By Doug Nesbitt
On June 29, 1981, some 23,000 inside postal workers began what would become a long 42-day strike. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) stayed out and won 17 weeks of paid maternity leave at 93% of full wages.
CUPW’s breakthrough agreement sets a standard for other unions, although CUPW was simply following the lead of Quebec public sector unions which had secured 20 weeks paid maternity leave 18 months earlier. The 15 weeks of maternity benefits through Unemployment Insurance was deemed too little – a 40% pay cut for postal workers.
33-year-old postal clerk Claudette Leaker (not the person in the photo), was one of the 7,200 women on strike with CUPW. She walked the picket line in Ottawa with her 10-month-old Jessica:
We’re not asking for the moon. As it is now, a woman is almost penalized for having a baby. Most of us come back to work afterwards, so why should we lose our salaries while we’re at home having a baby?
CUPW president Jean-Claude Parrot explained that these benefits would cost two cents an hour – the pay rate for inside postal workers was reported at about $9.33/hour. The union reported that if postal workers took 20 weeks unpaid leave, they’d lose 40 percent of their salary.
What did the business class think?
While they publicly campaigned for strikebreaking legislation, Canada’s major business lobby groups opposed paid maternity leave. John Bulloch, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said:
Paid maternity leave is a totally ridiculous kind of demand to expect employers to pay. Those who want to have babies should pay for them.
La lutte continue…the struggle continues
As the union CUPW argued during the 1981 strike:
Ever since the Industrial Revolution when the home ceased to be the centre of production, women have been forced to bear the double load of wage labor as well as unpaid labor within the home. Despite the obvious injustice of having to perform a double role in society’s distribution of work, women have also traditionally suffered from discrimination at the workplace with respect to wages, working conditions and opportunities.
The conditions under which most women are permitted maternity leave is another example of the penalties that women workers experience as the result of their sex. Clearly child bearing remains as necessary as ever. No less clearly, the wages of working women are as necessary to them as to their male counterparts. Surely, if women are to have equal rights in the work force, they must not be financially penalized because they are the ones in our society who bear children. The time has come for fully paid maternity leave.
Quotes from the Ottawa Citizen, July 15 1981 and Winnipeg Sun, July 31 1981.
NO SCAB MAIL HERE!
Check out our history of the 1987 postal strikes