Friday, March 18, 2011

Today in Labor History: March 18

March 18, 1970: The beginning of the Great Postal Strike in New York City. Postal workers hadn’t seen a rise since 1967. They were banned from collective bargaining and from striking. Nevertheless, in spite of the law and their own union’s attempt to quell the unrest, the postal workers voted to strike, marking the first time in the nearly 200-year history of the Postal Service that postal workers went on strike.

President Nixon tried to bust the strike, first by threatening to arrest striking workers and then by sending in federal troops to sort the mail. However, the soldiers were so incompetent at the work, that they failed to get the mail moving, compelling Congress to give them an 8% raise and the right to collectively bargain.

The biggest lesson of the strike is that workers can organize and mobilize an effective wild cat action, in spite of wimpy union leadership, laws and even military action. This lesson is particularly salient now, as growing numbers of workers in the Midwest are calling for a general strike, while their union leaders are conceding wage and benefit cuts, Gov. Walker is threatening to call out the National Guard, and Taft-Hartley ban general strikes.

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