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Southern Labor Archives: Curriculum for the PATCO Records: Lesson 1: Correspondence


The purpose of this lesson is to gain deeper knowledge of the 1981 PATCO strike, and to provoke you to engage with current events and outlets of expression. You are encouraged to participate with political or public figures and to realize they have a voice. By emulating the format of correspondence in the PATCO collection, you will understand the different technological effort required to communicate in the 1970s. You may find that contemporary avenues of communication are modeled on the traditional analog letter, with options to reference and carbon copy for example, but that electronic correspondence is more convenient. Conversely, you might find that a traditional letter inspires a different sense of voice, and perhaps a different sense of effectiveness. You might investigate the emotional influence of an email and its electronic (im)permanence compared to the emotional quality of a handwritten or typed letter and its permanence.

You will discover upon reading the PATCO correspondence that most of the public was very unsupportive of the strike, but PATCO received strong support from many labor unions and other professionals in the field. As these letters might indicate, it is difficult to articulate the need for improved working conditions or quality of life to those outside one’s own circle. This lesson hopes to be a tool to hone communication and explore the articulation of personal experience. These letters are also wonderful artifacts of the economic and political climate of the time.

Specific examples of correspondence are included in the resource packet for this lesson, but entire PDFs may be accessed at Georgia State University Digital Collections for browsing, downloading and distributing in class. Also, for related radio interviews and videos see “Additional Materials” in the Lesson Resource Packet for Correspondence.


The Tasks

  • You will compose letters to Robert E. Poli and Ronald Reagan to express their opinion of the PATCO strike. The letters must accurately reflect the format of the time period. Only handwritten or typed on a typewriter without electronic erase. These letters must be sealed in an envelope, and appropriately addressed and stamped.

  • You will also correspond with a contemporary public figure on either an issue of their choice, or one introduced to the class to engage current events. If the topic is open, you will describe in a short paper why they decided to write this figure, and how that personal correspondence was carried out, be it traditional letter, email or some other current form of communication like social networking.

Activity 1: Letters to PATCO

Instructor will distribute copies (electronic or analog) of correspondence sent to PATCO during their 1981 strike.

  1. Make note of the CCs. Often these letters were copied to President Reagan and others. Why take the time to indicate this is a letter?
  2. Why do the letter writers support the strike? Why do they condemn it?
  3. Do any of the letters seem to have a neutral opinion of the strike?
  4. What do the political references indicate?
  5. Can a political, economic or social climate be interpreted from the content of the letters?

Investigate the physical attributes of the letters.

  1. How are these letters different from contemporary correspondence? How are they similar?
  2. Discuss the various types of paper: lined, stationary, note cards. Is the choice of paper deliberate for the intent of the letter or simply for convenience?
  3. Does the choice of stationary convey emotion? Why or why not?
  4. Does handwriting convey emotion? Why or why not?

Discuss the letter writing.

  1. Have you ever written a letter, email, et cetera, to any kind of figure in society?
  2. Have you interacted with any kind of public figure in a social network? Entertainment industry? Political figure? Writers, musicians, actors? Follow any on Twitter? Ever direct a tweet at them or friend them on Facebook? Ever get a response? How did that feel? Is this different than getting a signed response in the form of a traditional letter?
  3. What are the differences in contemporary correspondence and the 1981 letters to PATCO? Are correspondence and communication easier today? Do you wonder if your electronic correspondence is received by the intended recipient? Did letter writers in the early 1980s have this same concern?
  4. How would you discover the mailing address of the White House, a labor organization, a political leader or any public figure today? How would this be done in the 1980s?
  5. Have you ever used a phone book? Have you ever called information, or the operator?
  6. How would you contact these individuals electronically?
  7. Do you wonder if your emails are even opened, read or saved? Do the archived PATCO records reflect that analog letters were probably saved by organizations or people, generally speaking? Do you think PATCO kept every letter, or just some? (There are no correct answers. The PATCO archives probably represent only a fraction of the letters received, but we do not know for sure.)

Compose letters to PATCO President Robert E. Poli and former President Reagan.

