How USPS Got Screwed Over, and How We’re Next

Jezebel sometimes publishes some very reactionary material. This is a case in point:

“The U.S. Postal Service Is Launching a Clothing Line for Some Reason”

Variations on a now cliché theme: The USPS (as a government organization) is going under (and unquestionably deserves to be, of course) because it is grossly inefficient (tautology of course; see last two parentheticals).

The actual, you know, truth, however, is absent from this article: The USPS is going under not of its own faults, but so the postal service can be privatized.

The author calls the USPS “disorganized and understaffed,” but fails to mention why.

Perhaps it is because every year the USPS faces more and more cuts, not not because of diminishing use of mail. The USPS is “slowly dying” because corporate interest and the government want it to die.

A great segment on Democracy Now!, from August 2012, explains the situation well (emphasis mine).

“As U.S. Postal Service Faces Default, Critics See Manufactured Crisis to Speed Up Privatization”

“The American people have to wake up here about what’s happening with the Postal Service,” Kucinich says. “The whole concept of the Postal Service, embedded in that is the idea of universal service, that if you’re poor, you live in a rural area, you’re going to get served just like someone who lives in a city and who may be wealthy.”

AMY GOODMAN: But postal workers say the much-touted crisis facing the U.S. Postal Service isn’t what it seems. Rather, they point to a 2006 law that forced the Postal Service to become the only agency required to fund 75 years of retiree health benefits over just a 10-year span. The American Postal Workers Union says the law’s requirements account for 100 percent of the service’s $20 billion in losses over the previous four years, without which the service would have turned a profit. In late June, 10 current and former postal workers launched a hunger strike to protest the pre-funding requirement.

JAMIE PARTRIDGE: Well, the problem is not about the mail volume going down, and problem is not the internet. The problem is not even private competition. The problem is a pre-funding mandate that Congress imposed in 2006 that the Postal Service pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance.

AMY GOODMAN: The Postal Service had hoped that Congress would help defer the payment that’s due today, but the House has taken no action. The Senate passed a measure that provided incentives to retire about 100,000 postal workers, or 18 percent of its employees, and allowed the post office to recoup more than $11 billion it overpaid into an employee pension fund. The Senate declined to act to stop Saturday deliveries.”

Yes, we are obviously moving into a new time in which physical mail is obsolete—and good riddance, frankly (and this is not even to mention the egregious deforestation going on around the world so banks can send me torrents of junk mail asking for me to sign up for one of their high-interest credit cards).

And, with the diminishing use of mail, it only makes sense that cuts should take place. But the degree at which they are taking place does not correspond to the degree at which the use of “snail mail” is decreasing. This is merely a front, an excuse, for attacking and privatizing the USPS.

As Partridge explains, “the problem is not about the mail volume going down, and problem is not the internet. The problem is not even private competition.” This is a manufactured crisis.

The problem with the USPS is not because snail mail is dead; it is not because of online bill-pay; it is not even because of “inefficiency” while operating within a cutthroat market.

This “crisis” is fabricated. Uncle Sam wants a privatized postal service.

Pro-Privatization Myths

“But, wait a second,” neoliberal supporters of privatization interject. “Privatizing the postal service? That sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? Think how efficient we’ll be!”

Wrong. Privatize the postal service and we will get the following:

  • Exploited workers who don’t get health care or any other benefits and cannot unionize, lest they be fired.
  • Slower delivery times for the less economically privileged. If you can pay for overnight shipping (e.g., rich people, corporations, etc.), privatization will be great. If you cannot (i.e., most people), you’re going to have to wait long periods of time to get your mail. It is only “profitable” to deliver mail to a location when those in your neighboring areas too are getting mail. If you are the only one who has mail, and you are waiting on that mail, you are going to be waiting a long time.
  • End of service for those that live in rural areas. If people live in remote regions and do not have much money (as is common in rural areas), they will be forced to drive to the nearest city, because it is “not profitable” to deliver mail to sparsely-populated areas.
  • Enormous loss of jobs. The principal goal of private corporations is to maximize profit. This takes precedence over every single other factor. The easiest way to maximize profit is to minimize costs. The easiest way to minimize costs is to cut back on labor, and to give as much work as possible to as few people as possible. This is “efficiency” in the capitalist paradigm; the drive is to have few workers who do a lot of work.

These are the real issues at stake.

