"There is a Power in a Union" - Mountain Goats (John Darnielle)
Sorry for the radio silence yesterday. I was traveling to Colorado Springs -- home of Focus on the Family -- for a meeting. I am up early contemplating my lovely mountain view and trying not to think of how much craziness resides nearby.
I wanted to post about this yesterday, on the thirtieth anniversary of Ronald Reagan threatening to fire striking air traffic controllers -- a threat on which he followed through -- an event which many rightly see as a seminal moment in anti-union activity in the country. I think about the PATCO strike as the signal from the Reagan Administration that it was open season on unions -- a signal management was all too happy to heed. (Having said that, even at the time I thought the strike incredibly foolhardy and arrogant -- an invitation to get slapped by someone who was waiting for just such a moment.) But I think there is a slightly different lesson to be learned from this event than is subscribed to by most observers -- the PATCO episode showed the incredible resilience of unions and their appeal when the workers in question are allowed to organize without intimidation and coercion. Before Reagan was even out of office, the air traffic controllers who had either crossed the picket line during the strike or had been hired as replacement workers began to organize a new union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. NATCA has been an effective advocate for its members and has helped address issues of pay and working conditions that continued to be a concern for air traffic controllers after their first union was broken.
In other words, left to their own devices, workers will more often than not seek the power of collective representation. And this is why in the last few decades, the number of workers in the public sector who belong to unions has climbed, while representation in the private economy, where employer lawlessness is a sad fact of life, has plummeted to near insignficance.
And this explains why the Republicans are seeking to change this fact at both the state and federal level. The ability to crush all union power in the country is the path way to a scattered, politically incoherent, and ultimately impotent white working class. And why this battle in Wisconsin is huge.
I must head off to a meeting, but have more to say on this subject.
Please join in on this or anything else that is on your minds.