Solidarity Day march
Events leading up to the march
On 3 August 1981, 12,500 air traffic controllers, members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), walked off their jobs with the Federal Aviation Administration. President Ronald Reagan vowed to fire the controllers if they did not return to work within 48 hours. On the first day of the strike 85 percent of union controllers were out. Two days later, Reagan fired the striking controllers -- 12,000 air traffic controllers were fired on August 5. 
PATCO were demanding wage increases, safer working conditions, a 32 hour week, and an end to long shift patterns. As federal employees they were, however, barred from striking. The FAA replaced the strikers with non-union workers. According to the union, 481 near misses were reported in the first year of the strike, compared to 10 reported in the 10 years before the walkout. Militants were arrested, jailed and fined. Some PATCO members with federal mortgages lost their homes. The union was fined millions of dollars, and its $3.5 million strike fund was frozen. Eventually, the government succeeded in decertifying PATCO. The president of the US union federation, the AFL-CIO, denounced Reagan's attack on PATCO. But a letter was also sent to AFL-CIO affiliates, discouraging them from taking any type of strike action in solidarity. 
Following the firing of the PATCO workers, officials from that union visited various other unions in an attempt to garner support from various other unions. These efforts were not particularly well received because in the 1980 presidential election, PATCO refused to back President Jimmy Carter, instead endorsing Republican Party candidate Ronald Reagan. PATCO's refusal to endorse the Democratic Party stemmed in large part from poor labor relations with the FAA (the employer of PATCO members) under the Carter administration and Ronald Reagan's endorsement of the union and its struggle for better conditions during the 1980 election campaign.
The AFL-CIO's Solidarity Day march in Washington, D.C., in September 1981, came a few weeks into the PATCO strike, and drew half a million union people. The solidarity march was even bigger than the great 1968 march. In other ways the march was a new experience in post-war Washington. Because, though many groups and parties supported the demonstration, it was overwhelmingly a demonstration of organised labour. It was the first major demonstration to have been organised for decades by the AFL-CIO. 
Notes and references
- "The Graphics of Solidarity". The Virginia Quarterly Review.
- "Reagan versus US workers". Workers' Liberty.
- Beik, Mildred A. (2005). Labor Relations. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 249–257. ISBN 0-313-31864-6.
- Fantasia, Rick; Kim Voss (2004). Hard Work: Remaking the American Labor Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 67. ISBN 0-520-24090-1.
- Will Parry Papers. 1977-1981. 0.21 cubic feet (1 box). At the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. Contains records and materials about Solidarity Day.