The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight against White Supremacy (The Addendum Discusses "Daedalus"" see HERE
Jeffrey B. Perry Blog
The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight against White Supremacy
Theodore W. Allen, "Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race" (Part 2) see HERE.
Theodore W. Allen, "Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race" (Part 1) is available at HERE
Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005) pioneered his "white skin privilege" analysis in 1965. (See Ted [Theodore W.] Allen, "A Call . . . John Brown Memorial Pilgrimage . . . December 4, 1965," John Brown Commemoration Committee, 1965.)
Noel Ignatiev (1940-2019) wrote to me on June 17, 2005 (after Allen's death): "In the fall of 1966, after some conversations with Ted Allen and Esther Kusic (who has just died and whose loss is felt deeply by those who knew her) I became convinced of the correctness of their position that the white skin privilege has been the achilles heel of the labor movement in the US, . . . " Ignatiev further explained: "My first act in 1966 on finding myself outside the group [Provisional Organizing Committee] was to get back in touch with Molly [Theodore W. Allen]. It was then he introduced me to his thinking on white skin privilege, which he had developed after he left the POC [in 1962] . . . not to be too grandiose about it, if Ted was Darwin, I was his Huxley." [Note – Huxley was known as "Darwin's Bulldog."]
Recently I placed the Theodore W. Allen Papers at Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Libraries. While the collection is still being processed and many important documents are to be digitized, material related to Ignatiev and Allen can be found in the following places (as well as others) --
Correspondence Series 1
Ignatiev, Noel 1962-1967 Box 1: 162
Ignatiev (Ignatin), Noel 1968 Box 1: 163
Ignatiev, Noel 1967-1968 Box 12: 4
Ignatiev (Ignatin), Noel 1969-1971 Box 1: 164
Ignatiev, Noel 1974-1976 Box 5: 15
Ignatiev, Noel ca.1967-1971 Box 5: 16
Ignatiev, Noel ca.1975 Box 2: 1
Ignatiev, Noel 1978 Box 2: 2
Ignatiev, Noel 1984-1993 Box 2: 3
Ignatiev, Noel 2005-2011Box 3: 97
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Biographical 2010 Box 3: 147
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Correspondence 1989-1992 Box 3: 148
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--In the News 1992-2006 Box 3: 149
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Letter to Bay Area Revolutionary Union-cc: Black Panther Party 1969 Box 13: 84
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Public Speaking 1993 Box 13: 85
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--"Race Traitor" journal--Summer 1993 issue 1993 Box 13: 86
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--"Race Traitor" journal--Spring 1994 issue 1994 Box 13: 87
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--"Race Traitor" journal--Winter 1995 issue 1995 Box 13: 88
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--"Race Traitor" journal--Winter 1996 issue 1996 Box 13: 89
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--"Race Traitor" journal--Winter 1998 issue 1998 Box 5: 36
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings 1967-1969 Box 3: 150
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings 1972-1975 Box 13: 90
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings 1987-2008 Box 3: 151
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings ca.1967-1969 Box 12: 8
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings undated Box 13: 91
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Ch. 1 ca.1990-1994 Box 5: 37
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Ch. 2 ca.1990-1994 Box 5: 38
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Ch. 3 ca.1990-1994 Box 5: 39
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Ch. 4 ca.1990-1994 Box 4: 1
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Ch. 5 ca.1990-1994 Box 4: 2
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Ch. 6 ca.1990-1994 Box 4: 3
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Ch. 7-1 ca.1990-1994 Box 4: 4
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Ch. 7-2 ca.1990-1994 Box 4: 5
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Ch. 7-3 ca.1990-1994 Box 4: 6
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Preface ca.1990-1994Box 4: 7
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"How the Irish Became White"-annotations from Ted-Prospectus ca.1990-1994 Box 4: 8
Correspondents: Ignatiev, Noel--Writings--"White Blindspot" by J. H. Kagin (pseudonym)
ca.1967 Box 13: 92
"Commentary on manuscript submitted by Noel Ignatiev" 1994 Box 4: 80
"Acknowledgements" and "Preface" in How the Irish Became White--Ignatiev, Noel Box 13: 115
Introduction to "Introduction to the United States"--Ignatiev, Noel ca.1991-1993
Box 13: 128
"Whiteness and Class Struggle"--Ignatiev, Noel 2003 Box 13: 159
SDS/RYM Articles by Noel Ignatiev ca.1967-1976 Boxes 34: 36
Series 5 Photos and Media
Friends: Ignatiev ca.1980-1991Box 34: 80
The opening quotes can be found in Jeffrey B. Perry, "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" ["Cultural Logic, 2010"] Notes 8 and 9)
100th Anniversary of The Birth of Theodore W. Allen
His Major Collection of Papers is Now Available at UMass-Amherst (alongside those of W.E.B. Du Bois) and an initial Inventory is available at http://scua.library.umass.edu/umarmot/allen-theodore-w-1919-2005/
