Bronx, N.Y. — “The Postal Service is under siege” was how Chuck Zlatkin, political director of the NY Metro Area American Postal Workers Union, characterized the struggle to save the U.S. Postal Service on Sept. 21. Zlatkin was chairing a forum at the Lincoln Hospital Center in the Bronx.
Following the forum, postal workers and community supporters held a spirited march across East 149th Street to the Bronx General Post Office, chanting, “Whose post office? Our post office.” Then they held a speakout addressed to the public there.
The meeting was held to protest the fact that the historic Bronx General Post Office at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse has been put up for sale. It’s historic because during the 1930s Great Depression, the federal government funded New Deal programs that hired artists to decorate public buildings, including 1,100 post offices. The Bronx office is especially renowned for the murals painted by artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson, and has been designated a historic site.
Among the speakers at the forum was U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, who pointed out that “most of the Postal Service’s financial problems come from a 2006 law that requires it to pay for its pension and health benefits 75 years in advance.” Serrano has introduced legislation that would increase scrutiny of the Postal Service’s attempt to sell off buildings to mostly private real estate interests.
Jacquelyn McCormick from Berkeley, Calif., executive director of the National Post Office Collaborative, told of similar struggles in her region and of a lawsuit to stop the “dismantling, relocation, closure and sale of the USPS, including historic and architecturally significant properties and artwork.” A 31-day tent city in Berkeley fought efforts to turn that landmark post office into a restaurant.
Jonathan Smith, president of the NY Metro Area Postal Union, noted that postal workers are 20 percent Black, 8 percent Latino/a and 40 percent women. Saving these jobs is part of the struggle for civil rights.
Many community representatives also spoke out, including Julio Pabon, president of South Bronx Community Association, and Rosa Maria la de Torre, of Community-Labor United for Postal Jobs & Services, who recently returned from mobilizing support for the postal workers and community struggle at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles. There, activists leafleted the delegates and affiliates and “got 400 signatures to save postal services and jobs.”
One of the many speakers at the GPO speakout was Eleanor Bailey, a retired postal worker who was a key organizer of the 1970 national postal strike that took on President Richard Nixon and the National Guard to win collective bargaining rights. Representatives of the National Alliance of Letter Carriers were also present.