Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reagan's And Obama's Responses To Labor Action: A Stark Contrast

In August 1981, confronted by air-traffic controllers who threatened to go on strike due to wages, retirement benefits, long hours and dangerous stress levels, President Ronald Reagan's response was uncompromising:

They are in violation of the law, and if they do not return to their jobs within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated.

Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers and signaled his hostility to organized labor and the interests of working people. His policies have been carried on by the Bush administration, which recently stripped federal employees of collective bargaining rights.

Now workers from Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago have been occupying their factory after being told that the doors will shut in three days and they will lose all benefits and severance. President-elect Barack Obama's response:

The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned. I think they’re absolutely right and understand that what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

Notice the subtle difference in responses?

The workers in Chicago are in violation of the law, just as the air-traffic controllers were. But unlike Reagan, Obama realizes that there are greater issues at play. We should appreciate having an incoming president who is sympathetic to the problems of working people and their struggles to receive just compensation.

Photo: Striking PATCO air-traffic controllers, 1981, from NPR.


Tim Gunter said...

We finally elected a working man's and woman's president!

Jeff Tone said...

Tim, it is indeed refreshing to hear the president-elect speak sympathetically about laborers' interests.