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Irving Julius Bluestone (January 5, 1917 – November 17, 2007) was chief negotiator for almost a half a million workers at General Motors in the 1970s, and an advocate of worker participation in management. He was born in Brooklyn, New York to Herman and Rebecca Chasman Bluestone, Lithuanian Jewish emigrants.
Intending to teach, he graduated from New York's City College in 1937 with a degree in German literature. He spent a year at the University of Bern in Switzerland, 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 to Bluestone, a Jew, reportedly out of fear of Nazi reprisal. "I became convinced", Bluestone would state 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, New Jersey and plunging into union activities. He became a protégé of Walter Reuther in 1946. 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. Bluestone was "the early advocate in the UAW" of what the industry called Quality of Worklife programs, in which workers were involved in "discussing workplace rules and improving the cars". After retiring, Irving Bluestone taught industrial relations at Wayne State University in Detroit.
He died on November 17, 2007 of heart failure at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts, aged 90, survived by his son Barry Bluestone and two daughters, and four grandchildren. His wife of 61 years, Zelda Fitch Bluestone, died in 2001.
The Irving Bluestone Papers at the Walter P. Reuther Library date from 1955-1998 and highlight his retirement years after 1980. The collection covers his time spent on labor councils, worker's programs, economic alliances, technology and manufacturing research, and Quality of Work Life and Joint Action programs. Included is correspondence, publications, speeches, and his educational work and research.
The Walter P. Reuther Library also houses the UAW Vice President's Office: Irving Bluestone Records which date from 1959-1980. Material in this collection consists of correspondence, minutes, reports, clippings, pamphlets and negotiations material related to Mr. Bluestone’s career in the UAW, especially the affairs of the General Motors Department.
- Hevesi, Dennis. "Irving Bluestone, 90, Head of Union Talks With G.M., Dies", The New York Times, November 17, 2007; accessed December 1, 2007.