Grassroots actions defend Post Office

As postal workers, we’re in for a fight — to protect our union jobs and the public Post Office that people have depended on since it was founded in 1775.

Private companies, and their cronies in Congress and USPS headquarters, are scheming to dismantle and privatize this highly successful, $68-billion-in-annual-revenue operation. In the end, what they want is to slash the pay and protections of the people doing postal work.

How can we fight it? By itself, the legislative strategy — trying to influence Congress — is not enough. Congress is bought and sold by the 1%, and that goes for both major parties. They won’t begin to listen to us until we’re in the streets, mobilized in all our numbers.

The rank and file postal workers, and our communities, who support us — this is the source of our real strength. We need to reach out and tap into it, just as we did in the Great 1970 Postal Strike. That grassroots upsurge brought about a big change in the relationship of forces between postal workers and the bosses. What used to be work for poverty wages became a living-wage job, with a union contract to protect our rights. Any letter carrier can see this.

When Reagan took office as President, one of his first acts was to bust the PATCO air traffic controllers union, ushering in three decades of attacks on unions and a steady decline in the living standards of the working class.

Today, the 1% have a much bigger target — the Postal Service. They hate the fact that the 500,000-plus who work for the nation’s second biggest employer are under union contract and making a living wage.

They hate the fact that in 1970 the postal workers took their destiny into their own hands and shut down the entire mail system for the better part of a week, demonstrating the power of the workers and disrupting business as usual.

The nation’s largest private employer is Walmart. The employer class would dearly love to reduce those 500,000 postal workers to Walmart wages and nonunion status. But just because they want it, doesn’t mean they’ll get it.

Fighting back

A grassroots effort has sprung up to defend our postal jobs and services. Here are a few highlights of this national struggle:

● In the Harlem, South Bronx, Staten Island, Coop City and Chelsea neighborhoods of New York City, as well as in Portland (Oregon) and San Francisco, large protests, marches or postal lobby occupations were organized to oppose the closing of postal facilities. In Portland, activists blocked scab trucks to stop the privatization of postal trucking. From Arizona to Connecticut, aroused communities have stopped or delayed the closing or sale of many post offices and mail processing plants.

● This article, which originally appeared in a union newsletter, Voice of the Golden Gate Letter Carriers, was republished on the listserve of Communities & Postal Workers United. The Rural Organizing Project counts many successes in its “Return to Sender” grassroots campaign to preserve full-service post offices in rural Oregon.

● In San Francisco in 2012, a crowd of 200 with an “Occupy the Post Office” banner marched and took over the lobby of Civic Center station — one of five in the city slated for closure. The station is a lifeline for the very poor who get their mail in P.O. boxes or “general delivery,” and a contingent of homeless people took part in the occupation. Shortly after the action, the USPS removed Civic Center and the other four stations from the closure list.

● Local coalitions in many cities banded together in 2012 to form Communities & Postal Workers United. CPWU organized a four-day hunger strike in Washington, D.C., with saturation media, telling Congress: “Stop Starving the Postal Service!” Earlier this year, after the murder of Maryland letter carrier Tyson Barnette while delivering in the dark, CPWU organized a Martin Luther King Day march with Brother Barnette’s family from the King Memorial to USPS headquarters, demanding action to put an end to unsafe delivery in the dark.

● At the U.S. Capitol, in December 2012, when Sen. [Joseph] Lieberman and Rep. [Darrel] Issa announced their intention of using the lame-duck session of Congress to eliminate six-day mail delivery, CPWU members called a hunger strike for the duration of the session. They camped out in a tent draped with banners on the National Mall facing the Capitol, and rented a horse-drawn carriage to bring a giant “Save Saturday delivery” postcard to the White House. They also staged an hour-long sit-in at Congressman Issa’s office. This led to one arrest and an impromptu 20-minute debate with Rep. Issa himself, who needless to say did not succeed in eliminating six-day delivery.

● In Berkeley (California) a two-year campaign to stop the sale of our historic post office has energized the community. The entire City Council and California Legislature came out against the sale. People packed the hearings. A ballot initiative, if passed by voters in November, will rezone the P.O. as part of an historic district, placing restrictions on uses of the building by any private investor who tries to buy it.

● A Tent City on the steps and grounds of the Berkeley Post Office lasted 33 days, until broken up by police. Two dozen campers slept in tents for a month in the summer of 2013, to rally opposition to the attempted grand theft of the people’s Post Office. There were freshly cooked meals every night, Saturday concerts on the steps, teach-ins, and a daily camp meeting to decide on strategy. Each day hundreds came to volunteer to help save the P.O. Evenings featured “movie night” on the P.O. steps, showing films with a postal or class struggle theme. For weeks, the Tent City got almost daily coverage on the TV news, and a local paper named it the city’s “news story of the year.”

● The four postal unions organized joint protests in all 435 congressional districts in September 2011, and this year formed a Postal Union Alliance as part of a Grand Alliance to fight privatization. The American Postal Workers Union launched a campaign to stop the establishment of so-called “postal counters” in Staples stores, winning wide labor backing to boycott the office supply chain. The NALC successfully led the fight to stave off attempts to eliminate door-to-door and Saturday delivery.

● In June of this year, 24/7 sidewalk occupations in front of Staples stores emerged as a new tactic in San Francisco and Berkeley. Led by homeless veterans of the 2012 occupation of the Civic Center station, these information tables have succeeded in turning away many customers from the scab stores. (For more information, go to Facebook: First they came for the homeless.)

● The idea of Postal Banking, pushed by  the postal unions, has caught fire. Why not use our unprecedented network of 30,000 post offices to provide safe basic checking and savings to our hundreds of millions of customers? The giant banks that dominate the U.S. business and political landscape are corrupt institutions that defrauded homeowners and caused the 2007-09 financial crisis. Working people have lost faith in these banks as a trustworthy place to put their hard-earned money. Postal banking, which existed in the United States for 56 years, is definitely an idea whose time has come again.

The movement is under way and growing, initiated by rank and file letter carriers, clerks and mail handlers and aroused communities who don’t want to lose their Post Office. With the postal unions becoming more unified, and momentum going our way, the prospects are good that by mobilizing in every post office and every community, we can beat back the privatizers and preserve the 239-year-old public Post Office we all depend on.

This article originally appeared in a union newsletter, Voice of the Golden Gate Letter Carriers, and was republished on the listserve of Communities & Postal Workers United.