Series C - Canadian independent unions

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Canadian independent unions

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  • 1946-2004 (Creation)
    Parent, Madeleine, 1918-2012

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Physical description

4.58 meters of textual records
250 photographs
68 booklets
51 publications
25 notebooks
1 reel-to-reel audio tape
1 audio cassette

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Biographical history

Madeleine Parent (1918-2012) was born in Montreal, Quebec, to Rita Marie-Anne Hogue and John B. Parent. As part of her early education, Parent attended the l’Académie St. Urbain, Villa-Maria, and Trafalgar School for Girls. In 1940, Parent graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from McGill University. Her first collective action campaign was with the Canadian Students Assembly (CSA). The campaign was to improve the availability of financial assistance for students from low-income families. While a student activist, Parent met her first husband, Valdimar Bjarnason, whom she married in 1941 and divorced in 1951. Both Parent and Bjarnason worked together as labour organizers for the American international union United Textile Workers of America (UTWA) and the Canadian Textile Council (CTC).

Upon graduation from university, Parent began to dedicate her time to improving working conditions in Quebec. By 1942, she was the technical secretary and organizer for the American Federation of Labour’s (AFL) Quebec campaign to organize war industry workers and consumer industry workers. Within the same year, she began to work as a labour organizer with Robert Kent Rowley for cotton and woollen-mill workers in Quebec. Parent became the Secretary-Treasurer for the UTWA’s Canadian District, while Rowley served as Vice President and Canadian Director. In 1946, Parent and Rowley were key organizers of a workers strike at Dominion Textile Company Limited plants in Montreal and Valleyfield, Quebec. Labour organizers of the 1946 strike faced backlash from the provincial government of Maurice Duplessis, which led to the arrests of both Parent and Rowley. Parent was arrested again after a 1947 strike at Ayers Woollen Mills in Lachute, Quebec, and charged with seditious conspiracy.

A 1952 Dominion Textile workers strike served as an impetus for the Canadian District of the UTWA to seek independence from the American-led union. Both Parent and Rowley were at the forefront of this movement. Leaders and organizers of the Canadian District wanted to break from the influence of the AFL, with which the UTWA was affiliated, and advocated for Canadian representation for Canadian workers. Out of this movement, the CTC was founded by Parent and Rowley in 1952, later to become the Canadian Textile and Chemical Union (CTCU). The CTC planned to remain affiliated with the AFL, however, it became an independent national trade union instead. Parent served as Secretary-Treasurer and Rowley as President of the CTC. A year after the founding of the CTC, in 1953, Parent and Rowley got married.

Throughout her career, Parent continued to advocate for Canadian unionism. In 1969, Parent and Rowley became founding members of the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU), originally called the Council of Canadian Unions, a federation of Canadian independent unions to subvert the influence of American-based international unions on Canadian labour movements. Parent served as the Eastern Vice-President of the CCU, and Rowley served as Secretary-Treasurer until he died in 1978.

After founding the CTC, Parent spent her time in Quebec and Ontario. Post-1967, she moved to Ontario and only returned to Quebec after she retired from union work in 1983. From the start of her career, Parent was a strong advocate for women’s rights and immigrants’ rights, which she saw as integral to labour activism. In 1972, Parent became a founding member of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) and was active in the organization well after her retirement. Post-1983, Parent continued her work with social justice and women’s activism, including advocating for indigenous rights. She was an active supporter of the reinstatement of Mary Pitawanakwat, an Ojibway woman, unjustly dismissed from her position with the Canadian federal civil service. