Ben's Reviews > Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America

Collision Course by Joseph A. McCartin
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Jul 12, 2012


By the late 1970s, pro-market republicans were winning the rhetorical battle over public sector union organizing, leaving Democrats little room to stake out their own positions—those friendly to the unions were painted as fiscally irresponsible, those taking an anti-union line seemed to be aping the Republican position. The war on public sector unions came to a dramatic head in 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). The breaking of the strike was a tremendous loss for labor, as it “catalyzed a revival of strikebreaking that helped marginalize the strike as a feature of American labor relations.” Robbed of their most powerful bargaining tool, unions saw their strength greatly diminished in the wake of the PATCO strike. McCartin notes that while the strike “did not cause American labor’s decline, it acted as a powerful catalyst that magnified the effects of the multiple problems that beset American unions.” The weakening of the unions facilitated the redistribution of wealth toward financial elites that is a hallmark of neoliberal policy.
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