DECEMBER 19, 1949
HYDE PARK, Sunday—Walter Reuther, at the testimonial dinner given to him in New York on Friday night, was the guest of two organizations, the Workers Defense League and the "Reunion of Old Timers," a labor fraternity of people who remember the hard days in the past which led to the present. The Workers Defense League, though it is not made up solely of people in the labor movement, has fought for the rights of labor and of the downtrodden not only in our country but in other areas of the world. It was instrumental, for example, in organizing the sharecroppers. Today it is studying and reporting on forced labor and slavery throughout the world.
I was naive enough, when the subject first came up in the United Nations, to think that slavery was a thing of the past. I knew, of course, that there were probably a few rarely heard of spots in the world where some people might still be practically slaves. But if anyone had asked me whether slavery existed in any of the so-called civilized countries, I would have said "no." And I would have been all wrong!
The league's Clendenin award, which was given to Mr. Reuther Friday night, was so named because it was in David L. Clendenin's home and through his gifts to the movement that it became possible to give this recognition once a year to an individual who had rendered distinguished service to democracy and to greater justice for human beings anywhere in the world. Walter Reuther must have been very proud of the things that were said about him, particularly in view of the people who said them. To have Senator Lehman, Governor Bowles and Philip Murray, through his representative, David McDonald, as well as Walter White and Secretary of Labor Tobin voice their respect and admiration in such glowing terms must mean a great deal to a young labor leader, especially one who with his brother, Victor, has been through a very great and trying emotional experience during the past year.
I shall never understand why the Detroit police were unable to find a reason for bringing the FBI in to work with them in their efforts to discover who shot Walter and Victor Reuther. It seems to me that, until we know, no worker in liberal causes who is accomplishing anything can be really safe. To these two men who were the victims, the strain which they feel, not for themselves but for their families, must even now be hard to bear. The fact that they go on fearlessly along the path that they have laid out for themselves is an inspiring and courageous sight.
Mr. Reuther's speech made a deep impression on me. Having just returned from London, where he helped form an anti-Communist international federation of labor unions, he said many things about the world situation which we need to remember. First and foremost was that democracy has to prove itself, and that each individual, and not the government, is responsible for that proof. It was inspiring to listen to Walter Reuther, and I hope that everyone present wished him good luck as fervently as I did and prayed for his leadership to grow in the years to come.