NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Labor Day Weekend is a great time to honor the contributions of ordinary working people. This Labor Day in Connecticut we honor the memory of Paul C. Neal who died suddenly on August 2, one month before his 64th birthday.
Paul was a letter carrier and head trustee of his union local, NALC Merged Branch 86. At the memorial celebrating his life, in addition to many wonderful stories from his family, his union president and a minister who lived on his mail delivery route both spoke eloquently.
This minister had been called to serve in the Iraq war. She was far from home and far from her children. She was amazed when she began to receive many stacks of cards to cheer her. How did this happen? It turned out that Paul Neal, her letter carrier, had suggested the idea to her neighbors! He knew what it would mean, as a Vietnam War vet.
The last union rally that Paul attended was a statewide protest on the New Haven Green, part of a national day of protest called by the National Association of Letter Carriers in opposition to the proposal to reduce the number of mail delivery days down from six to five. Paul came with union sisters and brothers from his local.
He was thrilled to welcome a delegation from the Communist Party there in solidarity. He deeply appreciated the commitment and the understanding that this struggle was important not only for the jobs of letter carriers, but also for the well being of the entire community.
It is impossible to think of Paul Neal without remembering his warm, welcoming smile and personality. Paul loved life and he loved people. He dearly loved his family. He was also on the side of fairness and equality. He was not one to sit on the sidelines. If there was an injustice, Paul felt compelled to act. He loved to learn and he willingly shared his own knowledge and life experiences with others.
As his union president said at the memorial, "I always made sure Paul was on the executive board. He was the kind of person you need there."
When Paul returned from the Vietnam War, he made the transition from military to civilian life with dignity and service to humanity. A trained chemist, he was unable to develop a career in environmental science due to racism. He worked as a letter carrier for 28 years. It is hard work, and it took a toll on his health.
Paul was a favorite on his letter carrier route. He loved being a part of his union and a part of the labor movement. He was all about solidarity, and if there were a picket line or an organizing drive or a strike you would find Paul there.
Paul found a home in the Communist Party and he became a leader in the party, chairing the meetings of the Connecticut State Committee. He was proud to stand up for the vision of a society built on the rights and needs of working people of all races, nationalities, and generations.
He welcomed comrades from Hartford into his home when they came to bring the People's World to his neighborhood in Vernon. He helped lead classes with new members about how they, too, could be a part of making change and making history.
In his humble way, Paul Neal enabled everyone to dream bigger and reach higher.
Paul was known for his dreads. After retirement, he cut them. At the next big event at the People's Center, when he stepped up to the podium to welcome everyone, some people didn't recognize him at first without his dreads. So he told the story of how he had been harassed on the job to cut his dreads. It became a principle not to, even though he had gotten tired of them. So he kept his dreads as long as he was at the post office in defense of his right and anybody's right to wear their hair as they chose. As soon as he retired, he said, "Now I can finally cut my hair!"
What a big blow to suddenly lose this wonderful human being from family, friends, and organizations where he was a solid leader. Without a doubt Paul would want us to carry on in his stead, to build on what he contributed and to go forth to dream bigger and reach higher on behalf of all working people.
This wonderful and proud African American, working class hero will not be forgotten.
Photo: Paul Neal with co-workers at Letter Carriers union rally, New Haven Green, March 2013. Art Perlo/PW