I hardly remember your face

By Carl Dow, Editor and Publisher

'I hardly remember your face'

A letter to my (inside) postal worker — Written in January 1976

Image: Detail of postal worker delivering mail in snow, image from CUPWI hardly remember your face — mostly, you’re that woman who reminds me of an aunt, or a grandmother, or the girl who used to babysit; or else you’re the man who makes me think of my cousin Sam, or my Goddaughter’s father, or the man who gave me a hand the other day when I had car trouble.

But even with all that, I always have trouble trying to remember your face.

I remember the first time I ever had a good look at you.

It was just a little more than 13 years ago in November 1962. I was working as a reporter for The Montreal Star, the afternoon shift it was, and Christmas mail was dancing in the city editor’s head.

With a photographer, I went to the Central Post Office on Windsor Street.

Inside I saw a jumbled mountain of Christmas parcels and more coming down the chutes in a seemingly never-ending flow.

I recall thinking that it was something of a modern marvel that those parcels would be delivered to each destination on time.

I remember, too, the mail sorters (weren’t they mostly women?) standing at long benches on a cement floor, fatigue on their faces as they expertly did their jobs.

I remember the high ceiling, the poor lighting and ventilation all so clearly — but I hardly remember your face.

The next time I remember meeting you was during the postal workers strike in 1965.

Then, I was working the desk at the Montreal bureau of Canadian Press. The strike was dragging on as they say, and I left the desk for a few hours one day to see if I could find a human-interest angle.

I found it, and I took photographs of you. Encyclopedia Britannica asked me to sign a release so that they could use one of my photographs of you.

And I still can hardly remember your face.

But I remember Willie Houle, a burly man who struck me as being both tough and sincere. This brave man was one of your leaders in 1965, and he told me how your union was organized — in small secret meetings with those among you who were even then sophisticated enough to understand the need for a union. Eventually these secret meetings grew to the point where the government was confronted by a union fait accompli. For more on this click Here.

He told me one of the key issues of the strike was to bring the post office out of the 19th century, and for example, one of the bargaining points was to get stools so those women who I saw sorting mail three years before, could get their feet off the floor.

Willie Houle said the main problem was that unfeeling bureaucrats in Ottawa were making decisions on reorganising the post office without concern for, or consultation with, the people who were doing the work.

I found it hard to believe the government and its post office appointees could be at once so stupid and so callous.

We met, during the next ten years from time to time — when I bought stamps, when I picked Christmas parcels sent to my children by their grandparents, when I made arrangements for second class mail registration for True North, and then, with each issue of True North, when I dumped into your always willing and cheerful hands these bags full of True North-in-wrapper for our mail subscribers.

Often, though I can hardly remember your face, I wonder at the vital work you do for our country and how much unsung you are.

There was a time when you were paid just about on par with firemen and policemen, who also perform a vital service for our society; then for a number of reasons you fell behind and now you want to catch up.

But hear the cries of outrage by those who have never seen your face and who don’t even care to.

They are inconvenienced!

And because they are inconvenienced, they would bring the wrath of God upon your faceless heads.

Your strike has caused many to fly their colours — ugly colours of ignorance and of class prejudice.

Take that Front Page Challenge show when Joe Davidson, your president, appeared — it had the usual cast with Peter Gzowski as guest performer.

In a demonstration of unbelievably bad manners they jeered and taunted your president and not once did one of them ask Mr. Davidson about the issues of the strike. Gordon Sinclair, Pierre Berton, and the rest exhibited one of the most stark examples of energetic stupidity I have ever seen.

They tried to make it appear as if Mr. Davidson was a high-priced, dictatorial union baron who was using you as pawns to his own person advantage.

Out of that incredible, but characteristic, Toronto middle-class arrogance that is drawn from a seemingly bottomless well of ignorance, Gzowski worked his insulting line on money.

How much money did Mr. Davidson make?  Gzowski challenged in a tone that was unforgivably rude.

Mr. Davidson asked Gzowski how much he made, and that stopped Gzowski.

But Mr. Davidson, who kept his good manners throughout the indecent attack, took the wind out of their sails when he said he made $13,000 a year.

Hardly the salary of a labour baron. I know that regardless of what Peter Gzowski and Pierre Berton will say that yours is a democratic union and the strike from beginning to end was conducted in the best traditions of democratic unions in Canada.

And then there was the carefully orchestrated media campaign that was launched against you — a deliberate campaign to demoralise and divide you and to turn public opinion against you.

A media campaign, which for pure design and viciousness, has been rarely seen in this country.

A campaign which underlined how completely the media in this country, operates on behalf of corporate interests.

A campaign which illustrated just how brutally the media will be used to get working people to turn on themselves and prevent them from standing together to fight for their own interests.

I hardly know your face, Postal Worker, but you have earned your place as heroes in our Canadian experiment.

You have performed a great service because, by standing firm as long as you did, you exposed the heart of a corporate structure that puts private profit before humanity.

You struck such terror, that it caused the keepers of the corporate faith to bare their fangs — rarely in the history of our country, have we seen the media used in such an obvious, deliberate, and cruel way against honest people.

Your strike made it clear that working people cannot rely on the corporate-owned media to do them justice; your strike made it clear that working people must have their own media if they hope to make all of society aware of the real reasons for their actions.

By voting 51.8 percent to return to work, you demonstrated that you had weathered the storm even though the odds had been so highly stacked against you; and this grudging retreat indicates that you are determined to be better prepared for the next round.

And when that time arrives, I promise you that I will know your face and that True North will be at your side as your public voice.

Finally, I would urge you, in this time of crisis, not to turn on yourselves with negative and destructive recriminations — that would play into the hands of the union of business and government that tried to destroy you.

Work to restore unity within your ranks, to develop a more comprehensive, reliable system of communications with the public, and the public will soon come to know your face and appreciate the vital service that you perform.

Yours fraternally

Carl Dow
Editor and Publisher
True North Communications