Community and Solidarity – How Postal Workers Keep Fighting to Improve Lives.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) represents about 60,000 workers across the country, most of whom work for Canada Post. We also represent cleaners, couriers, drivers, vehicle mechanics, warehouse workers, printers, emergency medical dispatchers and other workers in the private sector. 

We know that for workers to thrive, we must end systemic racism and dismantle the systems of oppression that keep Black and other racialized workers from reaching their full potential. We are committed to building an anti-racist, reconciliation-based workplace, Union, and world. Our work, campaigns, and activism are centred on equity and fairness for all. For Black History Month, CUPW has honoured, Albert Jackson, the first Black postal worker, who made it possible for so many of us to be a part of this Union. We also highlight the various tools and campaigns we are using to build stronger workplaces and more equitable communities.

The First Black Postal Worker

On May 17, 1882, Albert Jackson reported to his first day of work, ready to deliver the mail at what is now known as Canada Post. But he encountered one problem. His fellow White co-workers wouldn’t train him to do his job – because he was Black. He was told that the colour of his skin made him unsuitable to deliver the mail to his fellow Canadians.

This caused an uproar in the city of Toronto, where Jackson resided. The Black community was galvanized into action to help the former child slave who had escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad. For weeks, the case of the Black mailman was hotly debated in city newspapers, and the issue became contentious enough to garner the attention of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, who intervened. Two days after this intervention, Albert Jackson was out delivering the mail, which he did until his death in 1918.  

The story of Albert Jackson was uncovered in 2012. Since then, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has made sure to tell the story of the first Black postal worker as often as we can. We’ve produced commemorative posters and bulletins, successfully lobbied for the creation of a memorial stamp, supported the naming of Albert Jackson Lane in the neighbourhood where he lived, and developed a play based on his life and struggles. 

We do this to remember Albert Jackson and his contribution to the Black community in Canada and remind us that the work isn’t over and that it is up to us to continue his legacy.

A Legacy Worth Following

Anti-Black racism is rooted in our Canadian institutions, including the post office. It’s also embedded in our unions, but stories like Albert Jackson’s inspire us to keep fighting for a better world. 

Albert Jackson’s story is not just about the struggle against racism; it’s also a struggle for dignity, respect – and fairness in the workplace for all. It’s about the importance of community coming together to fight inequality. These are the values that CUPW is committed to fighting for every single day. 

Albert Jackson may have been the first Black postal worker, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Today, work floors in post offices across the country are filled with Black and other racialized workers. More Black and racialized workers mean a more diverse CUPW membership, but the diversity on our work floors has not yet translated to leadership positions within the Union. Too many decision-making bodies within the Union still don’t look like the workers. But we are working towards change, channelling our time, energy, and advocacy to make our Union more inclusive. 

In 2019, Sister Jan Simpson, a postal worker and union activist for over three decades, was elected National President of CUPW. She became the first Black woman to lead a national union in Canada. Her election was the first, but it will not be the last.  

While it’s important to constantly improve equality in the workplace, it’s also crucial to look back and honour the people who have struggled before us. Many of us realize that without Albert Jackson and the many other Albert Jacksons, whose stories have yet to be uncovered and told, we would not have had the opportunity to hold the position we do within CUPW and the broader society.

Community Power

Postal workers are found in every corner of the country. We are members of the community, and we have taken on the responsibility of being agents of change. We know we can do more than deliver your mail and parcels. For the last decade, we have advocated for a reimagined post office that fights climate change and delivers new services to communities. It’s called Delivering Community Power

Canada Post isn’t just a humble mail service; it’s our country’s largest logistics, transportation, and retail network. With an unparalleled presence in communities big and small, postal workers are already set up to serve every corner of the country. One of the major tenets of our reimagined post office is elder check-in services, which would allow seniors to remain at home for longer. The crisis in our long-term care homes has shone a light on the need for better support for seniors. Living at home ensures that seniors can continue to make decisions about their daily lives and remain connected to their social networks. Door-to-door postal workers are already watchful of signs that something isn’t quite right, so allotting extra time on their route to check in on seniors would be an extension of a service we already provide.

Postal workers could also become a point of contact between seniors and healthcare or social services when the need arises. Postal workers are already trusted and reliable members of our communities. Why not leverage tens of thousands of postal workers to provide further support to seniors?

Delivering Community Power also calls for a return to postal banking. While Canada’s six largest banks earn billions in profits, they continue to abandon rural communities by closing bank branches because of low-profit margins. Today, many rural communities have post offices but no banks or credit unions. And few Indigenous communities are served by local bank branches. Postal banking is relatively straightforward. Like the big banks you’re used to, post offices would provide everyday financial services like chequing and savings accounts, loans and insurance.

Hundreds of thousands of low-income Canadians don’t have bank accounts at all, and about two million Canadians rely on predatory payday lenders for basic financial services. By offering banking services through its network of around 6,000 postal outlets overnight, Canada could become the most accessible bank in the country. 

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Negotiating for Better

Collective bargaining is a right enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. CUPW members must negotiate with numerous employers; we know how difficult it can be. CUPW members have always used their bargaining power to improve not only their lives but also the lives of all workers. Postal workers have also fought to improve the postal service to help all communities. 

Our first major strike was an illegal strike that won the right to collective bargaining for government employees. In 1981, postal workers took to the streets to fight for maternity leave, which paved the way for paid maternity leave in Canada. 

Over the last few years, workers have faced unprecedented challenges. Costs have gone up while wages have stagnated, good union jobs are being lost through the gigification of work, workers are struggling to make ends meet, and our right to free and fair collective bargaining and our right to strike has been challenged by governments. CUPW is currently bargaining with the employer for our two largest bargaining units – Urban and Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers. As always, we will be negotiating to improve the lives of not only postal workers but all workers.

A Fight for Everyone

This Black History Month, when we honour people like Albert Jackson, we encourage everyone to reflect on their commitment to do their part to end racism, discrimination, and injustice in their workplaces, unions, governments, and communities. 

Albert fought for all of us, and in his honour, we will continue his legacy by fighting for a more just society. 

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