NALC leaders face convention challenge
Retired postal worker and NALC convention delegatereports on the struggle ahead for the union--and the plans of militants to step up the fight.
MORE THAN 9,000 delegates to the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) convention met in Minneapolis last week, where a group of union militants forced a discussion about the strategy for saving the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the jobs of NALC members.
As usual, the national leadership put forward a go-it-alone, "business-minded" model, complete with talk about "shared sacrifice." But a scrappy grouping of radicals challenged that vision with calls to fight post office cuts with local coalitions and national mobilizations to bring NALC together with other postal unions (American Postal Workers Union, National Postal Mail Handlers Union and National Rural Letter Carriers Association), other unions and vulnerable postal customers, such as seniors, rural and low-income people, and communities of color.
Grouped around a new national grassroots network called Communities and Postal Workers United (CPWU), the rank-and-file challengers so influenced the debate on the convention floor and in workshops that two of their resolutions passed despite initial disapproval by the NALC Executive Council.
The CPWU also sponsored two well-attended and spirited organizing meetings focused on building the national movement of community-labor coalitions to save postal jobs and services, further broadening and deepening the existing network.
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EVERYONE AT the convention agreed that the USPS faces a "manufactured" crisis, brought on by a 2006 act of Congress that requires the postal service to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. As a result, 10 percent of the postal budget goes to benefits for people who aren't even born yet. No other government agency or private company is required to fully pre-fund this type of account. USPS would have come close to the break-even point, despite the worst economy since the Great Depression, if not for this onerous $5.5 billion annual payment.
Those assembled also agreed that neither Congress nor the president nor postal management were providing a solution to the crisis. Disagreements revolved around the analysis of postal management and the way forward.
NALC President Fred Rolando called postal management "intellectually bankrupt" and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe an "idiot." Ron Bloom, a "trusted adviser" from top Wall Street investment firm Lazard Ltd, addressed the convention at length, accusing management of "throwing in the towel." Chief of Staff Jim Sauber and Chief Counsel Bruce Simon presented a similar view at a key workshop called "Saving the Postal Service."
The way forward, according to Bloom and the NALC leadership, is for the USPS to hire a CEO who "has a vision and wants to win." The union's executive council put forward a resolution calling for "a first-rate management team and a business-minded governance structure."
CPWU and other activists put forward a sharply different perspective. They called out the postmaster general and the board of governors as agents of the 1 percent, who were intent on crippling the USPS, turning big mailers against it, generating the political will to bust postal unions, and selling off the profitable portions.
The militants pointed to the fact that despite announcing that he is saving $11 billion by refusing to make pre-funding payments on August 1 and September 30, the postmaster general has changed delivery standards to slow first class mail (as of July 1); is closing 48 mail processing plants (from July 1 to August 30), at a cost of 13,000 jobs; and plans to cut the hours of 17,000 rural post offices, eliminating 12,500 jobs (set for this fall). The CPWU argues that Postmaster General Donahoe is a dangerous criminal who is willfully obstructing and delaying the mail and who should be terminated, arrested and prosecuted.
Despite raucous chants of "Donahoe Must Go," a sea of "Dump the PMG" buttons (sold by CPWU members) and a previous resolution of "no confidence" in Donahoe, three resolutions demanding that the USPS board of governors "Dump Donahoe" were defeated--in deference to the executive council's pleas that his replacement could be somebody "worse."
Rather than replace the postmaster general with "a first-rate management team and a business-minded governance structure," which would implement "shared sacrifice"--meaning workers and customers sacrifice--activists suggested that postal workers themselves knew how to run the service better than any Wall Street adviser. They called out the fabled auto and steel industry "turnaround" praised by Ron Bloom--pointing out that these resulted in drastically lowered wages and benefits, weakened unions and two-tier contracts.
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ANOTHER THREAD running through the NALC leadership's solution to the postal crisis was the re-election of Barack Obama.
The endorsement resolution put forward by the executive council said only that his Republican opponent Mitt Romney favored privatization--nothing about what Obama had done for letter carriers. They couldn't, because Obama has actively worked against letter carriers, as some members pointed out in the short floor debate.
Obama has advocated for a reduction in delivery days--at a loss of 80,000 letter carrier jobs--and for reduced retirement and workers compensation benefits. Obama's recent nominations for the postal board of governors included James C. Miller III, a long-time anti-union advocate of postal privatization, and Stephen Crawford, an advocate of reducing delivery days and gutting collective bargaining. Nevertheless, the union's leaders pushed through the Obama endorsement, vowing to "hold him accountable" after his re-election.
The morning following the Obama endorsement, several CPWU activists circulated a press release titled "Labor Coalition of the Carolinas Opposing Corporate Politics," which calls out both the Democratic and Republican Parties as having "utterly failed the poor and working people of this country. Between the two corporate parties, we say 'none of the above.'" The document was signed by 22 local NALC leaders from North and South Carolina, among other labor leaders.
The NALC rank-and-file rebels received a boost at the convention from a delegation of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). From the plenary address by CUPW President Denis Lemelin to the participation of a Canadian rank-and-file activist in the CPWU organizing meeting, the message came loud and clear: save the postal service through militant action and broad alliances.
The Canadians explained their success in resisting privatization, cuts and closures through solidarity pacts with students, farmers, seniors, indigenous people, women, unions, local elected officials and mailers. And the Canadians employ the rotating strike--a tactic U.S. postal workers must consider in their struggle to stop the USPS death spiral launched by the postmaster general.