Wannabe felons crowded around the US Postal Service after Reagan’s 1980 election. They claimed that “privatizing” the mail would increase efficiency and lower costs.
The trucking industry tried to pack the Postal Board with appointees in their thrall.
James Bovard and other dependable conservative lackeys wrote op-eds in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, urging severance from the postal service.
But first they needed to destroy the two unions; the Postal Workers, and the Letter Carriers. Reagan and his union busting cronies had just taken on the Air Traffic Controllers Union, and crushed it, at the cost of seriously disrupting air travel.
While the Controllers had never struck before, the mail unions were another saga. They’d waged one of the biggest wildcat strikes in history.
That 1970 strike, unauthorized by union leadership, thwarted Nixon’s plans to destroy the Postal Service and bought the unions 10 years to prepare for the next struggle. The USPS workers included tens of thousands of Black workers, who were experienced at striking and weren’t taking any BS.
But the USPS Board under Nixon hired the notorious union-busting law firm of Littler, Mendelson, to smash the Postal Workers’ organizations.
( Trump has appointed a Littler attorney to the current National Labor Relations Board.)
I had Letter Carrier friends who called me, panicky. They knew when Littler was on the scene, they would provoke an ugly strike. I was sort of a local expert on the Littler firms’ antics.
When I was a Teamster truck driver, years earlier, my boss hired Littler to break the union where I worked. When he had to send legal papers to the Littler firm, he foolishly gave the papers to me, since their law offices were on my San Francisco delivery route.
Once inside their offices, I slow-walked the delivery, sat down and began reading the attorney-client correspondence about how they were going to screw us out of our health plan and blame it on the union.
I quickly noticed the secretary; she was reading Anais Nin. She looked like Natalie Wood. Her very name; Camille, arose from Romance literature.
“Hi, how’s that book,”
“Oh, not bad.”
We began meeting after work for drinks. She was a sweet Jewish woman in her 30s, who’d grown up in Salt Lake City, graduated college, but had a couple of shaky LSD trips.
She’d moved to Oakland and was shacked up with a muscle bound guy who claimed he was going into the NFL soon. Meanwhile he was stealing checks from her check book.
After awhile we would talk about the Littler firm where she worked. But our talks were gossipy; who got fired for dating a secretary.
We became friends, drifting toward lovers. But we only kissed once. I felt reluctant to ask her to do anything that would get her fired or even prosecuted.
But this was crucial to hundreds of thousands of postal workers. I already had a piece of the puzzle. I called her office from a pay phone, and we met for drinks.
“Say, Camille, what does John McKean do for your firm?”
“Haha, we NEVER see him, he’s the accountant for the name partners,” she said, between sips of wine at John’s Grill.
John McKean had just been appointed to the Postal Board, which promptly awarded a $300,000 contract to McKean’s accounting client, the Littler Law Firm. They promptly began billing the USPS for $500 hotel rooms and $200 meals back when that was real money.
That put money in McKean’s pocket, since the firm paid him 1% of their income.
Littler would break the union, and the truck companies that Littler and McKean represented, would pick up the pieces of the shattered postal service.
I met with renegade journalist Warren Hinkle, who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. McKean had too much clout in San Francisco for Hinkle to run the story cold, so we schemed.
I read my article to an angry meeting of 1000 postal workers in Richmond California. They put it in their union paper, so now Hinkle was free to write about it in the Chronicle. The Washington Post and LA Times and NY Times came out of the hills to shoot the wounded.
The other Postal Board members reacted harshly, and McKean resigned, and Littler’s legal contract was not renewed.
The Littler offices exploded in anger at the article.
“Red?” I got a phone call late one night. I recognized her shaking voice, “they interviewed all of the employees today, asking who knows Red Woodman. “ I was so glad Camille and I had practiced Moscow rules, especially using pay phones. We never met again.
But oddly enough, the Board members who drove out McKean had their own felonies planned. Peter Voss, another Postal governor, was soon arrested for kickback schemes on the purchase of postal service equipment.
The pumped-up Postal Unions were able to avoid a strike, and the thieves were driven from the mail room.
Now we still have unions in place for mail delivery, and those unions could help save democracy this time around.
The last time I talked to Camille on the phone 35 years ago, we were both getting married. She’d dumped the musclebound guy long ago.