Remembering Mike Smith, postal worker and labor stalwart
A collection of news magazine covers featuring stories on the U.S. postal strike of 1970, the largest wildcat strike in U.S. history. It lasted eight days and prompted President Nixon to dispatch the National Guard to attempt mail delivery. By the end of the strike, postal workers nationwide had won the right to collective bargaining. | Save the Post Office

I lost a friend today. As we proceed into the final acts of this play we call Life, we find ourselves more and more standing on the stage with fellow actors who are exiting quickly stage left for the final scene.

Poof! One second they are breathing the same air, in the same room with us. And within minutes they are gone. Within seconds they are gone. This was the case with my friend and comrade, Michael W. Smith. He passed away last night at 6:00 p.m. I learned of his death this morning. I have cried exactly four times today thinking of him.

Mike Smith was: I stop myself here.

I have stared at the computer screen for ten minutes trying to finish this sentence. Let me tell you what I know Mike Smith was. He was one of the wildcat strikers of the Great Postal Strike of 1970. He was a shop steward in the Birmingham, Michigan, Post Office and a trustee of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 3126.

He was also the Legislative Liaison for the Branch. He served as the vice-president and editor of the local NARFE (National Association of Retired Federal Employees) in Royal Oak. Also, he was a dutiful member of the SOAR Coalition. Till the day he breathed his last breath he was 100 percent union, and if you have any doubts about that you should see his pickup truck emblazoned from front to back with his emphatic bumper stickers and magnetic signs.

He was a man who was never afraid to speak his mind and, in my opinion, never afraid to speak the truth. Unwavering and never apologetic, he spoke at every branch meeting, and in his later years spoke at our executive board meetings as a guest. When I first met him, I joked that he was our local “curmudgeon.” He spoke his mind and reminded us of our duties. He was to the point and sometimes cared less about how he sounded. It was all about the message, and it was up to you to round off the rough edges.

I admired his crusty approach to politics. To Mike, no matter what the political landscape was, you just had to keep grinding along. He was just that consistent. He believed that the fight was never over.

Mike Smith (center) with the author (right) and fellow letter carrier Josh Dent (left) at a dinner in February. | John Dick / PW

He even believed that with his final fight with cancer. The last time I talked with him, he was positive that he was going to beat this beast. Mutual friends of ours invited Mike and my wife and me over for a dinner just a couple of weeks ago.

He regaled us with the story of how he walked off the job in March of 1970 to support the wildcat strike. Two days later, I gave him my mother’s electric wheelchair. She could no longer use it, and she was a friend to Mike. They were both “lefties” and had been to some rallies together. She wanted him to have it so that he could go to the zoo with his grandkids.

My last conversation with Mike was at our Branch Retirement Brunch in February. He drove himself to our union office and was the first one there in the morning. He was cheerful and, as always, eternally optimistic. And he had a few choice words to say about our new President Trump. He talked more about politics than he did about his health. Both, sad to say, in the same state of disrepair.

His family reached out to his second family after his passing. Doug, his son, called the union office the morning after his death. His words to me: “You guys were his life.”

I knew what his son meant. You spend so much time invested in the union that it becomes your second family. Guys like Mike become your uncle. I mean to say your real Uncle Mike. You cry when they die. And you hope and pray that one day somebody thinks of you in the same way when you are gone.


John Dick
John Dick

Award winning writer John "Cementhead" Dick is an active member of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Branch 3126, Royal Oak, Mich.