The Biggest Strikes in the United States

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Annotated Bibliography

Allen, J. (2017). The UPS strike, two decades later. Jacobin. Web.

The editorial piece in the magazine recalls how the United Parcel Service (UPS) strike of 1997 took place, what caused it, and how different media reacted to it. Among the details provided include that 185000 teamsters went on a three-week strike between August 4, 1997, and August 19, 1997. The strike was conducted to oppose contract workers, where the demands included converting part-time workers to full-time work and offering higher wages. With such details, the article can be critical in informing research on the subject, especially when exploring the effects of strikes and labor unions on labor dynamics.

Blakemore, E. (2020). How a postal strike became a national emergency for Richard Nixon. History. Web.

This article examines the 1970 strike and how the government, led by President Richard Nixon, responded to it. The article highlights that the strike was treated as a national emergency where the National Guardsmen were deployed to deliver main after services stalled for eight days across 30 cities. One of the main causes of the strike was that Congress had proposed to raise their own salaries by 41% while offering postal workers only a 5.4% raise. The historical aspect of the article makes it ideal as a source of data for research on the subject, especially where reactions and outcomes of the strike are involved.

Coordes, L. (2021). A path forward for the postal service. Emory Bankruptcy Development Journal, 37(3), 581-598.

This is a research article that focuses on the U.S. postal service and the problems and legislations that arose from such incidences as the 1970 strike. According to Coodes (2021), the 1970 strike started with the postal carriers in new York City, after which the rest of the nation quickly followed. After the strike, President Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act (PRA), which transformed the postal services into a government-owned self-funded company that functioned more as a business than one of the arms of government. The research paper can be used to provide a background to the problems facing the postal services leading to the strike and the outcomes of the strike.

Devinatz, V. (2018). Introduction to “after the storm: Postal politics and labor relations following the 1970 U.S. Postal wildcat strike, 1970-1981“. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 30(63). Web.

This article refers to the 1970 postal strike as a landmark since it culminated in four major labor unions obtaining collective bargaining power. As a result, the unions were able to bargain workers’ wages, working conditions, and benefits. Even though this is only an introduction to another article written by Philip Rubio, the details of the strike have been summarized. This summary helps outline the major causes of the strike and its outcomes.

Levin, D. (2017). The 1997 UPS strike: Beating big business & business unionism. Labor Notes. Web.

This commentary commemorates twenty years since the UPS strike of 1997, which saw 185000 Teamsters members strike and the labor union winning what is considered the biggest victory in decades. The strike and its outcomes are used to shape the opinion that big businesses and their unionism can be beaten. Additionally, the core of the problem is examined, including the fact that UPS had been cutting costs by hiring low-wage part-time workers. In terms of victory, the worker could enjoy as much as a 50% rise in pensions and receive the highest wage increases ever.

Workers World Staff. (2018). UPS teamsters 1997 strike. Workers World. Web.

This article explored the possibility of another strike against the UPS as the company and service workers are currently engaged in a contract negotiation. The events that are taking place are monitored closely in light of the 1997 strike. Additionally, the article offers a background to the 1997 strike, including the details of what caused the strike and the outcomes realized. The UPS is regarded as a giant ruthless corporation and the strike a measure of strength between capital and labor.


The United States has experienced some of the biggest strikes in history where hundreds of thousands of people and their labor unions have achieved great results. May of the largest strikes took place several decades ago, with few noticeable ones taking place after the turn of the 21st century. Each of the strikes was caused by different events, and each union had varied objectives. However, it can be argued that wages and working conditions have been the key drivers of major strikes. Additionally, the labor unions have frequently won against the employers, which proves their effectiveness. In this research paper, the focus will be on two strikes: the UPS strike of 1997 and the U.S. postal strike of 1970. An exploration of the similarities and differences of each is presented, including how management handled the workers. Additionally, the paper explores who won in each of them and highlights the possibility of avoiding these strikes.

The U.S. Postal Strike 1970

The U.S. postal strike of 970 is one of the largest strikes that the United States has ever aced. According to Devinatz (2018), this was a landmark strike conducted by the federal postal workers, who were supported by four major labor unions. These are the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, and the National Mail handlers Union. It can be argued that the postal service had been facing major issues even before the strike, most of which involved legislation. For example, bailouts and financial difficulties presented by Coordes (2021) illustrate how the Post Office received taxpayer-funded bailouts, which never helped improve the situation. As an arm of the government, Congress started making legislative proposals, the main one being transforming the organization into one that operated as a private business. However, Congress remained unwilling to relinquish its control over the entity.

