“CONGRESS BROKE IT, CONGRESS CAN FIX IT”
Postal workers and allies held 485 rallies across the USA today to call for passage of legislation to save the US Postal Service without the sacrifice of jobs and services. Support for passage of HR 1351, already co-sponsored by nearly half the US House of Representatives, was a theme at the rallies, which were organized by the four unions that represent postal workers (American Postal Workers Union, National Association of Letter Carriers, National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association) joined in a campaign called “Save America’s Postal Service.”
“Despite what you may have heard, the Postal Service isn’t broke. Nor is it losing billions of dollars a year delivering the mail. And a taxpayer bailout isn’t imminent. Reduced services are being presented as a foregone conclusion, but they’re not,” organizers said.
“At the heart of the Postal Service’s current problem is a 2006 congressional mandate that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years and do so within a decade—a burden no other public agency or private firm faces,” according to the organizers. “The Postal Service is actually paying, out of its operating budget, for the future retiree benefits of people who haven’t been born yet. That cost—$21 billion since 2007—accounts for 100 percent of the agency’s red ink over that period. House Bill 1351, which has bipartisan support and nearly 200 co-sponsors, would address the pre-funding issue.”
“Congress created the problem. Congress can fix it,” said Janice Kelble, Legislative Director for the NH Postal Workers Union at a lunchtime rally in downtown Concord. Another larger rally took place at Manchester City Hall later in the day.
Speakers included leaders of the 4 postal unions, who said they are not accustomed to working together so closely. Hopefully this day of action will show them the importance of collaboration.
Other speakers included Mark MacKenzie of the NH AFL-CIO, Representatives Pat Long and Steve Shurtleff, Terry Lochhead of the Alliance for Retired Americans, Rev. John Gregory-Davis of the Meriden UCC Church, Rev. Gail Kinney of the S. Danbury UCC Church, and former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, who is again seeking the US House seat in the First Congressional District.
The current occupant of that seat, Rep. Frank Guinta, has not given his support for HR 1351. The state’s other Congressman, Charlie Bass, has separated himself from most Republicans by adding his name as a co-sponsor.
I was honored to be a speaker at both rallies. Instead of talking much about the Postal Service, about which I know far less than most of the people who attended the rallies, I tried to put the current attempt to downsize the Postal Service in the context of a decades-long assault on the public sector.
The ideology of market fundamentalism, which has taken hold in the USA since Reagan’s administration, is based on a belief that profit-driven enterprises are always better than those tied to government. Enforced throughout the world by the IMF, World Bank, and “free trade” agreements, market fundamentalism calls for privatization, de-regulation of business, fiscal austerity, “free trade,” and weakening of workers’ power, all in the service of international investors and a “good business climate.” In such a belief system, ta public postal service is suspect.
As Naomi Klein explained in The Shock Doctrine, market fundamentalists pounce when crisis strikes. And if the crisis doesn’t occur on schedule, they are ready to create one. That’s what’s going on now with the “deficit crisis,” I said.
The deficit was caused by a privatized health care system, a de-regulated financial sector, tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations they own, and a couple of wars. Instead of attacking the causes of the deficit, the “solutions” now being advanced call for more privatization, more de-regulation, more “free trade” agreements, more tax cuts, and the destruction of unions. Proposals to lay off postal workers and cut mail services have to be seen in this political context.
In addition to passage of HB 1351, public sector workers should join together with private sector workers and with everyone who depends on the services they provide, I said. Together we need to build a movement that reclaims legitimacy for services provided through means that are accountable to the people, not to the investor class.
If you ask me what should be done to fix the Postal Service, I say start by asking the workers. They know more than anyone.