The selling off of the U.S. Postal Service properties is the latest example of the movement to corporatize what’s left of the public sector. It comes in a long line of privatization efforts — from shrinking the public school system to expanding the prison system to contracting out the U.S. military. UC students have firsthand experience of what this means. If the trend continues, it won’t be long before UC Berkeley carves a corporate logo on Founders’ Rock.
The proposed sale of the nearly century-old Downtown Berkeley Main Post Office is yet another close-to-home example of the public surrender to corporate America. Berkeley’s is just one of hundreds of post offices now up for sale around the country, albeit exceptional in its design.
Modeled on the early Renaissance Foundling Hospital in Florence, the Main Post Office is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like many other public buildings around the nation, it is adorned with art commissioned by the New Deal, a decade-long federal program that put millions to work during the Great Depression, including artists, writers, musicians and actors. The taxes of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents paid for those artworks, as well as the building and its land. They belong to all of us.
The sale of the Downtown Berkeley post office else makes no fiscal sense for the U.S. Postal Service, but it does for a real estate broker. Why would any business give up free space in a beautiful Downtown building to rent another commercial space nearby?
Enter the world’s largest real estate firm, CB Richard Ellis, which stands to profit handsomely through its exclusive contract to sell post offices nationwide. CBRE recommends to the Postal Service which buildings it should sell. Perhaps not coincidentally, many those up for sale are in the nation’s most expensive real estate markets.
Like Social Security, the Postal Service does not contribute to the federal deficit, since its budget is independent of the federal budget. In 2006, Congress manufactured the Postal Service’s deficit by requiring it to prefund future retirees’ health benefits for 75 years over a 10-year period. This means postal workers unborn must have their benefits paid for now. No other public or private agency is required to do this. The intent of Congress appears to be to so throttle the Postal Service as to kill it.
Granted, postal volume has decreased due to email and the depressed economy. However, the Postal Service still moves more than 150 billion pieces of mail each year — hardly the image of a dead institution. This is not to deny that the Postal Service must change to compete in the digital age, but millions of Americans still depend on the Postal Service.
Congress and Postal Service management blame the Internet and the budget deficit for dismantling the Postal Service and killing thousands of living-wage jobs. In reality, Americans are being distracted from the theft of what they paid for and own. After all, the Postal Service is one of the few government agencies authorized by a Constitution that nowhere mentions corporations.
Those ideologically opposed to the public sector and who hope to profit from its demise are killing it incrementally — an increase in fees, a reduction in service, the sale of a public building that represents civic life. Advocating the continuation of the service for which the Main Post Office was designed is part of a national struggle to defend our common heritage.
That inheritance is being stolen before our eyes. Learn more by going to savethepostoffice.com, and join the growing national grassroots fight to stop service cutbacks and preserve living-wage postal jobs for our communities.
Harvey Smith is president of the National New Deal Preservation Association and an organizer for the Committee to Save the Berkeley Main Post Office.