And the thing we should really be asking ourselves is why is USPS on the cutting block like this? As austerity measures rear their ugly head (throughout not just the US, but even more ferociously throughout Europe); as the social services in this country (or what little was left of them) begin to shrivel up; as the U.S. Postal Service is in such a state of disrepair that it must compete in the clothing market for a spare dollar, must sell itself, in order to make ends meet, in order to prove its worth; it is becoming increasingly clear that we’re next.

Branding

The USPS must turn itself into a brand. For, don’t forget, this is the 21st century, the beautiful Age of Neoliberalism (*cue the choir and trumpets*—non-unionized musicians, of course). We all need a brand in this magical time. And, the USPS, with a brand, logo, and the like already established, has an inelastic commodity on hand, and is going to do what it has to do to make money off of it.

To be fair, however, the author of the aforementioned Jezebel article is (or appears to be) at least mildly cognizant of this desperation the USPS has been forced to resort to—note the description of the press release as “very sad.”

Of course this is sad. In today’s most “efficient” neoliberalism, this is the desperate, consumerist groveling capitalism forces not-for-profit institutions to adopt, lest they perish.

Yet let us not waver in our critical reading; the neoliberal rhetoric is still blatant and unremitting, in spite of this small caveat.

Note: The author writes

Have you been to a post office lately? I had to go there to get a Money Order last week and let me tell you: shit is dire and the revolution is nigh. Nothing there was working correctly — from their debit/credit card machines to the windows themselves — so maybe they should tackle the necessities before creating Jetsons-esque gear? Let’s leave that to Google.

The author recognizes “shit is dire,” even that “the revolution is nigh.” Unfortunately, however, this author’s “revolution” appears to be a neoliberal one.

“Let’s leave that to Google.” The USPS has no functioning equipment (that couldn’t be because of government cuts, of course)—and it still has to compete against well-funded, technological, capital-intensive corporate tyrannies.

And this dearth of functioning technology, of course, is because the USPS is inefficient, right? Because it’s “wildly disorganized,” right? (That’s what they told me in my school economics course!)

Google, on the other hand, that privacy-disregarding, greed-filled, all-consuming ubiquitous Panopticon monstrosity—sure, I sure trust them to bring me technological progress. Private corporate tyrannies are the best!

But, taking a few steps back, perhaps, again, the USPS is “going under” because, as the article even reveals, it is “understaffed” and unfunded.

And, bringing us full circle once more: this understaffed, underfunded USPS must compete in a market, must “brand” itself, in order to survive in contemporary, moral-less neoliberal capitalism.

Meanwhile, let us not forget, whenever a government agency is “competing” against a private corporate tyranny, it will, virtually without exception, lose. This comes down to the absurd definition of “efficiency” in capitalism (see my post on the topic).

Private corporations don’t have to factor in human rights. The latter rents children wage slaves in impoverished countries by the U.S. government (typically in former colonies, where the “First” World will have cheap, disposable labor to exploit). Private corporations can easily lower their costs more than their public competitors, as the latter are committed to maintaining some kind of decent standard of living for their workers. Corporations do not share this obligation. Workers are on their own. If a worker refuses to work for low wages and no benefits, thanks to the large pool of the unemployed, a more desperate worker can be found who will.

Moreover, public institutions are responsible for externalities. Every once in a while, corporations pretend to be, but nothing could be further from the truth.

So, in the end, to beat a dead horse even deader, this horrendous Jezebel article amounts to little more than neoliberal propaganda.

It has become increasingly common in “comedy” for people in positions of privilege to make jokes at the expense of the less fortunate. This despicable custom is not new, of course, but has intensified in recent years with Seth MacFarlane and other bourgeois, misogynist, white supremacist men (whose tawdry humor is incredibly popular among bourgeois, misogynist, white supremacist teenage boys).

This hit piece is merely another sad attempt at such abominable disparagement. “Look how stupid the USPS is, they’re trying to sell clothes, lol!”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for criticizing the government (at all hours of the day and night). But this is not criticism. This is cruel laughter; this is rubbing salt in the wounds of a neoliberal spree of which, in the end, per usual, the poor will bear the brunt.

And, for the second half of the the title: We’re next?

Variations on a familiar theme: Say hello to “austerity”—or, now as they call it, “sequestration.” The euphemism changes until it is no longer a scar on the public consciousness (there’s a reason it becomes a scar on the public consciousness), but it remains the same… a fiscal knife to the gut.