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Last month marked the grim anniversary of one of the darkest days in American labor history. Forty years ago, President Ronald Regan crushed a strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), fired over 11,000 federal workers, and declared “open season” on the labor movement. In the years that followed, replacing striking workers became a commonplace practice in the private sector, union membership declined to historic lows, the wealth and power of the 1% exploded while real wages for most workers have remained stagnant, despite workers in the US being more productive than ever. The breaking of the PATCO strike was an event that played an outsized role in shaping the world we are living in today—a world in which a once-strong labor movement had its back broken, leaving working people to be systematically stripped of their individual will to exercise their rights in the workplace and their collective ability to protect themselves from being crushed into subservience by the profit-seeking prerogatives of the business class.

As part of a special collaboration with Jacobin magazine, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez joined hosts of The Jacobin Show Jen Pan and Paul Prescod for an extended episode examining the past, present, and future of the American labor movement. In this segment from the show, Alvarez breaks down the historical significance and political legacy of Reagan breaking the PATCO strike. We are sharing this segment with our TRNN audience with permission from Jacobin.

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Ten years ago, I was working 12-hour days as a warehouse temp in Southern California while my family, like millions of others, struggled to stay afloat in the wake of the Great Recession. Eventually, we lost everything, including the house I grew up in. It was in the years that followed, when hope seemed irrevocably lost and help from above seemed impossibly absent, that I realized the life-saving importance of everyday workers coming together, sharing our stories, showing our scars, and reminding one another that we are not alone. Since then, from starting the podcast Working People—where I interview workers about their lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles—to working as Associate Editor at the Chronicle Review and now as Editor-in-Chief at The Real News Network, I have dedicated my life to lifting up the voices and honoring the humanity of our fellow workers.
Follow: @maximillian_alv

Jen Pan is a co-host of The Jacobin Show and has written for the New Republic, Dissent, the Nation, and other publications.

Paul Prescod is a co-host of The Jacobin Show, a high school social studies teacher, and member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.