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The Postal Workers Strike of 1970 in the US was the first and the most resonant act of public protest against the positions of the Congress and the US Postal Service. Due to political issues that occurred in the US at the beginning of the 1970s, the strike found a favorable soil and a large number of supporters. The main role in the organization of the protest was given to the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) as the protector of the political interests of postal workers. The failure of the Congress to settle the issues of low wages and unacceptable working conditions led to the escalation of the conflict and attraction of the President and the National Guard to its resolution. The study of different aspects of the conflict, and the discussion of the positions of all players can guarantee that the authorities of the state will avoid the same situation in the future.
The Role of Management
One side of the Postal Workers Strike of 1970 was the US Postal Service, which was a governmental agency responsible for the management of post offices throughout the country. This is an independent agency of the US federal government which has a certain level of operating independence but mainly acts according to the instructions of the Congress and the government (Rubio, 2010). The Congress was supposed to provide solutions to all important questions connected with the operations of the company – the level of wages of the personnel, the business structure of the company, and others. Outdated methods of personnel management in the US Postal Service and post offices around the country had led to the growth of discontent among ordinary employees. The main reasons for arguments were antiquated personnel practices, poor working conditions, and the absence of opportunities for career growth for the workers of post offices. The most negative aspect of all these problems was that the senior management of the US Postal Service and the Congress stated that they did not know about the existence of any issues in the company before the strike started.
The company's management might have told this lie to hide their negligence and unethical behavior. In this case, the situation does not seem to be unique. On the other hand, the fact that the company’s management did not see the real situation in the lowest level of management should be more disturbing. It means that the overall level of management in big public companies was too low to guarantee the effectiveness of their operation.
One of the main concerns for employees was a low level of wages (Rubio, 2016). Since the time of the Great Depression, US postmen have faced a rapid decline and maintenance of the low level of wages. The absence of postmen labor unions in the 1930-1940s did not allow workers to express their opinion to the government. Later, the strengthening of the political position of the NALC and other postal workers labor unions allowed postmen to provide clear political calls and requirements to the state authorities and the US Postal Service in particular. Unfortunately, they were not heard and responded to until the Postal Workers Strike of 1970 occurred.
The Labor Union
The NALC was the main actor in the process of the Postal Workers Strike. It is one of the first labor unions in the US that was founded in 1889 and supported the interests of non-rural postmen employed by the US Postal Service. The organization did not act actively to protect the interests of its members during the period of the 1930s-1940s – the time of the Great Depression and the Second World War. However, after that time, the NALC played an important role in the development of a common public opinion about the politics of the US Congress connected with the regulation of the US Postal Service (Rubio, 2017). Thus, the NALC did not work with the Postal Service to solve the issues of post workers but appealed directly to the Congress and the President. For example, in mid-1960s, the NALC had expressed opposition to the actions of the US President, Lyndon Johnson, when he vetoed the decision to increase average wages for postal workers. The NALC expressed political sympathy to the representatives of the Democratic Party in the US.
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The main limitation of postmen labor unions in the US was the absence of the actual bargaining power. Particularly, labor unions had no juridical power to conduct negotiations with the employer in the postal industry. The company’s management could perform negotiations with labor unions in accordance to their wish; however, there was no legislative power to force them to implement the results of these negotiations (Rubio, 2010). As a result, labor unions failed to fulfill the main task of their existence – to exert control over the performance of the companies’ management with the aim of the personnel’s rights protection.
Confrontations or work stoppages were not common for the US Postal Service before the strike of 1970 took place. Nevertheless, it is important to say that the situation in the postal service was not stable. Since employees did not see an opportunity for political protection and expression of their opinion about the working conditions, they mainly expressed their protest through reduction of work productivity. According to the report of the US Postal Service to the Congress which was published in 1994, the situation of unseen confrontation between workers and the management was common and permanent the US Postal Service (US Postal Service, 1995). Although workers did not participate in strikes and lockouts, the overall level of productivity had been reducing.
