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Genora Johnson Dollinger; Pioneer Auto Union Leader

October 14, 1995|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Genora Johnson Dollinger, pioneering woman labor leader in the United Auto Workers Union who was the subject of two documentaries, has died. She was 82.

Mrs. Dollinger, who had lived in Los Angeles since 1967, died Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

In 1979, she was prominently featured in the documentary "With Babies and Banners: The Story of the Women's Emergency Brigade," which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film detailed her work as a young woman who organized the Women's Emergency Brigade in the landmark 1937 strike against General Motors in Flint, Mich.

She and other women stood off the Flint police, Pinkerton guards and industrial leaders at the gate of strategic Plant No. 4 where Chevrolet engines were made. Their maneuvering led to victory for the laborers and the development of the UAW. Mrs. Dollinger organized the union's women's auxiliary.

Her exploits were also described in a BBC documentary "The Great Sitdown Strike."

A few years after the landmark Flint strike, Mrs. Dollinger moved to Detroit, where she became the object of a lead-pipe attack when she headed a union committee investigating such beatings.

Born to a prominent family, Mrs. Dollinger rebelled against her chauvinist father by marrying Kermit Johnson, a laborer whose parents were foreign-born. He led the 1937 strike. During the strike, she stubbornly resisted efforts to be bought off by her uncle, a vice president of GM.

"I think I've always been independent," she told The Times in 1979. "I didn't care much for my father and I set out very early on to prove girls could do anything men could do."

Her early life was marred by tragedy as well as the union success. Her two small sons died in a traffic accident, and her marriage to Johnson ended because of her greater prominence in the union and resulting national recognition.

She later married Sol Dollinger, a professional fund-raiser she met in the union movement, and they had a son, Ronald.

In the 1960s, Mrs. Dollinger was development director of the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union. But after moving to Los Angeles, she led a quiet life, concentrating on sculpting and gardening.

"All of my life I never wanted to be in the spotlight," she said in 1979. "I have only wanted to work with people who needed help."

Last year, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Michigan Women's Historical Center in Lansing.

Mrs. Dollinger is survived by her husband, son and two grandchildren.

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