Walter Reuther (1907-1970) was discharged from the Ford Motor Co. in 1931 for union activism. He began to organize for the United Auto Workers and led a sit-down strike in Detroit in 1936, establishing the effectiveness of the tactic. He became president of the UAW in 1946. In 1948 he pushed General Motors to accept an "escalator" clause in its union contract, linking wages to the cost of living.
Reuther became president of the CIO in 1951 and vice president of the AFL-CIO in 1955. A socialist early in his life, he pursued a more radical agenda than AFL-CIO president George Meany and frequently feuded with his boss. He finally led the UAW out of the organization in 1968, largely due to deep personal and philosophical differences with Meany. Reuther died two years later in a plane crash.