Theodore W. "Ted" Allen (1919-2005) was an anti-white supremacist, working class intellectual and activist. He developed his pioneering class struggle-based analysis of "white skin privilege" beginning in the mid-1960s; authored the seminal two-volume The Invention of the White Race in the 1990s; and consistently maintained that the struggle against white supremacy was central to efforts at radical social change in the United States. Born on August 23, 1919, in Indianapolis, Indiana, he grew up in Paintsville, Kentucky and Huntington, West Virginia and, after moving to New York City, lived his last fifty-plus years in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
Allen's two-volume The Invention of the White Race (1994, 1997: Verso Books, new expanded edition 2012) with its focus on racial oppression and social control is one of the twentieth-century's major contributions to historical understanding. It presents a full-scale challenge to what he refers to as "The Great White Assumption" -- the unquestioning acceptance of the "white race" and "white" identity as skin color-based and natural attributes rather than as social and political constructions. Its thesis on the origin, nature, and maintenance of the "white race" and its understanding that slavery in the Anglo-American plantation colonies was capitalist and enslaved Black laborers were proletarians, contain the basis of a revolutionary approach to United States labor history.
On the back cover of the 1994 edition of Volume 1, subtitled Racial Oppression and Social Control, Allen boldly asserted "When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no 'white' people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years." That statement, based on 20-plus years of primary research in Virginia's colonial records, reflected the fact that Allen found no instance of the official use of the word "white" as a token of social status prior to its appearance in a Virginia law passed in 1691. As he later explained, "Others living in the colony at that time were English; they had been English when they left England, and naturally they and their Virginia-born children were English, they were not 'white.' White identity had to be carefully taught, and it would be only after the passage of some six crucial decades" that the word "would appear as a synonym for European-American."
In this context he offers his major thesis -- that the "white race" was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the latter (civil war) stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the "white race" and to implement a system of racial oppression, and 2) the consequence was not only ruinous to the interest of African Americans, it was also disastrous for European-American workers.
In Volume II, on The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, Allen tells the story of the invention of the "white race" and the development of the system of racial oppression in the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Anglo-American plantation colonies. His primary focus is on the pattern-setting Virginia colony, and he pays special attention to the reduction of tenants and wage-laborers in the majority English labor force to chattel bond-servants in the 1620s. In so doing, he emphasizes that this was a qualitative break from the condition of laborers in England and from long established English labor law, that it was not a feudal carryover, that it was imposed under capitalism, and that it was an essential precondition of the emergence of the lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude imposed upon African-American laborers under the system of racial slavery. Allen describes how, throughout much of the seventeenth century, the status of African-Americans was indeterminate (because it was still being fought out) and he details the similarity of conditions for African-American and European-American laborers and bond-servants. He also documents many significant instances of labor solidarity and unrest, especially during the 1660s and 1670s. Of great significance is his analysis of the civil war stage of Bacon's Rebellion when thousands of laboring people took up arms against the ruling plantation elite, the capital (Jamestown) was burned to the ground, rebels controlled 6/7 of the Virginia colony, and Afro- and Euro-American bond-servants fought side-by-side demanding an end to their bondage.
It was in the period after Bacon's Rebellion that the "white race" was invented as a ruling-class social control formation. Allen describes systematic ruling-class policies, which conferred "white race" privileges on European-Americans while imposing harsher disabilities on African-Americans resulting in a system of racial slavery, a form of racial oppression that also imposed severe racial proscriptions on free African-Americans. He emphasizes that when free African-Americans were deprived of their long-held right to vote in Virginia and Governor William Gooch explained in 1735 that the Virginia Assembly had decided upon this curtailment of the franchise in order "to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos," it was not an "unthinking decision." Rather, it was a deliberate act by the plantation bourgeoisie and was a conscious decision in the process of establishing a system of racial oppression, even though it entailed repealing an electoral principle that had existed in Virginia for more than a century.