  1. Compose letters to Robert E. Poli and Ronald Reagan taking up an opinion about the PATCO strike.
  2. The goal is for you to make an intelligent argument about 1981 PATCO strike (in support, against or making a good argument for indecision), and the tactics employed by the Reagan administration to break the strike and disband the union. These could even be composed after the repercussions of the strike have been discussed, to add complexity in the manner of retrospect. (“If we knew then what we know now…”). Writing Poli and Reagan from a contemporary stand point, not just in the context of the immediate strike, could be interesting.
  3. You must adopt the format of the archival PATCO correspondence. Letters must be analog and handwritten or typed on a typewriter, without electronic functions.
  4. Letters need to be appropriately addressed and sealed.
  5. Be creative. Any format or stationary is accepted. It can be a personal project, as the archival PATCO correspondence is often heated and personal.
  6. There is no excessive structure to the content of this assignment. Offensive language is used throughout the PATCO correspondence and while this isn’t necessarily to be encouraged, it is not be discouraged. The intent is for you to make an informed argument in the voice of the public for a certain side of the strike, and to express that argument well.

Activity 2: Letters to a Person of Choice

Correspond with a public figure.

  1. You will correspond with a public figure of your choice, on any topic. This assignment could be adapted to involve a current event (election, contemporary strike, school funding, etc.). This activity is most effective if the you engage with someone you have sincere interest in, such as a musician, writer, actor, even a hero or role model who is deceased.
  2. You may use any method of correspondence such as email, traditional letter or social networking.

Write a short paper describing who you have corresponded with and why.

  1. Describe your individual experience in a paper which includes copies or transcripts of the correspondence. You are expected to detail how you found contact information on your public figure. The correspondence process may merely be a visit to a website to find an email under the “Contact Us” tab or an imagined exchange (to contact a dead politician, for example). Even if the process is simple and direct, it must still be articulated and copies provided.
  2. Some may choose to write an analog letter to the home of a local congressional representative. How did the you find the address? Was it easy?
  3. Describe in the paper how you feel about engaging in correspondence. Do you feel a sense of accomplishment having expressed your ideas? Do you feel silly or self-conscious? Is it different than corresponding with friends and family?
  4. Have fun with it. (Inventiveness and expression is the key. Drawings, songs, playlists, webpages, all could be considered correspondence.)

Discuss in class your various methods of correspondence and contact with the public figure.

  1. How you track the contact information for this figure, either electronically, traditionally or through other avenues (perhaps rumor, nepotism, or close encounter)? Was the email or social profile easy to find online? How about analog mailing address?
  2. What does it mean to have trouble finding contact info for a politician? For a musician? Is this different?
  3. If none chose to write a traditional letter, perhaps do an exercise in class to discover a politician’s address and phone number. Figure out the White House website or the website for your state representatives. Find out what congressional district you are in. Is this information difficult to discover? Is it easy? What does that suggest?


This lesson operates under the assumption that the class has been lectured on the history of labor unions (and/or PATCO) and the political socioeconomic events leading up to and surrounding the 1981 PATCO strike. You should be advised to think critically about the strike, and to express yourself clearly in your letters. You are encouraged to get creative with the assignments and to correspond with an individual, or about an issue, in which you feel passionate or want to learn more.


Learning is measured by engagement in the assignments, creativity and clarity of expression. You should be able to articulate reasons for length or brevity of the letters you compose, but you are also allowed a comfortable place to express their beliefs and opinions on the PATCO strike and your “open” topic.


You can expect to investigate how you feel about the PATCO strike or a current event, and to express yourself. You are also expected to think critically about correspondence now and thirty years ago. The goal is to come away from this lesson thinking about access to political and public figures, and what the ease or difficulty of that access suggests. Consider that heated emotions often fuel political and economic events with repercussions that are not clear until decades later.

Downloadable files

Special Collections and Archives

Special Collections and Archives
Southern Labor Archives

Phone: (404) 413-2880
Fax: (404) 413-2881

Mailing Address:
Special Collections & Archives
Georgia State University Library
100 Decatur Street, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-3202

In Person:
Library South, 8th floor

Employee Directory

Digitization of the PATCO records funded by: