By Nancy Churchill
I found this seminal piece online, about historical efforts to privatize the U.S. Post Office: “Postal system for sale? Please say it ain’t so” by “Working Class Heroes,” Daily Kos (4/1/12). Congress had passed the Postal Reform Act of 2006 with “a requirement that the USPS ‘pre-fund’ retiree health benefits for the next 75 years by 2015. That’s right, seventy five years. Suddenly, the USPS was forced to pay the future health insurance benefits of people who were not even born yet, much less employed by the USPS.”
Enter the Great Recession of 2008, and USPS struggled to fulfill this mandate that no other business or entity is expected to endure. This struggle was, of course, the point.
The solution? “[T]he USPS Board of Governors … actually submitted a plan to Congress to remedy the problem by breaking legitimately negotiated labor agreements, changing employee health benefit plans, and altering employee retirement plans.” That is, break voluntary contracts, the bedrock of corporate libertarianism’s entire “free market” ideology.
This sudden willingness to break contracts with employees and pensioners is not a bug of today’s so-called “free market,” it’s its main feature.
And why not? Was the world created for the people, or the 1 percent? Consider this, from Robert Koehler at the Huffington Post, in “The Oxymoron of Peace”: “I mean, it was never real. Five centuries of European colonialism and global culture-trashing, and the remaking of the world in the economic interests of competing empires, cannot be undone by a single institution and a cluster of lofty ideals.
“As Savio notes in an essay called ‘Ever Wondered Why the World Is a Mess?’: ‘The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities.’
“And after the colonial era collapsed, these carved-out political entities, defining swatches of territory without any history of national identity, suddenly became the Third World and floundered in disarray. ‘. . . it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions.'”
Today’s “competing empires” are trans-national corporations, and the people of all nations are nothing more to them than people have ever been to this class: grist for their financial mills. Today’s route to power, using the “rules of democracy” on behalf of the 1 percent, is to trash contracts with unions, privatize Social Security and public education, eliminate the EPA, slash “entitlements” like food stamps that sustain people when their worlds collapse after lucrative contracts are nullified, and they’re left with nothing.
Working Class Heroes concludes: “I now find myself a citizen in a country that I hardly recognize. It is like a nightmare to me. We will not stop tax breaks and incentives for Big Oil. We will not raise taxes on the rich and filthy rich. We will break contracts. Contracts! The backbone of American and International business; of life and the way we live it. Buy a car, sign a contract. Buy a house, sign a contract. Get a cell phone number, sign a contract! And now there are those involved in my government who would void contracts rather than attempt to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Did you ever imagine the job of a letter carrier? A walk in the park? Some days. Some days it’s -20*, some days the radio is broadcasting heat warnings; in all of these your mail gets delivered. And our government is set to screw these people.” These people are us.
Nothing illustrates the misuse of democracy as a path to power for the 1 percent better than the scores of presidential hopefuls dancing shamelessly for their dollars.
It’s not too late. We can put a stop to it. We have electoral choices. A new social democracy is possible, if We the People only have the will.