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Killing the Post Office on the Altar of Privatization. Our Commons on the Auction Block.
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
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
Go Fuck Yourselves.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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...
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!
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.