PATCO: The Strike That Changed American Labor

Monday, October 17, 2011

President Reagan with William French Smith making a statement to the press regarding the air traffic controllers strike (PATCO) from the Rose Garden on August 3, 1981. (White House Photo Office/Wikimedia Commons)

In recent months there has been a resurgence of labor protests across the United States. From Ohio to Wisconsin, union members are taking to the streets once more. Yet despite this apparent resurgence, the power of American unions has declined significantly in recent decades. Today The Takeaway traces it all back to August 1981, when nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers went on strike creating a standoff with Ronald Reagan that ended when he fired the majority of them and de-certified their union, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. 

Joseph A. McCartin is a professor of history at Georgetown University. He explores the PATCO strike and its aftermath in his new book, "Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America." Ron Palmer is one of the air traffic controllers who lost his job during the strike in 1981.

Comments [3]

This is just one of the many things Reagan did which really set up the country for the recovery that happened after that disastrous bout of inflation.

Oct. 18 2011 01:29 PM
Richard McIntosh from San Jose CA

The decline of American Labor was indeed hastened by the PATCO strike. It clearly is a historical marker that can used to define a drop off in Union memebership, the decline of the middle class and the full impact of misguided conservative leadership.

Oct. 17 2011 05:00 PM

The decline of unions was not due to PATCO but, rather, the natural occurrence of Carter's deregulation and the free market.

The whole PATCO premise is BS--a lie that's been told for 30 years by union bosses and their sycophantic followers.

Oct. 17 2011 12:10 PM

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