From Popular Resistance
By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese
As we warned earlier in the year, the US Postal Service is failing due to a long term effort to weaken it plus the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, recession and intentional efforts by the Trump administration to suppress the vote.
Members of Congress and state leaders are starting to take notice because of the magnitude of the crisis and public outcry, particularly over valid concerns that mail-in voting will be disrupted. Now is the time to not only protect the vote but to end privatization and selling off of the US Postal Service and expand it as a critical public institution that provides high-quality jobs and services to all communities, rich and poor, urban and rural, across the country.
The Long Push to Dismantle and Privatize the Post Office
The Post Office is mandated in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7). It is a critical service and a public good that has been provided to all people. With the passage of the 1981 budget, the US Postal Service was required to be self-funded from its revenues alone without support through taxes, which it was able to achieve until the pandemic. In fact, for more than 200 years, it has been solvent despite being the target of big banks and profiteers.
Ellen Brown describes the long history of the plan to dismantle and privatize the US Postal Service (USPS) going back to 1910 when the Postal Savings Bank Act was passed to provide a safer alternative for people after the banking crash of 1907. The big banks were upset by the competition from a postal bank. In 1966, the postal banks were dismantled after a series of laws were passed, beginning in the New Deal Era, which strengthened the private banks and gave them an advantage over postal banks.
Profiteers searching for more public entities to loot, as they have done with water, education, healthcare, and more have long viewed the Post Office as a fertile field for making money if they could weaken it enough so it would fail. A serious step in this direction was taken in 2006 with the so-called "Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act" (PAEA).
The PAEA was sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats. It passed in the House with the full support of the Democrats (including Congressman Bernie Sanders, one Democrat abstained). Most of the Republicans supported it; 20 voted against it. It then went to the Senate where it passed with unanimous consent (a procedure used when Senators do not want to be held accountable for their vote).
A requirement of the PAEA is that the Postal Service must pre-fund all of its retirement funds including health benefits for the next 75 years (for people who have not been born yet). No business is required to go to this extreme and two-thirds of Fortune 1,000 businesses don't pre-fund retirement at all. This costs the USPS over $5.5 billion each year. It is a way to "fatten the cow" for its eventual sell-off to private corporations.
One of the first impacts of the PAEA was that 65,000 postal workers lost their jobs in 2009. The USPS is one of the largest employers of African Americans in the US. This continued throughout the Obama administration as almost half of the postal processing plants were shuttered, local post offices had their hours reduced by 25 to 75% and 3,700 post offices were closed. The move to end Saturday mail delivery was attempted and stopped. A total of 150,000 postal workers lost their jobs under Obama and those who remained had their wages cut.
Under Obama, mail sorting and trucking were sub-contracted to private entities that pay their workers less. Activists began to protest in 2013 by delivering petitions and occupying post offices. In Berkeley, CA, people occupied the main post office for 33 days to prevent the historic New Deal Era building from being sold. This was part of a year-long successful campaign that gained tremendous public support, media attention, and support by local and state elected officials.
In 2015, A Grand Alliance to Save the Post Office, created by the four postal worker unions and other organizations, including Popular Resistance, formed under the leadership of APWU President Mark Dimondstein (Listen to our interview with him on Clearing the FOG in April). The Alliance lobbied Congress to repeal the 2006 PAEA and to stop the sell-off to private corporations.
The Alliance successfully organized to stop Staples from being allowed to provide USPS services. The campaign used protests outside Staples' stores, a boycott of Staples, and a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board. A judge ruled in favor of the USPS in November of 2016 and Staples was ordered to shut down its postal services by March 2017. If Staples had been allowed to continue, it would have led to the closing of more post offices and the loss of more jobs.
The Future of the Post Office is Uncertain
The US Postal Service has continued to face the same struggles throughout the Trump administration. Despite a majority in the House and enough Senators to have power over the passage of any legislation in the Senate, the Democrats did not take steps to save the post office until it threatened their re-election in 2020.
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Margaret Flowers, M.D. is a pediatrician from Maryland who is co-director of Popular Resistance and coordinator of Health Over Profit for Everyone Campaign.