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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Let Us Not Forget! Postal Workers Wildcat Strike of 1978

Postal Strike of 1978
Photo Shows Jeff Perry and Drake Waller


Thirty-nine years ago, at midnight on July 20/21, 1978, national postal contracts expired. In the early morning hours of July 21st at the 1.8 million square foot New York Bulk & Foreign Mail Center in Jersey City, the largest postal facility in the world at that time, an informational picket line went up.

Postal workers carried signs of “No Contract, No Work,” a slogan endorsed by the three major postal unions (the American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, and the National Post Office Mail Handlers [division of LIUNA]) and a slogan that was the official position of their joint Labor Negotiating Committee. Conditions were oppressive, particularly at the Bulk, and pressing worker issues involved safety, wages, mandatory overtime, COLA, racial and gender discrimination, and the right to strike.

With conditions as bad as they were, and in the political climate that had been created around the contract, it didn’t take much to close the 4,000-worker Bulk Mail facility by the time workers started arriving for the 6 a.m. day shift. Ninety percent of the day shift workers did not report to work and the temperatures that day went into the 90s. Afternoon and evening shifts also stayed out.

The wildcat strike grew and spread quickly to the San Francisco Bulk Mail Center (in Richmond, CA,). There were also walkouts at the Kearney, NJ Mail Processing Center; the Washington, D.C. BMC, and in Philadelphia; and sporadic protests in Chicago, Allentown, Pennsylvania, Miami, and Los Angeles.

The wildcat strike was broken after five days. Postal management fired 125 workers, suspended 130, and issued letters of warning to 2,500. Among those striking postal workers were a number of valiant working class fighters who are no longer with us including Dave Cline, Clarence Fitch, Drake Waller, and Al Mancuso. Worker consciousness was raised in the struggle, the proposed contracts were rejected by union members, and an arbitrated settlement was ultimately imposed that retained the uncapped COLA that workers demanded and weakened no layoff protections as management wanted.

The 1978 wildcat strike was the largest federal employees strike since the 1970 walkout by 173,000 postal workers and it would not be surpassed until the August 1981 strike of 11,500 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO).

The postal wildcat strikers of 1978 were fired under the administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter. The PATCO workers were fired under the administration of Republican Ronald Reagan.

The full stories of the 1978 postal wildcat and related struggles are still to be told. People interested in more on the 1978 strike may want to look at:

The video Signed Sealed and Delivered: Labor Struggle in the Post Office (1980) by Tami Gold. Dan Gordon, and Erik Lewis

The book There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality (University of North Carolina Press, 2010) by Philip F. Rubio.

For a brief discussion of some of the work subsequently done by Mail Handlers from the Jersey City Bulk Mail Center at the branch, local, and national levels see The Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy -- THE MAIL HANDLERS UNION AND THE FIGHT AGAINST RACISM at the National and at the Grass Roots Level Notes From a Talk By the Treasurer of Local 300” at the Labor Notes Conference, Sunday May 21, 1989, Detroit, Michigan

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Letter to the editor on the proposed Woodrow Wilson Marker at Princeton University by Jeffrey B. Perry in "Princeton Alumni Weekly"


Letter to the editor
on the proposed Woodrow Wilson Marker
at Princeton University
by Jeffrey B. Perry
in "Princeton Alumni Weekly"
March 1, 2017

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A Letter of Support Re: The Black Justice League Protests at Princeton by Jeffrey B. Perry and Gene Bruskin--

In 1964, as Princeton freshmen we were told that Woodrow Wilson had been a leading Progressive, a proponent of “Democracy,” and a champion of self-determination abroad. It is good to see students today challenging that picture.

Wilson’s record was deplorable on the “race question.” He cut back federal appointments of African Americans; supported showings of the white-supremacist film "The Birth of a Nation" for himself, his Cabinet, Congress, and the Supreme Court; stood by silently as segregation was formalized in the Post Office, Treasury, Interior, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Navy; did nothing as almost two dozen segregation-supporting legislative attempts including exclusion of Black immigrants, segregation of streetcars, and a ban on inter-racial marriages in the District of Columbia were introduced in the House and Senate; and declined to use any significant power of office to address lynching, segregation, and disfranchisement and the vicious white-supremacist attacks on twenty-six African American communities including Washington, DC, Chicago, and East St. Louis that occurred during his administration.

Under Wilson the U.S. not only implemented the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918, and the Palmer Raids of 1919-1920, it also occupied Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Nicaragua and intervened in Panama, Honduras, and Mexico. Nevertheless, Wilson ran for President in 1916 on a campaign slogan “he kept us out of war,” posed before the world as a champion of democracy, and prated of “the rights of small nationalities,” of “self-determination,” and of “the right of all who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.” In addition to the awful horrors let loose on small countries pre-war, in the postwar period he also helped to pave the way for partition, occupation, and conquest in the Middle East and Africa and for future wars.

