By: Mark Dimondstein, APWU National President
(This article appears in the January-February 2014 edition of The American Postal Worker.)
Greetings, my sisters and brothers! I am deeply honored to be elected APWU president, and I greatly appreciate the many activists around the country who worked for change. I join APWU members across the country in thanking the outgoing officers for their years of service to the APWU and their help in implementing a smooth transition.
Our election was hotly contested, with sharply differing visions for the future of our struggle. But the election is over, and unity must be the watchword as we fight Congress, the privatizers, and a postal management that is bent on destroying the Postal Service.
As your president, I promise that I will always be honest with you; I will listen well, welcome new ideas, and work for the common good.
As I embark on this weighty responsibility, I salute those who have come before us in the labor movement — from the Haymarket martyrs of 1886, who were killed in the fight for the eight-hour day, to the women and children murdered by Rockefeller thugs in the 1914 Ludlow massacre. From the courageous Flint sit-down strikers of 1936 whose brave actions forced the auto bosses to recognize their union, to those who perished, endured the beatings, jail and firings, persevered and overcame so that the working class could have a better life.
In our postal family, the heroes of the Great Postal Strike of 1970 defied unjust laws to fight for dignity and a livable wage. Their victory laid the basis for the APWU and for good union jobs in the USPS.
But our U.S. labor movement is in dire straits. We are at the lowest unionization rate in 97 years. And with this weakened union movement, wages are down while corporate profits are up, more people are jobless and real pensions are disappearing. Union busting and concessionary union contracts abound, and workers lack any real independent political voice.
And anything that stands for the public good — public libraries, public education, public utilities, public transportation and public postal services are under severe attack.
It is in this context that APWU members will chart a new direction as we face the daunting challenge of protecting our jobs, our retirement and our public postal service. What is the new direction?
First, the Postal Service is at a cross roads — will it be the post office of the 1%, the Wall Street privatizers and profiteers? Or will it remain in the hands of the people, the 99%, offering universal, uniform, publicly-owned service for all?
The threat of privatization is very real. The threat to subcontract all of mail processing, retail, transportation, maintenance and support services is upon us.
So how do we most effectively fight back against hostile management, hostile Wall Street and a hostile Congress?
Writing to Congress is important, but it is not enough. Lobbying for legislation is important, but it is not enough. When the Flint sit-down strikers occupied a General Motors plant in 1936, labor law reform came to life. When women took to the streets to demand the right to vote, they won. When courageous civil rights workers fought segregation with sit-ins and boycotts, the 1964 Civil Rights Act followed.
History shows that movements move Congress. Movements create legislative victories, not the other way around.
So, we must build a “grand alliance” between the people of this country and postal workers. We must mobilize our allies and their organizations — including seniors, retirees, civil rights organizations, veterans groups, the labor movement, community and faith-based organizations, the Occupy movement, and even some business groups — in defense of America’s right to vibrant public postal services.
We have done this in many separate locations, but to realize the true power of this grand alliance, we must do it on a coordinated national scale. And to protect jobs, we must enhance postal services. Services such as basic non-profit banking would be a real benefit to the people and an answer to the Wall Street “Banksters” who devastated our economy.
Second, we must build unity among the postal unions. We have a common foe, yet in these times of crisis we are too often working at cross purposes, sending different messages, supporting different legislation, organizing different rallies, signing different petitions — making it impossible to effectively organize the public.
Third, we must implement a nationally-coordinated plan to fight plant consolidation and its disruptive impact on postal workers and our families. Plant closures are an essential part of management’s plan to dismantle the Postal Service — and pave the way to turn mail processing over to Pitney Bowes with its non-union, low-paid workforce.
On the Workfloor
Fourth, and so very important to our members working day-in and day-out, we must fix many serious problems with our contract.
We must fight to restore full-time work and stop the race to the bottom. We must fight for many more conversion opportunities for our PSE brothers and sisters while protecting the retreat rights of excessed employees. We must reduce the number of non-career workers and fight for the coming generations, as all unions should.
We will only succeed if our members are involved. The next round of negotiations will be extremely difficult, but we will not negotiate from fear. We will prepare early and seek input from union members.
We Are Not Alone!
We have a long and rocky road ahead of us, but we are not alone.
In 2011, when workers in Wisconsin rose up, 100,000 strong, in defense of their union rights and union jobs, they showed that workers are willing to stand up and fight back. In 2012, when the owners of Republic Window and Doors began closing the plant, workers occupied the factory to protect their rights and benefits — and won! Later that year, the Chicago Teachers Union forged a mighty alliance between workers, parents and the community, fought the powers that be, and prevailed.
Wal-Mart workers are stirring. Fast food workers are demanding a living wage. We are not alone. A revitalized labor movement is indeed possible!
It is late in the game to save the public Postal Service, but we can save it with an unrelenting fight. Let’s stand together, unite with other postal unions and the labor movement, rally the American people in defense of their Postal Service, and stand with workers around the world in our fight for a better life!