Friday, December 16, 2011

Remembering in the House of Labor

I was honored to have an opportunity to speak about Collision Course on December 14 in the Samuel Gompers room at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO in an event hosted by the labor federation's president, Richard Trumka.  With me were two former PATCO strikers who lost their jobs in 1981, Elliott Simons, who worked then at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and Jim Morin, who worked at LaGuardia Airport in New York, as well as Ken Moffett, who headed the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in 1981, and who hosted the failed negotiations that preceded the controllers' walkout.  It was an emotional event for some of those who had been around in 1981.  Some PATCO strikers felt cut off from the rest of the labor movement thirty years ago, and for them it
felt good to have President Trumka host an event in the House of Labor remembering their struggle.   For the other unionists who were there, the moment was also important, providing an opportunity to memorialize what happened 30 years ago.  As I listened to Rich Trumka remember PATCO, I was reminded of a quotation from the man who built Trumka's union, the United Mine Workers, into a formidable force in the last century, John L. Lewis.  After another bitter labor defeat in the 1930s, the failed Little Steel Strike, Lewis observed that, "Labor, like ancient Israel, has many sorrows."  As people discussed PATCO's legacy at the event, that phrase seemed as apt as it was 74 years ago.  And Trumka seemed to believe today as much Lewis then did that it is hard to move forward without first acknowledging and learning from the defeats of the past.  

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