The following article is from Detroit Workers' Voice #31 (August 27, 2002), published by the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group. It is reprinted in Communist Voice #30, Dec. 15, 2002.

USPS 'Transformation Plan' attacks workers and universal service:
Management heads toward privatization

.

. In April USPS management unveiled its Transformation Plan proposals describing the major changes it wants in how the post office operates. Part of this involves "postal reform" legislation that was debated in Congress recently. Postal management claims they are opposed to privatization. But this transformation would allow management to adopt more of the features of a private business and make it easier to eventually move to privatization of the postal service. Postal management wants regulations governing the post office changed so that they can do things like change prices as they please, enter new fields of business and have more joint ventures with private companies. Supposedly, this is the only way the postal service can survive in the face of competition from e-mail and private mail and delivery companies. Postal officials claim this will reverse the USPS financial losses. Postal workers are being told that if they want to save their jobs, they should support these plans. Management is also promising that their plans will allow them to better meet the needs of the citizenry.

. But it's all a fraud. Neither postal workers nor ordinary postal customers will benefit. As for the postal workers, management will compete with its competitors over how to squeeze the workforce. It will seek ever-increasing workloads, reductions of the workforce, outsourcing, lower wages, harassment and harsh disciplinary measures and systematically violating any contract provisions that might interfere with its efforts to cut labor costs. In fact, the transformation plan spells out in no uncertain terms that the assault on the workers must be stepped up.

. As for postal customers, "transformation" will turn universal mail service into a memory. Instead there will be different levels of service according to wealth, with more profitable rich communities getting priority while poor working class and minority communities as well as rural communities suffer reduced service. In April, management lifted its own moratorium on closing postal facilities while the Transformation Plan calls for Congress to repeal legislative restrictions on closing post offices and providing certain levels of service. The plan proposes "consideration of the definition of universal service" and says "the ways by which that definition could be changed are nearly limitless. " For example, it mentions maybe reducing the number of days of mail delivery and cutting out delivering to the doors of residences. Meanwhile, management's transformation plans call for continuing to give high-volume corporate mailers hundreds of millions of dollars in outrageous discounts. These discounts for the rich result in rising prices for ordinary customers and contribute to USPS budget deficits.

. Of course, there's no guarantee that the new ventures the postal service wants will actually succeed. For example, the USPS' international internet delivery service started in 2000, PosteCS, has already collapsed. Joint ventures with Emery and Federal Express have been fiascoes. Meanwhile, while the USPS management claims the postal financial crisis would be solved if only they could act more like their private business counterparts, UPS and FedEx are also have been going through a major slump in business. But whether these ventures succeed or fail, management plans on giving the workers the shaft.

On the road to privatization

. The Transformation Plan calls this new model for the post office a Commercial Government Enterprise. It favors this as opposed to immediate private ownership of the post office or a government-subsidized service. But at the same time the plan makes it clear that by eliminating the few remaining differences between the postal service and privately-owned businesses, it is preparing to move toward privatization where the post office would be privately owned. Indeed, it's no coincidence that the recently-retired previous postmaster general, William J. Henderson is openly saying "I ran the post office, it should be privatized. " (Washington Post, Sept. 2, 2001) Privatization would mean even more profiteering, attacks on postal workers and declining service for the masses. True even a privately-owned post office would likely be subject to some government regulation similar to the investor-owned public utilities. But this has not prevented the privately-owned utilities from becoming notorious for sky-rocketing energy bills, not to mention the prospect of going bankrupt as did giant utilities in California during the energy crisis a couple of years ago. This is the wonderful new world being introduced by management.

The USPS financial crisis and the workers

. The Transformation Plan admits management has already been squeezing the workers relentlessly. It boasts, for instance, of "the intense focus on improving productivity that resulted in a reduction of 21 thousand career employees" from 1999-2001 despite service being extended to nearly 4 million new addresses. In fact postal officials admit elsewhere that in 2001 "not only did we reach our target for increasing productivity -- we almost doubled it. " (Update: Great Lakes Region, Jan. -Feb. 2002, p. 2) All this contradicts the fairy tales that blame the recent budget crisis on supposedly lazy postal workers. This is no news to postal workers. They know they are being pushed to exhaustion every day and that no matter how much they do, they will be told to do more. They know that this is causing more work-related injuries and that the post office treats injured workers like dirt.

. Actually there are a few obvious immediate causes of the postal budget deficit that have nothing to do with the workers. For one thing, the capitalist economic "boom" period has given rise to an inevitable slump and this has greatly led to lower mail volumes than management expected. Indeed, were it not for this, along with the anthrax scare, postal officials had predicted about a $2. 8 billion profit in 2001 rather than the actual $1. 7 billion deficit. But of course the postal officials aren't blaming capitalism for their budget crisis.

