Mobilizing a Progressive Labor Movement

August 21, 2016

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Postal workers are experts in workroom floor solidarity. But in order to build a true, progressive labor movement, that sense of mobilization must be spread into the community – and beyond.

“None of us can do anything to move the progressive movement by ourselves,” said Legislative and Political Director Judy Beard, who moderated a Sunday afternoon panel, The Labor Movement, Time for a New Day, A New Direction.  “We have to mobilize not just around labor issues, but issues like unemployment, underemployment, people living without access to healthcare or in poverty.”

Each panel speaker stressed the importance of building community coalitions.

David Yao, executive vice president of the Greater Seattle Area Local, discussed the struggle of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), who are locked in a contract battle with the management of Canada Post.

CUPW’s fight to preserve door-to-door delivery began in 2013, but was unsuccessful. However, when the conservative government began to install clusterboxes, postal workers and customers fought back. They organized  a nationwide caravan to spread the message and a march to the Prime Minister’s office; 50 activists occupied a mail processing plant and “guerilla” community gardens were planted to prevent installation of clusterboxes.

The activities built momentum leading into contract negotiations. Members built awareness in a variety of ways. When postal vehicle drivers saw each other, they honked their horns loudly, catching the attention of people walking down the street, who asked , “Did you get a contract yet?”

“Because they engaged the public in the fight and because of union members’ actions on the workroom floor, we think they are going to win,” Yao said.

Richard Koritz, an activist leader and a member of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said that he hoped the panel would help APWU members “think outside the box for ways to emphasize the struggle for justice in a capitalist country like this.”

APWU consultant Katherine Isaac gave a presentation on the implementation of postal banking.

“Postal banking is a win-win. We’ve done it before and we can do it again,” she said. 

The Postal Service already has the infrastructure to implement postal banking because it provided the service from 1911 to 1967. And since 28 percent of households are financially underserved, and 50 percent of post office branches are in a zip code with one or no banks, it should be a no brainer.

Postal banking would help both the public and the Postal Service. Financially struggling families wouldn’t have to spend 10 percent of their income on financial fees.  And if financial services counted for 14.5 percent of the Postal Services’s revenue, as it does on average for other industrialized countries that offer the service, that would translate into $9.8 billion in additional revenue per year.

“The Postal Service already does money orders. And under the existing authority it could also provide paycheck cashing, bill payment, ATMs and enhanced Electronic Money Transfers,” Isaac said.

The Campaign for Postal Banking is a grassroots coalition that was formed last year. The group delivered over 150,000 petitions to the Postmaster General in December, asking her to implement postal banking. In addition, the APWU’s new contract calls for the establishment of  a Joint Task Force on expanded services and the implementation  of at least one pilot program within the next year.

Courtney Jenkins, a member of the Baltimore Area Local executive board and the APWU representative to the AFL-CIO Young Workers Advisory Council, stressed the untapped power of young workers.

“We have the potential to grow the APWU not by membership but by leadership who will push things like postal banking and solidarity with the CUPW,” he said.

Jenkins talked about the AFL-CIO Next Up young worker advisory groups and their initiatives, such as calling for stronger laws to support collective bargaining; strengthening Social Security; equality for women  and the LGBT community; common sense immigration reform; an end to mass incarceration.; alleviating crushing student loan debt and implementing vote by mail in more states.

“We are part of what’s called the new majority and we are growing in numbers,” he said of millennials.  “In the fight for equity and justice, all I have to do is get an education from the APWU.”

Former Texas Agricultural Commissioner and radio commentator Jim Hightower discussed the importance of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

“We are carrying the Bern to the next level, much like the Olympic torch,” he said. “The Democratic Party has been changed for the long haul. Campaigns end on election day, revolutions don’t. “

He noted how Moral Mondays, Black Lives Matter, Dreamers, the Fight for $15 and A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service are building real people’s movements.

“We have to organize, harmonize and mobilize. That’s how you win,” Hightower said, adding  the APWU should think of building partnerships with unlikely allies, such as small farmers, artists and musicians.

“Forge all this into coalitions that unite us into a common movement,” he said.

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