Former UAW Vice President Irving Bluestone died of heart failure on Nov. 17 at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 90.
“Irving Bluestone will be deeply missed by his brothers and sisters in the labor movement, as well as by civil rights leaders, health care activists, members of the academic community and progressives everywhere,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said. “He was a passionate fighter for working men and women everywhere, and his contributions to the cause of social justice will be remembered for many years to come.”
After graduating from City College of New York in 1937, Bluestone headed for Switzerland to do a year of postgraduate work at the University of Bern, hoping to become a teacher.
His 1938 trip to Europe was a turning point in his life. He was in Vienna when Hitler’s troops seized the country. A Jew, he immediately fled Austria and returned home to the United States. At that point, he changed his career plans, deciding to become a unionist because it was the “best antidote to fascism,” his daughter, Maura Bluestone, said.
Wanting to become a UAW member, Bluestone pursued a job at General Motors’ Hyatt Ball Bearing Division plant in Harrison, N.J., as a grinder operator and repairman.
He quickly became a union activist with UAW Local 511, serving as editor of the local union newspaper and chairman of the education and political action committees before being elected committeeman and then shop chair.
In 1945 UAW President Walter Reuther appointed Bluestone to the staff of Region 9A, where he serviced UAW local unions from Philadelphia to Massachusetts. He was named in 1947 to the General Motors Department staff where he coordinated the umpire section and performed general field service work.
In 1955 he was named as administrative assistant to Vice President Leonard Woodcock, director of the General Motors Department. From 1955 to 1961, Bluestone was involved in negotiations and contract administration with GM and aerospace companies.
Bluestone became Reuther’s administrative assistant in 1961 until he was named director of the General Motors Department in 1970. He replaced Woodcock who had become UAW president after Reuther’s death in 1970.
Bluestone was elected vice president at the 1972 UAW Constitutional Convention. He served in that position until his retirement in 1980.
That same year he realized an early dream when, at age 64, he joined the faculty of Wayne State University in Detroit as a professor of labor studies.
Besides participating in every set of GM contract negotiations from 1948 until 1980, Bluestone was heavily involved in community, state and national activities, and was an active member in the National Committee for Full Employment, Work in America Institute, NAACP, Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Michigan Quality of Work Life Council, Health Care Institute and National Trade Union Council for Human Rights.
“He was very much concerned about the union as a social movement,” said Alan Reuther, director of the UAW’s Legislative, Governmental and International Affairs Department in Washington, D.C.
Bluestone was a strong advocate for strategic partnerships between labor and management in the 1970s when he was a UAW vice president. He believed that employee input in strategic decisions can contribute to the success of the corporation. He also saw strategic partnerships as advancing the cause of economic democracy.
The UAW shares the loss of Brother Irving Bluestone and extends its profound sympathy to his family and friends.