Strikes, Shutdown and Service — Public Servants Rise in Defense of the Public Good

April 2, 2019

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(This article first appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Conventional wisdom suggested that the anti-union Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME last summer spelled the inevitable decline of public sector unionism in this country. Despite a generation of corporate led attacks on public unions and the public good culminating in Janus, public-sector workers and their allies are standing in defense of the common good that everyone in this country relies upon.

In January, more 30,000 teachers, librarians and support staff in the union United Teachers Los Angeles struck against the LA Unified School District, the second-largest public-school system in the country. Their central demands were not in service of their own economic well-being as educators, but rather aimed at securing investment in the school system, which improved outcomes for students and the entire community.

Following the lead of educators who walked out last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, the UTLA strike shined a light on the attacks on public education that continue in this country.

In 2017, with the backing of billionaires like the Walton family and Eli Broad, pro-charter school candidates successfully campaigned for seats on the LA school board. Taking on a school board led by a multi millionaire, anti-worker charter school advocate, UTLA reached out to the community and forged alliances with parents and other organizations that supported improvements to the school system.

They fought and won a reduction in class sizes and won massive additions in the number of nurses and librarians across the district. The union even bargained over – and won – an end to humiliating random searches of students, as well as a program to invest in green spaces to beautify school properties and deepen the schools’ role in communities.

At the same time Los Angeles teachers were striking for more investment in their schools, nearly a million federal workers and contractors were locked out or forced to work without pay amidst the longest federal government shutdown in the country’s history.

The shutdown began in the lame duck Congress on Dec. 22 after congressional Republicans failed to send President Trump an appropriations bill with the $5.7 billion he had requested for his border wall. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers across nine departments were furloughed and went into the holiday season unsure of when they would be allowed to return to work or receive a paycheck.

As the shutdown dragged on, it became increasingly clear that federal workers and the vital services they provide to the public were being held hostage in political negotiations. Workers mobilized allies and the American public to their side. They shared stories of how the shutdown was affecting their families, their communities, and vitally, how the people of the country were losing out because of the political stalemate.

Federal workers rallied around the country, demanding that Congress and the White House send them back to work. Food inspectors, environmental engineers, park rangers, NASA personnel – including literal rocket scientists – stood up in their communities and reminded their neighbors of the vital work they do.

Finally, when air traffic controllers joined TSA workers in calling in sick in large numbers, and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) threatened a work stoppage due to the resulting drop in safety protections on the ground – did the “hostage takers” in Washington begin to take notice of just how valuable our public services are. These recent struggles in defense of the public good share a mission with A Grand Alliance, and show a way forward for those who are prepared to defend a public Postal Service.

“The courageous struggle of other public workers in the last weeks has inspired the whole country,” said President Dimondstein. “Building bridges with allies in our communities, proudly shining a light on the important public service we provide and building a movement grounded in solidarity, that’s the way we can Save our Public Postal Service.”

A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service is a broad coalition of national, state and local organizations including the NAACP, Vote Vets, Jobs with Justice, National Council of Churches and Rainbow PUSH. These groups have come together to take a stand against the unprecedented assaults on the Postal Service including efforts to dismantle and privatize it. To join A Grand Alliance, visit

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