48th Anniversary of “1970 Postal Strike”

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Striking the federal government has been illegal since 1912. But that is exactly what happened 48 years ago when NALC Members in Branch 36 (New York) voted to walk off the job on March 17, 1970. Picket lines went up at midnight all over New York City and spread like wildfire through the country as other NALC locals including Boston, Branch #34 voted to strike. 

While most of those who hit the bricks are long retired, we owe it to those who put their jobs on the line to Remember!


“In 1970 what happened in a nutshell was this: postal workers had become fed up with working for wages that had lagged so far behind over the years that many were working second and third jobs to make ends meet.   In cities like New York and Washington, D.C., many postal workers were even collecting food stamps and welfare. At the time, federal government employees only enjoyed partial collective bargaining rights (provided by Executive Order 10988 in 1962). That meant they had to lobby Congress for pay raises—a process they dubbed “collective begging.”

On March 12, a rank-and-file caucus of Branch 36 (Manhattan-Bronx) of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) spearheaded the demand for a branch strike vote. Striking the federal government has been illegal since 1912. But that is exactly what Branch 36 voted to do on March 17. Picket lines went up at midnight all over New York City. Other NALC branches voted to strike, spreading upstate and into New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania; then west to Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, and California. Together they shut down 671 post offices in dozens of cities and towns across the United States. Clerks, mail handlers, maintenance workers, motor vehicle operators, and other crafts from other postal unions joined what became the largest “wildcat strike ” (one not authorized by a national union) in American labor history. Over 200,000 postal workers struck for eight days. Despite the inconvenience of a total mail stoppage, strikers enjoyed the support of the majority of Americans.

Court injunctions were served on local union leaders, fines were levied, and government officials threatened to break the unions. President Richard M. Nixon called up 26,007 troops in an effort to break the strike by moving the mail—which failed. The strike ended on March 25 when strikers were convinced by union leaders to return to work after negotiations with Nixon administration officials. No one was fired or jailed. Further negotiations led to legislation signed that August by Nixon granting a 14% raise, with top pay “compressed” to 8 instead of 21 years, and full collective bargaining rights (except the right to strike) under a reorganized self-supporting hybrid government agency-corporation in 1971 called the U.S. Postal Service.  ….”    

 (Credit: Philip F. Rubio)

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