Key to understanding the virulent racial oppression that develops in Virginia, Allen argues, is the formation of the intermediate social control buffer stratum, which serves the interests of the ruling class. In Virginia, any persons of discernible non-European ancestry after Bacon's Rebellion were denied a role in the social control buffer group, the bulk of which was made up of laboring-class "whites." In the Anglo-Caribbean, by contrast, under a similar Anglo- ruling elite, "mulattos" were included in the social control stratum and were promoted into middle-class status. This difference was rooted in a number of social control-related factors, one of the most important of which was that in the Anglo-Caribbean there were "too few" poor and laboring-class Europeans to embody an adequate petit bourgeoisie, while in the continental colonies there were ''too many'' to be accommodated in the ranks of that class.
In The Invention of the White Race Allen challenges what he considers to be two main ideological props of white supremacy -- the argument that "racism" is innate (and it is therefore useless to challenge it) and the argument that European-American workers "benefit" from "white race" privileges and white supremacy (and that it is therefore not in their interest to oppose them). These two arguments, opposed by Allen, are related to two master historical narratives rooted in writings on the colonial period. The first argument is associated with the "unthinking decision" explanation for the development of racial slavery offered by historian Winthrop D. Jordan in his influential White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812. The second argument is associated with historian Edmund S. Morgan's influential American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, which maintains that in Virginia, as slavery developed in the eighteenth century, "there were too few free poor [European-Americans] on hand to matter." Allen points out that what Morgan said about "too few" free poor was true in the eighteenth century Anglo-Caribbean, but not in Virginia.
"The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" (Cultural Logic, 2010) describes key components of Allen's analysis of "white race" privilege. The article explains that as he developed the "white race" privilege concept, Allen emphasized that these privileges were a "poison bait" (like a shot of "heroin") and he explained that they "do not permit" the masses of European American workers nor their children "to escape" from that class. "It is not that the ordinary white worker gets more than he must have to support himself," but "the Black worker gets less than the white worker." By, thus "inducing, reinforcing and perpetuating racist attitudes on the part of the white workers, the present-day power masters get the political support of the rank-and-file of the white workers in critical situations, and without having to share with them their super profits in the slightest measure."
As one example, to support his position, Allen provided statistics showing that in the South where race privilege "has always been most emphasized . . . the white workers have fared worse than the white workers in the rest of the country."
Probing more deeply, Allen offered additional important insights into why these race privileges are conferred by the ruling class. He pointed out that "the ideology of white racism" is "not appropriate to the white workers" because it is "contrary to their class interests." Because of this "the bourgeoisie could not long have maintained this ideological influence over the white proletarians by mere racist ideology." Under these circumstances white supremacist thought is "given a material basis in the form of the deliberately contrived system of race privileges for white workers." Thus, writes Allen, "history has shown that the white-skin privilege does not serve the real interests of the white workers, it also shows that the concomitant racist ideology has blinded them to that fact."
Allen added, "the white supremacist system that had originally been designed in around 1700 by the plantation bourgeoisie to protect the base, the chattel bond labor relation of production" also served "as a part of the 'legal and political' superstructure of the United States government that, until the Civil War, was dominated by the slaveholders with the complicity of the majority of the European-American workers." Then, after emancipation, "the industrial and financial bourgeoisie found that it could be serviceable to their program of social control, anachronistic as it was, and incorporated it into their own 'legal and political' superstructure."
Allen felt that two essential points must be kept in mind. First, "the race-privilege policy is deliberate bourgeois class policy." Second, "the race-privilege policy is, contrary to surface appearance, contrary to the interests, short range as well as long range interests of not only the Black workers but of the white workers as well." He repeatedly emphasized that "the day-to-day real interests" of the European-American worker "is not the white skin privileges, but in the development of an ever-expanding union of class conscious workers." He emphasized, "'Solidarity forever!' means 'Privileges never!'" He elsewhere pointed out, "The Wobblies [the Industrial Workers of the World] caught the essence of it in their slogan: 'An injury to one is an injury to all.'"
