U.S. and Cuba open postal talks

Cuban diplomats met with U.S. State Department and Postal Service officials on June 18-19 to discuss the normalization of mail service between the two countries. Removing all U.S.-imposed limits on trade, remittances, travel, air flights and mail services for Cuba’s people is long overdue.

The talks on easing postal restrictions come at a volatile time for postal workers in the U.S. and the whole capitalist world.

According to the U.N. agency Universal Postal Union, some 5.4 million postal workers work out of 663,000 post offices in 192 countries. They annually process and deliver an estimated 368.4 billion letters and postcards plus 6.4 billion parcels. About 363.7 billion of those pieces of mail are delivered within domestic borders, and 4.7 billion pieces are international.

Between 2006 and 2010, domestic letter-post traffic decreased by 3.5 percent, while international package delivery increased by 5.3 percent. Global postal revenues were $304 billion in 2011.

Mail and parcel delivery continue to be profitable, despite the vast increase in communications technology such as wireless telephones, email and other high-tech developments. Private companies wouldn’t be working so hard to wrest postal services away from government control on every continent if postal operations were not producing acceptable profits.

Resisting the drive to privatize

Over the last 18 months, postal workers have gone on strike in Britain, Germany, Spain, Greece, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, India, Uruguay, Peru, Brazil, Canada and other countries to demand wage increases, defend benefits and oppose privatization.

Postal workers in Britain are battling to beat back privatization of the 500-year-old Royal Mail, which would benefit financial titans such as Barclays, UBS, Merril Lynch and Goldman Sachs but raise postage costs, decrease mail service and lower workers wages and benefits. In Brazil, postal workers joined a general strike on July 11, whose demands include reduced working hours, adjustments to retirees’ pensions and increased investment in the areas of health and education.

U.S. postal workers are also fighting to defend their jobs from privatization, which would disproportionately affect communities of color and curtail mail services to many communities, especially seniors, prisoners, immigrants, veterans, rural communities, and people with disabilities or without permanent housing.

Many USPS hearings have been packed by neighborhood and small business representatives opposed to postal cutbacks. On July 3, five community and postal activists were arrested for occupying a subcontracted postal processing plant in Portland, the second postal occupation this year in Oregon.

Community and postal activists have organized resistance to the sales of post offices in dozens of locations. Postal workers and community residents in the Bronx, N.Y., Berkeley, Calif., and other locations plan rallies on July 26 and 27 to oppose closings of historic post offices.

Automation and speed-ups have decreased the number of U.S. postal workers from 885,871 in 1996 to 528,000 at the end of 2012. Postal management wants to reduce that number further, to 400,000 workers, through the closing of post offices and processing and distribution plants, as well as by eliminating services such as six-day delivery, which would inevitably slow mail service.

Postal and corporate executives claim widespread Internet use is the cause of declining mail volume and increasing USPS deficits. Postal unions counter this claim, saying that privatization is the bosses’ ultimate goal. The unions assert that the Great Recession and a 2006 Congressional law that unnecessarily forces the Postal Service to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance are the real causes of the red ink.

Eliminating the congressional law and the resulting overpayment of billions of dollars into two pension funds would have allowed postal operations to make a $100 million profit in the last fiscal quarter. (nalc.org)

More services can make USPS more viable

The NALC and American Postal Workers Union have argued that the vast network of post offices can make the USPS more profitable by providing more services, such as banking services — as was done in the U.S. from 1911 to 1967 and is still done in many other countries.

For example, the Postal Savings Bank of China has 475 million customers. Brazil’s Correios opened 11 million accounts in 10 years through a bank partnership. India Post holds 240 million savings accounts and covers risks for more than 20 million people through its postal life insurance policy. Papua New Guinea Post offers a mobile wallet and is one of three main national competitors for mobile financial services. Serbia Post makes 150 million financial transactions a year in a country of 10 million inhabitants. South Africa’s Postbank makes savings, investment and insurance accounts widely available, even in the most remote areas of the country, making South Africa’s postal services financially stable.

Almost 12 percent of global postal revenues come from financial services. (Universal Postal Union, “Posts facilitate financial inclusion”)

The USPS could also expand international shipping by helping customers overcome “language barriers, currency conversion, taxes, duties and customs regulations, which make international selling so difficult.” (The Postal Record, July 2013)

The U.S. government refusal to allow mail to and from Cuba must also be included as a barrier to the economic health of the USPS.

Cuba Post modernizes and expands services

With some 13,600 employees, Correos de Cuba operates more than 1,000 post offices, 16 processing facilities and 54 delivery centers. It handles newspaper, mail and parcel deliveries as well as a list of other services including Social Security payments and credits. In 2011, the Cuban government added courier services, currency exchange and insurance when it restructured and modernized postal facilities.

As a nation striving for socialism, developing the potential of human beings is Cuba’s priority, not profit and exploitation. Cuba’s post office is not in danger of being privatized because corporations and their wealthy owners have not had massive influence in the government there since the 1959 revolution.

Cuba’s accomplishments are well known and internationally acknowledged. Health care in Cuba is free and universal. Education is universal and free, and Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the Americas. Cubans have accomplished this despite over 50 years of a U.S.-imposed economic blockade. The blockade is designed to starve Cuba’s people into submission, denying access to food, medicine and other critical goods, criminalizing travel from the U.S. to Cuba and disallowing mail service between the two countries.

“Whenever we want to send anything to one of our relatives, we have to look for someone going to the United States, or send it through a third country,” said Havana resident Janet Reyes. (BBC news, June 18)

“To send a package from here to Cuba one has to fill out several forms and pay the same per ounce as for an air mail letter, so the cost is very high. The turnaround has been like two weeks in each direction. Within Cuba letters are free or very reasonable to mail,” New York City resident Sara Catalinotto told WW.

Among issues to be resolved before mail delivery can be resumed is security. In the 1970s parcel bombs from the U.S. addressed to Cuba injured four postal workers in Texas, one in New York and five postal workers in Cuba.

During the talks last month, the Cuban delegation emphasized that it will not be possible to implement stable, competent and secure postal service “until obstacles derived from the blockade policy imposed on Cuba by the United States government are overcome.” (Granma International, June 20)

Outlawing trade with and travel to Cuba costs U.S. workers thousands of jobs, including work for postal drivers, clerks, mail handlers and letter carriers.

Opening up mail service with Cuba, re-instituting postal banking and increased international mailing are just a few examples of how the USPS could increase revenues.

The time to raise our voices is long overdue. Stop privatization of postal services! Lift mail restrictions against Cuba!

Joe Piette is a retired letter carrier and a member of Community-Labor United for Postal Jobs & Services (clupjs.com).