Back in 2006, a lame duck Republican Congress passed a law mandating that the United States Postal Service do something no other corporation or public entity has had to do – prefund 75 years worth of post-retirement benefits for its employees. This was part of a scheme to largely privatize the Post Office and decimate its workforce. Remember, this was during the “Let’s Privatize Social Security” Administration of George W. Bush. Much of the governance of the USPS is still dominated by Bush Administration appointees. President Obama has nominated no replacements so far.
Recently, the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General recommended that the USPS offer basic banking services to customers. Senator Elizabeth Warren has been among those who have publicly backed such a move as a way to both generate new revenues for the Post Office and provide access to financial services to low income Americans who are currently not served at all or are ill-served by the financial services industry. This seems like a win-win situation for both the bottom line of the USPS and the financial well-being of the millions of Americans who would be helped out in the process.
The law passed in 2006 must go. The fact that only the USPS is given the burden of financing its retirees to this extent makes no logical sense except to those who want to use it as an excuse to further eviscerate the American organized labor movement, lower wages for working people and further enrich the coffers of the 1% in the process. Farming out USPS services to private companies such as Staples, as has been proposed, would take good paying jobs away from unionized employees and give them to lower paid retail sector employees – a long term goal of most of Corporate America and their political protectors. It’s a race to the bottom for working class Americans.
With the changes taking place in our health care system, how can anyone accurately predict what the costs of untold numbers of employees’ health care expenses will be 75 years from now? If that can even be determined, why single out the USPS for such a burden? Why not make the playing field level by mandating their competitors and even the Federal, State and local Governments do the same? Perhaps an entirely new system of allocating health care dollars will be in existence before that time comes, making the entire policy a waste of time and money. Does such a policy exist anywhere else in the world to serve as an example? Why should the Post Office be dismantled and so many workers have their livelihoods jeopardized so a few plutocrats, venture capitalists and wealthy corporate shareholders can benefit at their expense? Would the replacement jobs be given the guaranteed retirement benefits the law seeks the USPS to provide? Absolutely not.
Nor would the service provided by the private sector be an improvement. How many packages were delayed in delivery by the private sector companies such as UPS and Federal Express in the most recent holiday season? Those seeking to privatize and outsource activities like schools, the Post Office or auxiliary functions of larger enterprises usually do so to make sure more money gets into the hands of those at the top and less into the hands of those doing the vast majority of the work. Works that way in public as well as private enterprises. Decreasing economic inequality in this society would not be facilitated by further privatization of the Post Office, Social Security, Public Schools or just about anything else. Public entities get public scrutiny that obviously doesn’t exist for many private entities (remember the causes of the last recession?).
The President must be encouraged to fill the 5 vacancies on the Postal Service Board of Governors with progressive-minded individuals seeking to move the Post Office into the future, not merely make cuts to meet a unreasonable burden placed on it by a recalcitrant Congress almost a decade ago. The CFPB is making strides in consumer protection as it pertains to the financial services industry, and there is no reason why the Post Office could not do likewise under better leadership. Proposals such as that put forth by Elizabeth Warren should be acted upon without delay. Where possible, obstacles must be dealt with swiftly at Congressional town halls and ultimately next fall at the ballot box.
Allowing the USPS to branch out into basic banking services would provide much needed service to many who are currently not served by banks well, if at all. Dependence on such industries as the payday loan scammers and credit card industry with their usurious interest rates that keep people barely scraping by paycheck to paycheck in perpetual debt. These entities should be made to cease to exist, or at the very least be much better regulated to prevent their predation on hard working citizens. Giving them some real competition from an organization with the aim of helping them rather than ripping them off may help to improve the situation for millions. Which, of course, is the real bone of contention for those opposing the idea.
Deregulated practices and privatized profits accompanied by socialized losses (who picks up the tab when a bank is too big to fail or a toxic spill poisons the environment – the taxpayers) are the main goals of those embracing the unfettered capitalism espoused by the 1%. The common good is the furthest thing from the minds of most of them. Saving the USPS from this attempt to dismantle it and allowing it to provide even more, innovative and socially useful services to a public sorely in need of them is the right path to take. We’ve stopped the proposed privatization of Social Security and dismantling of Medicare so far. Let’s add #SaveUSPS to the list of progressive accomplishments to move forward.
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