Throughout his work Allen stresses that "the initiator and the ultimate guarantor of the white skin privileges of the white worker is not the white worker, but the white worker's masters" and the masters do this because it is "an indispensable necessity for their continued class rule." He describes how "an all-pervasive system of racial privileges was conferred on laboring-class European-Americans, rural and urban, exploited and insecure though they themselves were" and how "its threads, woven into the fabric of every aspect of daily life, of family, church, and state, have constituted the main historical guarantee of the rule of the 'Titans,' damping down anti-capitalist pressures, by making 'race, and not class, the distinction in social life.'" That, "more than any other factor," he argues, "has shaped the contours of American history -- from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to the Civil War, to the overthrow of Reconstruction, to the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, to the Great Depression, to the civil rights struggle and 'white backlash' of our own day."
Allen also addressed the issue of strategy for social change. He emphasized, "The most vulnerable point at which a decisive blow can be struck against bourgeois rule in the United States is white supremacy." He considered "white supremacy" to be "both the keystone and the Achilles heel of U.S. bourgeois democracy." Based on this analysis Allen maintained, "the first main strategic blow must be aimed at the most vulnerable point at which a decisive blow can be struck, namely, white supremacism." This, he argued, was the conclusion to be drawn from a study of three great social crises in U.S. history – "the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s." In each of these cases "the prospects for a stable broad front against capital has foundered on the shoals of white supremacism, most specifically on the corruption of the European-American workers by racial privilege."
Ted Allen died on January 19, 2005, and a memorial service was held for him at the Brooklyn Public Library where he had worked. Then on October 8, 2005, his ashes, as per his request, were spread in the York River (near West Point, Virginia) close to its convergence with the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers – the location where the final armed holdouts, "Eighty Negroes and Twenty English," refused to surrender in the last stages of Bacon's Rebellion.
Allen's historical work has profound implications for American History, African-American History, Labor History, Left History, American Studies, and "Whiteness" Studies and it offers important insights in the areas of Caribbean History, Irish History, and African Diaspora Studies. With its meticulous primary research, equalitarian motif, emphasis on the class struggle dimension of history, and groundbreaking analysis his work continues to grow in influence and importance.
For writings, audios, and videos by and about Theodore W. Allen and his work see http://www.jeffreybperry.net/4__theodore_w__allen_br___b___font___font___center__86151.htm
For information on The Invention of the White Race Vol. I: Racial Oppression and Social Control [Verso Books] (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) see http://www.jeffreybperry.net/5__the_invention_of_the_br_white_race__b___font___font___i__br_volume_1__br__i_ra_116386.htm
For information on The Invention of the White Race Vol. II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) see http://www.jeffreybperry.net/6__the_invention_of_the_br_white_race__b___font___font___i__br_volume_2__br__i_th_116387.htm
For the fullest treatment of the development of Theodore W. Allen's thought see "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" at
On August 19, 2009, long-time activist, Eva Pellegrini wrote to me:
Ever since I heard Toni Morrison talk about her book "A Mercy" I have wondered if she had read Ted [Allen]. Tonight I went to an event celebrating the paperback edition. I took her book up for a signing and asked if she had used Ted's book and her response was, " Yes he wrote two volumes and I read them and re-read them." It was exhilarating.
Today (August 7, 2019) on "Democracy Now" in the attached video from 29:10 to 30:50 Toni Morrison explains:
TONI MORRISON: The interesting thing is that they established these laws. And the laws were very, very interesting. They said things like any — no blacks shall be allowed to carry a weapon, ever, for any circumstances. OK. Second, any white can maim or kill any black for any reason, without being charged.
Now, you see what that did to the indentured servants who were white: Now they're better, freer, more powerful. They're in the same situation. They're still enslaved. But they're not — but they can carry weapons, and they can beat up black slaves without punishment. So they have this little margin of status, nothing else. Nothing else but that little margin.
And that little margin has worked its way through this country since then. That was in the 17th century. And you know the Southern strategy. You know all these things in which you flag race and racism as a cause or even a goal. And racism is not a goal. It's a path. It's just a route to power and money. That's what it is. That's what it's for, whether it's via war or segregation or what have you. The thing itself is just a manipulation and a tool. And its purpose is what I just described that went on after the Bacon Rebellion.