These issues spilled over into the workers’ affairs as they felt that the wages were too low. Efforts to cut costs often meant such practices as slashing overtime pay. Unionization began in the 1860s and had built up enough bargaining power to face the company and the Congres (Coordes, 2021). The strike materialized in the early years of 1970 when over 150000 letter carriers went on an eight-day strike. At the time of the strike, pay rises for postal workers were unheard of, but after the strike, the workers would earn $2266 more than their starting salaries (Blakemore, 2020). The strike became a national disaster when a backlog of undelivered mail mounted, forcing the president to use the National Guard to ease the burden. Additionally, the president signed into law the proposal to transform the postal service into a business-like organization. This law was called the Postal Reorganization Act, which reduced dependence on taxpayers’ bailouts.

The UPS Workers Strike of 1997

In most major strikes, the problems and issues often shape up long before the event itself. In the UPS worker strikes, the Teamsters were under what can be considered corrupt leadership that was connected to the mob, as explained by (Allen, 2017). The UPS was used to exercise power and control over its workers and their unions. In 1991, the Teamsters elected a reform-minded general president, whose first order of business was to reform the union. Ron Carey started by cutting his salary and eliminating most of the perks enjoyed by officials, including private jets and limousines. Additionally, he removed corrupt officials, most of whom were connected to the mob. In 1994, he held a national strike after the company raised the weight limit of packages, which violated the contract. Carey also won the 1996 election, mostly due to what he promised for the 1997 contract (Levin, 2017). For years, the UPS used low-wage part-time workers as a means to cut costs, which was allowed by the then teamsters president, James Hoffa.

Teamster’s president James Hoffa was succeeded in 1982 by Carey. Before 1982, UPS cut part-time starting wage to $8 ah hour. After 1997, the drivers made up to three times this amount, and the trend of hiring cheaply-paid part-time work was reversed (Levin, 2017). This was the result of 185000 workers going on a 15-day strike that is considered to have electrified the working class and labor movement across the country. According to Allen (2017), the final agreement may have included some compromises, but the strike is still regarded as the first major victory for the working class more than two decades after it took place. For example, full-time may have been the priority, but not all part-time positions were converted to full-time. However, the positive side includes the fact that over 10000 of the employees were working for more than 35 hours a week and still received the part-time pay. The success of the union has largely been accredited to Ron Carey, who also democratized the union.

Comparison between the Strikes

Causes of the Strikes

In both strikes, pay and working conditions were the two main causes of the strike. In the postal strike, Congress had increased their own wages by 41% while offering postal service workers only 5.4%. Additionally, the postal service faced financial challenges, which meant that the demand for better pay and working conditions could not be met (Coordes, 2021). Additionally, overtime paid to workers was reduced, which meant that the workers would work for more hours in a physically demanding job, but with less pay.

Similar conditions were present in the UPS at the tie of the strike. As explained by Allen (2017), unsafe working conditions had resulted in over five thousand grievances. The low wages paid to workers can be reflected in the $8 an hour, which was considered the lowest across various occupations. Poor work conditions, part-time work, and healthcare and pension protection were all issues that triggered the UPS strike. Additionally, it is important to understand that the formation of unions in both cases played a major role. Reforms in the teamsters meant more bargaining power, a result that was achieved in the postal service strike with the help of four labor unions working together.

Similarities and Differences

The main similarities between the two strikes include that they both emanated from a similar set of circumstances, including poor working conditions and low pay. With growing costs of living, the wages were not enough to support workers, who had to contend with long hours. Secondly, both companies used low-wage part-time workers to reduce operational costs. In terms of differences, the UPS strike was led by the Teamsters union, a single union that had become more powerful than the company itself. The Postal strike was made possible by four unions working together to increase their bargaining power.

Additionally, the nature of negotiations before the strike was different. Contract negotiations between the Teamsters union and UPS used to be done in secrecy where member expectations were not revealed. The situation changed with the new leadership, where the members sat on the national negotiating committee for the first time. As for the postal services, the union leaders agreed with workers regarding their problems, which they considered legitimate. However, they remained opposed to the strike claiming it was illegal for federal workers to strike. Even though the negotiations were performed through union leadership, the strike was led by the workers themselves, who defied their unions.

