An Ode to Ronald Reagan, America’s Greatest Union Leader

Old Ronnie is finally getting the recognition he deserves

by Jack McClatchy

Staff Gipper

When I think of the working class and who really has their best interests at heart, a single name keeps crossing my mind and I can’t stop seeing their smiling face.
It’s not César Chávez, who organized migrant farm workers in California and Florida in the 1960s and 1970s.
It’s not Eugene V. Debs, who founded the American Railway Union, the Socialist Party, and the Industrial Workers of the World, either.
It isn’t Bayard Rustin, an openly gay black man who was the organizational mastermind of the Civil Rights Movement and the March on Washington.
It’s not even Mother Jones, who co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World, and was an organizer with the Knights of Labor and United Miners Union.
No, there’s a person who stands head and shoulders above them and has been shunned by almost everyone who believes in a minimum wage, collective bargaining, or a right to strike.
Who is this titan of organized labor, who really stuck it to the fat cats of industry and always stood up for the little guy?
It’s Ronald Wilson Reagan. Or at least that’s what the Department of Labor thought when they added him to their Hall of Honor, which “posthumously honors those Americans whose distinctive contributions to the field of labor have enhanced the quality of life of millions yesterday, today, and for generations to come”.
Satire must truly be dead. Reagan was probably one of the most anti-organized labor president in recent history, if not all time, and this decision by the Department of Labor cheapens the work of everyone I just mentioned and dozens more.
The Secretary of Labor, R. Alexander Acosta, cited Reagan’s stints as leader of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) in the 1950s and 1960s and added that he is the only President to lead a union (which is true, I’m shocked whenever this Administration tells the truth in spite of itself).
In a News Release on the Department’s website, it wrote:
“‘From humble roots, to Hollywood, to Sacramento, to Washington, President Ronald Reagan left a lasting impact on America,’ said Secretary Acosta. ‘President Reagan was deeply committed to the ‘heroes’ (sic!) of the American workforce. He will be remembered in our nation, across the globe, and throughout history for his unwavering commitment to the fight for liberty. I am proud that President Reagan’s signature will remain honored and cherished from this day forward in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor.’”
Leaving the quotes around “heroes” alone, let’s take a look at just how Ronnie left that lasting impact on organized labor.
First, let’s get the good out of the way before I get the mountains of hate mail that Republicans send whenever their patron saint is criticized in any way.
As leader of the SAG, Reagan did organize a strike over a dispute about payment for reruns of previously recorded films and television shows. Hollywood executives relented, and now actors who have anything in syndication can thank him. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s now look at how Reagan screwed over workers, members of his own union, and anyone who stood for workers’ rights in any way.
There was that time when he was an FBI informant and handed over a list of names of people in Hollywood who were either communists or communist sympathizers. That looks bad, but I’m sure he did that because he wanted to be sure that only he would defend the worker and not those dirty pinko commie bastards.
There was also that time when he was Governor of California and vetoed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1974. Who was organizing for that bill? Why, it was César Chávez, the one and the same who sits with Reagan in the Hall of Honor.
As if those two times show how Reagan shouldn’t be in the Hall, there was also that one time when he was President and the air traffic controllers went on strike in 1981. When Reagan was running for President against that filthy liberal Jimmy Carter, he courted and secured the endorsement of the air traffic controllers’ union which meant he would listen and negotiate with them in good faith, right?
Wrong. He ordered them back to work in 48 hours, and when over 11,000 did not he fired ALL of them and arrested the organizers. He said that they violated federal law by walking out on their federal jobs, never mind the fact that this exact thing had happened almost forty times in the preceding two decades. He also spent billions of dollars to get air travel and the FAA to its pre-strike levels, which was a whole hell of a lot more than he would have spent if he had just, you know, listened to the striking workers and maybe raised their wages a little?
That’s right, the great union leader St. Ronnie Reagan was a strikebreaker and used scab labor to replace the thousands he fired. That doesn’t sound like a good union leader or even remotely pro-organized labor.
I guess since we’re adding decidedly anti-labor people to the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor, how about we name Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence as some of the greatest LGBTQ+ advocates, George Wallace as an ally for civil rights for blacks, or maybe Pat Buchanan as a vanguard for women’s rights? Maybe they are all just misconstrued as being opposed to the issues, just like the Great Communicator.


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