U.S. and British postal workers fight privatization

A British parliamentary spokesperson announced on May 13 that the world’s oldest postal service would be privatized this fall.  Royal Mail  opened to the public in 1635.

The U.S. Postal Service, originally part of the British postal system, is also threatened with privatization by powerful congressional and corporate forces.

Postal workers, however, are organizing resistance to the for-profit theft of the “people’s post office” in both countries. “Save our post office!” will be a main chant in nationally coordinated protests against privatization on July 26 and 27, the USPS’s 238th birthday.

“Save our post office” is also seen and heard all over Britain as postal workers there rally and stage rolling strikes to fight Royal Mail’s privatization.

British origin of U.S. Post Office

In 1753, Benjamin Franklin, the Philadelphia postmaster, was promoted to be a deputy postmaster general in the colonies for the British Parliamentary Post.  He was responsible for establishing standardized postal rates and expanding postal service from Maine to Florida.  Britain fired him in 1774 for his anti-British activities, but on July 26, 1775, the new Continental Congress appointed him the first postmaster general.

Two centuries later, Patrick Donahoe, the current and 73rd postmaster general, has overseen the degrading of postal service — shutting hundreds of post offices, closing almost half of 461 processing and distribution plants and cutting 250,000 postal workers.

Mail delivery has been slowed down as electronic instantaneous communication has developed. However, while the right to universal mail delivery was so important that the U.S. Constitution recognized the postmaster general’s position, the universal right to high-speed communication is now less important than the corporate right to charge high prices.  Many people in poor communities cannot afford the high cost of Internet connections, and so they disproportionately rely on the mail.

Nevertheless, Donahoe and corporate executives claim widespread Internet use has caused declining mail volume and increasing USPS deficits.  Privatization is their ultimate goal.  Postal unions counter this and assert that the Great Recession and a 2006 congressional law that forces the Postal Service to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance are the real causes of the red ink.

Fighting Against USPS Privatization

Ten protesters blocked a private mail truck leaving the Mt. Hood, Ore.,  USPS Distribution Center on July 18, demanding that postal management stop subcontracting the trucking of “the people’s mail.” The blockaders left after police ordered them to disperse. No arrests were made.

The 10 self-named “postal protectors” included retired postal workers, seniors, a pastor, a small business owner, a teacher and a union organizer.  They declared they were impacted by postal privatization.

”Postal truckers are losing work to a bankrupt, fly-by-night outfit in a corrupt, no-bid deal with local USPS management,” declared retired postal worker Jamie Partridge of Portland Community Postal Workers United. “We intend to stop this attack on family wage, union jobs.” (Postal Reporter.com, July 18)

There will be a noon protest on July 26 at 1800 Thibodo Rd. in Vista, Calif., which will target Rep. Darrell Issa, the congressional leader of the effort to dismantle and privatize the Postal Service.

On July 27, a “Rally in Direct Defense of our Post Office” will take place in Berkeley, Calif., at 1 p.m. at 2000 Allston Way.  A broad coalition opposed to the closing of their historic 1916 post office called it. The USPS denied an appeal against that facility’s closing, even though there is widespread community opposition, elected officials have protested, and attorneys and historic preservationists have made legal arguments against it.

Other July 27 West Coast protests will take place in Portland, Ore., and in Tacoma, Wash., where activists will rally in front of a post office slated for 2014 closure.

On the East Coast, a July 27 noon rally will take place in the Bronx, N.Y., at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse.  It will highlight community opposition to the planned shuttering of the historic 1935 Bronx General Post Office. Bronx residents, the Community/Labor United for Postal Jobs & Services, and Save the Post Office have appealed the closure, arguing that the USPS is violating federal regulations governing the shutting of historic postal properties.

Fighting against Royal Mail privatization

The British Parliament has chosen Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs to lead a banking syndicate in overseeing the privatization of the Royal Mail, valued at $4.8 billion.

Some of the same banks are involved in efforts to privatize the U.S. Postal Service.  For example, Rep. Issa hired Peter Haller, a former Goldman Sachs executive, to serve on the House Oversight Committee that oversees the USPS.

Malcolm Curry, one of 120,000 Royal Mail workers, told the July 10 Guardian, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. … I don’t think there’s any benefits for us and none for the customers.”

Communication Workers Union leaders, who represent Royal Mail workers, say for-profit owners would end universal mail service, raise postage rates, worsen working conditions, cut wages and benefits, and threaten workers’ earned pensions.

Mario Dunn, who leads the union’s anti-sale campaign, said: “Banks are set to make up to £30 million ($45 million) when the government sells off Royal Mail. Once again consumers will lose out when prices rise and deliveries are reduced but banks make millions.” (New York Times, May 29)

British postal workers are gathering petition signatures, placing posters on small business storefront windows and staging community rallies in their campaign to prevent privatization of the world’s oldest postal service.

The CWU organized a weeklong tour of London in a “Save our Royal Mail” bus, stopping for protest rallies in front of banks involved in the privatization.  Union leaders warned officials that unless ministers “think again” about selling off Royal Mail, industrial action would be
“inevitable.”  A decision on whether to strike may be made as soon as July 31, reported Post & Parcel, on July 10.

Centuries may divide the two postal workforces, but in the 21st century, they are brothers and sisters in the same struggle against privatization.

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