DEARBORN, Mich. – The life of General Gordon Baker, Jr. was celebrated with a huge outpouring of many hundreds this past Saturday during a memorial at United Auto Workers Local 600 hall in Dearborn. Baker died May 18 at the age of 72. He was a lifelong revolutionary, a labor and human rights advocate loved by many for his warmth, kindness, and humanism.
Speaking at the event, United Auto Worker International President Bob King lauded Baker’s role in organizing a 1968 wildcat strike of thousands against the conditions faced by all workers, but especially the racist treatment directed at black workers at Chrysler’s Hamtramck Assembly Plant and the lack of black leadership within the UAW itself. Baker was fired as a result of that strike, but managed to get a job at another auto plant later.
King said the strike, organized by the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), “changed how African Americans were treated throughout industry and the UAW.” DRUM was a rank-and-file group left-wing black workers at Chrysler Corporation’s Hamtramck Assembly plant, formerly Dodge Main in Detroit.
“Whatever my level of progressiveness, a lot of it was created by my relationship with General. I personally and UAW institutionally, owe General Baker a great deal for challenging us.”
King noted that Baker and his wife Marian Kramer-Baker were a team, devoted to each other and to justice.
Michigan Welfare Rights leader Maureen Taylor talked of Baker’s 1965 refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army. A vehement opponent of the Vietnam war, Baker was the nation’s first African America to refuse induction. He sent the local draft board a blistering letter denouncing U.S. genocide at home and abroad against people of color.
UAW Vice-President Jimmy Settles said the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, meeting in Atlanta, (a meeting he flew out of to attend the memorial and would later fly back to) had moment of silence in honor of Baker.
As had many others, Settles too spoke of Baker’s love for people and in particular the children he came in contact with. “He wasn’t just a fighter for social change; he was a fighter for every little kid that came through his door.”
Photo: Gordon Baker, Jr. Courtesy of Barb Ingalls.