Monday, February 25, 2008

Passages: Douglas Fraser, 1916-2008

Turning of a page in United Auto Workers History as visionary leader Douglas Fraser, UAW president during the troubled years of 1977-'83, passes away at age 91. (Photo courtesy of Wayne State University)

DETROIT — Ron Gettelfinger has presided over the United Auto Workers during one of the most painful chapters in the union's history. But without the contributions and leadership of Doug Fraser, particularly during the turbulent '70s and '80s, there might not be a UAW today.

Fraser, who was president of the UAW from 1977-'83, died Sunday at age 91. One of the most powerful and popular labor leaders in the country, he helped Chrysler win support for a government bailout in 1979 when the cash-poor automaker was near bankruptcy; later, the Scotland-born Fraser sat on the company's board of directors.

After decades of winning increasing perks and power from the auto companies, including better working conditions, improved pensions and comprehensive health care, Fraser presided over the UAW during a difficult economic period that saw the union surrender some of those hard-fought gains in an effort to help keep the Detroit manufacturers afloat.

Since his retirement from the UAW, Fraser — a high-school dropout — had served as a professor of labor studies at Detroit's Wayne State University.

What this means to you: In the 25 years since Fraser's retirement from the UAW, the union has seen its rank and file dwindle and member benefits be slashed. But the fact that there is still a union — and a U.S. auto industry — is due in no small part to Doug Fraser's vision and his diplomatic and negotiating skills. — Paul Lienert, Correspondent

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