I did not attend the all-Craft conference this year and, consequently, was not in attendance for the installation of officers after this year’s historic election. However, I have listened with great interest to the address by our new President, Mark Dimondstein, on the occasion of his installation to office. I was impressed, though not surprised.
Brother Dimondstein has long presented himself as a unionist very consciously connected with labor’s history. And it was this connectedness that made his speech memorable. His numerous allusions to great figures from labor’s past and use of quotes from the labor movement’s early leaders gave a welcome richness to his remarks. One must hope to see Brother Dimondstein’s spirit of unionism animate this new administration in a way that will bring a spirit of renewal to the APWU.
Our new President sounded the call for what he termed “a grand alliance” between postal unions and the whole community to wage the fight against the dismantling and privatization of the Postal Service. In this endeavor, we must all wish him the greatest of luck; for it will take an enormous amount of good fortune to find a way to motivate union officers and members, other activists and the public toward this goal. Certainly we, as postal workers, need to achieve the saving of the Postal Service, and certainly American citizens need the public Postal Service more than they realize. Just as certainly, though, these are very difficult times for movements that attempt to capture enough momentum to accomplish great things. The country is beset by a multitude of conflicts generated by the failure of our capitalist economy to fulfill the promises Americans have come to take for granted. Freedom of speech is drown out by the megaphone of money as the consequences of the Supreme Court’s obsequious-to-the-rich decision in Citizens United has unleashed billions of dollars to sponsor persistent lies that pose as issues of consequence. And these false issues continue to put ordinary Americans always on the defensive and at odds with each other – only to insulate the very wealthy from having to answer for their crimes against society. Thus we have a plethora of issues that dominate public discussion. To get the issue of the true ills of the Postal Service into that arena seems at time nearly impossible. One need only look to what passes for activity in Congress to see that true reform that would benefit the Postal Service barely draws anyone’s attention. And outside those communities where a beloved Post Office building is on the auction block, little media attention is given the Postal Service. To energize the public in a way that will achieve what is needed truly demands a “grand alliance”.
But what we can expect may be illustrated by what has been going on with the AFL-CIO of late. I was intrigued to read, surrounding the recent AFL-CIO convention, of initiatives to move labor into “grand alliances” with other elements of the progressive community. We have needed for too many years to develop alliances between labor and civil liberties advocates, between labor and healthcare reformists, between labor and student activists, between labor and justice reformers, between labor and peace advocates, between labor and environmentalists. Yet, in later reading the resolutions that were adopted in the convention, one can find little constructive movement. There is a great affinity between the interests of labor and the broader interests of the public that goes unaddressed and underdeveloped. Samuel Gompers famously said,
What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails, more books and less arsenals, more learning and less vice, more constant work and less crime, more leisure and less greed, more justice and less revenge. In fact more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful and childhood more happy and bright.
In other words, labor is all about the so-called American dream. And, yet, labor cannot seem to manage to develop real alignments with progressive organizations that are working toward the various parts of that dream.
For the American Postal Workers Union to create the “grand alliance” necessary to bring the salvation of the Postal Service into focus for ordinary Americans, we have a lot to overcome in the stifling effect of society’s current multitude of problems. But if we succeed, perhaps, we will lead the labor movement into other much needed alliances.