By Gray Brechin

Posted on February 6, 2013 by the Communications Committee

Introduction by Tom Lacey, Peace and Freedom Party State Central Committee member

A "death by a thousand cuts" has gradually been reducing the Post Office to a shadow of its former self for well over fifty years. The Nixon administration began the push toward privatization when it reconfigured the system as the United States Postal Service.

The Postal Reorganization Act of March 1970 was, in part, the reaction to a groundbreaking two-week strike by federal postal workers. The strike was unique both because it was against the government and because it was one of the largest wildcat strikes in U.S. history. Nixon called out the United States Armed forces and the National Guard in an attempt to use the military as scab strike-breakers.

While there were postal workers' unions and employee associations prior to the 1970 strike, postal employees were under the Civil Service Commission and had the same extremely limited rights receiving the same pay and pay grades as other civil service workers at that time. They were prohibited by law from engaging in collective bargaining. As a result of the Act, postal workers were guaranteed collective bargaining rights, but not the right to strike.

The Post Office has long provided employment for many African American workers, whose ranks increased as Whites left postal work in the 50's and 60's for better jobs. The African American workers objected to a decision made by Nixon, Executive Order 11419, which said that the federal government would only deal with AFL-CIO unions, which excluded the Black National Alliance, a large and well-established union for Black postal workers.

The 1970 Act planted the seeds for a postal system based on a business model. It established an independent Postal Rate Commission which authorized the Postal Service to borrow money from the general public and phased out the general service subsidy. It also authorized appropriations to reimburse the Postal Service for carrying congressionally established categories of free and reduced-rate mail and required that rates for each class cover direct and indirect costs attributable to that class. What had previously been a public service became obligated to "carry its own weight" like any other business.

In the following article, reprinted with the author's permission from, Grey Brechin explains how the libertarian Peterson Foundation is working with other corporate interests on another grand push to privatize the remaining public assets.

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Murderous Reform: A Plan to Privatize Postal Profits at Public Expense

January 10, 2013


The National Academy of Public Administration has released a “Work-in-Progress” report entitled "Restructuring the U.S. Postal System: The Case for a Hybrid Public-Private Postal System."  The Academy is now embarking on a study of this proposal, which would privatize a large portion of the country's postal system.  

The Academy's study is billed as an “Independent Review of a Thought Leader Proposal to Reform the U.S. Postal Service.”  Unfortunately, no study conducted by a four-man panel chaired by David M. Walker, the former President and CEO of the libertarian Peter G. Peterson Foundation, can seriously claim either the independence or non-partisan objectivity that the Academy itself boasts.   

It has been my experience over the past 30 years that "hybrid public-private partnerships" are often little more than a sedative euphemism for the private sector taking the profits while the public bears the costs.  Such is the case with this "reform,” which will, as is so often claimed in such instances, "unleash the power of market forces" by transferring the USPS profit centers to the private sector while saddling the public with the cost for "the last mile."  Meanwhile, the public is already being stripped of its assets in broad daylight while the media sleeps.

The proposal is predictably one-dimensional — as befits men who seemingly have little or no sense of the public service mission for which the Post Office was created 238 years ago under the direction of Benjamin Franklin.  Its purpose, then as now, was democracy and equality, not efficiency or profit. Thus, the report omits much.

Nowhere in the proposal is there any mention of unions, let alone of living wages, so one can only presume that a primary means of reducing costs will be to drive down the income of those postal employees who remain after the USPS is radically downsized and diminished as proposed.

The report also simplistically states that "the root cause of the postal crisis is the historic change in how we communicate," omitting other forces now undermining it such as Congress itself.  Nor does it mention the invaluable artistic, historic, social, environmental, and commercial function of many post offices currently being thrown onto the market with virtually no oversight.  It neglects to say that a commercial real estate firm (CBRE) chaired by Senator Dianne Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, is profiting from the sale of properties paid for by taxpayers for well over a century.

Finally, there is no serious discussion of alternatives characteristically described in such reports as “out of the box” for making the USPS solvent again, such as reviving the U.S. Postal Savings Bank and providing other public services currently available outside this country. That is because the self-proclaimed thought leaders who framed the report do not actually seek to save the Postal Service but to “reform” it virtually out of existence.

My studies of the New Deal have revealed an ethos of public service that seems entirely alien not only to the men who produced the Academy’s blueprint but to current postal management as well as to those in Congress who saddled the USPS with fiscal obligations seemingly designed to eliminate it as a competitor to private carriers, a goal long sought by those very carriers and by the libertarian think tanks they lavishly fund.

Several WPA-built structures here in California bear an inscription by the Roman poet Virgil: "THE NOBLEST MOTIVE IS THE PUBLIC GOOD."  The Academy’s preliminary report contains nothing noble or new.  Quite the contrary, it is yet more of the same demonstrably failed neoliberal experiment that has, over the past three decades, so disastrously despoiled the U.S. economy as it has demoralized our citizens.

Unleashing the power of market forces did not work so well in 1929 or in 2008, and it will not do so again as those very forces seek to finish off the public sector as a competitor once and for all.

Dr. Gray Brechin is the author of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin. He is the founder and project scholar of the Living New Deal Project based at the U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography.  He works with others to stop the sale of the National Register-listed Berkeley Post Office.

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