When 11,000 air traffic controllers called his bluff, President Reagan fired all of them–it’s called leadership

After the air traffic controllers union walked out on talks with the Federal Aviation Administration in 1981, President Ronald Reagan deemed the strike to be illegal and said he would fire any controller who failed to return to work within 48 hours.

More than 11,000 controllers called his bluff and, to the shock of many, Reagan fired every last one of them.

The New York Times characterized the incident as “the strike that busted unions,” saying it “undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions.”

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You can be assured there were protests over Reagan’s actions against the strikers — although nothing on the scale of the hysteria currently seen over President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees.

Looking back on it today, the objections proved to be fruitless, as a social media user noted on Tuesday, “They were still fired and the protesters are gone.”

And Reagan wasn’t fooling around. In addition to firing the controllers, he banned the government from ever rehiring them — President Clinton would rescind the ban some 12 years later.

Much like recent polls show voters supporting Trump’s immigration order, President Reagan also had the support of the public.

More from Pew Research Center:

Fully 59% of Americans approved of the way he was handling the issue, according to a Gallup poll conducted a few days after he fired the controllers. A Harris survey at about the same time showed that by 51% to 40%, more said they were in sympathy with the Reagan administration than with the air traffic controllers. Several months later, in January 1982, 50% said that Reagan’s treatment of the air traffic controllers was “about right.”

Tom Tillison


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