Postal workers’ struggle spreads across the world

Part of NYC May Day is postal struggle.WW photo: G. Dunkel

Part of NYC May Day is postal struggle.
WW photo: G. Dunkel

U.S. Postal Service clerks, carriers, mail handlers and drivers have a lot in common with other postal workers in the capitalist world. In Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Greece, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, India, Uruguay, Peru, Brazil, Canada and other countries, postal workers have gone out on strike in the last year to demand wage increases, to defend benefits and to oppose privatization.

In the U.S., postal workers are in a fight to defend the post office from privatization, which would destroy union wages and benefits, disproportionately affecting communities of color. Corporate control of mail would curtail mail services to many communities, especially seniors, the disabled, the incarcerated, immigrants, rural communities and people without permanent housing.

Many USPS hearings have been packed by neighborhood and small business representatives opposed to postal cutbacks. Protests have taken place all over the country, with the March 24 rallies called by the National Association of Letter Carriers in 116 cities drawing tens of thousands of workers and community activists.

Just weeks later, five community and postal activists were arrested during the sit-in at a post office in Salem, Ore. Grievances have been filed and won against the subcontracting of motor vehicle jobs. Community and postal activists are organizing resistance to the sales of post office buildings in cities in many states.

The struggle continues, as Congress prepares to pass legislation that would either save the world’s most efficient and low-cost postal service, or destroy it.

Postal workers have also been fighting back on every continent, over many of the same issues, and against some of the same multinational corporations.

African postal workers strike

Postal workers went out on strike in Kenya over wages issues in December 2011, in Malawi in August 2012 and in Tunisia over staffing demands in June 2012.

In South Africa, postal workers struck in 2009 to put an end to the “apartheid wage gap” within the post office. Black workers were still earning the lowest salaries, a vestige of apartheid-era policies two decades earlier. This April 19, “casual” postal workers demanding they be made permanent employees returned to work after winning their demands. And 588 postal workers are still fighting for reinstatement after a six-week wildcat strike that ended in March over expected but not delivered bonuses.

With 25 percent unemployment in South Africa, partly as a result of the world economic crisis and a sharp rise in the cost of living and household debt, there has been an increase in strikes aimed at correcting “apartheid wages, high levels of inequality and the general economic state of workers,” said National Union of Mineworkers general secretary, Frans Baleni. (Mail & Guardian, May 5)

The South African Post Office offers banking services through Postbank, making savings, investment and insurance accounts widely available, even in the most remote areas of the country. Banking services help make South Africa’s postal services financially stable.

Brazil to Berlin, postal workers strike

Postal strikes took place in Brazil, Peru and Uruguay in the last 12 months. In Brazil, workers struck for a 43-percent increase in wages. The three months long strike ended Sept. 28, 2012, when the Superior Labor Court decreed a 6.5-percent wage increase and benefit improvements.

Brazil Post made $391 million in profits last year. The judge threatened $10,000 daily fines for Fentect, the national umbrella group for Brazil’s postal unions, if workers did not return to their jobs.

In Europe, postal strikes have been organized in Germany, Greece, Spain and England. Thousands of German postal workers walked off the job in rolling strikes (diverse locations, certain workers, for an hour or a day) over a three-week period before an agreement was reached on April 29 for a 5.7-percent wage increase over the next two years.

In England, postal workers have also organized rolling strikes to put pressure on U.K. authorities to protect Royal Mail from the impact of unfair private-sector competition in the postal sector. TNT Post and U.K. Mail are cherry-picking the most profitable parts of the U.K. postal market, leaving Royal Mail to pay for the less profitable parts.

The union is also opposing the privatization of Royal Mail itself, which could happen in some form later this year. The Communications Workers Union is currently balloting members on whether to strike the whole system later this year.

Spain’s postal workers walked picket lines on May 2 to show their opposition to government plans to “reform” the mail system, which union leaders say will eliminate 18,000 jobs.

Greek postal workers joined the Feb. 20 general strike as well as many others of the more than 20 general strikes that have been organized to oppose austerity forced on Greece by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

The 48-hour general strike on Nov. 6 and 7, 2012, opposed a law that would make it easier to privatize companies such as Hellenic Petroleum S.A., the Public Power Corp. electric company and the Greek postal service.

In Canada, the federal government imposed a back-to-work order on postal workers conducting rotating strikes in 2011. New labor contracts were finally ratified this March.

Canada Post is now threatening wage cuts, alternate-day mail service and the elimination of door-to-door delivery, despite a $127 million profit in 2012. Denis Lemelin, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, countered: “Many countries, including Switzerland, Italy, Brazil, New Zealand, France and Germany have expanded into revenue-generating financial and banking services. It is time for CPC to do likewise.” (cupw.ca)

The CUPW is fighting against post office closures, job eliminations, service cutbacks and privatization with a public campaign for municipalities to pass resolutions in favor of postal workers.

In the U.S., postal workers will be marching alongside community activists in the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration March from Baltimore to Washington on May 11 and 12. On that same date, the National Association of Letter Carriers is asking every postal customer to leave canned goods at their mailbox. The food will be distributed to neighborhood food pantries.

The fight for food, decent wages and benefits is a fundamental component in the fight against poverty. Just as postal workers are part of a common struggle in the U.S. for a fair and just society, we are also part of an international movement of workers.

Joe Piette is a member of Community- Labor United for Postal Jobs & Services, http://clupjs.com and and a retired letter carrier.