Thanks to Sharon K. Tipton for info on this video -- Toni Morrison
Hubert H. Harrison Papers Are Now Online at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Volume 2 of Jeffrey B. Perry's Biography of Hubert Harrison is now in the hands of Columbia University Press
Great News! A beginning 319 items (including well over 1,000 images) from the Hubert H. Harrison Papers are now available online CLICK HERE.
I will be working with Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library on commentary related to the images.
Also, volume 2 of my Hubert Harrison biography is now in the hands of Columbia University Press.
Hopefully these two projects will help to bring Harrison’s life and work more widely to current and future generations.
Hubert Harrison (1883-1927) is one of the truly important figures of early twentieth-century America. A brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist, he was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers, in "World’s Great Men of Color" as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” Labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph described Harrison as “the father of Harlem Radicalism.” Harrison’s friend and pallbearer, Arthur Schomburg, fully aware of his popularity, eulogized to the thousands attending Harrison’s Harlem funeral that he was also “ahead of his time.”
Born in St. Croix, Danish West Indies, in 1883, to a Bajan mother and a Crucian father, Harrison arrived in New York as a seventeen-year-old orphan in 1900. He made his mark in the United States by struggling against class and racial oppression, by helping to create a remarkably rich and vibrant intellectual life among African Americans, and by working for the enlightened development of the lives of “the common people.” He consistently emphasized the need for working class people to develop class-consciousness; for “Negroes” to develop race consciousness, self-reliance, and self-respect; and for all those he reached to challenge white supremacy and develop modern, scientific, critical, and independent thought as a means toward liberation.
A self-described “radical internationalist,” Harrison was extremely well-versed in history and events in Africa, Asia, the Mideast, the Americas, and Europe. More than any other political leader of his era, he combined class-consciousness and anti-white supremacist race consciousness in a coherent political radicalism. He opposed capitalism and maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States. He emphasized that “politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea”; that “as long as the Color Line exists, all the perfumed protestations of Democracy on the part of the white race” were “downright lying,” that “the cant of ‘Democracy’” was “intended as dust in the eyes of white voters,” and that true democracy and equality for “Negroes” implied “a revolution . . . startling even to think of.”
Working from this theoretical framework, he was active with a wide variety of movements and organizations and played signal roles in the development of what were, up to that time, the largest class radical movement (socialism) and the largest race radical movement (the “New Negro”/Garvey movement) in U.S. history. His ideas on the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy anticipated the profound transformative power of the Civil Rights/Black Liberation struggles of the 1960s and his thoughts on “democracy in America” offer penetrating insights on the limitations and potential of America in the twenty-first century.
Harrison served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York during its 1912 heyday; he founded the first organization (the Liberty League) and the first newspaper (The Voice) of the militant, World War I-era “New Negro” movement; and he served as the editor of the “Negro World” and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement during its radical high point in 1920. His views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants including the class radical A. Philip Randolph and the race radical Marcus Garvey. Considered more race conscious than Randolph and more class conscious than Garvey, Harrison is a key ideological link in the two great trends of the Black Liberation Movement -- the labor and civil rights trend associated with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the race and nationalist trend associated with Malcolm X. (Randolph and Garvey were, respectively, the direct links to King marching on Washington, with Randolph at his side, and to Malcolm, whose parents were involved with the Garvey movement, speaking militantly and proudly on street corners in Harlem.)
Harrison was not only a political radical, however. J. A. Rogers described him as an “Intellectual Giant and Free-Lance Educator,” whose contributions were wide-ranging, innovative, and influential. He was an immensely skilled and popular orator and educator who spoke and/or read six languages; a highly praised journalist, critic, and book reviewer (reportedly the first regular book reviewer in “Negro newspaperdom”); a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements; a bibliophile and library builder and popularizer who helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into what became known as the internationally famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; a pioneer Black lecturer for the New York City Board of Education and one of its foremost orators). His biography offers profound insights on race, class, religion, immigration, war, democracy, and social change in America.
For information on vol. 1 of the biography of Hubert Harrison see HERE
and see HERE
and also see HERE
The Hubert H. Harrison Papers, 1893-1927 Finding Aid at the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML) is Available Online
Let Us Not Forget! – Forty 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 Drake Waller, Dave Cline, Clarence Fitch, Grady Fitzgerald, 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 SEE HERE
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 SEE HERE
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 SEE HERE
Jeffrey B. Perry SEE HERE