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Killing the Post Office on the Altar of Privatization. Our Commons on the Auction Block.

by JP Massar
The Berkeley Post Office is being sold off as one of the first steps in the privatization of the Postal Service. A direct defense of the Berkeley Post Office is planning for Saturday, July 27th, at 1:00 PM
photo berkeley-post-office_zps3f5a026b.jpg

We petitioned. We wrote letters. We got the City Council and the Mayor to write letters. We rallied and marched. We got our state reps and Barbara Lee, our US Representative, to make entreaties.

The decision to sell the historic Berkeley Post Office was made in flagrant disregard to all such.

Then we appealed the decision. And We were brushed off as only a bureaucrat, secure in his perch far above the voice of the people, can:

"While I am sympathetic to the concerns raised by the concerned parties ... I will not set aside the Postal Service's April 19th decision to sell the post office." USPS Vice President Tom A. Samra stated in a letter posted at the building.

Or, as your intrepid author tweeted in translation of this bureaucraticese:

JP Massar ‏@jpmassar 18 Jul
From: Tom Samra, US Postal Service Facilities Vice President
To: Berkeley
Go Fuck Yourselves.

Here's the complete rejection letter. (PDF)

So the Berkeley Post Office building will be sold.

Or will it?

Despite what seems to be the end of the road in terms of administrative challenges, a three-pronged local attack is being lauched by various Berkeley community groups, Save The Berkeley Post Office and Strike Debt Bay Area.

The first is a medium term threat of a lawsuit to block the sale:

As soon as an actual sale is announced, attorneys will go to court to block it with a temporary restraining order. At the same time, steps will be taken to file a lawsuit to preserve the historic building as public space and to protect its New Deal-era art.

The second is more exciting! Direct action in defense of the Post Office, being organized by Save The Berkeley Post Office and Strike Debt Bay Area.

A Rally in Direct Defense of our Post Office! 1:00 pm, Sat. July 27th at 2000 Allston Way, Berkeley.

Our heritage is being auctioned off to privateers, as austerity and Congressional mandates squeeze the US Postal Service to the point of breaking. The same forces that want to privatize Social Security and prisons are now in the process of selling off Post Offices across the United States.

Come help save the Berkeley Post Office and send a message across the United States that our Post Offices - jobs, services, buildings and history - are worth saving!

- Starting at 1:00 pm, Saturday, July 27th at 2000 Allston Way (1 block from Berkeley BART), with speakers, music and dance, street theater, public forums, and a Birthday Cake to celebrate the founding of the Post Office in July 1775.

- We need everyone's help to mount a defense that cannot be ignored.

- National Weekend of Action to save the Post Office, including actions at threatened post offices in the Bronx, New York; Portland, Oregon; Berkeley; Tacoma, Washington; and at the Southern Calif. offices of Rep. Darrell Issa, who's leading the Congressional effort to dismantle and privatize the Post Office.

The third is a thinking-out-of-the-box attempt to rezone the space the Berkeley Post Office sits on so that it cannot be used for private, commercial enterprise. That would make the building a lot less attractive to potential buyers, perhaps lowering the price enough to make selling the building economically unattractive to the Post Office powers-that-be.

In addition to pursuing legal avenues, the Berkeley City Council asked its staff on July 16 to write an ordinance that "will not only limit uses of properties in the district to those consistent with the character of the district, but it will also ensure that the Downtown Post Office can only be utilized for a civic or community-oriented use, and may help influence the USPS decide a more favorable future for the building."

Unfortunately, the red tape involved in such a process seems to suggest that it will not be put in place until long after such time as the Post Office is sold, at least unless a lawsuit can hold up the sale.

photo save-the-post-office_zpsb24fa88d.jpg On a national level, legislation has been placed in an appropriations bill by US Representative Jose Serrano that would

...suspend the sale of historic post offices pending investigation by the USPS Inspector General...

"My provision in the bill calls for the suspension of the sale of historic properties like the Bronx GPO until this investigation is complete, and all the laws and guidelines have been satisfactorily complied with...

These properties have unique circumstances and deserve great care and thought if the USPS can truly no longer use them. I am concerned that this is not happening in the rush to reduce costs, and I am glad that my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee share this concern."

