On the 30th anniversary of the showdown between Ronald Reagan and the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), McCartin (History/Georgetown Univ.;Labor's Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912-1921, 1998, etc.)revisits the most consequential labor dispute since the New Deal.
As a two-time governor of California, Ronald Reagan regularly bargained with public-service employees and, as president (the only one in American history ever to have helmed a union), he offered PATCO, one of the few labor organizations to endorse his candidacy, an unprecedented contract in 1981. When PATCO rejected the proposal and called an illegal strike, Reagan issued a 48 hour return-to-work ultimatum. He ended up firing the vast majority of the more than 10,000 highly specialized controllers, destroyed PATCO and set a precedent that continues to reverberate. An expert on the labor movement, McCartin reviews the origins and evolution of public-sector unions—once universally decried, even by iconic liberal presidents—outlines and translates for the general reader the applicable laws and delivers a detailed history of PATCO from its 1968 founding to its demise. Demonstrating a thorough understanding of PATCO's culture, the author powerfully describes the high-pressure world of air-traffic control, examines the historically contentious relations between the controllers and the hidebound FAA and charts PATCO's increasing militancy, even as a powerful anti-union backlash gathered in the country. Although his union sympathies are clear, McCartin, for the most part, plays it straight, relying on extensive interviews with government and union officials, rank-and-file members, pilots, airline executives and politicians to get the full story behind this dramatic confrontation. Breaking the strike proved more expensive to the federal government than meeting the controllers' demands. But the chilling effect of Reagan's swift dismissal of seemingly indispensable workers has proven more costly to organized labor.
With the collective-bargaining power of public employees under fierce assault, McCartin's story couldn't be timelier or more important.
"Mr. McCartin deals with policy but also with personalities, and the book is better for it. For anyone at all interested in labor or business history, I recommend it. " The New York Times
"[C]onvincing...draws a vivid picture of a culture and how, as much as the realities an organization faces, that culture can determine the group's behavior." The Philadelphia Inquirer
"[McCartin] patiently lays out the full background and aftermath of the PATCO tragedy in Collision Course, an absorbing, detailed and shrewdly observed chronicle of the strike and PATCO's unlikely rise and fall." The Nation
"The definitive account of the PATCO strike...Collision Course's treatment of worker and political power should help inform trade unions' strategies today, and perhaps prompt discussion of how to revitalize the greatest source of worker power: the strike." In These Times
"The air traffic controllers' strike in August 1981 was a defining moment for the Reagan presidency and the American labor movement. By firing the air traffic controllers, and successfully replacing them, Reagan heralded the end of a political era when labor unions - and the workers they represented - were an integral part of the American social contract. Joseph McCartin tells the story in gripping detail. It's must reading for anyone interested in the recent history of American politics and labor relations." John B. Judis, author of The Folly of Empire
"The signal event in the evisceration of the American middle class was Ronald Reagan's breaking the air traffic controllers' strike in 1981. In Collision Course, Joe McCartin brilliantly and compellingly tells this tragic tale, and situates it in the broader narrative of middle-class America's long and sickening decline." Harold Meyerson, Editor-at-Large of The American Prospect and op-ed columnist for The Washington Post
"In an age of obscurantist academic historical writing, Collision Course stands out as a model of accessible and relevant scholarship." National Review
"The Air Traffic Controllers strike of 1981 was one of the most important struggles in American history, and by breaking the union, Ronald Reagan dealt a blow to organized labor from which it has still not recovered. If you care about the labor movement, you need to read Collision Course and even if you don't, you'll be transfixed by the drama of McCartin's story-telling." E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist and author of Why Americans Hate Politics
"[a] wonderfully good book... In this admirable account of President Ronald Reagan's destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) in 1981-1982, McCartin shows not merely where that destruction fits into a long narrative of the decline of organized labor in the United States but also how tensions between controllers and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) might have been resolved differently." Journal of American History
"McCartin tells the story of PATCO before its inception to years after the conclusion of the strike, a fascinating story with many twists and turns." Contemporary Sociology