On this day in 1981, Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 striking workers of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. In addition to being a terrible thing in itself, it marked open season on labor unions. Labor laws have pretty much not been enforced since then. It’s been a bit better under Democrats — but certainly not good.
There are those in the labor movement who welcome the coming of “right to work” laws. They think it may be what it takes to create a new kind of union — one that is backed by workers and takes care of their needs. Personally, I don’t see how the current status quo stops unions from re-imagining themselves. What’s more, it is hard not to see that unions haven’t been part of the problem.
Exhibit A in this regard is the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization itself. In the 1980 election, it endorsed Ronald Reagan. Now, it is true that Reagan had given the union some support during the Carter administration in its fight with the FAA. But did they really think that Reagan was a friend of any union?! It’s ridiculous on its face. And the union gave Reagan a great gift: allowing him to fire so many people all at once. What a big man! No one would ever question him again!
None of this means that I think the air traffic controllers should have been fired. Reagan was going to win that election regardless. But it does show that the union didn’t understand who its friends were. And that’s sad. I continue to wonder how it is that the power elite have managed to convince the workers of this nation that unions are somehow bad.
Regardless, it was a sad day 34 years ago.