That's kind of weak tea (why not a proviso to simply forbid such sales, just as Congres has - so far - forbidden the cancellation of Saturday mail service?) but at least it's a start.

The Scourge of Privatization

Strike Debt Bay Area has done extensive research on and investigation into the attempts at the privatization of and selling off of our Post Offices nationwide. The guilty are copious, from Diane Feinstein's husband Richard Blum who stands to make bazillions from the sale of Post Office real estate, to privateers in Congress who would like nothing better than to see a public institution fail.

(Private) banks got bailed out. (Private) Detroit got bailed out. But (Public) Detroit and public institutions like the Post Office are continually subjected to withering attacks based on the allegations that they are not efficient, they are mismanaged, or simply that they provide living wage jobs instead of McJobs at McWages. And of course no bailout or support. That would be socialism!

Here are excerpts from a detailed essay on these matters put together by a Strike Debt Bay Area working group.

Privatization can be defined as the transferring of a business, agency, public service or property from the public/government sector, where the needs of the community are paramount, to the private/corporate sector, which exists solely for making a profit. This becomes a systemic problem when public welfare is falsely determined to be the outcome of corporate profitability...

...the USPS operates on a principle that all essential public services should follow: the Universal Service Obligation - to extend service so that everyone can use it and everyone can afford it....

In 1970, Congress and President Richard Nixon lashed back at postal workers in retaliation for the Great Postal Strike of that same year with the Postal Reorganization Act....

In 2006... the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act imposed a crushing burden on the postal service's financial condition... Capitalists, in collaboration with politicians, manufactured this exceptional condition with the intention of destroying organized labor and the USPS. This exception is an unprecedented requirement in the 2006 Postal Accountability Enhancement Act that the USPS pay $56 billion over ten years into the Postal Service Retirees Health Benefit fund. No other enterprise, public or private, is required to cover medical costs for retirees 75 years in advance as the USPS must do by 2017. This pre-payment mandate is driving an otherwise profitable public enterprise into bankruptcy...

We should oppose privatization because publicly accountable enterprises resist exploitation better than those that serve the interests of the 1%. Like the USPS, we are manipulated by fabricated financial hardships, which create the need to borrow money at any cost. Many services, most notably health care, education, and housing are more expensive than we can afford. The reason for this is the greed of those at the pinnacle of the capitalist system aided by their legions of lawyers and lobbyists. These services should function under the same universal service principle to that of the post office...

Keeping the USPS intact can take the collective consciousness of the dangers of privatization and the struggle to resist it to the next higher quantum level and turn the tide against the metastasis of capitalist concentration. While many worker-owned companies and co-ops currently make priorities of fair distribution of wages, and of transparency and accountability, none of them are among the largest employers in the world. With or without government protection, the USPS can remain a truly public entity.

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One strategy for keeping Post Offices viable is to to allow then to once again be centers for public banking. Did you know that until 1966 you could walk into a Post Office and establish a savings account? It's true!

Public Banking advocates along with Postal Unions have been advocating a return to this service. And the idea is gaining traction elsewhere.

On July 27, 2012, the National Association of Letter Carriers adopted a resolution at their National Convention in Minneapolis to investigate the establishment of a postal banking system. The resolution noted that expanding postal services and developing new sources of revenue are important components of any effort to save the public Post Office and preserve living-wage jobs; that many countries have a long and successful history of postal banking, including Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States itself; and that postal banks could serve the 9 million people who don't have a bank account and the 21 million who use usurious check cashers, giving low-income people access to a safe banking system. "A USPS bank would offer a 'public option' for banking," concluded the resolution, "providing basic checking and savings" and no complex financial wheeling and dealing.

Post Offices may not be "sexy" any more (were they ever?). But they play an important role - and can continue to do so - if we do not allow them to be destroyed and in fact push for them to serve in more public capacities.

Attacks on the the Post Office are just one more example of a relentless series of attacks on anything public: public schools, public unions, public pensions, public health care, public transportation; I could continue on for a while.

We can't stop it by saving a single Post Office in a single small city. But it's a start. We can take a stand. Come help us.

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