Berkeley activists demand, ‘Take post office off auction block’

Berkeley, Calif. — Nearly 200 people rocked a U.S. Postal Service official hearing here on Feb. 26 to demand that Berkeley’s downtown post office not be sold and closed. They did it “Berkeley style,” with song, drama, poetry and chants. Local folksinger Hali Hammer belted out new lyrics to “Please Mr. Postman”: “It has come as such a shock — Our Post Office on the auction block.” A local actor dressed up as Ben Franklin, the first U.S. Postmaster General, challenged USPS officials to spare the post office.

The evening began with a rally on the steps of the old City Hall chaired by Dave Welsh, a retired letter carrier and organizer with Save the People’s Post Office coalition. Harvey Smith, representing the National New Deal Preservation Association, called it “an artificial crisis.”

The USPS officials’ excuse for closing post offices is the shrinking volume of mail due to email. Postal workers refuted that claim throughout the hearing. Community organizers like Ying Lee, former legislative director for Congressperson Barbara Lee, exposed plans to privatize the postal system as really a plan “to get rid of union jobs and union wages.”

The USPS currently employs about 550,000 workers. If the officials have their way, they will reduce the workforce to 400,000 in the coming period, according to USPS representative Augustine Ruiz Jr., who chaired the hearing. Federal plans to cut Saturday delivery will also result in eliminating at least 25,000 union jobs.

Moni T. Law, an African-American Berkeley resident whose parents migrated from the South to get jobs at the post office, said, “It’s ironic that on the last two days of Black History Month, we are fighting for the survival of the post office, one of the major employers of Black workers.”

The main post office here contains historic murals from the days of the Work Projects Administration, a federal program that put millions back to work during the Great Depression. Murals that championed struggles of the working class were created and installed in hundreds of post offices around the country. They are now endangered by the sale of the post offices.

At tonight’s hearing, the voices were unanimous for the continued survival of the Berkeley Post Office, from Mayor Tom Bates to elderly and disabled activists who depend upon the downtown post office for access to their mail. Mindy Stone, with the Prison Activist Resource Center, testified about the importance of mail service for prisoners and their correspondents.

For more information about upcoming actions to keep Saturday delivery and save the post office, contact www.savethepostoffice.com and www.cpwunited.com.