Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reagan, PATCO, and the Minutemen

A few weeks ago, I did a talk at my University about Ronald Reagan's handling of the Air Traffic Controllers' Strike in 1981. Talking about the aftermath and legacy of Reagan's firing of the strikers, I was able to weave in some music, more precisely the Minutemen. The following is an excerpt of that section.

The notion that Reagan's strict line towards the PATCO strikers weakened labor unions and made it easier for employers to fire dissenting employees in the ensuing years was reflected in other aspects of American culture as well. In 1984, the politically aware punk and folk inspired rock band Minutemen released a video for their song "This Ain't No Picnic", taken off the album Double Nickels On the Dime, which was released that same year. The song is one of the groups most striaght forward: it has what I would describe as a rampant or charging beat, and the chorus is shouted more than sung in a style that can be likened to protest calls at a rally. The lyrics describe the tension between a working man, his work and his employer. Below is the second verse of the song.

"Hey mister, don't look down on me
for what I believe
I got my bills and the rent
I should pitch a tent
but a man isn't free
for what he believes
so I'll work my life away
in place of a machine"

The video for "This Ain't No Picnic" takes into use black and white footage of a young Ronald Reagan in a World War II fighter plane, intercut with old footage of factory workers and footage of Minutemen outside of what appears to be a factory. The band lipsync the words of the song, shaking their fists in the air while singing the chorus, "This Ain't No Picnic", as if they were having a protest rally. As the video progresses, the fighter pilot in the guise of Ronald Reagan starts to fire the plane's guns. The footage shifts back to the band on the ground being fired at. There is an explosion, and we finally see the band, or the protesters, laying in the rubble. The image is quite striking: the protesters have effectively if violently been defeated at the hands of Ronald Reagan.

(Video for "This Ain't No Picninc" (SST Records, 1984))

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