Postal workers fight privatization drive

By MARTY GOODMAN

The insurgent new leadership of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) has begun a nationally coordinated campaign to fight the accelerated privatization and dismantling of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

The APWU announcement comes on the heels of a union-busting deal between Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and Staples stores in October. A pilot program that established non-union post office services in 82 Staples stores will now be expanded to all of its 1500 Staples outlets.

What’s more, a private firm called “Goin’ Postal” has just signed a deal with USPS to set up shop in 2000 Walmart department stores with non-union labor. It will offer not just USPS services but also UPS, DHL, Fed-X, and other postal services.

In 2006, legislators of both parties sponsored and passed by voice vote a bill that mandated the pre-funding of postal worker retiree health-care benefits 75 years into the future—requiring a $5.5 billion per year investment for workers not even born! The poison pill legislation sought to financially cripple the USPS and make it appear that the public service and its union are economically unviable. No other government agency or company must do this.

In 2013, a so-called “White Paper” subsidized by Pitney-Bowes and a subsequent corporate-backed study both recommended the privatization of all postal services except delivery. New York activist John Dennie, a retired postal worker, calls the bosses’ onslaught “privatization on steroids.”

The USPS bosses like Donahoe and the corporate bloodsucker class have their eyes fixed on destroying the diverse 500,000-strong unionized postal workforce, the second largest workforce in the U.S. next to Walmart. They aim to rob what they can of the estimated $110 billion in postal resources and rip-off its customer base—that is, all of us!

APWU President Mark Dimondstein called Postmaster Donahoe “Wall Street’s Trojan Horse, the privatizer from within.”  The APWU’s slogan is “The U.S. Mail is not for Sale!” The APWU represents some 196,000 maintenance workers, truck drivers, and clerks, whose various jobs include processing mail to selling stamps (see APWU.org).

A National Day of Action has been called for Nov. 14 by all four postal workers’ unions. The postal unions are the APWU, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU), and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association (NRLCA). The slogan for Nov. 14 will be “Stop Delaying America’s Mail!” The Day of Action will be the first time the four unions have united to oppose USPS since 2011 (see Stopthemaildelays.org).

Said the APWU, “On Jan. 5 the Postmaster General and the Board of Governors are poised to make devastating cuts in service to the American people—cuts so severe that they will forever damage the U.S. Postal Service.” On Jan. 5 a total of 82 Mail Processing and Distribution Centers will be closed or “consolidated.”

These cuts, in sync with the privatization drive, virtually eliminate next-day delivery within cities and lower all delivery standards for medicine, on-line purchases, local newspapers, etc. The elimination of Saturday delivery, although defeated in Congress for fiscal 2015, remains a key goal of the postal bosses.

The sale to corporate entities of USPS facilities, some of which have been named “National Landmarks” for their architectural beauty or for the artworks that they contain, has continued at an accelerated pace since 2009. According to www.Saveourpostoffice.org, it adds up to about $546 million in revenue.

Behind the corporate privatization drive are forces like the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, created in 2004 as the stealthy name for the large mailer association whose industry is estimated at $1 trillion. Another player is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by donors like the ultra-conservative Koch brothers.

Benefitting from the corporate raid is CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate broker and sole manager of all USPS property sales. The chairman of CBRE is Richard Blum, husband of California’s powerful U.S. Senator, Democrat Diane Feinstein.

In 1971, President Nixon, under the Postal Reorganization Act, changed the USPS into a government-owned “public corporation,” rather than being entirely owned by the government and responsible to voters. The changes were based on recommendations of a commission established by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. Since the early 1980’s the USPS has not received a penny in government funding.

Socialists say to the corporate raiders, “Keep your hands off our Post Office!” Keep postal work union! All out Nov. 14! As the APWU says, “The U.S. mail is not for sale!”

 THE GREAT POSTAL WORKER WILDCAT STRIKE OF 1970

It’s been decades since postal workers took militant action. A milestone in U.S. labor was the wildcat strike (a strike without official union authorization) of postal workers that began on March 18, 1970 by members of Branch 36 of the NALC in New York City. Strike participation was at nearly 100%.

The strike was deemed “illegal” because federal workers were prohibited from striking. Pay was so miserable that some postal workers actually applied for and received welfare. One African American striker and Vietnam veteran, Richard Thomas, called conditions “horrible … It was like a slave mentality back then … When you worked you worked like a slave” (“There’s Always Work at the Post Office” by Philip Rubio, University of North Carolina Press).

The strike spread like wildfire throughout the country, and for eight days it involved some 200,000 postal workers, the largest wildcat strike in U.S. history. It included large centers like Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, Hartford, Boston, Newark, and many other cities.

Prominent in the struggle were young workers radicalized during the 1960s, especially African Americans, many of whom were Vietnam veterans. To crush the revolt, President Nixon sent unarmed National Guardsmen to New York to move the mail, largely unsuccessfully. Unanticipated by Nixon, there was much fraternization and sympathy between these largely working-class groups.

In the end, the wildcat brought more than lobbying by timid bureaucrats could ever bring—meaningful pay increases, shorter time to top pay, and real collective bargaining rights. Postal workers had learned that striking and breaking the law imposed by bosses was sometimes necessary in the fight for justice!

Since 1971, there have been shorter outbreaks of worker militancy, such as the 1974 wildcat strike in Jersey City and another wildcat in 1978 at the same processing center, in which several hundred workers were ultimately fired. However, the 1980 firing of striking Air Traffic Controllers by President Reagan had a lasting dampening effect on postal worker militancy, say activists, which it also had on millions of other workers.

The new APWU leadership may represent a new wave of militancy and pledges to organize a fightback. The challenges of today could not be greater.

Photo: Picketers at APWU-sponsored rally outside Staples on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Marty Goodman / Socialist Action