by Joseph Piette
August 11, 2013
Postal and community activists struggling to save the U.S. Postal Service from privatization need to know who they are fighting against.
The Postal Service was established in 1775. It needed government administration as it was so important for communication.
Even in today’s age of Internet communication, 20 percent of the U.S. population lack Internet access and depend on the post office for bills, bank statements and letters. (Gallup World, Aug. 4) The Postal Service is still essential for the $1.3-trillion mailing industry.
The campaign to privatize and de-unionize the USPS threatens the livelihood of every affected worker and neighborhood. Hardest hit will be communities of color that suffer depression-level unemployment.
While the post office clearly provides a vital service, can it withstand attacks from privatizers set on eliminating universal delivery in their search for profits?
Who are the privatizers?
The USPS has 522,144 workers and 31,272 retail stores. Its 2012 revenue was $65 billion. Mandated to deliver mail at affordable prices to over 150 million U.S. addresses, it holds a statutory monopoly on the delivery of first-class mail.
Under congressional control, the USPS is prohibited from lobbying Congress or contributing to political campaigns.
Corporate executives consistently resist workers’ demands for even nickel wage increases yet spend millions to influence politicians. The penny-pinching owners of capital and exploiters of workers demand favorable results from their “investments” in politicians. With $3.31 billion spent on congressional lobbying and $6 billion contributed to election campaigns in 2012 alone, the U.S. holds the title of the most corrupt political system in the world. (Center for Responsive Politics – OpenSecrets.org)
United Parcel Service has 322,100 employees and 5,722 retail locations. Its 2012 revenue was $54 billion. It delivers only when and where it can make a profit. UPS pays the USPS to deliver 100 million to 300 million parcels annually to less profitable locations, according to the industry watchdog group, Courier Express and Postal Observer. Clearly it has a stake in eliminating its main U.S. competitor — the Postal Service. In 2012, UPS spent $5 million lobbying Congress and another $3.1 million on candidates.
FedEx employs 300,000 workers worldwide and logged $45 billion in revenue in 2012. It also delivers when and where it is profitable and uses the USPS for 30.4 percent of its ground mail delivery. The USPS pays $1.4 billion annually to move letters and parcels via FedEx air cargo planes. FedEx spent almost $12 million in 2012 lobbying and another $2.5 million in campaign contributions.
Pitney Bowes has 27,000 workers worldwide. Its 2012 revenue was $5 billion. It paid for a “White Paper” in 2013 that recommends the privatization of postal trucking, retail and mail processing. Operating 36 processing plants — the largest U.S. pre-sorted mail network — PB would vastly increase its profits if those recommendations bore fruit. PB contributed half a million dollars to campaigns and spent another $1.25 million lobbying Congress. (savethepostoffice.com, March 15)
These aren’t the only companies that would benefit from postal privatization.
Boston Consulting Group, the world’s largest management consulting firm, plays a major role preparing companies for deregulation and privatization. BCG was behind the dismantling of public school systems and the establishment of charter schools in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans. It is involved in the restructuring of postal institutions globally, including in Switzerland, Canada, Norway and England, whose government just announced its intent to privatize Royal Mail.
BCG, Accenture and McKinley & Company produced a 2010 study entitled “Ensuring a Viable Postal Service for America – an Action Plan for the Future.” The study recommended increased use of part-time workers, as in the Netherlands and Germany, where 40 percent of postal workers work part time. The privatized Dutch post office, PostNL, fired older letter carriers and replaced them with workers paid per item or part time, many earning less than minimum wage. (ernstseconomyforyou.blogspot.com, March 28)
Both UPS and FedEx belong to the powerful American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, an ultra-conservative organization of the well-to-do, the corporations and the politicians that promotes right-wing legislation on local, state and federal levels. (Sourcewatch.org)
Two of the richest men in the U.S. — Charles and David Koch — with combined assets of $40 billion, are ALEC’s largest funders. They also fund the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Freedom Works, the Heritage Foundation, the Tea Party and other right-wing organizations.
