The Murder of the U.S. Middle Class Began 40 Years Ago This Week

PATCO was dominated in Vietnam War-era veterans who had learned air traffic control in military service. They were also one of a very few unions that endorsed Reagan in 1980, thus achieving one of the most important own goals in American political history. It is easy to see strikers feeling the same as Trump voters who once lamented that he would do good things. He isn't hurting those he should be hurting.On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired 11345 striking air traffic controllers. He also banned them from working for the federal government ever again. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (or PATCO), the union that called the strike had been decertified by October 1981 and was in disarray. Many of the strikers died in similar circumstances: Although Bill Clinton lifted Reagan's strike ban in 1993, less than 10% were ever hired by the Federal Aviation Administration.As a union of government workers, PATCO was clearly prohibited from striking. But, the decision about which laws are applied is always and everywhere a political one: Wall Street firms broke many laws during the 2008 financial crisis. However, almost all executives did not suffer any consequences. Reagan & Co. wanted workers to know that they could not expect such forbearance. Two days after the strike started, the air traffic controllers left.PATCO's story began in February 1981 when negotiations between the union and FAA began for a new contract. PATCO proposed changes, including a 32-hour working week and a significant increase in the pay. The FAA responded with counter-proposals that the union found insufficient. On August 3, most air traffic controllers walked off, with negotiations at a standstill.Today, the significance of Reagan's actions is not discussed in mainstream media. This is because it was the first major offensive in a war that corporations have waged against this countrys middle classes since then. Warren Buffett, a current net worth of $101 billion, said that there is class warfare but it was my class, the wealthy class, who are winning.There are many ways to measure the stunning victory of the wealthy over all others. Joe Biden spoke at a Cleveland community college last May to explain one of these.America's productivity grew 100 percent between 1948 and 1979 after the war. With productivity, we made more. What did workers earn? 100 percent. All of this has changed since 1979. The productivity has increased four times faster that the pay. This country has broken the basic bargain.Productivity is an important economic concept that is simple yet profound. As technology improves and society learns to use it, every worker can produce more. A bulldozer can move more dirt than a shovel. A person can do more math with Microsoft Excel than a person using Napiers bones.Biden's statistics show that America became richer over time, while average worker wages increased at the same pace. After that, the relationship between productivity and pay was broken: While the U.S. got richer overall, most of the wealth went to the very top and not to ordinary people. They make three, five and ten times more than they did in 1981 as corporate CEOs, partners in corporate law firms, and orthopedic surgeons. Their salaries have barely changed for nurses, firefighters, janitors and almost everyone else without a college education.This is particularly true for those at the bottom end of the pay scale. The federal minimum wage was raised in line with productivity by Congress until 1968. It reached its highest point in 1968, at $12 an hour. Since then, it has fallen to $7.25. But the truth is that it's much worse than this. Low-wage workers may have failed to raise the federal minimum wage to $15. However, few realize that it would be more than $24 an hour if productivity had increased since 1968. A couple earning $96,000 per year working at minimum wage would be able to live on that level. It seems impossible, but there are no economic reasons why it wouldn't happen. We have just made a political decision not to.This can be understood by looking at American society from the other side. Bill Gates' net worth was $10 billion in 1995. Today, it is worth $18 billion. This was enough to make Gates the richest man in America. If this were all Gates could have today, there would be at least 25 billionaires in his place. Jeff Bezos is currently in first place and has a net worth of 10 times Gates' 1995 net worth.There are also significant strikes that occur in the United States each year. A strong, confident labor movement will produce large strikes. One that is terrorized into submission and controlled will not. The Labor Department estimates that there were 200-400 large-scale strikes every year between 1947 and 1979. In 1980, there were 187. After the firing of PATCO, the numbers plummeted. There were only 40 strikes in 1988, Reagan's last year. In 2017, there were seven.It is well-recognized and celebrated that the direct causal link between the firings of air traffic controllers, and the crushing labor force is obvious. The direct causal relationship between the firing of air traffic controllers and the crushing of labor is widely recognized and celebrated by the right. [Reagan's] actions gave weight to the legally protected right of private employers to hire and fire workers.Donald Devine, who was the head of Reagan's Office of Personnel Management, wrote later that American business leaders were taught a lesson in management leadership by Reagan. Many private sector executives told me they were able cut the fat in their companies and adopted more competitive work practices due to the government's efforts.Today's question is whether America will ever be the same middle-class society that it was once. It was the norm for many Americans, and they will return it naturally without any effort. As the past 40 years pass, it seems that the U.S. has become more and more reliant on the brutality of the Gilded Age, with the exception of the American middle class. Recreating it will take the same monumental struggle as creating it.