Does Scott Walker Know That Ronald Reagan Supported Unions and Collective Bargaining?
It's no surprise that Wisconsin's new Republican Governor, Scott Walker regularly compares himself to one of the deities of his political party, America's 40th President, Ronald Reagan. But, Walker obviously doesn't know Reagan that well, because his plans to end collective bargaining for most of Wisconsin's public employees, including teachers, is in direct opposition to what Reagan believed.
Walker believes that his efforts to end public employee's right to collective bargaining are akin to Reagan's August 1981 firing of thousands of air traffic controllers who illegally decided to strike. And while it's true that Reagan came down hard on the air traffic controllers, that doesn't mean he believed in completely stripping away worker's rights.
In a campaign speech he gave in Liberty State Park in Liberty, New Jersey on Labor Day 1980, Reagan, who, as an actor was president of his union, the Screen Actors Guild, unequivocally stated his support for unions, and promised that if elected, "that the voice of the American worker will once again be heeded in Washington."
In the same speech, Reagan expressed his support of Polish workers who were, under eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa's leadership, rising up against the Communist regime's domination and demanding the right to form unions, organize and bargain.
"They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost. They remind us that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. You and I must protect and preserve freedom here or it will not be passed on to our children and it would disappear everywhere in the world. Today the workers in Poland are showing a new generation how high is the price of freedom but also how much it is worth that price."`
After his election, and less than month after firing the air-traffic controllers, Reagan didn't back down from his support of organized labor. In a speech at a trade union gathering in Chicago in September 1981, he said,
Collective bargaining in the years since has played a major role in America’s economic miracle. Unions represent some of the freest institutions in this land. There are few finer examples of participatory democracy to be found anywhere. Too often, discussion about the labor movement concentrates on disputes, corruption, and strikes. But while these things are headlines, there are thousands of good agreements reached and put into practice every year without a hitch.
Reagan also promised that despite tough economic times, he would "not fight inflation by attacking the sacred right of American workers to negotiate their wages. We propose to control government, not people."
In contrast, Walker seems to be focused on controlling people and the government. He's so adamant about eliminating collective bargaining, that he's threatening to slash $900 million from schools and layoff 1500 state workers if the "Wisconsin 14"—the Democratic state senators who've fled to Illinois to avoid providing a quorum for the bill's vote—don't return. Somebody do the people of Wisconsin a favor and tell Scott Walker that his idol, Ronald Reagan, wouldn't approve.