to give her men.
– Dec 28, 1940 regarding turning auto plants into aircraft manufacturing plants prior to WWII.

The time is short.  I urge you to raise your voice.  We must be heard. We must be heard now.
– Labor and the OPA – June 1, 1946

It is important that the people of America know the truth so that they can differentiate between fact and fiction.
– Labor Day Broadcast – Sept. 1, 1958

We have been saying that there are three basic reasons why we support civil rights.  First we support it as a matter of simple justice.  As a matter of human decency.  As a matter of dignity and as a matter of basic morality.  Secondly, we fight for civil rights to make them universal… civil rights and human freedom are indivisible.  You cannot have those things unto yourself.  You can be free only as your neighbor his free.  You can be free only as you share freedom with the people you live with.  Hitler taught us that when he jeopardized the freedom of the smallest country in the world, he jeopardized our freedom.
– 48th Annual NAACP Convention – June 26, 1957

The struggle between freedom and tyranny is not an old fashioned struggle for geography.  This is a struggle for the hearts and minds of the people.
– 48th Annual NAACP Convention – June 26, 1957

We want an America in which every citizen is equal when he walks into the polling place to cast his ballot.  We want an America in which every child has educational opportunity, an America in which every citizen has an equal job opportunity, equal rights to the use of all public facilities, the right to live in a decent neighborhood, in a decent house.
– 48th Annual NAACP Convention – June 26, 1957

What we need to do is to keep the faith. Keep the faith in ourselves. And when the going is rough, as it will be, let us remember that the test of one’s convictions is not how did you behave, how did you stand up when it was convenient and comfortable.  The test of one’s convictions is do you stand up for the things that you believe when it takes courage?  Do you stand up in the face of adversity, in the face of controversy?  That’s why when the going is rough, always remember that there are millions of us, and that together we can move mountains, and that together we can solve this problem and make America in the image of what it really stands for.
– 48th Annual NAACP Convention – June 26, 1957

Labor has to make progress with the community, and not at the expense of the community… We are not fighting for more dollars… but we are fighting for more purchasing power. We get a wage on one hand, and it is taken away by a higher price increase on the other, we have made no progress. We have merely accelerated the speed of the economic merry-go-round. Our basic fight is for basic purchasing power; dollars that will buy things.
Senator Robert A. Taft debate with Walter Reuther – CBS Broadcast, April 11, 1948

Education is the golden key that unlocks the potential of human growth.
– date unknown

Our fight is essentially a fight to make democracy work.  Democracy is not something that is abstract.  We have the practical job as organized labor, as the vanguard of the democratic progressive forces of this nation, of forging the weapons with which we are going to fight and the tools with which we are going to build.  Nobody else is going to do the job that must be done unless we in the American labor movement give leadership and directions in that struggle. 
– 11th UAW-CIO Convention, Nov. 9, 1947

We are heading for trouble in America.  This phony prosperity the newspaper editorials talk about is going to explode one of these days, and we are going to wind up in another depression with mass unemployment and all of the other evils of human insecurity and suffering.

We are heading for trouble for the simple reason that big business and monopoly industry are robbing the American public by high prices and inflation, and they are milking the most scandalous profits out of our people that have ever been known in the history of the nation.  Prices and profits are up in the stratosphere, and purchasing power and real wages are being depressed more every day.  Unless we get some balance in this economic machine of ours we are hell-bent for another depression.
– 11th UAW-CIO Convention, Nov 9., 1947

We have to organize the unorganized.
– 11th UAW-CIO Convention, Nov 9., 1947

What is the labor movement all about?  The kind of labor movement we are building in the CIO is not a labor movement committed to a nickel-in-the-pay envelope kind of philosophy; it is a labor movement that says that we have to mobilize workers in the economic field and then apply that power to the struggle in the political field as citizens, and to the consumers field as organized consumers.

We are building a labor movement, not to patch up an old world so you can starve less often and less severely; we are building the kind of labor movement that will remake the world so that the working people will get benefits of their labor.  That is the kind of fight we are making.
– 11th UAW-CIO Convention, Nov 9, 1947

It’s the old game. If you’ve got too much they give you some more; if you’ve got too little they take some away from you.  That is the trouble with America and that is what we are going to change.  It is the old double standard.

Oh, they give you pious speeches around the collective bargaining table about how the UAW is demanding unreasonable things, fantastic things, and the guys who sit there on the side of the table, in the smug security of $300,000 bucks a year, look down their noses and say, ‘Here you come again with some more fantastic demands.’ It is the old double standard in America.  That is wrong and we are going to fight like hell until we change it.
– 11th UAW-CIO Convention, Nov 9, 1947

Labor is not fighting for a larger slice of the national pie – labor is fighting for a larger pie.
– The New Republic, Vol. 114 (1946)

When you sit down and bargain with management and the boss knows you have five or ten million dollars in the international treasury strike fund ready to back you up, it makes a hell of a difference.
You can’t do an effective job in collective bargaining, you can’t be strong collective baragaining-wise unless you are in a financial position to back up your demands.

And so we need a defense fund earmarked in a special bank account, not one penny to be spent for organizers or anything else, every penny to be spent for strike purposes only.
– 11th UAW-CIO Convention, Nov. 9, 1947

 

The strength of our Union is the men and women in the ranks. With teamwork in the leadership and solidarity in the ranks there is no power in the world that can stop the kind of a movement that we have.  The irresistible power that we will have can overcome all of the obstacles.  Let us demonstrate the power, the good sense, to pound out a program and put our house in order.  I am confident that together we can work and fight and make our contribution in America and in the world toward the building of a better tomorrow, a new world based upon peace, plenty, freedom, and the brotherhood of man.
– 11th UAW-CIO Convention, Nov. 9, 1947

We have the job of making our people realize, as I have said many times over, the relationship between the bread box and the ballot box.  We have to make our people realize that in the kind of complex economy in which we live, the surest way to guarantee that your ice box will be filled with good food is to see that the ballot box is filled with good votes on Election Day.

We have to mobilize for an all-out political fight (in 1948). And this not something that you put on the bottom of the agenda in your local unions; this goes smack at the top of the agenda of every union meeting.  It is not a side issue you get to when everything else is completed; it is the top priority issue in the year ahead.  We have to do a job of mobilizing our political power to clean house in Congress (in 1948).
11th UAW-CIO Convention, Nov. 9, 1947