In this regard, it is impossible to say that the Postal Workers Strike of 1970 did not have a long history of confrontation between workers and managers in the workplace. On the contrary, confrontation was permanent but suppressed by the lack of political will and organization, which might be one of the reasons why the protests of 1970 were so significant and resonant in many cities throughout the country. This strike should be a lesson for the governmental and private institutions. Absence of a public protest does not mean that workers are satisfied with their working conditions as a social conflict can arise whenever the external circumstances will become favorable.
The Negotiation Process
Unfortunately, it is necessary to say that negotiations between the workers and the management of the US Postal Service were absent before the beginning of the Postal Workers Strike. The reason for the lack of negotiations was not political apathy or neglect of postal workers (Rubio, 2016). Indeed, postal workers expressed concerns and desires for improvement of their working conditions and payment for decades. The establishment of the NACL organization is a result of the workers’ initiative in the sphere of protection of their rights.
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Nevertheless, the main reason for the absence of a dialog between the management and labor unions was the lack of the bargaining power in labor unions. The right to protect the interests of the workers was transferred to labor unions only after the protests of 1970, when the Postal Reorganization Act was passed by the Congress and the US President. Only after the legislation of this decision, labor unions have achieved assumed legal power to conduct negotiations with the US Postal Service and protect the interests of their members.
The Postal Workers Strike
The absence of opportunities for a peaceful resolution of the confrontation between the management and the workers of the US Postal Service led to the Postal Workers Strike in March 1970. An actual trigger of of protests of postal workers was the decision of the US Congress to increase their wages by 4 %, while the payments of congressmen were increased by 41%. Such disdain and frank mockery of the authorities was triggered off social protests. On March 17, 1970, members of the NACL gathered in Manhattan, New York, and decided to begin a strike. More than 210,000 postal workers throughout the country were involved in the strike (Rubio, 2017). This circumstance has affected the postal system of the US, and even caused fluctuation in the stock market due to irregularities in the work. Nevertheless, the state authorities have decided not to adopt strong measures to suppress the strike since they were afraid that it can cause the growth of the public protest since postal workers had many supporters in other labor unions and in the society in general.
The strike lasted eight days. The economic result of the protests was that the US Postal Service had been losing about $3 million per day due to the stoppage of bank transfers. Negative economic and social effects of these events were so serious that the US President Nixon appeared in media and ordered postal workers to return to work. Furthermore, the President assigned the army and the National Guard to perform the functions of postal workers while the protests continued. Eventually, military representatives did not show efficiency in the fulfillment of this task due to the lack of experience (Rubio, 2016). In this situation, the merit of the President was that he prevented an armed confrontation between protestors and the military forces. Hence, the results of the Postal Workers Strike were quire peaceful. None of the participants of the protests was harmed or killed.
Resolution of the Conflict
The negative economic influence that the protests had on the US postal system made the Congress and the President achieve consensus on the resolution of the issue. Negotiations between the Congress and the NACL continued throughout the strike. The result was the Postal Reorganization Act that was passed by the Congress and signed by the US President. Postal workers labor unions have achieved a bargaining power and fulfilled all the requirements of the protesters. Postal workers have achieved an increase of wages, improvement of the working conditions, and a real opportunity for career growth in the workplace (Rubio, 2010). As many post workers said after the protests, the management roles in the post offices throughout the country were assumed people that had long experience of working in this sphere. The level of tension between the management and employees had been reduced.
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However, the main achievement of the protesters was that the labor unions of postal workers assumed real bargaining power, which was the main factor that contributed to the further improvement of the working conditions and wages of employees in the sphere. The US Postal Service had gained an opponent with the real political power that was supporting employees and was able to dictate its terms in the interactions of the company and employees. Such changes facilitated further liberalization of the working conditions in the postal industry in the US.
