Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) — who has fashioned himself as a kingmaker amogst Republicans — said during a radio interview yesterday that government workers should never be allowed to collectively bargain. “It’s a bigger issue than people think, and it’s something that I’m going to work a lot on, because I really don’t think that collective bargaining has any place in representative government,” DeMint said.
DeMint has also opined that he is looking for someone who is “a combination of Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill” to be the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee. So it might surprise DeMint to know that it was his cherished Gipper who granted California’s municipal and county employees the right to collectively bargain in 1968 by signing the Meyers Milias Brown Act. In fact, former Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon, who wrote several books on Reagan, explained that Reagan’s approach to organized labor differed drastically from that of the current-day GOP:
Cannon agreed that Reagan’s relationship with labor was complicated but noted it was very different than today’s Republican approach. “He didn’t like the fact that the unions always supported the Democrats, but it wasn’t a hostile relationship,” Cannon said. “I never heard Reagan, in all the interviews, say those ‘damn unions.’”
In fact, Cannon notes that Reagan “was always very proud of the fact he got working class support,” estimating that Reagan garnered as much as one-third of union households.
Reagan is still the only president in American history to have belonged to a union;, he even served as president of the AFL-CIO affiliated Screen Actors Guild.
He also called membership in a union an “elemental human right,” while criticizing Soviet-backed crackdowns on Polish organized labor. “By outlawing Solidarity, a free trade organization to which an overwhelming majority of Polish workers and farmers belong, they have made it clear that they never had any intention of restoring one of the most elemental human rights — the right to belong to a free trade union,” he said in a radio address.
Of course, Reagan was far from an entirely pro-labor politician, as evidenced by his firing of federal air traffic controllers in 1981. But the current Republican crusade to strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights contradicts the very policy supported by Reagan when he was a state’s chief executive.
ThinkProgress intern Kevin Donohoe provided research for this post.