One public service that people really like and count on is the post office — which literally delivers for us.
Antigovernment ideologues and privatization dogmatists, however, hate the very word "public," and they've long sought to demonize the U.S. Postal Service, undercut its popular support and, finally, dismantle it. Their main line of attack has been to depict it as a bloated, inefficient, outmoded agency that's a hopeless money loser, sucking billions of dollars from taxpayers.
Never mind that the USPS doesn't take a dime of tax money to fund its operation — it's actually a congressionally chartered, for-profit corporation that earns its revenue by selling stamps and providing services to customers. And here's something that will come as a surprise to most people: The post office makes a profit — expected to be more than $1 billion this year.
Yet, the media keep reporting that the USPS is losing billions of dollars each year. What they fail to mention is that those are phony paper losses manufactured by Congress at the behest of corporate privatizers.
Late in 2006, the lame duck Republican Congress rammed into law a cockamamie requirement that the Postal Service must pre-fund the retiree health benefits of everyone it employs or expects to employ for the next 75 years. Hello? That includes workers who're not even born yet! No other business in America is required to pre-fund such benefits for even one year. To add to Congress' cockamamie-ness, the service is being forced to put up all of that money within just 10 years, which has been costing the USPS more than $5 billion a year. That artificial burden accounts for 100 percent of the so-called "losses" the media keep reporting.
It's like tying an anvil around someone's neck, throwing the person out of a boat and saying, "Swim to shore, sucker."
As if that's not enough of a weight to carry, the men and women who actually do the work and make service more than just a word in the U.S. Postal Service's name have had another unfair burden hung around their necks — a postmaster general who has thrown-in with the privatizers. As PMG, Pat Donahoe is the titular head of this proud group of postal workers, letter carriers, mail handlers and rural letter carriers. They take pride in moving our mail to us wherever we are — from inner cities all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where a Native American tribe lives.
But Donahoe is not making the workforce proud, for he abandoned them, their millions of customers and USPS' historic dedication to service. He is deliberately monkey-wrenching out service — including slowing delivery, reducing staff and hours of service, closing neighborhood and historic post offices, shutting down processing centers, constantly pressing Congress to end Saturday delivery, badmouthing his own agency's performance, steadily corporatizing public functions and transforming decent, union-scale jobs into the low-wage retail economy.
One gross and portentous example of Donahoe's determination to bust the wages and undermine the performance of USPS is the sweetheart privatization scam he's set up with Staples. He's letting this big-box retailer place official postal kiosks in its 1,500 stores — only they're not staffed by highly trained, publicly accountable postal workers, but by Staples' own poverty-wage, high-turnover floor staff. In at least one case, Donahoe even cut the hours of service at post offices around a Staples store in San Francisco, and then put a sign directing postal customers to the Staples outlet. Rather than being dedicated to customer service and the public interest, the private "post officettes'" priority is to serve Staples' profit interests.
Mark Dimondstein, the new, feisty president of the American Postal Workers Union, calls Donahoe "Wall Street's Trojan Horse, the privatizer from within." But Dimondstein says, "We intend to stop him." His union has launched a Dump Donahoe campaign as well as a national boycott of Staples stores.
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— Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JimHightower, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.