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Irving Bluestone, negotiator for UAW in '70s GM strikes

Irving Bluestone was a protégé of Walter P. Reuther. Irving Bluestone was a protégé of Walter P. Reuther. (new york times file/1979)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dennis Hevesi
New York Times News Service / November 27, 2007

NEW YORK - Irving Julius Bluestone, chief negotiator for more than 400,000 workers at General Motors in the 1970s and an advocate of worker participation in management, died on Nov. 17 in his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 90.

The cause was heart failure, his son, Barry, said.

A protégé of Walter P. Reuther, longtime president of the United Automobile Workers, Mr. Bluestone was vice president of the UAW's General Motors department from 1970 to 1980. In addition to leading GM negotiations, he led strikes at individual plants.

Douglas A. Fraser, the union president from 1977 to 1983, said Mr. Bluestone brought to the table a scholar's knowledge of the economy and a detailed understanding of automating.

"Unlike the rest of us, who tended to be screamers, he had tremendous patience with management," Fraser said. "I used to get impatient with his patience."

Mr. Bluestone was "the early advocate in the UAW" of what the industry called Quality of Worklife programs, Fraser said, believing "that if workers were part of the decision-making process it would be good for the union, the individual, and the company."

The programs involved workers in discussing workplace rules and improving the cars.

Mr. Bluestone was born in Brooklyn, a son of Herman and Rebecca Chasman Bluestone, Lithuanian immigrants.

Besides his son, a noted political economist who lives in Cambridge, Mass., Mr. Bluestone leaves two daughters, Maura, of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., and Karen, of Brookline; and four grandchildren. His wife of 61 years, the former Zelda Fitch, died in 2001.

Intending to teach, Mr. Bluestone graduated from City College in 1937 with a degree in German literature. He spent a year at the University of Bern, where he bought a bicycle for $2 and toured Europe. He became aware of the Nazi terror when a priest to whom he had shown a letter of introduction refused to speak for fear of reprisal because he was Jewish.

"I became convinced," Mr. Bluestone said in 1970, "that only a strong labor movement can preserve democracy. The first thing that Hitler did was to destroy the labor parties in Germany."

Mr. Bluestone returned to the United States, landing a job at a GM plant in Harrison, N.J., and plunging into union activities. At a union convention in 1946, Reuther took notice of him.

Mr. Bluestone became a proponent of the union's support for the civil rights movement and its alliance with the United Farm Workers, led by Cesar Chavez, to organize migrant workers.

After retiring, Mr. Bluestone taught industrial relations at Wayne State University in Detroit.

He and his wife moved to the Boston area when he was 82.

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