Monday, May 20, 2013

Carbocci: Postal Strike of 1970


Shannon Carbocci
Postal Strike of 1970
The Postal Strike of 1970 was the first national postal stoppage in the United States and the largest walkout against the U.S. federal government. Once it occurred, it impaired the functions of different industries and entities including the U.S. government, Wall Street, the garment industry, department stores, and many individuals. The strike was short it just lasted two weeks. The workers were peaceful but confident in their demands that needed to be met before they were willing to return to work. In the end, they were successful.

The strike started out in New York City with members of Local 36 voting on whether the postal workers should strike or not. The vote occurred on March 17, 1970 with 1,555 people voting yes to strike, and 1,055 voting no. 1 A day later, the strike began. The immediate trigger for this strike happened on March 12th, 1970 when the Post Office Committee and the Civil Service Committee publicized a Nixon supported bill that would make the Post Office Department into a private and independent “Postal Authority.”2 The bill would give postal workers a 5.4 percent increase in wages, but for many workers that did not seem like enough. “At the beginning of 1970, a craft employee of the post office with 21 years of service earned an average of $8,440, which was practically poverty level in numerous urban centers, and required many to work a second job.”3 These postal workers wanted enough money to live on and to them the strike was a way to make that happen.
Money was a critical issue. One postal worker in New York City said that if the government could vote themselves a 41 percent pay increase, the postal workers themselves should be able to have their desired eight percent. These pay issues made the postal workers want to strike and this scared the union officials. Executive Vice President of Local Branch 36, Mr. Sandbank said that the union was no longer in control of the postal workers and did not have the authority to make them stop striking. The union officials said they were not in control of the postal workers in New York City, which set an example for the other workers in other cities.4 By the end of the week, the strike involved workers from more than 30 major cities such as Buffalo, Chicago and Cleveland, as well as workers from smaller rural regions. Gustave Johnson, president of the letter carriers branch 36 in Manhattan, the branch with whom the strike originally started, said, “By this action, we have graduated from an organization to a union.” 5 Postal service, once taken for granted, now affected many people by its absence.
In some way, everyone was affected by the strike, but there both positive and negative impacts. Not having this important service was devastating for personal letters, mail orders, draft notices for the Vietnam War and people needing to send information quickly through the mail. On Wall Street, important checks and stock certificates as well as other financial papers had failed to arrive to the stock exchange in New York City. This hindered business and made officials consider that the market might shut down if the strike continued.6 In the garment industry, orders that needed to be fulfilled were not received. In addition, some department stores suffered because they received more than half of their accounts through the mail. The ordinary person could feel the effects of the strike as well. Birthday cards, personal letters, anniversary cards, and wedding invitations could not be sent.
The Postal Strike of 1970 also had some positive impacts. Some men in the country were given a short respite from the draft. The telephone and telegraph became more valuable to people, from the common person to large corporations. Also during the strike private messenger services thrived. New York City's Fleet Messenger Service, which usually handles about 3,000 deliveries a day, had orders for about 4,000 before lunchtime on the first day of the strike.7 Therefore, even though some businesses were in shambles because of this strike, others thrived.
The postal workers themselves felt that the strike was completely necessary. For years, they believed they had been deprived of adequate wages. The salary scales for postal workers were the same across the United States. Someone in a rural town made the same as someone in New York City, where it is much more expensive to live. For the postal worker in New York City this seemed very unfair. Their ideal was a salary that started at eight thousand five hundred dollars a year to making eleven thousand seven hundred a year over the course of five years. Striking postal workers also wanted more retirement benefits and a government paid pension plan instead of workers having to pay for it themselves.8
The federal government and President Nixon specifically, had an adverse reaction to the postal workers’ strike. Strikes against any form of government are also illegal because of the importance of federal government. In Nixon’s Postal Statement, he said, “There are legitimate grievances that have been brought to the fore in the current postal crisis. But those grievances cannot justify illegal remedies, and those grievances cannot and will not be negotiated or ameliorated in a climate of intimidation.”9 This was met with resistance from postal workers. The federal government also called for postal workers to return to work and only then would salary discussions would occur. With their demands unaddressed, the postal workers refused to go back to work, while the federal government declined to come to an agreement with them while they were on strike.10 In addition, during the strike, President Nixon said that no matter what he would see that the mail would go through. Because of this vow to the people, he called in the National Guard to sort through the mail and process them in major cities, but they were somewhat incompetent at these tasks. To avoid more chaos Nixon and Rademacher were urging a truce. Everyone at union meetings said complaints against these two men because these workers did not want a truce, at least not until their demands were met.11
The strike did not last indefinitely. It ended when the union, more importantly its president James Rademacher, said that the postal workers needed to go back to work, so the union could negotiate for them. Since the postal workers did return to work, President Nixon and his administration came to an agreement of an immediate pay increase for the workers. In addition, another increase would occur for the workers after the conclusion of postal reorganization. This reorganization came from the postal reorganization act of 1970 that was signed into law in August 1970 by Nixon. This act had two major effects. The first was the creation of a corporate structured agency, which is our current system known as the United States Postal Service (USPS). The second effect was it gave postal unions the right to collective bargaining for wages, benefits as well as working conditions.12The postal reorganization act of 1970 was a way to bring postal workers and the postal union into the future; this is the future we know today. Without the postal workers strike the United States Postal Service may not have been structured the way it had been.
This strike may have only lasted two weeks but it had a major impact on working class history. It was the first as well as the largest walkout against the federal government. The Postal Strike of 1970 was short and peaceful and in the end successful for the workers. The workers may have been peaceful themselves, no fights or shootouts occurred, but the Postal Strike affected nearly every industry in some way whether positively or negatively. By ignoring the rules that federal employees could not strike, these workers took the risk to strike, which ultimately benefitted them in the end. These strikers took the initiative, all two hundred thousand of them, and showed the world what postal workers could achieve.

