President Trump's plans to steal the election took an alarming turn with the efforts of his lackey, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, to destroy the Post Office's ability to deliver timely mail-in ballots in the guise of cost-cutting “reforms.” This effort is one more indication of how far Trump and his Republican accomplices are willing to go to use his presidency as a weapon for increasing authoritarianism and imposing minority control over the government. But Trump overstepped; the Postal Service is a widely popular institution that people depend on. The opportunity presented by Trump’s blunder should be seized, along with all the other reasons why millions are outraged by him, to mobilize the greatest possible struggle against all of the Republicans’ moves to rig the election.
DeJoy’s threat is very real, particularly since his schemes have to a large extent already been implemented. A rising level of cuts at the Post Office have been capped by the dismantling of sorting machines. Estimates vary, but the most conservative ones put the number at well over 600. These machines allow first class mail to be sorted at a far faster rate than the manual method of decades ago.
The letter-sorting scandal has been combined with a variety of other actions that have left piles of mail at various stations: the removal of mail boxes; the canceling of overtime; the cutting back of hours at some branches; a mandate for trucks to depart stations early even if they are empty. These are all measures to improve "efficiency," we are told with a straight face. Their effect is worsened because the Post Office is already reeling from the effects of Covid19. (See abc7chicago.com, “USPS workers concerned agency isn't doing enough to protect essential workers from COVID-19”)
These crippling acts are obviously a deliberate effort to prevent votes from being counted, in line with Trump's openly stated purpose of denying the validity of mail-in ballots. Postal voting is expected to favor presidential candidate Joe Biden and other Democrats. This is only one aspect of a series of moves and threats by Trump to rig the election or stay in office even if he loses the vote. It is thus a powerful threat to the democratic rights that still exist in the increasingly oppressive capitalist system we live under.
Sabotaging the November vote is the most acute issue, but Trump and the Republicans’ agenda also includes the destruction of the Post Office as we know it. Through privatization and the imposition of profit metrics, they hope to shred union contracts, throw out much of the workforce (many of whom are people of color), and hand out bonanzas to Trump allies and other capitalists looking for a quick buck.
Toward that end, throwing wrenches into postal operations makes the Post Office appear dysfunctional and downgrades the high public opinion of the Service – thus greasing the wheels for their plans. Republicans like to cite the Post Office’s debt as an indication of incompetent management that needs to be replaced by a leadership dedicated to turning a profit.
But the Republicans’ complaints that the Postal Service doesn’t make a profit are ridiculous. Like many government agencies, the Postal Service wasn’t created to produce profits. In fact, its major debts are the result of bizarre legislation passed years ago that required it to maintain pension fund accounts far in excess of its obligations and far surpassing those of any other agency.
The stage was set for DeJoy’s actions in the early winter when Trump's point man, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, instigated a search for a suitable lackey for the position of Postmaster General. From the beginning the process was shady: the search was conducted behind the backs of the Democrats on the postal Board of Governors, and the man they selected had not undergone the usual career advancement through the Post Office.
DeJoy was rather a top Trump fund-raiser whose companies have a record of racial and sexual harassment, vicious anti-unionism and horrid working conditions. On top of that, he has a clear conflict of interest: he has investments in companies competing with the Post Office. And he was recently exposed as having broken the law to funnel extra cash to Republican election campaigns.
But political cronyism, corruption and raw hostility to labor were not obstacles to his selection – they were requirements. DeJoy immediately complied with his bosses' wishes, instituting or deepening existing cuts in operations. And in his testimony in the House of Representatives, he has made clear he has no intention of reversing the cuts.
So a fight to stop Trump and DeJoy is needed both to defend voting rights and to defend postal workers and to save the service the institution provides. The Post Office is notorious for its bureaucratic, military-style culture and the psychological stress on its workers. Managers are generally hateful and stupid. Patronage is rampant. What benefits and protections exist are a result of reforms largely forced by the great postal wildcat strike of 1970. Postal workers do have union and civil service protections. These required the service to undergo automation – keyed on the type of sorting machines now being dismantled – without resorting to mass layoffs but rather through attrition and early retirements.
The concept that profit should be the measure of the postal service’s success flies in the face of the purpose of an institution that is supposed to be a public service. Delivery of the mail is cheap and highly efficient by world standards, and that means something for the mass of people who have seen declines in so many other aspects of their lives. This is particularly important in regards to first class mail that the Post Office has a monopoly on. And even though rural mail delivery is certainly inefficient, it is an important and cheap service nonetheless that is not otherwise easily available for those dependent on its delivery of medications and checks.
What enrages Trump and his ilk is not that the Post Office doesn't work; it's that despite all its problems, it does. That reality gets in the way of reactionary plans to destroy it, but they still see it as a dreaded symbol of socialism. Its role as a public service is what once led Vladimir Lenin to call the postal service “an example of the socialist economic system” even though it is “a business organized on the lines of state-capitalist monopoly.” (The State and Revolution, Chapter 3.)
It is indeed an institution under capitalism; it serves the system and makes use of the same type of management/labor relations as private corporations. Nevertheless it is a socialized industry that indirectly points to how the economic system could be run without billionaires and stock markets. In important ways it resembles the public schools, public hospitals and programs like Social Security. It is no accident that the same privateers who want to destroy the Postal Service also want to cut down those popular programs.
