Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Day the Middle Class Died

From Daily Kos:

On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member 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.

It was a bold and brash move. No one had ever tried it. What made it even bolder was that PATCO was one of only three unions that had endorsed Reagan for president! It sent a shock wave through workers across the country. If he would do this to the people who were with him, what would he do to us?

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. The rich hated paying better wages and providing benefits. They hated paying taxes even more. And they despised unions. The right-wing Christians hated anything that sounded like socialism or holding out a helping hand to minorities or women.

Reagan promised to end all that. So when the air traffic controllers went on strike, he seized the moment. In getting rid of every single last one of them and outlawing their union, he sent a clear and strong message: The days of everyone having a comfortable middle class life were over.

More here.

I think this shift was actually happening as far back as the late 60s--see Jefferson Cowie's amazing book "Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class" for the full story. But Michael Moore has it more or less right in the linked essay when he names Reagan's firing of PATCO strikers as the watershed event making it all official.

I think it also really warped a lot of minds from my generation who were coming of age and too young to know any better. Unions made the middle class in this country, but a seemingly huge percentage of my age group never got the chance to understand that, and, to this very day, express utterly irrational and bizarre ideas about labor unions. I mean, there's just no common sense discussion about this topic with Gen Xers. To them, unions are the devil. Because Reagan is God.

And now America sucks.