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Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018 12:19 am

Privatization is not an option

Jim Hightower
PHOTO BY LARRY D. MOORE
In 2006, then-president George W. Bush, congressional Republican leaders, the powerful “privatizer lobby” and Koch-funded think tanks and Astroturf front groups colluded to put a one-of-a-kind paper “debt” on the books of USPS. Congress enacted a postal-service “enhancement” provision requiring the public postal corporation to pre-fund the health and pension benefits for all postal-service retirees 75 years in advance. This arbitrary, wholly unprecedented, legislated requirement to pay now for the retirement benefits of future employees has piled a false cost of about $5 billion a year on the debit side of the agency’s balance sheet.

This artificial, 75-year pre-funding decree is an absurd burden that no other corporation or government agency is forced to carry. Take it away, and voila! The Postal Service is a moneymaker. Since 2014, it has posted operating profits totaling $2.7 billion – a healthy average of $900 million a year.

Surprisingly, Trump’s in-house task force puts the public cost right in their restructuring proposal, apparently thinking they were writing a prospectus to attract property hustlers like Trump, rather than a document that we might read. They candidly presented privatization as a fantastic profiteering opportunity for a corporate cost-cutter:

“A private postal operator that delivers mail fewer days per week and to more central locations (not door delivery) would operate at substantially lower costs,” says their proposal. “A private entity would also have greater ability to adjust product pricing in response to changes in demand or operating costs. Freeing USPS to more fully negotiate pay and benefits ... and allowing it to follow private sector practices in compensation and labor relations could further reduce costs ... (and) a privatized Postal Service would be more insulated from politics.”

Let’s review what that tells us:

– Instead of six-day delivery, you’d get your mail maybe three days a week, though you’d have to drive at least a couple of miles to collect it, paying an ever-rising monthly fee for the privilege.

– Delivery to “more central locations” also means abandoning the Postal Service’s historic egalitarian principle of universal service, substituting the FedEx principle of “profitable service,” which excludes wide swaths of rural and inner-city America.

– The “ability to adjust product pricing” means the cost of stamps and other postal services would (like today’s prescription medicines) rise on corporate whim.

– Freeing a private operator to “more fully negotiate” employees’ pay, benefits, working conditions and rights means they would be based on the Walmart/McDonald’s race-to-the bottom standard, rather than a civil-service scale of upwardly mobile, middle-class opportunities.

– And “insulating” a corporate mail service from politics means shutting out customers, workers, communities – and, well, you and me, the public.

Nothing symbolizes our fight for the democratic ideal of the Common Good more than our public post office. This essential, egalitarian, nationwide service literally is us: It was a unifying center of American life before the USA itself was formed, and it is the only agency enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Our postal service is daily proof that we really are “all in this together.” To save our public postal service, go to http://USMailNotforSale.org.

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