It Was 30 Years Ago Today….

by Don Boudreaux on August 3, 2011

in Data, History, Myths and Fallacies, Work

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Joseph McCartin describes Ronald Reagan’s firing of the striking PATCO workers in 1981 as “the strike that busted unions” (“The Strike That Busted Unions,” Aug. 3).

Historian McCartin’s history is flawed.

Union membership as a percentage of all U.S. workers peaked at just above 32 percent in 1954.  Since then this figure has steadily fallen.  Today the percentage of all U.S. workers who are unionized is just under 12 percent, with no change in the rate of decline occurring in the early 1980s.  Indeed, the rate of decline, if anything, eased a bit starting in 1983.  As for the percentage of government workers who are unionized, that figure has remained largely unchanged since the early 1980s rather than – as one would expect were Prof. McCartin’s tale true – fallen.

Regardless of its merits, if Reagan’s firing of PATCO workers was a landmark event in “busting unions,” that fact doesn’t show up in the data.

Donald J. Boudreaux


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