Jan 17, 2013 - Issue 500

Destruction of U.S. Postal Service
Appears to be Going as Planned

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First, they said, “let’s privatize just some of the services of the post office.” And they privatized a few functions and, in some others, they set themselves up with “public-private” projects to show that the private sector could “help” the U.S. Postal Service become more efficient and effective…in other words, turn a profit.

At this time, there is a headlong rush to privatize the whole thing and the powers that be are involved and fully supportive, it seems. The members of Congress are on board. Corporate America is on board, without a doubt. Some in academia are on board. And, the press seems to be fully on board. The attitude is that, if the U.S.P.S. cannot turn a profit, it should just fade from sight and the “more efficient” private sector will pick up the slack.

Those in opposition to the closing of thousands of post offices across the nation and a reduction in services at the windows seem to be the workers, those who provide the services, and the American people (at least, those who have not been propagandized by the private entities that are literally drooling to take over mail and parcel delivery). The problem is that a privatized postal service system never will send a first class letter anywhere in the country for 45 cents (scheduled to rise to 46 cents on Jan. 27). In case of privatization, plan to see that number double, or triple, or quadruple. Just pick a multiple and that’s what you’re likely to see.

No one does it better than the U.S.P.S. It is required by law to do that and don’t let the privateers sell you the bill of goods that the Postal Service is a “government monopoly,” and, therefore, not worthy of preserving and improving. Privateers want no part of a delivery system that includes every hamlet and backwater in America. They could not do that job and stay in business, and they know it, yet they are trying to abolish the U.S. Postal Service.

“Privatization” is the watchword of the political right in the U.S. and has been for many decades, and it doesn’t matter that privatization makes no sense in most cases. This time, it’s ideological and nothing will stop the corporations and their right wing think tanks. It’s what we’re seeing in this attempt to hand over a service that taxpayers have been building for more than two centuries. The people have paid for the U.S.P.S. in all its complexities and let us not forget the buildings, some of which will never be duplicated either in their general architecture or in their interior artwork, some of which was done during the years of the Works Progress Administration under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The method chosen to financially debilitate the Postal Service is a masterful one. Back in 2006, Congress passed what is laughably called “The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act” (H.R. 6407), which requires the service to “pre-fund” the pensions of its workers 75 years into the future. That means, as one postal union president said, the U.S.P.S. is required to fund the pensions of workers who are not even born yet. The American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers have pointed out that no government agency and no private corporation could stay in business if such a burden were placed on it. If there were no other language in H.R. 6407 than the requirement to pre-fund the pensions, the thrust of the act would be clear: be prepared to fail and to be privatized.

Why would anyone want to cause the Postal Service to fail? First, of course, is the profit motive. If there were no Postal Service, private companies that provide the same kinds of services could charge whatever they wanted, which could be three or four or more times than what the U.S.P.S. charges now for its services. Since the service is such a huge enterprise, it would provide one of the biggest bases of economic activity that any corporation has seen and it makes the most tempting target.

Maybe most important, to many at least: The Postal Service and public work, in general, has been the stepping stone for black Americans and all minorities into well-paying jobs and the middle class. This is especially true for veterans, who have been given special consideration for some of the best-paying jobs in any given community.

One of the reasons for this is that there have been strong trade unions in the Postal Service, even though the entire service is an open shop (workers do not have to join the union or pay dues, but still get the union scale of pay and receive all the benefits for which the union members are paying). Privatization of the service will eliminate strong unions. Every time a function of the service is privatized, there are fewer workers, fewer union members, less money in the paycheck, and less money in the communities (support of all of the small businesses).

A fight-back movement is developing, however, and it is not coming just from the postal workers and their unions. Communities are beginning to understand what is at stake, and they don’t want their local post offices closed. There have been closings announced by the postal hierarchy, most likely at the urging of the privatizers in Congress. Plans announced by the postmaster general call for the closing of some 3,700 post offices and a reduction in staff from the current 550,000 workers, to about 300,000. There are even some estimates that as many as 15,000 of the 32,000 post offices could be closed.

Because of a law passed 43 years ago, the U.S.P.S. has had to be self-sustaining and not require any money from government sources (the taxpayers). That, it has done. That is, until Congress passed the postal-service-killing act that requires funding pensions out to 75 years. The service lost a reported $5.9 billion in 2012, but there is no indication that the “loss” was caused by anything other than the pension requirement (H.R. 6407).

In all of this political hand wringing over the U.S.P.S., there have been few elected officials courageous enough to say in public what is wrong and how it could be fixed. Even fewer have had the spine to stand up and say why this pension mandate law was passed. For at least more than 100 years, since the advent of a corporate culture in America, cries from the political right have been uttered about the “official government monopoly” that is the Postal Service. They don’t mention that in this “monopoly,” every American is entitled to service for the same price, no matter where they live, no matter how remote the ranch or farmhouse.

Private companies never will provide the same service for the same money, because the profit is not there. The founders knew that and Benjamin Franklin, when he insisted on a U.S. Post Office Department, knew that it was the only way for a fledgling country to have broad enough communication among the citizens to have a somewhat effective democracy. He was proven right, and it is the only “business” that is specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

And, while it is true that we, in this hyper-technological era, communicate in other ways, there are many positive attributes for sending things (letters and packages) through the U.S. Postal Service. For many, it is the most secure way to communicate, since hackers have made mincemeat of “security” on the Internet.

Anyone who just wants to send a message to someone, and say it in private, can just go to the Post Office and send it for 45 cents. That’s secure. And that’s a bargain.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.