The struggle for maternity leave by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) serves as a particularly powerful lesson on how Canadians won key social benefits. The Treasury Board of Canada, with whom CUPW was negotiating, as well as the government was worried about the spillover effects. If Canada Post agreed to paid maternity leave, then other government departments, and even the private sector, would be forced to follow suit.
With negotiations going nowhere, CUPW went out on strike on June 29th, 1981. Their demands were multifaceted, but maternity leave was singled out by capital, media, government, and the public. In turn, maternity leave was deemed egregious, unnecessary, and even greedy. Risking it all, postal workers and their allies fought for forty-two days and won. Their victory reverberated across Canadian society. Other unions quickly followed suit and, before long, the government institutionalized and expanded maternity leave to equalize the playing field. What started out as a gain for postal workers quickly turned into a gain for all Canadian women.
It’s important to recognize the spirited efforts of CUPW members during the strike to illuminate that progress doesn’t happen without struggle and courage. But it’s even more critical to shed light on how the 1981 strike was demonized. This is in stark contrast to how maternity leave is presented today – a fundamental right to be enjoyed by all Canadians. Read more at https://activehistory.ca/2018/11/cupw1981/
Toronto Local past president Jane Marsh’s strike story is at: https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/raising-the-floor