Year-round, the national celebration of the former military service of 19 million Americans reaches its climax each Veterans Day. On this occasion, there is no louder “thank you for your service” heard across the country than the expressions of gratitude that emanate from businesses large and small.
Men and women who enlisted in the military – or who were drafted before the suspension of conscription after the Vietnam War – suddenly become eligible for all kinds of special consumer discounts. As retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich, a military historian, observes, the “signal of corporate virtue” on November 11 takes the form of an “abundance of bargains: free coffee, free donuts, free pizza, washing free autos and up to 30 percent off assorted retail purchases.
What is conspicuously missing from this annual show of appreciation is what military veterans need more than a cheaper day at the mall. And it’s a broader understanding of and greater support for their role as providers of essential public services at the local, state and federal levels.
Two of the largest employers of men and women who have served in the military are the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which serves 9 million patients in the nation’s largest public health care system, and the US Postal Service (USPS), which delivers mail to 163 million homes and businesses. Both of these federal agencies have long been the target of Republican-backed efforts to downsize their staff, downsize their operations, and outsource their functions to favored private companies.
Under President Trump, privatization received a strong push from high-level politicians at the VA and USPS who were openly hostile to their own agency’s official mission. Unfortunately, President Biden has yet to make the necessary changes to the pro-privatization policies or leadership personnel his administration inherited from Trump.
As a result, federal workers — including many veterans — are still mobilizing at both the VA and the USPS to defend jobs and services that benefit all Americans. Their ongoing alliances with other labor and community groups are key to defeating bipartisan assaults on two bastions of public supply that hardly need to be replaced by private sector alternatives.
A CULTURE OF SOLIDARITY
At VA hospitals and clinics nationwide, about a third of the 300,000 unionized staff members are veterans themselves, including many medical professionals, office workers, custodial staff and other staff. Support. As we describe in a new book called Our veteransthis creates a unique culture of empathy and solidarity between providers and patients, whose service-related physical and mental health problems often require highly specialized treatment.
Despite his 2020 presidential campaign pledge never to ‘defund’ or ‘dismantle’ this high-quality health care system, Joe Biden appointed a VA secretary, Denis McDonough, who strayed little from the path of his Republican predecessor. .
Despite pleas from VA union members, McDonough won’t limit outsourcing that could soon divert half of his agency’s $100 billion-a-year health care budget to reimbursing for-profit hospital chains and practices medical. Earlier this year, he even recommended that dozens of VA facilities be closed and their patients treated, at higher public expense, by the private health care sector.
The proposal sparked strong grassroots resistance from VA caregivers, their patients, some veterans groups, and elected officials in cities and states threatened with cuts in medical services. Members of the American Federation of Government Employees, National Nurses United and other VA unions held rallies, press conferences and picket lines demanding improvements in staffing and infrastructure in VA, not layoffs and its dismantling.
Responding to pressure from voters, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee declined to confirm White House nominees to a VA facilities closure commission that was set to approve pro proposals. – Privatization of McDonough.
Veterans who belong to the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers are hoping for similar success in derailing the latest postal service restructuring plan unveiled by Louis DeJoy, a controversial holdover from the Trump administration. DeJoy is a $110 million right-wing North Carolina businessman who left his logistics company to become postmaster general after donating millions to Trump and other Republicans conservatives.
Postal workers have been jousting with DeJoy since he received his marching orders from a White House task force created by Trump. This Republican body has called for massive contracting out of USPS services, closing many post offices, reducing delivery days, raising prices, and eliminating collective bargaining by a workforce made up of nearly a quarter of African Americans and including more than 110,000 veterans.
The Trump administration’s goal was to force the USPS into bankruptcy so it could be auctioned off to private companies, putting 500,000 jobs at risk, while conveniently disrupting the census and mail-in ballot for President.
NEW THREAT TO LETTER FACTORS
Coming together as the Save the Post Office Coalition, members of 300 advocacy groups staged successful protests against DeJoy’s attempt to cut service and slow mail delivery in the election year. After Democrats regained control of the White House and Senate, Congress passed the Postal Service Reform Act, which put the agency on a stronger financial footing.
But the USPS is formally independent of the executive branch, so its top official serves at the whim of a nine-member board of governors and cannot be removed by the president like a cabinet member. Despite growing calls for DeJoy to step down, he’s still in office under the Biden administration, which has yet to fill board vacancies with enough appointees (or the right guy) to fire the company. majority appointee by Trump.
Meanwhile, the latest manifestation of DeJoy’s 10-year consolidation plan is a massive change in mail sorting and delivery that will roll out in February and initially affect 200 facilities nationwide. Instead of sorting mail at neighborhood post offices, tens of thousands of mail carriers will be forced to travel back and forth to large, centralized regional sorting centers located far from their current delivery routes.
Labor critics point out that poor working conditions, such as understaffing and long hours, are already pushing many factors into early retirement; the retention rate for new hires is 30%, a figure likely to drop further if the job soon involves longer and more expensive commutes. Post offices that lose their “back-end” delivery units will inevitably have fewer clerks and shorter retail hours, and then become candidates for closure. The affected jobs will be among the 50,000 positions DeJoy is seeking to eliminate.
PUBLIC MEETING THIS THURSDAY
A network of activists called Communities and Postal Workers United are urging all Postal Service supporters to sign petitions protesting the postman removal, hold town hall meetings against it, and speak out at the Postal Board’s upcoming national meeting. of Governors on November 10. (To comment virtually or in person on DeJoy’s plan, sign up here.)
Many speakers will no doubt highlight the negative economic impact on postal workers and the communities they serve, particularly in rural areas. On the eve of Veterans Day, some will also remind the council that military veterans, now wearing Postal Service uniforms, will be among the first victims of yet another civil service restructuring plan inherited from Trump but still ongoing under Joe Biden’s watch, such as the parallel weakening of the VA.
Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon are NewsGuild/CWA members and authors of Our veterans: winners, losers, friends and enemies on the new ground of Veterans Affairs. Published by Duke University Press, the book describes the working community’s parallel campaigns against the privatization of veterans’ health care and mail delivery in the United States. They can be contacted at Lsupport[at]aol[dot]com.