In this essay WSWS writer Tom Mackaman examines the significance for the working class of the 1981 strike by PATCO air traffic controllers in the US.
The mass firing of the PATCO strikers by US President Ronald Reagan marked the definitive end of the period of relative class compromise and social reform that had prevailed in the US and other advanced industrial countries since the end of World War II. From that moment on, the capitalist class has carried out a relentless offensive to roll back the gains the working class realized over decades of struggle.
The defeat of the PATCO strike presaged not only the collapse of the American trade unions, but of all the labor bureaucracies and political parties that based themselves on nationalism and class compromise.
Drawing out the lessons of past defeats is a life-and-death matter for workers today. With PATCO, history exposed an unviable and bankrupt labor movement that based itself on anti-communism, defense of the profit system and nationalism.
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