WALTER REUTHER: Working-Class Hero

He built the benefits package that workers now take for granted, from health care to pensions. But his agenda was bigger than unionism

Men with queasy stomachs had no place one afternoon last week on the overpass at the No. 4 gate of Henry Ford's great River Rouge plant." So began TIME's account of the Battle of the Overpass, the confrontation that made May 26, 1937, a red-letter day in labor history and brought to national attention a young United Auto Workers official named Walter P. Reuther.

That morning Reuther and his colleagues suspected the day's events could escalate into something historic as they prepared to hand out organizing leaflets (slogan: "Unionism, Not Fordism") to the plant's workers. Reuther had put on his Sunday...

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