On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member [11,345] of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who’d defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days. […]
Reagan had been backed by Wall Street in his run for the White House and they, along with right-wing Christians, wanted to restructure America and turn back the tide that President Franklin D. Roosevelt started — a tide that was intended to make life better for the average working person. […]
But Reagan could not have pulled this off by himself in 1981. He had some big help: The AFL-CIO.
The biggest organization of unions in America told its members to cross the picket lines of the air traffic controllers and go to work. And that’s just what these union members did. Union pilots, flight attendants, delivery truck drivers, baggage handlers — they all crossed the line and helped to break the strike. And union members of all stripes crossed the picket lines and continued to fly.
Reagan and Wall Street could not believe their eyes! Hundreds of thousands of working people and union members endorsing the firing of fellow union members. It was Christmas in August for Corporate America.
And that was the beginning of the end. Reagan and the Republicans knew they could get away with anything — and they did. They slashed taxes on the rich. They made it harder for you to start a union at your workplace. They eliminated safety regulations on the job. They ignored the monopoly laws and allowed thousands of companies to merge or be bought out and closed down. Corporations froze wages and threatened to move overseas if the workers didn’t accept lower pay and less benefits. And when the workers agreed to work for less, they moved the jobs overseas anyway.
And at every step along the way, the majority of Americans went along with this.