Studying Ronald Reagan Part 2 – Death of the Union

In part one we dove into “trickle-down” or supply side economics. Now let’s look at another one of Reagan’s biggest “accomplishments” – destroying organized labor. Since 1979 the percent of Americans with collective bargaining(unionization) has dropped from 27% to 11.6% of workers. The end result being the loss of $200 billion per year in potential wages earned. And it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to realize that the owners of the business keep any profit not paid to workers in wages. 

Why were unions so important? Let’s rewind in history, to the late 1800’s, America is becoming an industrialized nation and workers are moving from farms to factories. For the first time Americans start having a boss and being employees. We all know what the working conditions were like- child labor, 7-day work week, 12 hour shifts. It is safe to say workers’ lives were at an all time low in American history. Inequality soared until 1929 when the great depression hit, bringing the times of grandeur to an end. In 1935 FDR passed the National Labor Relations Act or the Wagner Act. The act “guarantees the right of private sector employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take collective action such as strikes.” Imagine it being literally illegal to organize or strike? That was the hostile scene before unions. 

It is much easier to see the exact reasons for unionization when we rewind back to those hostile conditions. However, if we have any chance of decreasing inequality today, it will be through unions. One of the most important defenses a union provides is education discrimination. Discrimination is a strong word there, but we mean paying two people different wages for the same job simply because one has a higher education. This can be extremely painful to hear as so many millennials have gone to college and accumulated debt in an attempt to make a better life. The key here though is different pay for the same work, if we look from the employers perspective this is just a tool to pay less wages. Paying a few employees a higher rate will always be cheaper than a company wide raise. 

If we look around, tech jobs are the marquee careers of the day, while the former manufacturing jobs that built the middle class are either overseas or done by technology. We are losing all of the decent paying jobs that do not require a college education. Today if a millennial does not go to college, they are going to be working the same jobs they had in high school, competing with teenagers. Next time you enter a fast food restaurant count how many adults you see that are over the age of 30. This in no way knocking those individuals, the working poor are the most mistreated group in this country. The brutal truth is we have hard working adults making $7.25/hour. That is a starvation wage, you could not pay rent in any major city working full time at $7.25/hour, if you can it is at the cost of having food, utilities, or gas money. These are parents and grandparents working for $7.25/hour, do their children not have the right to a decent standard of living? 

Let’s back up and learn more about how we got here. It is hard to pinpoint one action that Reagan took to hurt unions, however his first union battle was the most symbolic. In 1981 Reagan went to task with  the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. Shockingly this union actually endorsed Reagan. Little did PATCO know that the strike was going to effectively cripple unions for the foreseeable future. Since they were a Government agency, Reagan fired all of them immediately. 

This flipped labor ownership relations completely on their head. Historically strikes were used in the private sector as an effective bargaining tool to negotiate higher wages. Reagan himself once lead a strike as the union president of the Screen Actors Guild. However, this blow devastated all unions and gave the green light to business owners that they could mistreat unions and workers. And they were able to do so because Reagan staffed the National Labor Relations Board, effectively neutralizing all enforcement of labor laws. 

We will dissect why unions are important soon, in the meantime this chart tells the story succinctly. 

Reagan firing the PATCO union members was one of the greatest blows to the working class by any President. This real and symbolic gesture opened the floodgates for states to start cracking down on unions. Any manufacturing jobs left in America have left the Midwest for the south. Why? Because these states have the most anti-worker laws in the country, known as “right-to-work” states. Basically working is a privilege and not a right, and the employer maintains the right to fire you at anytime for anything, including organizing. Sadly if we cracked down on these laws, those manufacturing jobs would move overseas. If only workers everywhere had unions.

Class War

We in no way condone violence. TAR is strongly supportive of non-violence. 

“I wanna war between the rich and the poor. I wanna fight, and know what I’m fighting for.“

What are we fighting for? Promotion of anti-racism? To completely snub out small town fools and cancel celebrities? An economy where “nothing changes” like Joe Biden has told his donors? 

Here’s an unpopular opinion- We will get nowhere believing the Democrats are with the people. These are extraordinarily wealthy people, with extremely powerful donors. You did not grow up with people like this. That conservative “rich” business owner from your hometown is not even 1/10th the status of this class. Your doctor making $250,000/year is not in this group. Most people have never actually met a top 1%er, yet they are writing the rules and laws that influence your life. 

So who are these people and how did we end up on their team? And aren’t the Republicans the wealthy corrupt party? It is hard to say exactly when this change occurred to the democrats, but a good guess is in the Jimmy Carter administration. This is the beginning of corporate Democrats and the first step of walking away from white working class voters. Many of the lobbyists we see in the Ragan administration were in the Carter administration as well. 

We then see Richard Nixon(with the aid of Pat Buchanan) start speaking the language of the working class. Nixon upended and destroyed the Democrats dominance they had since FDR and the New Deal by literally adopting it’s talking points. Nixon bridged the gap between the 1% and the workers, they now felt like they were one in the same, a trend that is extremely evident with Trump. The left has been playing a dual game of imitation and catch up ever since, relying on celebrity “special flower” candidates to win.(Clinton, Obama, Mayor Pete)

Once the Democrats started losing this working class ground, they actively turned around and ran from their working class constituents. Sprinting into the arms of the white college educated elites that occupy the suburbs. Truly showing their colors, they never cared about advancing workers rights, they were simply using poor whites and poor minority groups to win elections. After all workers are not in their class, they don’t live a life anywhere close to an actual American. They could already speak the super woke language of affluent suburban whites, and their donors hated labor more than anything on earth anyways. This was more than an easy transition, it was a new job with a big raise. Serving the technocrat college educated class is great, they have all the money and work for our donors!

In the same way that the Trump tax cut didn’t help any of his actual voters, the Democrats engage on culture war topics that will never actually help their voters. Yet if they can just come out and say Black Lives Matter and support the protest, they will never have to actually fight for the economic rights of the protesters. And they don’t want to, the elitist Dem voters who work at technology companies are their bread and butter, and these people are on the winning side of massive inequality. 

Random fact: Nixon did more than almost any President to protect the environment.

So you’re a member of the working poor, or a union worker, why would you be with the Democrats? They haven’t raised your wages? They let your union collapse? They signed disastrous trade deals that closed your factory? Sadly fewer and fewer people are finding a good answer to that question. The Democrats have abandoned economic populism, they will do everything in their power to never have an economic agenda again. This was evident in the fact that the Democrats are more united in their hatred of Bernie Sanders than of Donald Trump. 

So what choice do we really have? The class war started long ago, you just had no idea your side was losing so badly. The upper class has already taken over both political parties and divided all of the workers on fad cultural issues. Perhaps the battle worth focusing on is the class war within our respective parties, realizing that you have much more in common with a Trump voter than you do Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Never forget, every working American is on your actual team, from MAGA hat wearers to fast food workers. Never forget the success of the ultra wealthy can only come at the expense of workers.