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The 1980s Reality–An Excerpt

Yesterday I took Wisconsin Governor and 2016 presidential aspirant Scott Walker to task over claiming Ronald Reagan firing 11,000 PATCO air traffic controllers in August 1981 led to the collapse of the CCCP (the Russian initials for the nation that existed from 1922 to 1991). This is very clearly an immense falsehood, easily shown from the perspective of 1984:

IF the Soviet press is any guide, there are few global problems for which the United States is not to blame.

A single issue of Pravda last week managed to accuse Washington of destroying any basis for Soviet- American dialogue, orchestrating last year’s Korean jetliner disaster, opposing nuclear-free zones, supporting Israeli expansionism, meddling in Central America and the Red Sea, and fomenting religious and ethnic strife in India. The President himself now routinely comes under the sort of personal attack that not so long ago might have shocked Western diplomats. Soviet officials, and occasionally voices in the West, place the entire onus on the Reagan Administration. They cite the President’s joke about bombing Russia and his talk of evil empires, the deployment of new missiles in Europe, Washington’s military buildup and its activities abroad. Mr. Reagan’s recent efforts to moderate his stance have been scorned.

Few would deny that the Administration’s strong anti-Soviet sentiments and Moscow’s frustration at its failure to block NATO missile deployment have been serious factors in bringing relations to a low state. But as the gloom deepens, Western diplomats are asking whether the unrelenting anti-American rhetoric may not be a symptom also of internal malaise in the Kremlin – of a weak and possibly ailing leader, of inability to jettison futile policies in the absence of strong direction from the top.

Whatever feelings Konstantin U. Chernenko, the Soviet leader (or perhaps more to the point, Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko and Defense Minister Dmitry F. Ustinov), may harbor toward Mr. Reagan, it is also pertinent that xenophobia has historically been an affliction and tool of Soviet leaders.

No, I’m not being Orwellian (though the term Cold War is actually a creation of Orwell).  The simple reality was the New York Times could not publish anything about American/Soviet detente in September 1984 because the CCCP was still very much on edge from the 1983 war scare, the closest the world ever came to nuclear cataclysm.  The scare lasted the entire year and was mired in the nuclear weapons realities of the Cold War, so I will have to return to the event in depth later.

Update: here.

The ATC Strike–A 34 Year Lie.

But the PATCO strike also set the standard for the Republican aversion to truth-telling that lasts to this very day.  Ronald Reagan left documented evidence:

What many may not know, however, is that Ronald Reagan in the last days of the 1980 election campaign, sent a letter to the President of PATCO, Robert E. Poli, promising he understood the many numerous concerns air traffic controller had with their pay, outmoded equipment and working conditions.  Specifically, he promised to provide them with the most up-to-date equipment and to work with them to provide more staffing and less brutal work schedules in the interest of public safety.  Here’s a image of Reagan’s letter to Pioli, dated October 20, 1980:

For those having difficulty reading the content of that letter from the image, here is a transcription of the text in full:

Dear Mr. Poli:I have been briefed by members of my staff as to the deplorable state of our nation’s air traffic control system.  They have told me that too few people working unreasonable hours with obsolete equipment has placed the nation’s air travelers in unwarranted danger.  In an area so clearly related to public policy the Carter administration has failed to act responsibly.

You can rest assured that if I am elected president, I will take whatever steps are necessary to provide our air traffic controllers with the most modern equipment available and to adjust staff levels and work days so that they are commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety.

As in all other areas of the federal government where the President has the power to appoint, I fully intend to appoint highly qualified individuals who can work harmoniously with Congress and the employees of the governmental agencies they oversee.

I pledge to you that my administration will work very closely with you to bring about a spirit of cooperation between the president and the air traffic controllers.  Such harmony can and must exist of we are to restore the people’s confidence in their government.


Ronald Reagan

Based in part on this this letter Poli and other senior PATCO officials had PATCO endorse Reagan for President.  PATCO was one of only four AFL-CIO affiliated unions to endorse Reagan over Carter.

[N]ewly elected PATCO president Robert Poli—who’d succeeded the more irenic incumbent John Leyden in a surprise insurgent challenge—was keen to demonstrate his clout before the union’s restive rank and file. He presumed to be bargaining from a position of strength because during the run-up to contract negotiations, PATCO had sought to secure firm Washington backing with another surprise move: it endorsed Reagan in the 1980 election, partly as a matter of heeding the shifting national mood, and partly out of sheer exasperation with the Carter administration’s handling of key controller concerns.

Never has a Union leader made a more serious mistake in judgment.  The Reagan appointed head of the FAA failed to negotiate in goof faith, reacting to PATCO’s demand for pay raises, improved equipment and less arduous working hours with a counteroffer equal to approximately 1/7 of the cost of the union’s offer.  Poli accepted the offer, but did so with little enthusiasm.  Reagan had doubled crossed him and put his position with PATCO’s membership at risk. The administration’s hard line only encouraged those at PATCO to strike, which was Reagan’s goal all along.  

He immediately invoked the Taft-Hartley act and fired all the striking air controllers on August 5, 1981, a total exceeding 11,000.

Ronald Reagan never met a back he wasn’t willing to stab. Scott Walker should be so bold–he exempted his union supporters from the 2011 Republican assault on collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Does that just show Walker is cowardly compared to his hero, or not underhanded enough to be president of the United States?

To be fair, if Walker is elected president in 2016 we won’t face the prospect of nuclear annihilation…we hope.


I’ve delved into the events leading up to the 1983 war scare starting here.


One thought on “The 1980s Reality–An Excerpt

  1. Pingback: Stagflation, 1973-1981 | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

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