Since March 8 2000, Online For Class and Climate Justice
Week In Review January 27
by Bill Onasch
Federal employees are highly unionized—but Federal strikes are forbidden by law. The last time this oppression was seriously challenged was during Reagan's first year in the White House in 1981.
One of the few unions that endorsed Reagan in the 1980 election was the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). But they got no quid for their pro from this former union president. Reagan was even tougher than his Democrat predecessor Jimmy Carter. With negotiations stalled, PATCO, convinced they could not be quickly replaced, decided to launch an “illegal” strike.
Reagan immediately retaliated with an ultimatum—any one remaining on strike after 48 hours would be fired. Only about ten percent of PATCO members obeyed Reagan's order; about 13,000 were discharged and disqualified from future Federal employment.
If the unionized pilots, citing palpable safety issues, had shut down the airlines due to lack of experienced traffic controllers a negotiated settlement saving and improving strikers' jobs would have been likely. But the only craft that expressed a willingness to honor PATCO picket lines was the flight attendants—and they were not going to wag the dog.
PATCO's ultimate destruction was an important turning point in U.S. class struggle. There were some proud moments such as a Solidarity Day march that attracted a half-million workers to the nation's capital. But, with a few honorable exceptions, the top union bureaucracy didn't build on that momentum. As John L Lewis once remarked about an earlier generation, the labor movement resembled the tale of the lions being led by asses.
While Federal workers are barred from striking the central government is free to renege on labor agreements and lock out their employees. There was hardly a peep in the media when Trump slashed a negotiated cost-of-living raise due hundreds of thousands of workers. In an effort to force the Democrats to pay for a Wall on the Mexican border 800,000 Federal employees were either locked out or forced to work for five weeks with pay deferred.
In Popular Mechanics I ran across this statement by Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson speaking at an MLK Holiday gathering,
“Almost a million workers are locked out or being forced to work without pay. Others are going to work when our workspace is increasingly unsafe. What is the Labor Movement waiting for? Go back with the Fierce Urgency of NOW to talk with your Locals and International unions about all workers joining together --To End this Shutdown with a General Strike. We can do this. Together. Si se puede. Every gender, race, culture, and creed. The American Labor Movement. We have the power.”
Often what goes around comes around. The successor union to PATCO formed in 1987—the National Air Traffic Controllers Association—was a leading agitator against the partial lockout and total withholding of pay. They made the point that these attacks added stress to an already high tension job. Controllers started calling in sick. When major airports started shutting down flights due to lack of controllers Friday is when Trump caved.
At least the Federal employees will now finally get paid. While they will be made whole for wages owed whether they worked or not many will owe interest for borrowing through their credit card or the payday loan sharks just to survive. Mostly overlooked are low-wage contract workers, such as janitors and food service, who were simply off without pay.
What is remarkable about Trump's attack is the 800,000+ victims were not his primary target. They were hostages to force the Democrats to fund the Wall. But it wasn't the Speaker of the House who caved. She told Trump he was no longer welcome to use the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union Address as long as the shutdown continued. The puffed up strongman was being treated more like Rodney Dangerfield.
* A Lesson Plan to Follow--Los Angeles isn't noted for its rain but thousands got soaked in the march in that city on the first day of a six-day teachers strike. The LA district has a half-million students and is second only to New York City. Agreement for a 6 percent raise over the next two years was reached before the strike. 34,000 teachers walked out over issues like class size, and the need for nurses and librarians in every school. While they didn't win everything asked for considerable progress was made and most teachers and the community viewed the results as a victory.
* The Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports that the St Paul City Council sent a resolution to the Federal government urging an end to the embargo against Cuba.
* The Guardian reports, “About 7 million fewer Americans have health insurance today than did four years ago, a new survey has found, the highest uninsured rate since 2014. The results come after sustained Republican attacks on government-backed health schemes, including the Affordable Care Act”
* The Fourth International, a world socialist party I have been in solidarity with since 1963, issued this statement on the crisis in Venezuela.
* Time For a Wake-up Call—Most coffee species are at risk of extinction by climate change according to a peer reviewed piece in Science.
The Week In Review became a regular feature of the KC Labor site in 2004—about the same time as my photo was taken while speaking at an antiwar rally in Kansas City. For 14 years, deviations from a weekly schedule were rare, usually warranting an explanation, and often an apology.
Last Spring, that relatively smooth sailing encountered some rough waters indeed, drifting with a credible threat of sinking. I spent much of April-November within the walls of Research Hospital. National Nurses United and the Service Employees International Union have contracts at the 590 bed HCA property. It's where Harry Truman died—at age 88. The staff there tackled three serious medical problems--at least one of them life threatening.
The aggressive small cell lung cancer threat has apparently succumbed to chemo and radiation--though frequent scans to guard against any return are in order. I will soon begin a series of prophylactic radiation bursts in my brain in case any cancer fragments try to sneak in to that area. And there will be visits to my cardiologist and other specialists—as well, of course, my primary care provider whose timely intervention was key.
By November I was ready to turn my attention from my Last Will & Testament to a return to “normal.” A large part of my normal for the past 15 years has been researching and writing the Week In Review. But I now also have to accept frequent visits with doctors and technicians. Also unavoidable is recognition that at age 76 my energy is not going to return to pre-crisis levels.
I am not seeking pity or sympathy and you can rest assured that my health will not be a frequent part of the WIR. But I hope you will cut me some slack when the gaps between WIRs exceed a week--or if I am slow in replying to communications.
Good & Welfare
Receive notification when a new WIR is posted in one of the following ways:
Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org
Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.
The original content we provide is copyrighted and may not be reproduced by commercial media without our consent. However, labor movement and other nonprofit media may reproduce with attribution.