CUPE leaders, members and staff are mourning the death of Quebec labour movement icon and feminist trailblazer Madeleine Parent.
Parent died Sunday night at the age of 93. She dedicated her life to the struggle for social justice, starting as a student activist with the Canadian Student Assembly, where she campaigned for bursaries for low-income students.
She led the campaign to unionize Dominion Textile factories in Montreal and Valleyfield in 1942 – a fight that saw her challenge powerful forces in government, the church and the international trade union movement. Arrests and threats of imprisonment did not stop her determination to help the workers find justice.
In 1946, the more than 6,000 textile workers – mainly women – won the right to unionize. Their struggle wasn’t over, as the Duplessis government bypassed the workers to sign a deal with the international union. Parent helped found the Confederation of Canadian Unions, which aimed to establish strong local unions.
Women’s rights were inseparable from workers’ rights for Parent. She fought for women’s right to vote, pay equity, abortion rights, and equality for Aboriginal and racialized women. She was a founding member of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, where she represented Quebec for eight years. She was active in the Women’s March Against Poverty organized by the Fédération des femmes du Québec in 1995.
“The labour movement and the women’s movement have lost an inspiration, a mentor, and a leader,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist. “We pause to mourn her passing, and we all dedicate ourselves to take our cues from her as we face anti-union attacks across the country.”
“The history of Quebec is interwoven with the story of Madeleine Parent’s activism,” said CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury. “She helped make – and change – history, leaving a progressive legacy that will live on for Quebecers and all Canadians.”