Save the USPS, Defend Democracy

The USPS is under assault at the very moment we need a functioning postal service to hold a free and fair election. We can defend electoral democracy by defending the post office.

So many basic democratic rights, including voting, were won through fierce working-class struggle. (Dia Dipasupil / Getty Images)

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is all the rage. A combination of the pandemic, the heightened importance of mail-in voting, and massive delivery delays has pushed the post office into the news in a way not seen since the nationwide postal strike in 1970. Even teenagers are brandishing the USPS as a weapon in the culture wars, with memes championing postal workers as the “real boys in blue.”

Socialists and progressives are correct to use this moment to highlight the value of the postal service beyond the 2020 presidential election. The Trump administration’s recent attacks are part of a broader effort to privatize a beloved universal service and destroy over six hundred thousand living wage union jobs in the process. Postal service employment has been especially crucial in helping black workers, women workers, and veterans achieve some economic stability and dignity.

Still, we shouldn’t overlook the urgency of safeguarding the election and our democratic rights. Electoral democracy, especially in the United States, is severely limited in delivering substantive change. But we should never forget that so many basic democratic rights, including voting, were won through fierce working-class struggle. There is no contradiction in protecting these rights as we try to deepen and expand democracy into all areas of life.

And on a practical level, electoral politics will play an important role in socialist strategy in the coming years. Electing working-class fighters like Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, and the five New York City Democratic Socialists of America state legislature candidates — just to name a few — helps keep working-class issues on the political agenda and build organizational capacity. Especially in districts outside of urban enclaves, winning these campaigns will require mobilizing large swaths of disaffected voters and inspiring them to believe that fundamental change is possible. This will be impossible if people are denied basic voting rights or given cause for cynicism about whether their vote really counts.

Joe Biden is a weak and uninspiring candidate. The long list of his crimes and follies has been well-documented. However, there are still clear stakes in this election. We don’t need to echo the Democratic National Committee’s vague talking points about lack of decency to convey the dangers of four more years of Donald Trump.

In Trump’s first term we saw vicious attacks on federal workers, the gutting of the National Labor Relations Board, tax cuts for the rich, and the further weakening of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Campaign promises such as a massive infrastructure project, minimum wage hike, and an overhaul of the health care system have gone unfulfilled. While Trump doesn’t articulate a future vision very cogently, he’s made clear that the USPS and Social Security are in his sights. Booting Trump from office will require a legitimate election and a functioning postal system.

During a global pandemic, people should obviously be able to vote by mail. Failure to ensure everyone has this option is nothing less than voter suppression and an assault on public health. Despite consistent claims that mail-in voting will lead to widescale election fraud, the Trump campaign could not produce any convincing evidence when asked to do so by a federal judge.

On the other hand, there is evidence that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recent policy changes have caused huge mail delays across the country. While the removal of sorting machines and mail collection boxes has received lots of (justified) attention, work rule changes have had an even bigger impact on delays. DeJoy drastically cut overtime and post office hours. In an unprecedented move, he has also required all letter carriers to leave for their routes on time even if mail sorting isn’t complete.

DeJoy is selling these changes as a way to bring down costs and improve efficiency. But they should be seen as another iteration of a familiar right-wing strategy: degrade the quality of a service, turn the public against it, and then privatize. Despite promises from DeJoy that he would delay these changes until after the election, postal workers on the ground say the mail delays continue. It’s not clear whether DeJoy will follow through on his vow, let alone reverse the measures he’s already put in place.

More encouragingly, there’s been mass resistance to DeJoy’s changes. Hundreds of rallies have been held in support of the USPS, and in some areas postal workers are refusing to let mail delays happen.

We have an opportunity to leverage these budding coalitions to mount larger fights to expand the postal service in the years to come. But for now, we can’t let a corporate oligarch steal this election. Save the post office, save living wage jobs, and save our democracy.