The PATCO saga - news from August 3-4, 1981 on the Air Traffic Controllers Strike and the Reagan White House reaction. Includes interviews with several key players both from the union and from Government.
February 24, 2011

Heading on a crash course with the nineteenth century.

As the current situation in Wisconsin becomes more and more a flashpoint for a class struggle, I'm reminded of the last big controversial strike that took place thirty years ago, when the specter of Union Busting reared its head.

A lot has been written about the famous PATCO strike of 1981 and the Reagan White House handling of it. Here are two broadcasts of the ABC News program Nightline from August 3rd and 4th 1981. August 3rd was the first official day of the strike.

Robert Poli (PATCO Pres.):”You have to understand, the 13,000 people who walked off their job this morning – 13,000 people all around this country who are not law breakers they’re pillars in the community. They’re members of all kinds of groups and respected in that area. We don’t want to be lawbreakers. The issue here is a survivable occupation for the Air Traffic Controller in this country. We’ve done everything we can; we’ve pleaded, we’ve begged, we’ve shown the people the problems that exist. We just want a realistic livelihood for the contributions that we make to the American economy and to the flying public. . . .”

Ted Koppel: “Forgive me for interrupting right away. I mean, you’re begging the question when you say you’re law abiding citizens. As of right now you’re not.”

Poli: “Well, we feel that the Government has an obligation to the Air Traffic Controllers and any employee that signs on with the Government. We feel that their obligation is to provide them with a livelihood so that they can reach a retirement age. That has not been done by them and the problems have not been addressed. Our people feel that the obligation of the Government has not been made to them either.”

The subject of Union Busting was often brought up and it was vehemently denied by those prosecuting the strikers. It's interesting to note that one of the prosecuting players for the Reagan Administration was none other than Rudy Giuliani.

The PATCO story didn't have a happy ending. Even though PATCO supported Reagan's candidacy in 1980 as the result of poor labor relations with the FAA under the Carter administration and Reagan's endorsement of the union and backing PATCO's struggle for better working conditions, which were in lousy shape going back to 1970, that didn't seem to matter much once Reagan was elected.

There goes that "had me under the bleachers" analogy again.

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