Victor Reuther lived in the shadow of his brother's fame, but he deserves recognition as one of the UAW's key organizers.
On June 3, Victor died of kidney failure in Washington. He was 92.
Along with his brothers, Walter and Roy, Victor helped organize a series of strikes in the 1930s and 1940s that transformed the UAW into one of the nation's most powerful unions.
Victor learned about unions and labor from his father, Valentine Reuther, an industrial worker and union organizer. As a child, Victor would practice making speeches with his brothers in the woods near their West Virginia home.
Reuther was raised on the belief that labor and politics were closely related. He eventually moved to Detroit, then Washington to become involved in both.
In his book, The Brothers Reuther and the Story of the UAW: A Memoir, he quoted his father: "Politics without economics has no orientation, and economics without politics has no engine to propel and guide it toward the welfare of the working man."
In 1936, Victor joined the UAW while working on the assembly line at the Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Co. in Detroit. Victor had joined the company with the express intention of organizing the workers.
After a fellow worker passed out from exhaustion on the assembly line, Victor led the workers' sit-down strike. It was successful, and the UAW used it as the model for the Flint, Mich., sit-down strikes that pushed General Motors to recognize the union.
"There was great discontent among industrial workers," Reuther said during an interview last year. "The Kelsey-Hayes strike came at an important time to organize workers. Striking led to widening greater support for unionization."
After the UAW organized Ford, GM and Chrysler, Walter was elected the union's president. Meanwhile, Victor repeatedly risked his life as the UAW expanded its influence. In subsequent strikes, he was beaten and tear-gassed. He survived an assassination attempt in 1949 when an unknown assailant fired a shotgun through the window of his house.
Victor suffered a gunshot wound to his jaw and right eye, but he was undeterred. He moved to Europe to help labor unions in the aftermath of World War II.
Victor began traveling the world, earning leadership positions with the Congress of International Organizations and the UAW International Affairs department. He received awards for his work in Venezuela, Sweden and the United States.
Even after his retirement in 1972, Victor Reuther continued his involvement with labor. During the late 1970s and '80s Reuther kept a full speaking engagement schedule.
Victor also proved willing to adopt controversial viewpoints late in life. In the 1980s, he vocally supported New Directions, a UAW splinter group that opposed the union's collaboration with the Big 3.
"Victor was a fearless and dynamic leader," said Sean McAlinden, vice president of research of the Center for Automotive Research and an expert on the UAW. "He was a huge part of American auto industry history. Over the years, Victor Reuther never changed to fit the market requirements. I think people respect him for that."