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Themes - Activism

Madeleine Parent

Photograph of Madeleine Parent

(1918- )

Union activist, reformer


Madeleine Parent was born in Montreal in 1918. While boarding at the Villa-Maria Convent, she could not help but notice the enormous difference between the treatment of the girls employed as servants, and that of the boarders, such as herself. Later, she was known to say: "I simply could not accept that". The young girl thus prepared to face the challenge of her life; the battle against social injustice.

Her life of militancy began at McGill University, where she studied sociology. At the time, social classes were divided into two groups: "Fraternities" and "Sororities", which were reserved for the sons and daughters of well-to-do families; and the "others". Madeleine Parent became involved as a militant within the "Canadian Students Assembly", in an effort to make study bursaries available to the children of low-income families.

After completing her studies, the quest to improve the living conditions of workers - and especially female workers - became the focal point of her life. Union activism was the primary tool she used to bolster her efforts in this regard.

In 1942, she headed the unionization movement for Dominion Textile plants in Valleyfield and Montreal. A few years later, a strike broke out and entire families became involved in the union rights movement. On many occasions, Madeleine Parent displayed courage, leadership and determination. She faced daunting adversaries and fought a constant battle, often against the unions themselves. In fact, the textile industry employed mostly women, and international unions tended to frown on the unionization of such "disorganized groups". Her worst enemies remained the clergy and the government. She became the sworn enemy of Maurice Duplessis, who publicly accused her of being a communist. In the years that followed, threats towards her increased, and she was arrested on five occasions. In 1948, Duplessis even managed to have her convicted for seditious conspiracy.

Throughout these battles, Madeleine Parent and the striking workers stood their ground. Their efforts were rewarded in 1946 when more than 6 000 cotton workers succeeded in forming a union.

In 1952, however, Quebec workers were betrayed by their international union, which signed an agreement with Dominion Textile reflecting only the requirements stipulated by Duplessis. This betrayal made the need for local unions clear. Madeleine Parent was one of the founding members of the Canadian Council of Unions, dedicated to repatriating unions having American allegiances. Her determination and patience paid off. In 1968, 70 percent of union workers in Canada contributed to American unions, whereas in 1998, that rate had fallen to 30 percent.

Madeleine Parent retired from the union movement in 1983, although she did not give up the quest that guided her throughout her career, and in particular she maintained her commitment to women. She was a founding member of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, where she represented Quebec for eight years. She actively participated in various committees and several activities, for example, committees for the defence of the rights of Aboriginal women, and the Women's March Against Poverty organized by the Fédération des femmes du Québec in 1995. Today, Madeleine Parent still pursues her dream of social justice.


Breault, Normand. — "Madeleine Parent : toujours dans l'action!" — Relations. - No. 639 (April 1998). — P. 73-78

Graveline, Pierre. — "Développer nos solidarités; Rencontre avec Madeleine Parent". Mouvements. — (Fall 1984). — P. 4-8

"Interview with Madeleine Parent". — Studies in political economy. — No. 30 (Fall 1989). — P. 13-36

Kuyek, Joan Newman. - Strong women, strong unions. — Toronto : Published jointly by the Participatory Research Group and the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, 1985. --P. 19-36. — Also published in French under the title: Femmes fortes, syndicats forts.

Lacelle, Nicole. — Entretiens avec Nicole Lacelle / Madeleine Parent, Léa Roback. — Montreal : Éditions du remue-ménage, c1988. — 181 p.

Wallace, R. C. — The university and democracy : a reprint of four addresses. — Montreal : Distributed by the Canadian Student Assembly, 1939. — 24 p.

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