From 1986 book
Reorganization’s toll on the Post Office workforce
Published Mar 15, 2012 9:47 PM
Following are excerpts from Chapter 5 of “High Tech, Low Pay,” the 1986 book by then-Workers World Party Chairperson Sam Marcy. It explains some of the changes the Postal Reorganization Act and new technology were imposing on the Post Office’s workforce and this development’s relationship to the oppressed communities of color. See workers.org/marcy/hightech/.
In the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the PRA was passed, AT&T carried out one of its devastating assaults on the mass of telephone operators, which took a huge toll on Black, Latin and women workers especially.
What happened at AT&T has exceptional relevance to the situation of the postal workers. Even at that time it had become clear that the telecommunications industry had tremendous influence in the government, and that the enactment of the PRA would begin active competition between private industry and the postal service, in the process liquidating many thousands upon thousands of jobs.
However, the postal workers saw the Postal Reorganization Act in an entirely different context. They had just gone through their first and most important strike, which despite some concessions had won legitimacy for their union. This was accomplished even though Nixon sent the U.S. Army into the post offices of the great metropolitan areas of the country in an effort to intimidate and break the workers’ resistance. That the postal workers were able to survive this and grow in strength explains why they won subsequent gains and concessions from the government.
In all this, the historical background of the Postal Service should not be forgotten. Like other institutions of U.S. capitalism, it has been profoundly segregationist since the beginning. It was not until 1865, the last year of the Civil War, that the laws prohibiting, yes prohibiting!, Black people from carrying mailbags from stagecoach to post office were abolished.
Racism has continued during the many decades thereafter, partly as a result of outright discrimination by white organized unions. The founding of the National Alliance of Postal Workers in 1913 marked a milestone in self-help organizational mediums by Black workers when the leadership of white organized unions would not open their doors to Black workers.
It was not until the 1940s that Black, Latin and women workers were more freely admitted to the unions under the impact of many profound social changes, most important of which was the civil rights struggle and the upsurge of the labor movement as a whole. This finally made it possible for Black, Latin and women workers to take advantage of employment opportunities in the Postal Service.
Even now, despite attrition and pending future layoffs, “minorities [since 1978] have steadily increased as a proportion of total Postal Service employment.” Thus in the fiscal year 1981, a year of big layoffs as a result of the capitalist recession all over industry, “the Postal Service hired 10,064 Blacks, 2,765 Hispanics and 2,289 other minorities for a total of 15,118 or 27.6 percent of new employees.” (Henderson, Lenneal J. and Charles Murphy, “Perils of Black Postal Workers in a Technological Age: Some Strategies for Suvival”: Urban League Review, Summer 1983, Vol. 7, No. 2.)
Of course, with anticipated future employment reductions, the picture is not encouraging, particularly if one takes into account the direction the government is taking in pushing the replacement of workers with sophisticated technology. It is more and more geared to the telecommunications industry, of which the government is the principal supporter and promoter.
However, the future of women is a different matter. Female postal employment is predicted to rise while the proportion of Black workers as a whole is expected to remain constant.
The dispatch and delivery of mail are a component of the transportation and communications industry. Like railroad workers, truck drivers and waterfront workers, postal workers participate in the freight-handling process. Transportation facilitates the circulation of capitalist commodities and the scientific-technological revolution has accelerated this process. What automation has done in the Postal Service is another form of what containerization did in the shipping and maritime industries. The postal workers must view themselves as part of the communications, telecommunications and transportation industries with whom they have so much in common.
The employers and the capitalist state have a sustained and abiding interest in artificially keeping the workers in these industries apart and separated. They do this all the more to divide Black and white. However, the scientific-technological revolution has forged a new link between a variety of industries which hitherto seemed to be very separated. It has opened up a new vista, a new horizon which lays out and broadens the basis for working-class solidarity.
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