Usurping The Reign of The Favorites:Interview with Madeleine Parent


CHRISTINA: You have been union organizer
since 1942, involved in imageorganizing the cotton and
woolen mill workers in Quebec, co-founder of the Canadian Textile and Chemical Union and Confederation of Canadian Unions, and arrested several times for these activities. How did it all begin?

MADELEINE: I became concerned with economic matters as a student - an activist student - and was determined before I finished college to work as a union organizer. Immediately after graduating I gave classes sponsored by the Workers' Educational Association amongst union women in garment shops in Montreal. In 1942, during wartime, I became involved in organizing workers in munitions factories. Large numbers of these workers were women occupied for the first
time in non-traditional jobs.

During the same time, workers in consumer industries also started to organize successfully. In the Dominion Textile company cotton mills of Valley field and Montreal, over 6,000 workers, large number of whom were highly-exploited women and children, began to organize in 1 942. Kent Rowley [her working companion and, later, spouse] and I were part of that campaign from the beginning. The first successful collective agreements that came out of the Valleyfield and Montreal strikes in 1946 crowned some 65 years of repeated efforts, often punctuated by strikes, on the part of the Quebec cotton mill workers to obtain more humane conditions of work.

CHRISTINA: What gains were made in those first cotton mill contracts?

MADELEINE: Well, uniform wage schedules were part of the new gains.

"It was something
then for a woman to
set foot in a union hall."

Prior to that there was one wage for men and a lower one for women and children, but we essentially won equal pay for equal work. The establishment of seniority rights was also an important gain because otherwise the foreman could layoff those who wouldn't play his game, usually women, and favour his friends with the better jobs. Seniority rights also allowed the workers to argue that a woman on maternity leave should be entitled to return to her job. A party would be arranged at lunchtime for a woman who was leaving to have a baby and when everyone had gathered, the foreman would be called in and reminded that the mother-to-be was entitled to have her job back. Often he was asked to pledge then and there that her job would be waiting for her.

Women also stuck together from the first to try to deal with sexual harassment. It was a question of being together and taking a stand wherever sexual harassment occurred.

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