There were contemporaries of Wilson, people like the intellectual/activist Hubert Harrison, the founder of the first organization (the Liberty League) and first newspaper (The Voice) of the militant “New Negro Movement,” who saw through the misleading portrait of Wilson so often found in the media and history books. Harrison understood that while lynching, segregation, and disfranchisement marred this land, and while the U.S. brazenly attacked smaller countries, “Wilson's protestations of democracy were lying protestations, consciously, and deliberately designed to deceive.” At the founding meeting of the Liberty League in June 1917, Harrison posed a direct challenge to Wilson who had claimed the U.S. was entering World War I in order to “Make the World Safe for Democracy.” Harrison’s mass meeting was called, as its organizational flyer headlined, to "Stop Lynching and Disfranchisement in the Land Which We Love and Make the South 'Safe For Democracy.'" A month later Harrison led a second major Harlem rally to protest the white supremacist “pogrom” (his word) in East St. Louis, Illinois (15 miles from Ferguson, Missouri).

We are glad that the Black Justice League is raising some of these issues, opening the eyes of many, and helping to point the way forward in the 21st century.

Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry ‘68
jeffreybperry@gmail.com
Editor of the new expanded edition of Hubert H. Harrison, When Africa Awakes: The "Inside Story" of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World and author of Hubert Harrison, The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia University Press)

Gene Bruskin ‘68
genebruskin@gmail.com
Founder, U.S. Labor Against the War
Trade Unionist

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Let Us Not Forget! Postal Workers Wildcat Strike of 1978



Let Us Not Forget!


Thirty-six years ago, at midnight on July 20/21, 1978, national postal contracts expired. In the early morning hours of July 21st at the 1.8 million square foot New York Bulk & Foreign Mail Center in Jersey City, the largest postal facility in the world at that time, an informational picket line went up.

Postal workers carried signs of “No Contract, No Work,” a slogan endorsed by the three major postal unions (the American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, and the National Post Office Mail Handlers [division of LIUNA]) and a slogan that was the official position of their joint Labor Negotiating Committee. Conditions were oppressive, particularly at the Bulk, and pressing worker issues involved safety, wages, mandatory overtime, COLA, racial and gender discrimination, and the right to strike.

With conditions as bad as they were, and in the political climate that had been created around the contract, it didn’t take much to close the 4,000-worker Bulk Mail facility by the time workers started arriving for the 6 a.m. day shift. Ninety percent of the day shift workers did not report to work and the temperatures that day went into the 90s. Afternoon and evening shifts also stayed out.

The wildcat strike grew and spread quickly to the San Francisco Bulk Mail Center (in Richmond, CA,). There were also walkouts at the Kearney, NJ Mail Processing Center; the Washington, D.C. BMC, and in Philadelphia; and sporadic protests in Chicago, Allentown, Pennsylvania, Miami, and Los Angeles.

The wildcat strike was broken after five days. Postal management fired 125 workers, suspended 130, and issued letters of warning to 2,500. Among those striking postal workers were a number of valiant working class fighters who are no longer with us including Dave Cline, Clarence Fitch, Drake Waller, and Al Mancuso. Worker consciousness was raised in the struggle, the proposed contracts were rejected by union members, and an arbitrated settlement was ultimately imposed that retained the uncapped COLA that workers demanded and weakened no layoff protections as management wanted.

The 1978 wildcat strike was the largest federal employees strike since the 1970 walkout by 173,000 postal workers and it would not be surpassed until the August 1981 strike of 11,500 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO).

The postal wildcat strikers of 1978 were fired under the administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter. The PATCO workers were fired under the administration of Republican Ronald Reagan.

The full stories of the 1978 postal wildcat and related struggles are still to be told. People interested in more on the 1978 strike may want to look at:

The video Signed Sealed and Delivered: Labor Struggle in the Post Office (1980) by Tami Gold. Dan Gordon, and Erik Lewis

The book There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality (University of North Carolina Press, 2010) by Philip F. Rubio.

For a brief discussion of some of the work subsequently done by Mail Handlers from the Jersey City Bulk Mail Center at the branch, local, and national levels see The Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy -- THE MAIL HANDLERS UNION AND THE FIGHT AGAINST RACISM at the National and at the Grass Roots Level Notes From a Talk By the Treasurer of Local 300” at the Labor Notes Conference, Sunday May 21, 1989, Detroit, Michigan

 Read More 
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