1 Cordon, Hector. World Socialist Web Site. April 24, 2010. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/04/post-a24.html (accessed April 19, 2013).


2 Cordon, Hector. World Socialist Web Site. April 24, 2010. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/04/post-a24.html (accessed April 19, 2013).


3 Cordon, Hector. World Socialist Web Site. April 24, 2010. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/04/post-a24.html (accessed April 19, 2013).


4 Time Magazine . Time in partnership with CNN. March 30, 1970. http://www.apwu.org/news/burrus/2007/update09-2007-031907-iretdoc.pdf (accessed April 14, 2013).


5 Time Magazine . Time in partnership with CNN. March 30, 1970. http://www.apwu.org/news/burrus/2007/update09-2007-031907-iretdoc.pdf (accessed April 14, 2013).


6 Time Magazine . Time in partnership with CNN. March 30, 1970. http://www.apwu.org/news/burrus/2007/update09-2007-031907-iretdoc.pdf (accessed April 14, 2013).


7 Time Magazine . Time in partnership with CNN. March 30, 1970. http://www.apwu.org/news/burrus/2007/update09-2007-031907-iretdoc.pdf (accessed April 14, 2013).


8 Time Magazine . Time in partnership with CNN. March 30, 1970. http://www.apwu.org/news/burrus/2007/update09-2007-031907-iretdoc.pdf (accessed April 14, 2013).


9 Nixon, President. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009). March 22, 1970. http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.cc.stonybrook.edu/hnpnewyorktimes/docview/119053200/13DC6918C783F78097B/11?accountid=14172 (accessed April 19, 2013).


10 Boyd, Deanna, and Kendra Chen. Smithsonian National Postal Museum. n.d. http://postalmuseum.si.edu/AfricanAmericanHistory/p11.html (accessed April 17, 2013).


11 Time Magazine . Time in partnership with CNN. March 30, 1970. http://www.apwu.org/news/burrus/2007/update09-2007-031907-iretdoc.pdf (accessed April 14, 2013).


12 Boyd, Deanna, and Kendra Chen. Smithsonian National Postal Museum. n.d. http://postalmuseum.si.edu/AfricanAmericanHistory/p11.html (accessed April 17, 2013).

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