These attacks have not gone without a response from postal workers themselves. Perhaps most inspiring was the reinstalling of sorting machines by workers in Washington state against management's wishes. Workers at other facilities attempted similar actions. There have been rallies, pickets and legislative call-ins by local and national union leaders, principally from the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) – the union of the clerk craft. There has also been picketing of DeJoy's Washington apartment and mansion in Greensboro, N.C. Though these actions were not union-organized, they were good tactics and can be used on many other class enemies.
While the APWU protests were certainly necessary, they have been scattered and did not muster the kind of participation and enthusiasm that will be needed for the struggle ahead. (They did make for good photo ops so that APWU leaders could claim they were doing something). At least the APWU is making some noise – more than the leaders of the Mail Handlers and particularly the National Association of Letter Carriers have offered. But with management and the postal security service on the alert, it is unrealistic to expect many if any successful repeats of the Washington action – especially with the threat of firings very real. Given that strikes are illegal and unlikely to be undertaken by the ranks, an action protesting cuts that actually slows production might suit the Trumpists just fine.
The real anger shown by postal union leaders at this time should fool no one that they have not behaved just like the union bureaucracy in collaborating with capitalist politicians (especially the Democrats) to prevent a real fightback against the decades-long capitalist offensive. As a result, cuts in wages, social services and jobs got enacted. Cuts have been undertaken and privatization measures implemented under Democratic as well as Republican-controlled Boards of Governors. Lest people have illusions, it should be noted that the Democrats are the organized political tool of a large wing of the capitalist party; as such they have not simply diverted workers and people of color from mass struggles but actively prosecuted the neoliberal strategy of cutbacks, privatization corporate buyouts, welfare cuts, etc. that have furthered the immiseration of tens of millions.
Nonetheless, the Democratic politicians and labor leaders are putting forward demands that correspond to popular interests in the immediate circumstances. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a union-supported bill to reverse the DeJoy cuts and provide $25 billion in emergency aid to the Post Office. Moreover, the Democrats are for defending the right to vote as part of their effort to get Trump and his party lackeys out of office. These measures all demand support.
But putting forward demands is one thing and waging a real fight for them is another. The majority of the Republican Party is prepared to back Trump's authoritarian and illegal moves, and the far right is gearing up for a serious fight in the streets to get their way in the election. Meanwhile, the pandemic is raging and the economy is close to cratering: unemployment is massive and millions are threatened with being evicted and thrown onto the streets. The Congressional battles have limited aims, particularly as the Senate is stacked against much of the needed legislation. Mass and militant mobilization is sorely needed.
The coming weeks are the best, in fact the essential time, for such action. It is the run-up to the election, in which working-class and oppressed people’s interests are directly threatened. Trump, must be defeated, even though the only alternative is also a class enemy but a less immediate threat, Joe Biden. Defending the Post Office is a demand that, unlike others associated with anti-Trump forces, is relatively popular with Trump's base. (It's no accident that a good number of Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for the Democratic package).
The situation demands a truly mass mobilization that fights for all the urgent concerns that have come to a head: the right to vote, a fair election, ending police brutality (where Democratic governments particularly share responsibility), seriously countering the pandemic, taking steps to defend masses from economic disaster – along with defending the Postal Service and other public services. Beyond that looms the possibility of Trump refusing to leave office. We are not simply discussing a means to drum up the vote against Trump; we also see mass mobilization as necessary for activating people for a more general and longer-lasting defense of their rights against a future Democratic administration as well.
The ongoing uprising against racist policing shows the potential for massive mobilizations of protest. Under other circumstances, a single march on Washington could be expected to have the greatest impact by gathering the greatest possible number of protesters in one place. Pandemic conditions, however, mean that many people would understandably avoid traveling a long distance to protest. Therefore, we think workers should fight for the best course of action, which would be carefully prepared mass protests in cities nationwide.
Because the attacks on the Postal Service are also attacks on postal workers, the unions that organize them and the labor movement in general are best placed to call for and mobilize mass protest. But a big fight will have to be put up against the passivity of their leaderships. And the call for mass protest should also be put to every organization claiming to defend democracy and represent working-class and oppressed people.
The demand for mass action should also be placed on the Democratic Party, which could provide important resources for such an effort: funds, publicity, organizational muscle, etc. The Democratic Party leaders are committed to the stability and existence of capitalism and so fear to allow, much less encourage, mass mobilizations that could show the working class the power it has to force major changes. Placing demands on the Democrats that every worker and oppressed person can see are necessary for our well-being and survival will expose them, if they refuse to act, as the class enemies they truly are. Mass mobilizations led by the most oppressed and endangered sections of the working class could advance the cause of a genuine working-class party that doesn’t allow the interests of the capitalist system to hold it back.
Donald Trump and his cronies are a particularly grotesque section of the capitalist class. But Trumpism at bottom is a more aggressive expression of the overall capitalist drive to squeeze more profits from workers and divide potential allies through racism, sexism and anti-immigrant hysteria. Whatever Trump's fate in the coming election, the working class and its allies will need to prepare a more systematic defense to counter even more vicious measures by the capitalists and far-right reactionaries. Recruiting and cohering a revolutionary party leadership from the most conscious working-class activists for this task would be a prime accomplishment of the struggles that have erupted and will continue to erupt in the future.