. Postal officials are also silent about the enormous subsidies USPS management gives to big corporate mailers and direct mail firms who pre-sort mail otherwise sorted by the post office. According to the postal clerks union, the APWU, the post office loses about $700 million per year by granting corporate mailers discounts that are way beyond what the post office actually saves by not sorting the mail. Even the former chief financial officer of the postal service from 1993-98, Michael J. Riley, has testified that the discounts are bleeding the postal service. This absurd situation shows how the postal service has long been on its knees before the mass mailing industry. Just getting back a portion of the enormous multi-billion dollar subsidization of the private mailing industry over the years would have balanced the postal budget even in the wake of the economic downturn. Of course the post office doesn't even consider making these leeches pay for the budget crisis.

. There are other causes of postal deficits that have nothing to do with the workers, including spikes in gasoline prices by the greedy oil monopolies. As well, the U. S. government owes the postal service some $928 million in overdue payments that compensate the postal service for providing reduced rates for nonprofit mailers, mailings for the blind and overseas voting materials. Management, the government and various private caitalists all bleed the postal workers. Yet though the workers have not caused the recent budget deficits, postal management seeks to blame the workers and make them bear the burden for the crisis.

Slashing postal workers' wages/big raises for top management

. For instance, the Transformation Plan denounces postal workers as overpaid. It states that they are:

. ". . . paid an average wage/benefit premium in excess of comparable private sector wages and benefits. . . . Significant reductions in labor costs cannot be achieved without addressing these issues. "

. With typical capitalist logic, according to management, all that is needed to "prove" their workers are overpaid is to claim some other workers are making less. According to them, the proper level of wages is whatever the lowest wages in the industry are. That's why management never argues that lower-paid workers deserve to be compensated the same as their better-paid brothers and sisters. By management logic, even when the USPS was recording billions in profits a few years ago, the workers were overpaid. In fact there has never been a time when postal management hasn't argued during contract negotiations that workers wages are too high.

. However it turns out that equalizing compensation downward only applies to the workers. When it comes to salaries for top postal management salaries, the Transformation Plan argues that the problem is they are too low compared to the private sector. So it argues that "one of the factors constraining its [USPS'] ability to provide compensation that is comparable to the private sector is the statutory salary cap. " This is supposedly necessary to attract the best executive talent. So while the ones who do the actual work are to be paid less, the already well-paid top officials (remember Postmaster Marvin Runyon's $1. 5 million retirement fund for a couple of years work?) are evidently to get obscene multimillion dollar compensation packages like those "highly talented" robbers who plundered Enron, Worldcom, K-Mart, etc.

Jobs decrease/workloads soar

. Besides attacking wages and benefits, the Transformation Plan is chock full of ways to eliminate jobs and force heavier workloads onto already overburdened postal workers.

. The plan calls for closing down "low-value access points. " In plain English this means post offices that don't make enough profits, i.e. , those in poor and rural areas. Even if a post office remains open, the plan recommends replacing counter service with self-service. Not only will this reduce customer service, but the goal is to cut jobs. As the plan says, "As simple transactions are redirected to lower cost alternatives, post offices will scale down staffing. . . . " The plan also emphasizes closing down some mail processing and bulk mail facilities, obviously hoping to cut jobs along the way. As well, outsourcing is to be stepped up in such areas as "mail preparation, retail services, terminal activities and container distribution. " Eliminating jobs through new automation is also part of the plan.

. The Transformation Plan considers the worker as nothing more than a beast of burden. Take its plans for letter carriers. The postal service has already used DPS automation of letter-size mail to cut the time a letter carrier sorts their mail in the office and increase the length of routes in the field. Carrier routes have not only become much longer, but the automated mail greatly increases the amount of mail that's carried the longer distance. The much more difficult routes take a great physical toll on carriers. But management doesn't care. The goal of the plan is to eliminate any office time whatsoever. Whereas now 5 or 6 hours are spent carrying mail, the new plan evidently is to extend field time to the entire work day of 8 hours. Thus, the plan wants new automation "making the need for delivery unit sortation obsolete. " This would mean hundreds of new addresses would be added to each route.

. Capping off management's wish list are changes in the collective bargaining process that would make it even more difficult to win a decent contract. The present system already screws postal workers. There's no right to strike and so management is under no pressure. This suits the sellout postal union leaderships who complain about management but don't really want to mobilize the workers for a serious struggle. If the union leaders and management can't agree, the contract is settled by an arbitrator who generally sympathizes with the employers. Miserable contracts are the inevitable result. But management is upset even with the few crumbs the arbitrator may give the workers. Thus, they want to bring in a new system similar to the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The RLA doesn't outright ban all strikes but it restricts them to the point where they have little effect. Its bureaucratic procedures allow management to drag contract negotiations out for year after year. And it allows the U.S. President to step in and end worker actions and for Congress to then impose whatever settlement it wants. The President and Congress are obedient servants of big business. Postal management knows this and evidently thinks these politicians will be even more responsive than the present arbitrators to the corporate drive to push down wages and working conditions.

Where do the postal unions stand?