Winners and Losers
It is obvious from the analysis of the Postal Workers Strike process and results that postal workers and labor unions in the US were the main beneficiaries in that situation. Thus, employees had achieved an increase of wages, improvement of the working conditions and the overall management processes in the US Postal Service. At the same time, the transfer of bargaining power to the labor unions of postmen guaranteed that the state authorities will not be able to withdraw these benefits in several years after the strike. The Postal Workers Strike was a sign for all labor and liberal political organizations in the US. In these circumstances, there was a low probability of failure of the protests. The state authorities had to peacefully settle the strike; otherwise, they could face discontent of the majority of the US society. In the conditions of the Vietnam War, such scenario was unacceptable for the US authorities. That is why the external circumstances were extremely favorable for the protesters.
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For the state authorities, the final resolution of the conflict was a positive compromise rather than a loss. As it was already mentioned, state institutions and the private sector of economy had faced the harmful consequences in shortly after the beginning of the protests. The failure to effectively organize the process of the US Postal Service work without post workers was the main reason that led the Congress and the US President to the compromise. In this situation, the decision to accept the terms of the protesting side was the best possible decision for the state authorities. Otherwise, the losses for the economy would have been much more significant. At the same time, the improvement of the postal service work resulted in an increase of the postmen productivity, reduction of losses due to the postal service, and greater clients’ satisfaction with the overall level of the post offices performance. From this point of view, the conflict can be considered as a positive situation for the government and employees rather than a dramatic event of the US history. The results of the US Postal Service report to the Congress also stated that the positive trend in the performance of the company was observed after the passage of the Postal Reorganization Act.
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As a result, it is possible to state that the Postal Workers Strike of 1970 can be interesting for historians, politicians, and economists as one of the rare cases when both sides of the political conflict had achieved certain benefits from a political or public crisis. It is also necessary to highlight that such result was possible only under the condition of the peaceful resolution of the conflict. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to predict short-term and long-term consequences of the armed resolution of the conflict.
Issues and Concerns of the Case
Although some of the main problems of the Postal Workers Strike have already been mentioned, it is necessary to provide researchers and readers with a more detailed analysis of the negative consequences of the strike and public protests. One of the main issues of the modern protests is that the state authorities and company’s management do not usually understand the possible harm of the protests to the economy, infrastructure, and social processes in the state. Adequate estimation of these risks could affect the decision-making process of the management and enhance seeking a compromise on the resolution of the existing contradictions.
The economic effect of the protests should not play the most important role in the analysis of the negative consequences of the discussed event. Moreover, the Postal Workers Strike affected the social processes in the country. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the importance of the postal service agency in the US in the 1970s. Due to the absence of modern telecommunication tools, the postal service was one of the main way of transferring information across the country (Rubio, 2017). It transferred data for commercial needs between the companies and information for personal needs of the US citizens. The postal services were so important for the US that the US President Nixon decided to order military officials perform the tasks of postal workers during the protests.
Additionally, due to the strike, average people and commercial organization had difficulties receiving money transfers, which are usually required for people in such situations. It is necessary to discuss several examples that were common during the days of the protests (Morris, 1985). The US Defense Department had estimated that more than 500 tons of mail that was supposed to be delivered to the military personnel or their families had remained unclaimed at the post offices throughout the country. The importance of post office operations for people and organizations could be understood only when these operations were completely stopped. The problem with the transfer of messages through post in the 1970s led to large-scale confusion in courts, medical institutions, and enterprises. This might have been one of the first situations in the history when people realized the global importance of information in the modern life.
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The example of the Postal Workers Strike has a significant contribution for further development of labor unions in the US and other countries throughout the world. The creation of the American Postal Workers Union was the beginning of a new stage in the development of the postal workers’ political position in the US. The discussion of the history of the Postal Workers Strike from different aspects allowed the researchers to define positive and negative perspectives of political and public crises in the modern life. It is necessary to state that the absence of official channels for expression of the public opinion by any group will eventually lead to the social crises, which will have negative consequences for all aspects of social life of the modern society. At the same time, the resolution of a conflict does not always mean the victory of only one of its sides. The example of the Postal Workers Strike shows that an effective resolution of protests can be favorable for both participants of the negotiations. The protesters have achieved the fulfillment of all their requirements, and the state authorities have reached an increase of productivity of postal service and public satisfaction with the performance of the US Postal Service.