House passes postal aid bill as thousands protest to #SaveThePostOffice
Bob Springsteen gives a thumbs-up to a passing car as it honks during a Save the Post Office Rally on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Whitehall, Ohio. Postal workers and supporters across the country gathered at Post Offices to protest actions by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, including the removal of sorting machines which has led to mail delivery delays. Critics say the measures are aimed at delaying absentee and mail-in ballots during the upcoming general election and also preparing the groundwork for the privatization of the USPS. Bob Springsteen is a retired postal clerk and former vice president of the United Postal Workers Union Local 232. | Joshua A. Bickel / The Columbus Dispatch via AP

WASHINGTON—Sally Abrahamson wants Congress to save our democracy by saving the U.S. Postal Service from GOP President Donald Trump and his hand-picked Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy.

And so does her 18-month-old son, even if he was too shy to talk. So Abrahamson’s son, carried by his mother in a frontal “baby bag,” wore a sign to a D.C. demonstration on Aug. 22. It was a replica of a USPS Priority Mail envelope. “Priority shipping to Time Out Donald Trump and Louis DeJoy,” its address read.

“I’m here to save our democracy,” Abrahamson, a pro-worker labor lawyer, said. “I’ve seen in the last 3-1/2 years an inability to protect workers’ rights, too.” Added Washington Teachers Union/AFT President Elizabeth Davis: “I’m here to lead by example. We need to show our students how we protect our democracy.”

A letter carrier signals his support for demonstrators outside a post office in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday. | @MuffetMcGraw via Twitter

Protecting U.S. democracy from Donald Trump and the corporate lackey he installed at the head of the U.S. Postal Service was a constant theme of thousands of demonstrators at more than 625 sites from coast to coast this weekend. They marched and rallied just two days before the opening of the GOP convention. In D.C., Davis spoke and Abrahamson was one of more than 100 demonstrators in a Save Our Postal Service event in downtown. A second Day of Action is already planned for Tuesday, Aug. 25.

“I hope this shows the true colors” of the nation in preserving the Postal Service, Postal Workers (APWU) Executive Vice President Debby Szeredy added in an interview with People’s World during the event. “The bottom line is to make sure all the mail is sent out every night.”

“From the most remote village in Alaska” on through the rest of the country, “there’s just one service we can rely on—the Postal Service,” Davis declared.

Fittingly, the D.C. demonstration was held at the city’s old central Post Office, a picturesque 1880s building on Pennsylvania Avenue topped by a tall clock tower. It’s not the post office anymore. It’s now the luxury Trump International Hotel packed already with people connected with the Republican convention who are being charged more than twice the normal rates by Donald Trump as he steals from even his own campaign to line his pockets.

With the election just over two months away, the demonstrations had a sharp political edge, especially in the speeches and on the handwritten signs. That political point is also one reason the D.C. event was staged in front of the hotel, not at the low-profile Ben Franklin postal station blocks away.

One woman carried a sign with a silhouetted blue stamp, serrated edges, and all. The white capital letters in the middle read “STAMP OUT TRUMP.” “DeJoy stop DeVoter suppression” a second ordered. “Stamp out fascism. Save the USPS,” another read.

“It’s every citizen’s duty to stand up to any attempt to subvert our right to vote,” said Tami Ritsema, a physician’s assistant on leave from Inova Health Systems in Northern Virginia. “I practice medicine, and I worry that my patients will not get the medicines they need” because DeJoy has slowed down first-class mail deliveries.

“We want to be sure our vote counts—and that my ballot arrives” in time, added Tim McCall, a Tysons, Va., researcher. And cutting down the Postal Service “will further marginalize Indigenous and rural communities,” added McCall’s friend, Miguel Torres of Sterling, Va.

The House apparently listened to Abrahamson, Szeredy, Ritsema, Davis, and the thousands who turned out nationwide. It passed the Delivering For America Act (HR8015) to roll back DeJoy’s service cuts and all the other Postal Service slashes dating back to Jan. 1. The legislation would also keep that old status quo in place through Jan. 1, 2021 or the end of the pandemic emergency, whichever is later. The vote was 257-150 with 26 Republicans joining all 231 Democrats present in voting for it.