ALEC bills undermine environmental regulations, deny climate change, support school privatization, undercut health care reform and limit the political influence of unions. They mandate laws to disenfranchise voters and increase incarceration rates to benefit the private-prison industry. In over 20 states, ALEC helped pass “stand your ground” legislation, which right-wingers used to justify George Zimmerman’s racist killing of Trayvon Martin.
For years, ALEC worked to influence Congress to pass the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, requiring the USPS to pay $5.5 billion annually for pension health care benefits 75 years in advance. No other agency carries that burden. In 2006, before the PAEA, the USPS profit was $0.9 billion.
Under pressure of this substantial red ink, postal management in the last year closed 30 percent of its processing and distribution plants; reduced hours up to 75 percent in half of the post offices; put 10 percent of buildings up for sale; subcontracted trucking and mail handling; cut thousands of mail routes; and eliminated 60,000 living-wage postal jobs. These cuts all slow down the mail system.
Tea Party House Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the richest man in Congress with a net worth of $448 million, heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (KSBW.com, Dec. 27, 2011)
Issa is the congressional pitbull most insistent on passing postal privatization. Issa’s HR2748 bill would end Saturday delivery, replace door-to-door delivery for 40 million homes with neighborhood cluster boxes and eliminate 100,000 postal jobs.
The use of cluster boxes not only inconveniences mail recipients but would de-skill jobs that require stamina and a good memory, allowing the USPS to follow the anti-labor example of the Netherlands in hiring part-time, low-paid workers.
The Koch brothers contributed $107,000 to 13 Republican members of the HOGRC — $12,500 just to Issa, who sent staff members to a Koch brothers’ think tank. (Press Enterprise, Feb. 27, 2011)
Issa appointed staffers to the HOGRC who are linked to lobbying firms that accepted $1.2 million from Pitney Bowes and $240,000 from FedEx.(opensecrets.org)
On Aug. 2, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released Senate postal reform bill S1486. American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey said: “This bill is fatally flawed. It betrays the working men and women of the USPS; it slashes service to the American people; and it fails to protect the USPS from the impending financial disaster Congress set in motion in 2006 with the passage of the PAEA.” (APWU Web News, Aug. 2)
Over the last two years, Carper accepted contributions from UPS ($59,000) and FedEx ($72,500). (opensecrets.org)
Barclay’s, UBS, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs were recently selected by the British Parliament to lead a banking syndicate overseeing privatization of the Royal Mail, valued at $4.8 billion. Goldman Sachs also supported privatization campaigns in Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria.
Not coincidentally, Issa hired former Goldman Sachs vice president, Peter Haller, to serve on the HOGRC. Bank of America was Issa’s fifth highest campaign contributor at $21,850 (2012). Carper received $56,740 from Bank of America.
These millionaires and billionaires may look powerful, and they’re certainly rich, but postal workers can still win against them if they’re united with the great global working class.
Articles copyright 1995-2013 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Save the people’s post office
by Dave Welsh
Aug. 12, 2013
Without question, the big-business class — and their agents in the U.S. Postal Service headquarters, the executive branch and Congress — are on a path to dismantle the Postal Service, privatize the profitable parts of it, and neutralize or destroy the postal unions.
Their whole economic system is in crisis. It’s not working. So the 1% are trying to pull their own chestnuts out of the fire by a full-bore attack on unions, the workers and the poor — an attack on our union contracts, our jobs, economic security, wages, benefits, conditions and social services. Their assault on the Postal Service is part of this strategy.
The post office was founded on July 26, 1775, by the Continental Congress, to provide public mail service. Today, private companies like Pitney Bowes are salivating over the prospect of grabbing a chunk of this highly successful business with $69 billion in annual revenue.
The plan? To close post offices in poor and rural areas; shutter mail processing plants, delaying the mail by one day to one week; eliminate door-to-door and Saturday mail delivery; wipe out 100,000-plus union postal jobs in a time of high unemployment.
They also want to sell off historic, landmark post offices that they own free and clear — like those in the Bronx, N.Y, and Berkeley, Calif. — and that contain priceless New Deal artwork, and then pay top-dollar to rent retail space to replace it.
