The ORGANIZER WEEKLY (published by Socialist Organizer)
Editorial of Issue No. 6 (Aug. 7, 2020)
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[Note: Following is the editorial of Issue No. 6 (Aug. 7) of The Organizer Weekly, published by Socialist Organizer. We urge our readers to support our new weekly online newsletter by making a PayPal donation on our website (socialistorganizer.org), sharing our newsletter widely with friends and colleagues, and sending us your comments to <email@example.com>. Thanks, in advance, for your continuing support. — The Editors]
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“During this pandemic, anyone who believes in the right to vote should enthusiastically embrace voting by mail. Without it, tens of millions of voters will be denied the opportunity to safely exercise their cherished right to vote. When postal workers go to work every day, our commitment is not to politicians or political parties, it’s to the people in every community across this country who we are proud to serve in this election season and for years to come.”
These words were spoken by American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein on August 3 in response to growing attacks by the Trump administration both on voting by mail and on the United States Postal Service (USPS) itself. The attacks are a central component of Trump’s open threat to eradicate fundamental democratic institutions in the United States.
Plotting to Destroy the Post Office
In May, the USPS Board of Governors, with Trump’s active support, appointed Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General. DeJoy donated $1.2 million to the Trump campaign and has no postal experience. He was Republican National Committee finance chair for the 2020 Republican Party convention. He also donated $114,500 to the RNC legal fund, which has been intervening actively to suppress voter turnout and will challenge the validity of the election results afterwards.
DeJoy has been implementing a series of measures that are reducing the ability of the post office to process mail in a timely fashion, such as eliminating overtime, delaying mail that is harder to deliver, and preventing mail carriers from further sorting mail before they head out on their delivery routes. In addition to undermining mail-in voting in an effort to throw the November election, these measures are designed to reduce public confidence in the USPS, causing less resistance to planned privatization. For decades, billionaire Charles Koch has been funding efforts to privatize the post office and working to ensure that his co-thinkers are appointed to the USPS Board of Governors.
DeJoy attempts to justify his new service cuts on the ground that these drastic cuts will “save” the post office during the pandemic. The USPS has been running at a deficit since 2006, when the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed, a law requiring the USPS to fund employee benefits 75 years in advance — a heavy burden not required for any other federal agency. To add insult to injury, the funds set aside for this purpose can only be invested in very low-yield Treasury bonds. This measure was advanced by leading Koch mouthpiece and former Board of Governors member James Miller.
Absentee voting varies by state. A few states vote entirely by mail, the majority allow anyone to vote absentee if they prefer, and some have undemocratic restrictions on voting by mail, limiting it to specific circumstances. As a result of the pandemic conditions, the number of absentee voters is increasing dramatically, and voters have demanded an expansion of vote by mail where it is so restricted.
The post office will need to expand, not contract, in order to be able to handle the influx of absentee voters. A growing number of voters will prefer to vote by mail this fall instead of risking potentially fatal COVID-19 exposure by waiting in long lines to vote at a limited number of polling places. What if the post office mailed their ballots late or could not deliver them in time to be counted? If their right to vote by mail is denied, are they going to risk their lives to vote in person? Multiply that by millions of voters and the result is major voter suppression that would change the outcome of the November election. That is openly the intent.
The USPS, however, is far more than a means to ensure a democratic vote in November. Millions of elderly or disabled persons rely on the USPS to get essential medications in the mail. They rely on the USPS to receive pensions, Social Security, and critical tax-refund and unemployment checks rather than using direct deposit. The same is true for people who live in rural areas that private shipping providers either do not serve or charge exorbitant fees for delivery, or who have a small business that depend on the USPS’s lower-cost mailing services. For all of them, the USPS is more than just a reliable convenience. It is their lifeline.
Bipartisan Efforts to Privatize the USPS
Prior to 2006, the USPS was primarily self-financed. Its revenue exceeded its expenses — and would have continued to do so despite competition from private companies and a decline in first-class mail — had it not been hampered by the 2006 law. However, regardless of debt, as a government service supposed to be available to all, we must demand that it receive the funding necessary to maintain essential postal services.
Though the most current round of attacks is driven by Trump’s scheme to “win” reelection and is opposed by most Democrats, Trump is not the only one to blame. Republican senators are refusing to pass the HEROES Act, which would provide $25 million in emergency funds to the USPS and a $10 billion line of credit. They are insisting that any new pandemic stimulus bill not include support to the post office.
Let’s not let the Democratic Party off the hook. Many Democrats have supported privatization. Says New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr.:
“To argue that the Postal Service needs to be privatized, conservatives need to show that it is dysfunctional, and there’s no better way to do that than by weighing the agency down with impossible financial obligations. It continues a generation-long pattern of institutional vandalism by Republicans across government. But ultimately, both parties bear responsibility. I should know: I was in Congress when we passed the 2006 bill. And, along with all my colleagues, I made the mistake of voting for it.”
In another recent example, former Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg presented plans for privatizing the USPS. Democrats just rejected Medicare for All as part of their party platform, demonstrating their continued failure to support essential public services, even during the pandemic.
Racial Justice and Labor Protections
Attacks on the USPS also are a matter of racial justice and union protection. The USPS is a leading employer of people of color, women, and veterans. Unionized public employment, and postal work specifically, has been a ticket out of poverty for many Black workers, who have a long history of working in the postal service and of being active in the postal unions, beginning with Reconstruction with Black Civil War veterans.
Author Paul Prescod notes that the founding vice president of the National Association of Letter Carriers escaped from slavery in his youth. Today, 21% of USPS employees are Black. Due to fighting for strong union contracts, many Black postal workers and their families are able to live a so-called middle class lifestyle and have a pension after retirement. Privatizing the post office would result in major attacks on postal unions, destroying the economic gains won by Black and other workers.
Saving the USPS
In an immediate sense, labor and community activists and their organizations must continue to demand emergency funding during the pandemic and the expansion of voting by mail. A true bailout of the USPS, as well as any effort to restore and expand voting rights, will require a major mobilization by the labor movement in partnership with communities of color and others most impacted by postal cuts and voter suppression.
At this point, most union leaders are too tied to the Democratic Party to advocate anything beyond pressing for legislative budget reforms. The same is true for the leadership of the many liberal advocacy groups currently petitioning Congress on these issues. To save the USPS, preserve the postal unions, and ensure voting rights, a truly independent and militant labor movement must mobilize its members by taking to the streets, ready and willing to strike if necessary.
Without a party representing workers and oppressed communities, winning these battles and securing these rights will be far more difficult, if not impossible. That is why we are calling on the labor movement to break with the Democratic Party and build a Labor-based political party rooted in the unions and communities of the oppressed.
That is why we urge you, our readers, to support Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP). Attend LCIP’s upcoming conference on September 19 and 20 to build the foundation necessary for independence from the twin parties of capitalism.
(For more information about the conference, go to lcipcampaign.org or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.)