The rest of the GOP voted “no.” And in an indication of right-wing hatred for the USPS, workers, and government, at least one such group, calling itself Freedom Works, made the roll call a litmus test for the election. For the right-wingers, voting “no,” and killing the USPS, would be marked as positive.

HR8015 also sends $25 billion to USPS to make up for revenues it lost when first-class mail volume crashed this year as a result of the Depression and forced closures needed to battle the coronavirus pandemic. DeJoy and the GOP claim the USPS will make it through the Nov. 3 election.

Postal unions, congressional Democrats, and the country at large say that’s a lie—a deliberate lie to, as D.C. demonstrators put it, throw the election to Trump by preventing ballots from being cast or counted.

While the House approved HR8015, the GOP-run Senate is another matter. Szeredy noted, however, that several Republicans, led by electorally endangered Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, are pushing their own postal rescue legislation. But the Senate won’t return to town until September.

Even before the House vote, Trump’s top advisers were already urging him to veto HR8015. They claimed it “seeks to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext for placing counterproductive restrictions on USPS’s already limited operational flexibilities.” Their statement to Trump pushed for privatization, again, and claimed, without proof, that the bill—not DeJoy—would slow down the mail.

DeJoy, a donor of millions of dollars to GOP candidates and committees and a donor and big-money “bundler” for Trump, goes along with the party line. Under prior pressure and under oath, he promised senators on Aug. 21 he’ll put future changes on hold till after the Nov. 3 election.

But DeJoy won’t undo past damage, he testified, and when the election’s over, he boldly declared he’ll start right up again. The damage that delays first-class mail, from food and medicines to ballots and bills, includes yanking the universal blue street-side mailboxes out of Democratic-run central cities. It also includes the continued slowdowns that have led to postal distribution centers filling up with rotting food and dead animals, as many farmers rely on the USPS to deliver chicks.

DeJoy is also removing 671 postal sorting machines from postal stations and distribution centers. Those machines automatically sort large first-class flat envelopes, such as those that carry ballots. Postal Service workers and their allies say that’s no coincidence.

Also not coincidentally, DeJoy wants drastic changes for the worse in working conditions for the 604,000 USPS workers, of whom more than 80% are unionized, 39% are people of color, 40% are female, and 16% are veterans, Davis said.

That combination of lagging deliveries of necessary food and medicine and the threat to the right to vote drew the ire of House Democrats in the unusual Saturday debate and balloting on HR8015. The GOP kept calling the measure a political stunt.

Moms Demand Action outside the Yorkville Post Office in New York City. | @HarCheung via Twitter

“This is malpractice,” retorted Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “If politicians could be sued for malpractice, then the [GOP] Senate Majority Leader would be sued…Mail has slowed down all across the country. Members, including Republican members, are getting calls. And what’s the response? ‘Oh, well, we just—we’ll just let it go. We’ll say we need to do better. We’ll deal with this another day.’ This is ridiculous.

“What the Trump administration wants [is] to run out the clock before the November elections, so trust in our democracy is undermined and they can act like there’s some conspiracy if he loses.”

Besides “this blatant voter suppression, Trump and DeJoy are hurting millions who depend on the Postal Service every day,” added Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a Painters Union member and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The victims are “seniors and veterans waiting for lifesaving medication, families waiting for paychecks, small businesses with delayed packages whose very survival is already threatened by COVID-19,” he added.

And former USPS Board Vice President David Williams told the Progressive Caucus two days before that “this chaos was manufactured” by DeJoy and Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Mnuchin had chaired a stacked Trump “postal reform” commission that advocated privatization of the USPS—and ripping up its union contracts with the Letter Carriers, the Postal Workers, and the Mail Handlers.

Pocan quoted Williams as testifying, “The Postal Service was fully prepared for mail voting until this administration manufactured an intentional crisis…Unfortunately, that shocked no one.”

Which is why the protests won’t stop. The Postal Workers have scheduled a second round for Tuesday, Aug. 25. Information about it, under #SaveThePostOffice Day of Action, is on the union’s website.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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