Extreme times require extreme measures. In the United States, hunger strikes are rarely seen, but Post Office employees have about had it with measures passed by Congress that are slowly starving the United States Postal Service. On Monday, ten current and retired workers began a four-day hunger strike that will end on Thursday in front of the postal service headquarters. There, they hope to meet with Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe.
The motivation for the hunger strike can be found in the National Call to Action put out by the Community and Postal Workers United organization. The call makes it evident just how outrageous the treatment of the USPS has been. It says, “America’s Postal Service is being starved to death. A 2006 Congressional mandate forces the USPS to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. 10% of the postal budget, $5.5 billion per year, goes to pre-fund benefits for people who aren’t even born yet. Not only would the postal service have been profitable without the mandate, the USPS has also over paid tens of billions into two pension funds.”
These outrageous demands, unheard of in any other sector, are an obvious effort by Congress to eliminate a public service in order to privatize mail delivery. The Postmaster General is cooperating by proposing cuts in services, the closure of postal facilities, and the elimination of thousands of jobs. The workers are trying to highlight these appalling actions to the public by shaming Congress and denouncing the Postmaster General’s initiatives. They want the pre-fund mandate lifted and the over-payments to pension funds refunded.
Will the hunger strike work? Eighty years ago, it worked for Mahatma Gandhi, who undertook a “fast unto death” for six days, in order to stand up to British colonialists on behalf of the “untouchables”—the lowest class in India’s once-rigid caste system. Over a 16-year period, Gandhi continued to use fasts as a primary means of civil disobedience, aware that the concern of the public for his well-being would force the British government to make concessions. More than concessions, Gandhi’s actions contributed to the independence of India.
If the Indians could do all that, then why wouldn’t the American public support the push for fairness by postal employees? After all, aren’t we more civilized than a bunch of colonialists?