Back in the fall of 1981, Ronald Reagan had to deal with a public-sector strike threat. The union threatening the strike was PATCO, which represented the air traffic controllers. I’m sure they had some legitimate complaints, but they sought to risk the safety of all air travel passengers by their action. Reagan was firm with that government union, reminding the members that they had taken a pledge when they were hired not to strike. Reagan’s position was that no public-sector union had the right to play with people’s lives in that manner. Consequently, he warned them that anyone who did not report to work within 48 hours would be fired.
They didn’t believe him. They didn’t report for work. He fired 11,400 air traffic controllers. For President Reagan, it was a matter of the rule of law. It had to be upheld or we would plunge into chaos.
Yes, it took some scrambling to cover the missing controllers and to train new ones, but the skies remained safe regardless.
One interesting commentary on Reagan’s decision was that his firing of those workers was a powerful foreign policy move. Why foreign policy? The Soviets were watching, and they were learning just who this new president was and that he was a man of his word who would take action when necessary. They had to be careful in their dealings with him.
Reagan’s stand was the same as FDR’s, who had famously said there should be no public-sector unions with the right to strike. The liberal said this first, the conservative much later.
The Wisconsin public-sector unions have confused a right with a privilege. They were allowed certain privileges—wisely or not—and they have concluded they are now “rights.” They have recently been given a stiff dose of reality.
In fact, if anyone might have a better claim for going on strike, I submit it is a different group:
As Margaret Thatcher famously quipped [or at least a paraphrase of a comment she made], “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
The supply is not unlimited. Public-sector unions need to come to that stark realization.