The conservative/Wall Street/1-percent/Republican anti-government strategy is to set government up to fail (usually by starving it of funding). Then they point to the resulting "crisis" they created and say that it proves that government doesn't work and that we should therefore "privatize" it -- in other words, rig the system against the majority by handing our common wealth over to a few wealthy people to harvest for personal profit.
Now they're coming for the U.S. Postal Service.
Manufacturing a Crisis
Republicans created the problems with the Postal Service. In 2006 Republicans in Congress required it to come up with $5.5 billion per year to pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. This means the Postal Service has to set aside money now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency -- and certainly no company -- has to do this.
They also require the Postal Service to make a profit -- or at least break even. But democratic government is supposed to provide services to its citizens. It is not supposed to be about making a profit off us. Yet Republicans say government should be "run like a business." Then they hamstring it, preventing it from competing with businesses because they say that it has too many advantages and that any competition would be unfair.
Here are a few things you need to know about the Postal Service "crisis":
- The Postal Service is the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. But unlike Walmart, which gets away with paying so little that employees qualify for government assistance, the Postal Services is unionized, pays reasonable wages and benefits and receives no government subsidies. (Good for them!)
- Republicans have been pushing schemes to privatize the Postal Service since at least 1996. In 2006 Republicans in the Congress pushed through a requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. The Postal Service has to pay now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency -- and certainly no company -- has to do this.
- Unlike other government agencies (like the military) since 1970 the Postal Service is required to break even. Once more: the Department of Defense is not required to break even.
- While required to break even the Postal Service has to deliver mail to areas that are unprofitable for private companies to operate in. A letter sent from a small town in Alaska is picked up and transported across the country to a farm in Maine for 46 cents. ... [M]any people for one reason or another still send letters. In a democracy these people are supposed to count, too.
- But along with requiring the Postal Service to break even, Congress has restricted the Service's ability to raise rates, enter new lines of business or take other steps to help it raise revenue. In fact, while detractors complain that the Postal Service is antiquated, inefficient and burdened by bureaucracy, the rules blocking the Postal Service from entering new lines of business do so because the Postal Service would have advantages over private companies. ...
The Postal Service is a public service for We, the People, not a business. The Service is hamstrung by people who pretend it is supposed to compete and then won't let it. They won't help with taxpayer dollars and say it has to compete in the marketplace.... [T]hey give it rules that no private company could survive. Then when it gets into trouble, say that government doesn't work, start laying people off, selling off the public assets, and saying it has to be "privatized"....
Privatization Destroys People and Communities
Privatizing the various parts of the Postal Service will move the workforce from good union jobs to low-wage, no- or low-benefit private-sector jobs. Aside from the effect that this would have on employees and their families, not to mention the effect on the currently inexpensive delivery of mail to even the most remote locations, privatization also destroys the surrounding communities. The USPS is the country's second-largest employer, so in this case the surrounding communities are... all the communities in the United States.
In "The Privatization Scam: Five Government Outsourcing Horror Stories," I wrote about a study that showed that wage and benefit cuts resulting from privatization hurt communities, including by bringing about declining retail sales, greater reliance on public assistance and a larger share of at-risk children in low-income families.
Now the people who work for the Postal Service are fighting back. The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is announcing "A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service." As the alliance's new website explains:
In the face of aggressive attacks, a wide range of national organizations have come together to create A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service. These organizations are united in the demand that the public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. The Alliance is fighting to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now -- and for many generations to come.
This grand alliance consists of a large number of organizations (at least "63 religious coalitions, retiree organizations, educational and postal unions, lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups," according to The Washington Post, with more being added as I write) as well as individuals (like you) who sign the pledge to "support the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now -- and for many generations to come."
Two Years in the Making
At his swearing-in ceremony in November 2013, APWU President Mark Dimondstein pledged to build a grand alliance to save the postal system, saying:
We must build a grand alliance between the people of this country and postal workers. We must mobilize our allies and their organizations, including seniors, retirees, civil rights organizations, veterans groups, the labor movement, community and faith-based organizations, the Occupy movement, and business groups in defense of America's right to vibrant public postal services.
Two years later, at a press conference Thursday, Dimondstein explained that this alliance is forming "because the postal service belongs to the people and it is in danger." He said there are "two competing visions of the future" -- privatizing vs. staying public -- and that there will be a conversion from "living-wage to low-wage jobs" if the Postal Service is privatized.
Dimondstein said that the Postal Service "is our democratic right" and that it can operate cost-effectively "if you get rid of the manufactured crisis created in Congress."
Also at the press conference, Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civil Participation and convener of Black Women's Round Table Public Policy Network, said, "This is a fight for the people -- We the People." She called the Postal Service "a national treasure" and said, "We're here today to stand in solidarity.... Our national postal offices have faithfully served communities."
Here's the mission of this grand alliance:
The United States Postal Service is a wonderful national treasure, enshrined in the Constitution and supported by the American people. Without any taxpayer funding, the USPS serves 150 million households and businesses each day, providing affordable, universal mail service to all -- including rich and poor, rural and urban, without regard to age, nationality, race or gender.
The U.S. Postal Service belongs to "We, the People." But the USPS and postal jobs are threatened by narrow monied interests aimed at undermining postal services and dismantling this great public institution.
Even some postal executives have been complicit in the drive toward the destruction of the Postal Service and ultimate privatization: They have slowed mail service, closed community based Post Offices and mail processing facilities, slashed hours of operations, tried ceaselessly to end six-day service as well as door to door delivery, and eliminated hundreds of thousands of living wage jobs.
Good postal jobs are vital to strong, healthy communities, and have provided equal opportunities and the foundation for financial stability for workers from all walks of life, including racial and ethnic minorities, women and veterans. Postal services are essential to commerce and bind together families, friends and loved ones. In the day of e-commerce, a public postal service is as relevant as ever.
Yet those corporate forces who want to privatize public services allege that curtailing postal services and eliminating jobs are necessary due to diminishing mail volume and "burdensome" union wages and benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In reality, a Congressionally manufactured USPS "crisis" imposed an unfair crushing financial mandate on the Postal Service that no other government agency or private company is forced to bear. (The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 compels the USPS to pay approximately $5.5 billion per year to fund future retiree healthcare costs 75 years in advance.) Without this unreasonable burden, the USPS would have enjoyed an operating surplus of $600 million in 2013 and over $1.4 Billion in 2014.
The people of this country deserve great public postal services. We advocate expanded services, such as non-profit postal banking and other financial services. We call on the Postmaster General and Postal Board of Governors to strengthen and champion the institution.
The public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. Join us in the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now - and for many generations to come.
Meghan Byrd contributed to this post.