Lets hope the U.S. postal system never gets privatized.
James Meek -- In the Sorting Office
Every week Dutch households and businesses are visited by postmen and postwomen from four different companies. There are the ‘orange’ postmen of the privatised Dutch mail company, trading as TNT Post but about to change their name to PostNL; the ‘blue’ postmen of Sandd, a private Dutch firm; the ‘yellow’ postmen of Selekt, owned by Deutsche Post/DHL; and the ‘half-orange’ postmen of Netwerk VSP, set up by TNT to compete cannibalistically against itself by using casual labour that is cheaper than its own (unionised) workforce. TNT delivers six days a week, Sandd and Selekt two, and VSP one. From the point of view of an ardent free-marketeer, this sounds like healthy competition. Curiously, however, none of the competitors is prospering. TNT is being forced by the hedge funds and other transnational shareholders who control its destiny to split up, even as it tries to beautify its bottom line by replacing reasonably paid jobs with badly paid ones. Deutsche Post is pulling out of the Netherlands and selling Selekt to Sandd – a company that has never made a profit.
. . .
Somewhere in the Netherlands a postwoman is in trouble. Bad health, snow and ice and a degree of chaos in her personal life have left her months behind on her deliveries. She rents a privatised ex-council flat with her partner and so many crates of mail have built up in the hallway that it’s getting hard to move around. Twice a week one of the private mail companies she works for, Selektmail, drops off three or four crates of letters, magazines and catalogues. She sorts and delivers the fresh crates but the winter backlog is tough to clear. She thinks her employers are getting suspicious. I counted 62 full mail crates stacked up in the hall when I visited recently. There was a narrow passageway between the wall of crates and her personal pile of stuff: banana boxes, a disused bead curtain, a mop bucket. One of the crates has crept into the study, where the postwoman’s computer rears up out of her own archival heaps of newspapers and magazines. Should these two streams of paper merge they would not be easily separated. The postwoman hasn’t given up. She had a similar problem with the other private mail company she works for, Sandd, a few years back. ‘When I began at Sandd in 2006 I delivered about 14 boxes of mail every time,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t cope and at Christmas 2006 I had about 90 of these boxes in the house. By New Year’s Day we had 97. There were even boxes in the toilet.’ The postwoman is paid a pittance to deliver corporate mail. She hasn’t done her job well, yet so few people have complained about missed deliveries that she hasn’t been found out.
Across the world, postal services are being altered like this: optimised to deliver the maximum amount of unwanted mail at the minimum cost to businesses. In the internet age private citizens are sending less mail than they used to, but that’s only part of the story of postal decline. The price of driving down the cost of bulk mailing for a handful of big organisations is being paid for by the replacement of decently paid postmen with casual labour and the erosion of daily deliveries.
. . .