Treatment of Employees or Labor

In both strikes, the workers were treated unfairly due to their perceived powerlessness against the giant corporations. This was especially so in the UPS strike, where the situation changed only after a leadership overhaul in the Teamsters union. UPS even exercised power over the labor union, which has persistently allowed unfavorable contract situations for workers. As for the postal services, the problems were majorly between the workers and the Congress, who were responsible for most of the decisions, including wages for the workers. However, a respectful relationship existed between the union and the congress, as manifested by the union leaders disagreeing with the strike due to its illegality.

It is also important to notice that after the strike, the workers were treated almost similarly. In the postal strike, the government did not retaliate against the workers, and no one was fired as a result (Blakemore, 2020). Similarly, no workers were fired after the UPS strike, but the government response was different. The government was under pressure from both the UPS and Wall Stress as the president was requested to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act. However, the pressure from the union was immense, and the government only leaned the union to compromise. Therefore, it can be argued that in both cases, the labor and the employees were powerful enough to prevent both the government and the corporations from taking any punitive measures.

Avoiding the Strikes

The question of whether the strikes could have been avoided is an interesting one since it depends on who’s perspective it is adopted. In many cases, the employers cannot always agree with the workers’ and their unions’ demands due to their implications on the operational costs. In this case, both the postal services and UPS were desperate to reduce these costs, which meant lower wages and unfavorable working conditions for their employees. The only way that each of the organizations could have avoided the strike was by meeting the demands. At UPS, the main mistake was not recognizing the newfound power of the Teamsters union under the new leadership. Its power over the union was diminished as the democratization of the union gave it more power from the participation of the members (Allen, 2017). Therefore, the UPS was faced with an uncertain environment, which meant that this strike was inevitable.

As for the postal strike, there were efforts to stop the strike since the union leadership considered it illegal. However, the actions of Congress meant that the workers were left no alternative but to strike. According to Coordes (2021), there were proposals to turn the postal services into a business-like organization. Had these efforts materialized earlier and the company successfully managed its financial mess, it is possible that the workers would not have considered striking. However, the only way the strike was to be avoided was by giving in to the unions, especially considering that it took four unions to push for the workers’ demands.

Outcomes of the Strikes

The outcomes of the strike were in favor of the workers and their unions. For the most part, the demands of the workers were met, even though compromises had to be made. For example, the UPS raised the wages for the workers and stopped the trend of using part-time work as a means to cut costs. Additionally, the company created 10000 additional full-time jobs out of the low-wage part-time work as per the demands of the Teamsters union (Allen, 2017). The UPS also ceased its efforts to hijack the pension fund for full-time workers. Therefore, the major demands were met after the strikers used what has been regarded as militant tactics.

The postal strike also managed to achieve similar outcomes. According to Blakemore (2020), the outcome of the strike was a pay hike for all workers granted by the government. However, further ramifications included the formation of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and the labor unions were granted the right to negotiate the working conditions and salaries of the workers. The president also signed into law the PRA, which formed the USPS. Since its formation, the USPS has never received taxpayer bailout, which means the move can be seen as a huge success.

Winners in the Strikes

The workers and the unions can be considered the winners in both strikes. As mentioned earlier, the postal strike resulted in a pay hike for the workers while the unions gained the rights to negotiate conditions of work ad salaries for the members. For the postal service, the only aspect that can be considered a win is that the formation of the USPS saved it from the many financial problems. The stability of the USPS can be attributed to the fact that it became self-funded, which means good management practices were implemented. However, the unions and the workers won by being granted most of their wishes. In the UPS strike, the union and the workers also won significantly due to the company agreeing to meet their demands. Part-time work was converted to full-time work, and pension benefits were interfered with as the company had sought to do. Despite meeting the demands of the unions and workers, both strikes also seemingly empowered the working class who supported the strikes. Therefore, the list of winners also extended to external parties who used the strikes as a source of inspiration.


The United States has experienced some of the largest strikes in the world, most of which had far-reaching consequences for all parties involved. As established in the research, the power of the unions was exercised to force the organizations and the government to act in favor of the workers. There might be some differences in the factors causing the strikes and the outcomes. However, the unifying factor was that both organizations paid workers poorly and subjected them to harsh working conditions. Additionally, all the strikes yielded positive results, which was in the form of a big win for the unions and the workers.

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BusinessEssay. "The Biggest Strikes in the United States." December 23, 2022.