History

The Syndicalist Side of Ronald Reagan

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From 1987, here's Ronald Reagan praising Walter Reuther and calling for worker ownership of the means of production. No, really:

The full speech is here. Put it together with Paul Lettow's book Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and the 1980s start to look kind of…complicated.

NEXT: The Democratic Way of Deportation

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  1. Don’t bother me with the 80’s. We got enough to worry about with the 10’s.

  2. Is that jacket peach? Come back, Gipper! And a single-stripe tie…

    1. It’s light tan with reddish streaks thrown in by magnetic interference on the video tape.

  3. Boy ole Ronald was indeed a cool guy wasnt he? They dont make em like that anymore.

    Lu
    http://www.whos-watching.es.tc

  4. I like the idea of the President of the world’s most powerful capitalist nation being a crypto-anarcho-syndicalist.

  5. Its not syndicalist if the workers buy the means of production with their capital.

    Ive always thought that unions should have been buying company stock with their dues instead of using it to lobby in DC. More bang for the buck electing members of the board.

    1. Doesn’t the UAW (and the US Gov) now in fact own General Motors?

      1. Yeah, but not the way I suggested.

      2. The UAW’s shares are non-voting, so no (my understanding is that Unions can’t own controlling stakes).

      3. Yeah but they didn’t buy the stock.

        The federal government stole it from the bondholders and gave it to them.

    2. Ive always thought that unions should have been buying company stock with their dues instead of using it to lobby in DC. More bang for the buck electing members of the board.

      That is how public employee unions are so successful; they influence the election of their employers.

  6. Here’s a shock: Ronald Reagan calling for an ownership society.

    1. Strictly speaking, it’s Reagan predicting the next step after an ownership society:

      Most of our citizens own the homes in which they reside. In the marketplace, they benefit from direct and indirect business ownership. There are currently close to 10 million self-employed workers in the U.S.-nearly 9 percent of total civilian employment. And, millions more hope to own a business some day. Furthermore, over 47 million individuals reap the rewards of free enterprise through stock ownership in the vast number of companies listed on U. S. stock exchanges.

      I can’t help but believe that in the future we will see in the United States and throughout the western world an increasing trend toward the next logical step, employee ownership. It is a path that befits a free people.

      1. “I can’t help but believe that in the future we will see in the United States and throughout the western world an increasing trend toward the next logical step, employee ownership.”

        I think it’s important to make the distinction too between anything like syndicalism and stock ownership.

        To me, it looks like he’s marking a big contrast. He’s saying… Before we had Walter Reuther and Labor always at odds with their capitalist bosses–now Labor is finally starting to become the capitalists themselves.

        It’s hard to remember that organized labor were once champions of capitalism–hold on–at least in a couple of respects.

        Take a look at the work of George Meany. He was a champion of free trade around the world, thinking that free trade meant expanding markets for American made goods, making more work for American labor. He was also a rabid anti-communist.

        Look at Meany’s friend, Jay Lovestone, and the work of the Free Trade Union Committee, etc., which existed to provide organization to anti-Communist labor unions internationally. Under the belief that capitalism meant more and better jobs for workers as markets expanded.

        The only confusing thing we’re seeing here is the support of Ronald Reagan Democrats. There was a southern strategy for cultural conservatives, but that was different. Ronald Regan had huge support from blue collar labor AND their unions.

        Remember Ronald Reagan hated communism–from his Hollywood days as the head of the SAG, a union, at the very least. Before the ’80s, remember, stock ownership wasn’t something most people had access to. If he was championing the power of stock ownership to help focus the interests of labor and keep labor reasonable, that doesn’t make him a syndicalist.

        1. Yes, of course he wasn’t an actual syndicalist. But you’re misreading his comment about Reuther. He praised him as “one of the first major labor leaders to advocate that management and labor shift away from battling over wage and benefit levels to a cooperative effort aimed at sharing in the ownership of the new wealth being produced.”

          1. “He praised him as “one of the first major labor leaders to advocate that management and labor shift away from battling over wage and benefit levels to a cooperative effort aimed at sharing in the ownership of the new wealth being produced.”

            With George Meany being another candidate for that award.

            If there’s a rewrite of the ’80s as being more confusing than people remember, I just think the rewrite should be more about Labor history rather than Reagan’s legacy.

            We remember Reagan firing the Air Traffic Controllers, and he’s associated to some extent with free trade, which we’ve come to associate with being anti-Labor.

            But there was a lot more to it than that.

            And Reagan praising the benefits of everyday union people holding stock in the company they work for so as to align the goals of labor and management, that was a continuation of a trend through Labor going back decades.

            His praise of union leaders who were all behind making American companies more competitive and having a less acrimonious relationship with management was always a prominent feature. And it wasn’t a new idea. There were a lot of prominent labor leaders who were about that long before Reagan showed up working for GE.

            And I guess that part of the history has been forgotten. There was a time when we had a president and labor leaders who were all about using management and labor cooperation to make the world a better place…

            But the backdrop to that was always “capitalism”. Not trade unionism. This aspect of Reagan was about making Labor union workers more capitalistic.

  7. What a nice example of the Gibbs phenomenon.

  8. That’s exactly what we have now. Anyone who thinks that the UAW is ’embattled against management’ is either insane or not paying attention. Those are companies are the unions, period. Those companies exist of their unions, by their unions and for their unions. End of discussion.

    1. I think it’s true that some of these companies are being run by their unions to benefit their unions, but I’m not sure the union is being run to benefit working union members.

      Being priced out of a job by your leaders is bad enough, but if you think working to pay for baby boomers’ retirement is bad via Social Security and Medicare, can you imagine how bad it must be at the UAW?

      The leadership has to be pushing workers to accept less pay so that more can go to fund pension benefits. …benefits that current workers will probably never get.

  9. Syndicalism is about bottom up government.
    Reagan was the father of top down economics.
    Syndicalism IS socialism in the purist form.
    That Reagan thought it might be neat to throw a few scraps of stock to employees just makes him less of a capitalist pig. You guys are high.

  10. Reagan is referring to what Reuther told the Joint Economic Committee, 2/20/67:

    “Profit sharing in the form of stock distributions to workers would help to democratize the ownership of Americas vast corporate wealth. [F]rom the standpoint of stabilization policy profit sharing does not increase costs. Since profits are a residual, after all costs have been met, profit sharing [through wider share ownership] cannot be said to have any inflationary impact on costs and prices.”

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