PATCO redux?

By Lynn Koh
Nov 29, 2010

It's hard to read about Obama's declaration of the wage freeze for federal employees without thinking about the famous PATCO (air traffic controller) strike which happened when I was a few months old, in 1981. Reagan famously fired the workers and had them all replaced; typically this is understood as the 'green light' to the private sector to treat unions and rebellious workers likewise. The imposition of a wage freeze sets a tone for the debate about public sector employees, who have been under relentless attack from coast to coast in the name of balancing budgets.

Reagan's agenda was union-busting, pure and simple. Obama, who relies on a significant base of support in unions, is not being anti-union per se. It's rather a signal to business elites that demands for austerity -- for workers, of course, not bankers -- will receive an audience. Likely it will try to take an approach that validates the 'common sense' that cuts and deficit-reduction measures are needed, but will argue for moderation and reasonableness. You can listen to the American Federation of Government Employees denouncing the wage freeze here. Interestingly, he refers to two unfinanced wars as part of the overall problem.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Lynn Koh is a long-time activist in the anti-war movement, and is a labor organizer in the Bay Area.

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