How can we fight it?
By itself, the legislative strategy — trying to influence Congress — is not working. Congress is bought and sold by the 1% — they won’t begin to listen to us until we’re in the streets, mobilized in all our numbers.
Rank-and-file postal workers and the communities that support us are the source of our real strength. We need to reach out and tap into them, just as we did in the great 1970 postal strike.
That grassroots upsurge brought about a big change in the relationship of forces between postal workers and the bosses. What used to be work for poverty wages became a living-wage job, with a union contract to protect the workers’ rights. Any postal worker can see this.
A statement by the Million Worker March Movement helps to clarify the situation we face today: “All important social movements … in this country were started from the bottom up (rank and file/grassroots) and not from the top down. A handful of the rich and powerful corporations have usurped our government. A corporate and banking oligarchy changes hats and occupies public office to wage class war on working people. They have captured the State in their own interests.” (Oct. 17, 2011)
When Ronald Reagan took office as president, one of his first acts was to bust the PATCO air traffic controllers’ union, ushering in three decades of attacks on the union movement and a steady decline in the living standards of the working class.
Today, the 1% have a much bigger target — the Postal Service. They hate the fact that the 574,000 who work for the nation’s second biggest employer are under union contracts and making a living wage.
They hate the fact that in 1970 the postal workers took their destiny into their own hands and shut down the entire mail system for the better part of a week, demonstrating the power of the workers and disrupting business as usual. And the 1970 nationwide postal strike taught another lesson: that the wealth of the 1% only exists because the 99% create it for them.
The nation’s largest employer is Walmart. The employer class would dearly love to reduce those 574,000 postal workers to Walmart wages and nonunion status. But just because they want it doesn’t mean they’ll get it.
A racist campaign
There’s another side to the move to dismantle and destroy the public Postal Service, which is this country’s largest unionized employer. And that is the disproportionate effect it would have on workers and communities of color.
If you’ve ever seen a group picture of postal workers from before World War II, in many places it would be a practically all-white group, and mostly men. But after World War II things began to change, with the development of the Civil Rights and Black liberation movements. The post office began hiring Asian Americans, Latinos, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and a lot more women. So that by the time of the 1970 strike, it was a much more integrated and diverse workforce.
Today the Postal Service is the largest single source of Black employment — 20 percent of the postal workforce. For many workers of all nationalities, it is one of the few places where living-wage jobs are still available in our low-pay, post-industrial economy.
The campaign to privatize and de-unionize the USPS is a threat to the livelihood of every affected worker and neighborhood. But it stands to hit hardest those communities of color that are already suffering unemployment at Great Depression levels. We need a movement that puts in the forefront those most impacted by the postal crisis — Black, Brown and rural communities; elderly, disabled and low-income people.
Building community/labor coalitions
We can and must build a powerful, nationwide movement to defeat privatization, maintain living-wage postal jobs, expand postal services, and save the Postal Service as a public entity operating in the public interest. This grassroots effort has already begun. Community-based coalitions are springing up, with some creative tactics. Here’s a sampling:
• In New York City, Community-Labor United for Postal Jobs & Services organized large neighborhood protests to stop the closing of postal facilities in Harlem, South Bronx, Staten Island, Chelsea and Co-op City, as well as keep six-day delivery and preserve living-wage postal jobs. The youth group of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network participated in a “Don’t Close It” march and occupation of a Harlem station. The coalition also organized a march of 500 to the main post office on the anniversary of the 1970 postal strike, and a campaign to save the historic Bronx General Post Office, with active participation by the Puerto Rican community. (clupjs.com)
•In Portland, Ore., a chanting crowd of 100-plus, including postal union heads, massed outside University Station, on the USPS chopping block for closing. Inside the station, one retired carrier and nine from Occupy Portland unfurled 10-foot banners reading, “Occupy the Post Office” and “No Closures, No Cuts!” and were arrested when they refused to leave. Media were all over the story. The community coalition includes Jobs with Justice and Rural Organizing Project, which has mounted a “Return to Sender” campaign to preserve full-service post offices — without reduced hours — all over rural Oregon. When the USPS replaced union postal truckers with scab contractors, the coalition blocked the scab trucks.
