Deregulation and the Democrats

May 17, 2012

I WAS happy to read about the victory for port truck drivers in Los Angeles employed by the Toll Group, who gained union recognition ("Union victory for port drivers").

This is an important victory for workers with a lot of social power given that by withdrawing their labor, port truckers are able to stop the transport of goods through one of the key ports in the country.

At the beginning of the interview, Leonardo Mejia stated that Ronald Reagan deregulated the trucking industry by signing the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, paving the way for trucking companies to bust unions at the ports (and elsewhere) by replacing unionized drivers with non-union "independent contractors." While Reagan did more than his share of union-busting, the Motor Carrier Act was actually signed into law by Reagan's Democratic predecessor Jimmy Carter.

Reagan was an enemy of the working class, but it's important to understand that the assault on working-class living standards over the last three decades, a central component of neoliberalism, was a bipartisan effort from the beginning.

In fact, Jimmy Carter launched a number of policy initiatives beyond the anti-union deregulation of the trucking industry that were later taken up by the Republicans, policies that many attribute to that party even though Democrats were complicit and in many cases initiated them.

For example, Carter appointed Paul Volcker, Jr. as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Volcker, who was later reappointed by Reagan in 1983. In 1979, Volcker said that "the standard of living of the average American has to decline." His solution to the crisis of the 1970s was to jack up interest rates, which triggered a recession that saw unemployment rise, laying the ground for big business to attack unions and drive workers' living standards down to increase the rate of profit.

The deregulation of the trucking industry and the "Volcker shock," along with Ronald Reagan's crushing of the PATCO air traffic controllers' strike, mark the beginnings of the neoliberal assault on workers' living standards and unions.

Finally, Carter announced in 1980 what became known as the "Carter Doctrine," where he declared control over Middle East oil to be of vital interest to the United States, and something to be defended by military force.

Rather than shifting course, Reagan continued and expanded upon Carter's Middle East policy, as did George H.W. Bush in launching the first war against Iraq, Bill Clinton in carrying out bombings and crippling sanctions, and George W. Bush in launching the second.

Every gain that the labor movement has won has been the result of the struggles of workers' themselves, in spite of the efforts of Republicans and Democrats, the two parties of American capitalism. That is why this victory for the Port truckers is so important.
Gary Lapon, New York City

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