600 and Moore

Ron Scott600 and Moore
detnews.com, Oct 29, 2009

It’s always been difficult for me to do obituaries and talk about the people whose lives have been so spirited, strident and strong in the past tense. Dave Moore is one of those people. He passed away today at the age of 97.

Maybe you’ve never heard of him. But you’ve certainly heard of that which he helped make possible for everyone who works in America.

After escaping a lynching in South Carolina in the 1920s, Dave Moore moved to Detroit and participated in the 1930 hunger strike 1930 hunger strike, in which several members of a group of displaced workers marched on the Ford Rouge plant to demand jobs and food. Several of them were killed, and to this day no one has been charged.

Dave Moore, who was the last hunger marcher, cried last year when I interviewed him as part of an oral history project for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. He cried for those individuals who were long dead, but whose martyrdom he helped give spirit to as a union-builder at what was to become UAW Local 600 at the Rouge Plant. Local 600 would, at its height, go on to become the largest local in America.

Moore worked at Ford Motor Company during the 1930s, like most African Americans, in the foundry, inhaling soot and blowing black residue out of his lungs at the end of the day. He joined such notables as Coleman A. Young, Quill Pettway, Lebron Simmons and Rev. Charles Hill in a fight to push the UAW to include African Americans on equal terms with their white brothers. In those tough days just before 1940, Henry Ford I had said that he would not allow his company to be unionized, against the best counsel of his son Edsel.

The historic “Battle of the Overpass” saw former UAW President Walter Reuther and several others were thrown over the bridge which arcs from one side of Miller Road in Dearborn to the Ford plant and onto hard concrete pavement. Dave Moore and other African Americans had been left out of the organizing because many of their white colleagues did not believe they should get equal pay for equal work. Black people, who had flocked to Detroit during the early $5-a-day offer, felt a sense of loyalty to the old entrepreneur. The same workers also desired better pay and safer conditions than the current conditions where they were nearly consumed daily by a blast furnace.

As the UAW moved to strike Ford Motor Company, Black workers locked themselves in the plant and were reviled as “strike breakers.” Moore, Young and others saw there an opportunity to unify Black and White workers in what otherwise would have been a failing effort. Rev. Charles Hill, Dave Moore and several other organizers called upon the great Paul Robeson to come and sing to Black workers in order to encourage them to come out of the plant and join the strike.

The rest is history. Black workers joined White workers in the streets outside of Ford Rouge and turned the tide of battle, thus making UAW Local 600 the pivotal win for the UAW in its battle with the auto company. Without Local 600, the UAW would never have become the union it became. And arguably, the labor movement would not have been as strong.

Dave Moore was truly an outstanding member of the Detroit community. Over the next 50 years, he worked as a labor leader who was ultimately pushed out of the union he helped to found after he was called a Communist by the union leadership. He and Coleman Young faced the venom of Joe McCarthy in the early 1950s, and Moore was subsequently exonerated and returned to his union position. He later worked for Congressman George Crockett and Mayor Young.

A man of Moore’s stature is not defined by the jobs he won or lost, or by his setbacks so common to those we call warriors. What is important in his life epic, when many ferociously attack unions, question their relevance and diminish many of the hard-won benefits that we all share, Dave Moore’s legacy reminds us that there are still things that we must fight for.

Speaking as an honoree at the National Lawyers Guild two years ago, Dave Moore reminded the throng of lawyers, legal workers and union members that it’s not about looking back to past fights, but understanding how the past will help us fight for the future. Because those in power never relinquish anything without a struggle.


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