• In San Francisco, a large crowd with an “Occupy the Post Office” banner took over the lobby of the Civic Center post office — one of four in the city that the Postmaster General wants to close. The station is a lifeline for the many people without homes or living in city-supported single-room-occupancy hotels for the very poor, who get their mail in P.O. boxes or at the General Delivery window. Some 200 people took part in the rally, march or occupation of the post office. It was organized by Save the People’s Post Office, a coalition that includes National Association of Letter Carriers and American Postal Workers Union activists, Living Wage Coalition, SF Labor Council, Church Women United, Green Party, Gray Panthers, Occupy SF Action Council, Union of Unemployed Workers and Senior Action Network. After the action at Civic Center post office, the Postmaster decided not to close the four San Francisco stations after all. (SaveThePostOffice@sonic.net)
• Local coalitions have banded together to form Communities and Postal Workers United. CPWU organized a four-day hunger strike in Washington, D.C., in 2012. The 10 fasting postal workers’ message to Congress: “Stop starving the Postal Service!” The fast was heavily covered by national and local media — a breakthrough in explaining to the public about the pre-funding mandate [a congressional mandate requiring the setting aside of billions for future healthcare costs of retirees], and other efforts to sabotage and privatize the service. The week ended with a protest at USPS headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza. Retired mail handler John Dennie attempted to make a citizen’s arrest of Postmaster General Donahoe for his criminal actions in seeking to destroy the service. Dennie charged the PMG with violating 18 U.S. Code 1701, Knowingly and Willfully Obstructing Passage of the Mail, and 18 USC 1703, Delay of the Mail. When police grabbed Brother Dennie, demonstrators sat in. Since then, CPWU chapters have sprung up in many cities and towns, including Tucson, Ariz., and a very active chapter in southern California. (www.cpwunited.com)
• At the U.S. Capitol, last December, when Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Darrell Issa announced their intention of using the lame-duck session of Congress to eliminate six-day mail delivery, CPWU members called a hunger strike for the duration of the session; camped out in a banner-strewn tent on the National Mall facing the Capitol; rented a horse-drawn carriage to bring a giant “Save Saturday delivery” postcard to the White House; hand-delivered to the postal Board of Governors a dossier documenting long delays of mail after the closing of the Frederick, Md., processing plant; and staged an hour-long sit-in at Issa’s office, which led to one arrest and an impromptu 20-minute debate with Rep. Issa himself.
• In Berkeley, Calif., a year-long campaign to stop the sale of our historic post office has energized the community. The entire City Council came out against the sale, as did both houses of the California state legislature. People packed the hearings and gathered at the steps and in the lobby to sing songs celebrating the Postal Service, including “Please Mr. Postman” with new words. Legal action to stop the sale is underway, as well as a plan to rezone the post office as part of a historic district of public buildings, so it can’t be sold to private investors. On July 27, after a rally/fiesta of 200, activists launched a “direct defense” of the historic post office, sleeping overnight in tents on the steps and providing freshly cooked meals. Each day hundreds of people crowd the information table to volunteer to help save the post office. At dusk we have “movie night,” showing films with a postal or class-struggle theme. It’s gotten great media coverage. By Aug. 5, the growing encampment of a dozen tents and 25 campers had entered its second week.
The movement is underway and growing, initiated by rank-and-file letter carriers, clerks and mail handlers, and aroused communities who don’t want to lose their post office. We can no longer wait for “someone else” to get things going. That someone else may very well be you.
Dave Welsh, a retired letter carrier and delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, is an organizer with Save the People’s Post Office, a community/labor coalition. A good information source is SaveThePostOffice.com
Articles copyright 1995-2013 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Saving the People’s Post Office with Jim Sauber
Margaret Flowers on Aug 14, 2013
A presentation on the campaign to prevent the dismantling of the Postal Service and to reinvent it for 21st century to promote democracy, financial inclusion and sustainable development. – Captured Live on Ustream at http://www.ustream.tv/itsoureconomy
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