. In the face of the Transformation Plan's assault on workers and universal service, the response of the postal unions' leaderships ranges from complete servility to timid opposition.

. The letter carriers' union, the NALC is gung-ho for the main recommendations of the plan. Their main gripe is that the present miserable arbitration system should remain. But they agree that the more the post office seeks to operate like any other money-hungry business, the better things will be. They claim that the USPS will make more money and thereby save the workers and universal service, when in fact the plan is to bring in money by crushing the workers and gutting universal service.

. Knowing no shame, the NALC has even joined in a lobbying coalition with big business mailers' groups like the Direct Marketing Association. The main cause of the DMA and this coalition is to keep the mailing rates down for large mailers. Thus, the DMA fights for discounted prices for wealthy corporations that help bankrupt the post office and for keeping costs down by bleeding the workers. The head of the DMA hails the Transformation Plan and boasts that his group helped write the "postal reform" legislation that the NALC is so excited about. Meanwhile, another member of this anti-worker coalition, the Alliance for Nonprofit Mailers, is excited about postal transformation because it will mean bigger discounts for big mailers and more cost-cutting attacks on the workers.

. Such betrayal of the workers by the NALC leadership is no surprise. Under the guise of looking after the workers' interests, they have collaborated with postal management to impose great increases in letter carrier workloads, have touted poor contracts as great victories, etc.

. The NALC leadership's pathetic stand of joining with the mail industry's corporate lobbying coalition on postal reform has also been taken up by two of the other three craft unions, the mailhandlers' union and the rural carriers' union.

. The other craft union, the APWU, has taken a somewhat different stand. They denounce the Transformation Plan. Their main criticism is it does not correct the problem of the post office losing revenue due to its discounts to big mailers. But besides the discounts to big mailers, the APWU leaders recommend no basic changes in how the post office is run. They oppose privatization, but ignore that under any system the workers must wage a vigorous struggle. Thus, they too have allowed management to get away with productivity drives that take a heavy toll on the workforce, promote rotten contracts, etc. They have sometimes toyed with the idea of postal workers having the right to strike, but basically have resigned themselves to the present crummy system of binding arbitration. Like all the postal unions, even when they are for something worthwhile, they are terrified of mobilizing the rank and file for mass actions needed to beat back management's onslaught.

The workers' alternative

. The stand of the union bureaucrats is undermining the ability of the workers to resist management's anti-worker plans. That's why the rank and file needs its own independent stand.

. Management wants to bleed the postal service so the bulk mailers can make fat profits. And now they are using the mess they created to make the workers bear the burden by moving towards privatization. But it's in the workers' interest to see the post office run more like a public service and less like a private business. If the post office were really treated as a necessary public service, it would receive funds from the government to keep it solvent through the ups and downs of the capitalist economy. As well, a nationalized postal service should guarantee service levels equitable for all, regardless of whether the postal service turns a profit.

. It should be kept in mind that while being government-funded could potentially improve things, under a government-funded agency the workers must still fight to improve their lot and to force better overall postal policies. For example, before postal reorganization in 1970, the post-office was government-funded but the workers lacked any collective bargaining rights. Operating as a government agency does not necessarily mean no collective bargaining. But this shows that the workers must struggle to see that a government agency postal service has features needed by them. In a new government-funded service postal workers should have the basic democratic rights that all the workers deserve, including the right to strike.

. Management claims there's no way for the postal service to remain financially solvent without imitating the methods of private capitalist businesses. Wrong. The dog-eat-dog competition between private capitalists guarantees no stability whatsoever. Look at the recent crash in the "dot. com" and telecommunications industries where so many "cutting-edge" companies have gone belly up. Look at the collapse of Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, K-Mart, and many other companies. This shows that private business methods by no means insure solvency. And in the name of defeating the competition, capitalist managers always insist the workers must do the suffering. For instance, in July the German postal service (Deutsche Post), whose partial privatization is considered worthy of emulation by the USPS bosses, announced it may have to cut 10,000 jobs and close 1,000 post offices.

. Far from saving the postal service, management's proposed changes are a recipe for disaster. But turning every public service into a private business is the fashion among the business tycoons and their political servants these days, so USPS management is going along. This is part of their big offensive against postal workers.

. Meanwhile, the NALC leadership backs "transformation", while the APWU officials aren't mobilizing the rank-and-file for serious action. So it's up to the rank and file to take the initiative in responding. Spread the exposure of the Transformation Plan. Develop ties among your coworkers to resist present and future management attacks. Oppose all efforts of the union leaders to reconcile with management's anti-worker plans.

. Stand up to the efforts to pit postal workers against workers at UPS, FedEx and other postal competitors. Lining up with the USPS management in their competition against these other companies is a race to the bottom for all the workers involved. Rather than siding with "your" management against the workers in other firms, the workers in these companies should consider themselves in a common struggle against all the bloodsucking corporate executives. The alternative to the Transformation Plan is the rank and file developing their own class stand and ability to build collective struggles. <>


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