Only rank-and-file organization can save letter carriers

Mass struggle is the way
to a decent contract!

(From Detroit Workers Voice #23, May 12, 1999,
and reprinted in Communist Voice #21.)

. On June 9, letter carriers around the country will be carrying out informational picketing to back up their contract demands. Letter carriers, like other postal workers have been abused by management for too long. Unfortunately, the postal clerks and mail handlers have already been stuck with poor contract settlements. But it's important for all craft workers to support each other.If one section of workers can start beating back management's onslaughts, this will help all of us fight for the wages and working conditions we all deserve. Likewise, if management is able to crush another section of postal workers, this will encourage them to launch new attacks on all of us. So let all postal workers unite to help the letter carriers win a decent contract. Letter carriers and all postal workers: participate in whatever mass actions are called by the union leaderships.Keep in mind, however, that the leaderships of the NALC, the APWU and the NPMHU have a long history of betrayal. Even though the NALC leadership has called the June 9 events, they watched management kick the rank and file around for years before taking even this modest action. So don't limit yourselves to whatever the union leaderships want to do. The key thing is to use your independent initiative to organize among your coworkers.

Crushing letter carriers = fat profits

. USPS management has been spitting on letter carriers. They have doubled their workloads through DPS automation. Letter carriers are being forced to carry twice as much mail as before DPS and must simultaneously carry two bundles of mail in one hand, along with balancing mail on one arm, while carrying still more mail in their satchels. Under the phony excuse that DPS automation has eliminated the need for much time to set up routes in the office, routes are being made longer and carriers are forced to carry not only their route, but constantly "pivot", i.e., carry parts of other routes. Such DPS work methods have left carriers with crippling injuries, Management harasses and intimidates letter carriers who stand up for their rights. But USPS bosses don't give a damn because their war on postal workers has been a profit bonanza -- $6 billion in profits in the last several years. And after all the sacrifice of letter carriers, what did they offer in a new contract after the old one expired six months ago? A big, fat nothing. Now the letter carriers' contract is being determined by the arbitration process which has resulted in rotten contracts time and again.

Can we rely on the NALC leadership?

. While management has been running roughshod over letter carriers, the union leadership, led by NALC president Vince Sombrotto, has been letting them get away with it. It was Sombrotto who signed the agreement that allowed the DPS system to come in without any protections for carriers. Even when management made their insulting contract offer, the NALC officials refused to mobilize the rank-and-file to do anything about it. While the DPS system is decimating the health of carriers, the NALC leaders have fallen silent on demanding meaningful limits on workloads.

. Of course letter carriers deserve major pay hikes. The NALC leaders talk about this, but can't be trusted to really follow through on it. Meanwhile, the union bureaucrats' silence on crushing workloads is deafening. If workloads continue to soar, pay hikes will be little solace to carriers whose health is ruined or are forced out of the craft.

. Of course, even the meek contract demands of the NALC leadership were rejected by the USPS. Now, after failing to put any pressure on management whatsoever throughout 10 months of fruitless contract negotiations. Sombrotto has called for informational picketing at post offices around the country on June 9.

. Letter carriers and other postal workers should participate in these demonstrations and give them a militant character. Although the union leadership intends them as simply a token measure, rank-and-file carriers should use the occasion to build up networks of letter carriers who are interested in a serious struggle against management. If the rank-and-file can make use of the June 9 actions to start building their own networks that can operate independently of the weak-kneed union officials, this will be an important stride forward. Our struggle will only be as strong as the strength of rank-and-file organization.

Rank and file must organize independently

. The point of the rank-and-file getting organized on its own is not just to condemn the cowardly NALC leadership. It is the only way that we can prepare for the type of struggle that really puts pressure on management. If the rank-and-file mobilizes itself, it can offer effective resistance to the daily abuses perpetrated by management. And by learning how to organize together in these smaller battles, we will be in a much better position to launch militant actions during major national battles such as contract negotiations.

. Many postal workers dream about sticking it to management with militant actions like local and national strikes, but see no way to carry this out since postal strikes are illegal and the union leadership fears a serious struggle as much as management. But the way out of this dilemma is rank-and-file organizing. It is the only way we can prepare ourselves to overcome the "no-strike" laws which deprive us of our basic rights. Ordinary postal workers uniting together on our own terms prepares us both to fight to abolish the "no strike" laws and to defy them.

. Independent organization is needed because the methods of the union leadership are completely bankrupt. Take the question of worker solidarity. The NALC leaders talk about it, but don't practice it. What happens when a letter carrier tells the union about some management abuse. Do the union leaders mobilize the rank-and-file against management? No. Almost always they keep things confined to filing a grievance. Then what happens? Months or years go by. Management keeps right on abusing the worker. Not only are the workers' coworkers kept passive, so is the worker himself. Then what happens? Even when the grievance is won, there's no punishment for management so the abuse continues. The NALC (and APWU and NPMHU) leaders say "we've done all we can do" and the ordinary workers are left feeling hopeless and isolated. Having demoralized the rank-and-file, the union leaders then hypocritically complain that the problem is more workers don't get active in the union! Of course the real problem is union bureaucracy is set up to insure that the workers don't take collective action but fight only as individuals.

. In contrast, independent organization means collective action against management. It means finding the ways and means to mobilize one's coworkers. It may mean such things as getting together to produce and circulate leaflets exposing management. It may mean drawing ordinary workers together to spread protests from station to station. It means such things as collective work slowdowns or other forms of resistance to management's efforts to drive us like dogs. It means using such things to temper us for bigger battles, such as local and national strikes.

. Today letter carriers are facing off against management in a contract battle. Let's use this time to unleash our anger against management. Demand what is rightfully ours. Don't rely on the union bureaucracy -- build independent organization to back your demands.

Major hikes in base pay!
Limits on workloads! Case DPS mail, longer lunch and breaks!
End pivoting!
Right to strike!

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Last changed on October 16, 2001.