WIN SPECIAL REPORT: “Unconscionable” – Labor Hall Of Honor Adding Union-Busting President Reagan
A WIN Special Report:
The union representing workers at the U.S. Department of Labor is up in arms over plans to induct former U.S. President Ronald Reagan into the Labor Department’s Hall of Fame. A former President of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan boasted at the beginning of his presidency in 1981 that he was the first president of the United States to hold a lifetime membership in an AFL-CIO union, but shortly after set his administration’s anti-union tone with the firing over 11,000 striking air traffic controllers represented by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.
WIN discussed these concerns with Eleanor Lauderdale, Executive Vice President of American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 12 at the U.S. Department of Labor.
[JoAnne Powers]: Welcome to Workers Independent News, Eleanor. I hear you have some concerns about former President Ronald Reagan, not known generally as a friend of labor, being inducted into the Labor Department’s Hall of Honor.
[Eleanor Lauderdale]: This is a Hall of Fame where you have people like Gompers, Randolph, Chavez…real labor leaders. I really think it taints the whole environment to put someone in like Reagan. To me it’s a sign of disrespect to these true labor leaders to put someone in who one of their first act as President was to fire the air traffic controllers. He does not really stand for what these people stand for which is grassroots organizing making a better life…actually people who built the American middle class. There would be no American middle class but for unions. I don’t think a lot of people understand that. And that is not what Reagan stood for. Reagan cared little or nothing about firing these federal workers simply standing up for their rights.
[JoAnne Powers]: Just to clarify, his firing of the PATCO workers in 1981 was not just some federal budget belt-tightening. He was specifically focused on busting the union.
[Eleanor Lauderdale]: Yes. Yes and he did…and he did. And it also sent a chill through every single union in this country…definitely through the federal unions, the public sector unions, together, and definitely through every single union, that this is what happens when you are standing up for your rights as an employee. It shook the labor movement and he intended to do that. To turn around 30 years, 35 years later and then induct him into the Labor Hall of Fame…it’s unconscionable. We thought that, when we heard it initially, it was a joke. We didn’t really take it seriously. We did not know what to make of it. We do know now that it’s something that everyone in labor, not just people in unions, but employees need to contest.
[JoAnne Powers]: They did manage to scrape up a union to nominate him for the hall, the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City, citing his earlier role as President of the Screen Actors Guild.
[Eleanor Lauderdale]: I don’t know how they went all the way back to who he was in Hollywood, and who he subsequently became. He turned has back on Labor. Maybe he was, at one time, a true labor leader. Maybe he did believe in the Labor Movement. However, in order to become president, in order to move on, he turned his back on that, because that’s what he thought would win him the presidency, keep him the president, and he no longer believed in unionism. So, the fact that he believe in it at one point in time, in his younger life, does not negate the fact of what he did as he President of the United States. He changed the face of the labor movement. He also made the Labor Movement seem as though it were something bad. And I don’t think that, when our President Alex Bastani spoke to the Washington Post, that it was hyperbole to say that he made the division between rich and poor that much more stark. That’s not hyperbole. That is the truth. He also made working people think, “well you can climb to that next level, so don’t join with your coworker; always try to climb up to that upper rung” And that caused the division between rich, poor, white, black, Hispanic. It did lead to what we see today. Reagan’s effect has been monumental on a society that i think we all saw getting better. And he came in with a comfort level like it is comfortable to like the rich, to aspire to be rich, and not to join with your co-workers and trying to make a better middle-class life. That’s not what you want you want to be rich and if you’re not rich then you hate those people and you definitely hate those people who you can consider beneath you.
[JoAnne Powers]: Of course, even in his labor leader days there were concerns about his involvement with the Red Scare…
[Eleanor Lauderdale]: That is the thing that we were most concerned about. Anyone who ever joined with Joe McCarthy…there is no way you should be in the Labor Hall of Fame. You gave up the names of people whom you thought were red. When you were part of that circus, how now are you to be celebrated when we know that McCarthy went down in shame. People know now what a farce that was…how bad he was. That you would ever turn on your union members and give up their names…it’s unconscionable to think of this man being put in the Labor Hall of Fame. In our office we have pictures of labor leaders and it just makes a mockery of what they’ve done. It makes a mockery of the people who died at Ludlow trying to vindicate their rights. We have, when you walk in our office, you see Mother Jones and A. Philip Randolph. We’re right next to the Labor Hall of Fame. These are people we don’t want to be next to Ronald Reagan. It’s an outrage.”
[JoAnne Powers]: So, being located in the Labor Department, do they make you put up a picture of Donald Trump?
[Eleanor Lauderdale]: [Laughter] No! No, no, no, no! The union office is sort of what you would call an embassy inside of the Labor Department. We are in here because we represent the people who work here. They don’t even have keys to our office. So, no. There are pictures, I’m sure, that’s going to go up, as they do, with the President and the Secretary and the Vice President…they will not be in our office. No, absolutely not. No. No, no. No, no. No. We are in embassy we are an enclave unto ourselves.”
[JoAnne Powers]: Well, thank you very much for your time, Eleanor Lauderdale, Executive Vice President of AFGE Local 12.
[Eleanor Lauderdale]:“You’re very welcome. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.”