There’s a character in Michael Moorcock’s novel about the 1980s titled King of the City for whom everything is for sale. A hippie turned capitalist predator, this character works with national and local British governments in allowing public works projects to fall into disrepair only to be bought by one of his corporations. Of course, the actual history of Britain in what are known as the Thatcher years is not really any different. The one exception is that not only did Thatcher and her government allow physical structures to crumble and be sold, it did the same with social services. Public functions like transportation, energy, and even water were sold off to corporate friends that were sometimes also the highest bidder. A similar scenario occurred in the United States under Ronald Reagan, albeit on a lesser scale (mostly because many industries that were nationally owned in Britain were always corporate- owned in the US.) Like a gluttonous misanthrope with a tapeworm, neoliberal capitalism engorges itself as a matter of survival. After removing any value from the objects of its consumption the neoliberal capitalist body discharges whatever husks remain, leaving those of us further down in the food chain to fight over the scraps. Scraps that are often nothing but gas.
Thirty years later, many social functions of these formerly public services no longer exist. Other functions operate at a much reduced level. In short, any social functions of these public services that get in the way of profit have been eliminated, leaving many people without any services while others pay considerably more than they would have prior to their privatization. The social functions of public services have been replaced by profit-making functions, the public be damned. Furthermore, those services that continue to receive some kind of public funding or benefit remain under attack. Every funding cycle, the US passenger rail system known as Amtrak faces extinction as its government subsidies are challenged. Public schools and libraries struggle with reduced budgets and minimal staff. Roads and bridges fall into further disrepair. Public transportation is a bad joke in most US burgs. Even the military is challenged to further privatize its functions. The US postal service, which lost any direct public funding when it was re-organized after the 1970 strike, risks losing its constitutionally guaranteed first rights to deliver the mail as the US government looks to cut those services.
Into this latter challenge comes the postal worker unions. The result of an immensely successful and illegal strike against the US government in 1970, the postal worker unions have successfully fought back every previous attempt to destroy their employer and their jobs. Recently, however, the employees of the postal service have come under what is perhaps the fiercest attack on their livelihoods since 1970. Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have pushed a bill onto the House floor with provisions that would reduce “door delivery” by 75 percent, end collective bargaining and virtually guarantees that massive layoffs would take place. Estimates of the numbers of workers that would be laid off go as high as 120,000.
While it may be Republicans that have pushed this bill through committee, it is the Obama administration’s Postal Service executives that have called for the “consolidation” of services. As the numbers quoted above attest, this consolidation is not really a consolidation; it is, pure and simply, destruction. Furthermore, it’s not destruction because it doesn’t work. It is destruction because it does work and those who would destroy it want to bleed it dry of proifts, destroy the unions and remove one more historically public service from that ever shrinking lineup.
Until its reorganization in 1971, the US post office was a Cabinet level agency mandated under the US Constitution. The reorganization that came in the wake of the 1970 strike removed that designation from the agency and essentially created an independent government agency with the sole right to deliver mail in the United States. That right has been modified in recent decades, but the USPS remains the only mail carrier that can deliver first class mail and use USPS mailboxes. Conservative and liberal fans of privatization have been calling for the end of what they see as a government monopoly on mail delivery for years. The current attack is the most serious in years. Its champions will tell you that total privatization of mail delivery will not increase prices that much if at all. Instead, as Richard Geddes of the right wing Hoover Institute wrote in 2000: “customers are unlikely to be without service under competition; they would simply have to pay the true cost of delivery to them, which may or may not be lower than under (government) monopoly.” As previous deregulation has shown, consumer costs often go down immediately after said deregulation only to rise considerably once the natural trend of capitalist enterprises to get bigger reduces competition thereby providing profit-making monopolies the opportunity to increase prices to whatever level they determine. The so-called government monopoly on mail delivery is not a monopoly in the same sense as monopolies that exist to make profit since profit is not the motive in the former.
The 1970 postal strike is noted for its militancy. Indeed, the very fact that the strike was illegal signifies that militancy. Since 1970 labor actions of the associated unions have not approached that militancy. That may be about to change. Earlier in Fall 2011, informational pickets were set up by postal workers and their supporters in front of post offices and congresspersons’ offices around the United States. The turnout was better than anticipated. Not long after that day, the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 214 passed a resolution calling for a national campaign and rally organized around the following demands:
· No reduction in postal service – keep 6-day delivery!
· No Post Office closings! Most shutdowns are in poor and rural communities, where service is needed most.
· No layoffs! Save our jobs and services that the people need! Whole communities will suffer, when formerly well-paid unionized workers can no longer afford their mortgages.
· Congress must pass HR 1351 to stop bleeding the Postal Service and let it function normally! No interference in our union contracts!
Like so many of the recent crises in the international capitalist economy, the USPS crisis is a crisis manufactured by forces for which everything has a price. Those forces are present in all political parties that consider capitalism the ultimate economic system. According to these forces, there is nothing that cannot be bought and sold; the public should expect that government is not there to provide them with anything other than rulers and a military to defend those rulers’ interests. At the same time, they add to their coffers by reducing their taxes and through government bailouts. The postal service fight is but another front in the battle against those without souls who would steal yours and then sell it back at a profit should you not take care of it.
Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org