On Christmas Eve, Eric Green’s Washington Post column, “Ronald Reagan’s Statue Disturbs the Peace at D.C.’s National Airport,” called for the 9-foot Gipper to be removed from the route of his afternoon stroll.
Those who respect the former president, or just the rule of law, should immediately mount a defense.
Like the title character of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” the Reagan statue stands mute, so we must speak up in its defense. Green’s beef is that in 1981, Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers engaged in an illegal strike against the people of the United States.
Here in 2021, the notion of “illegal” seems quaint, as people simply call laws they don’t want to follow “broken.” Likewise, “union” is synonymous with “underdog.” But it’s average citizens those controllers abandoned at 50,000 feet, breaking their word to the little guy.
Here’s the oath each member of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization union swore to us, their fellow citizens: “I am not participating in any strike against the government of the United States or any agency thereof, and I will not so participate while an employee of the government of the United States or any agency thereof.”
The next time you hear about ’80s greed, think of PATCO’s insurrection, threatening to crash jets into tarmacs “Die Hard 2” style for a few extra bucks. We the people are the bosses for government unions, and (as the national debt shows) there is no profit motive for management. This is distinct from a private union whose workers have a right to demand a fair share of what they produce.
Because of these stark differences, federal unions were originally opposed by Big Labor. AFL-CIO President George Meany said, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government,” and President Franklin Roosevelt called strikes against taxpayers “unthinkable and intolerable.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt scolded the National Federation of Federal Employees, “Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied.”
Roosevelt and Reagan supported the right of a Ralph Kramden to walk off the job. It might be his only way to get the Gotham Bus Company’s attention. In fact, as president of the Screen Actors Guild (an AFL-CIO union), Reagan led a strike against Hollywood’s studio bosses.
But unlike guest-starring in the latest episode of “Hello, Larry,” keeping our skies safe is an essential service, which is why we compensated air traffic controllers well, providing they pledged never to do exactly what they did in ’81.
Leading up to the strike, the government offered controllers raises and benefits twice what other federal employees enjoyed. PATCO agreed, and Mr. Reagan explained that this was “granted in recognition of the difficulties inherent in the work these people perform.”
But having gotten an inch, the union demanded a sky mile, breaking their word again. If they didn’t get 17 times what they’d just accepted, then screw all those planes in the air and the people on board.
I was probably the only 12-year-old yelling at the black and white TV that the controllers should all be fired, but Mr. Reagan was more patient. He offered the strikers 48 hours to leave the picket lines they’d sworn never to walk.
When the deadline passed, those who chose not to do the job the American people hired them to do were allowed to continue not doing it, and the nation moved on with controllers who cared about their fellow man more than money.
In the Reagan Era “Big Trouble in Little China,” wise old Egg Shen says, “That’s how it always begins. Very small.” So expect the Post column to be the first hammer blow struck at the base of 9-foot Reagan, with more revision of the 40th president and PATCO.
Those like Mr. Green will cast the statue as an affront to those who abandoned their oath 40 years ago. Still, it is a salute to those who put their country first — like the controller at National who resigned from the union, telling a newspaper, “How can I ask my kids to obey the law if I don’t?”
Factual arguments against monuments are healthy, but not ones that stand on feet of clay. For example, some bigots find the nation’s various Martin Luther King Boulevards disturbing, but we don’t appease them. We say, “If they don’t like it, take another route to work,” or on your afternoon stroll.
• Dean Karayanis @HistoryDean is a producer for the “Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show,” longtime Rush Limbaugh staffer and host of the “History Author Show” on iHeartRadio.