Nearly 28 years ago President Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers, in an action widely acknowledged to signal a new era of anti-unionism in America.
The American Labor Movement was in decline before the Reagan years, but the disastrous PATCO strike is seen symbolically and substantively as a turning point.
President Obama’s determination to save Chrysler and General Motors does not offer a great “historical moment”, but it may prove as pivotal for our era as the Reagan -PATCO event did in the early 1980s.
The United Auto Workers, like most American unions, has had triumphs and failures, has had great leaders and pathetic ones, and has been bashed from the right and the left.
Some in the media conclude that Obama is obliged to defend the UAW because unions are part of his base. That’s simplistic.
In his remarks explaining the GM bailout, the President said that the government’s commitment to the domestic auto industry is an “investment” so that “our children can grow up in an America that still makes things.”
And his dedication to the autoworkers is an affirmation of his belief that wage earners deserve decent income and security.
Closing the income gap in the country will be enormously challenging to this Administration. By going way out on a limb for the auto industry – and its unionized workforce - Obama is tilting public policy to institutions which advocate and agitate for increased wages.
With the asset wealth bubble popped – along with some of the myths about the “free market” - Americans want to know how they can recover their middle class status.
That should certainly make the union option a little more appealing.
And even more so with Obama’s willingness to stand firm with the UAW.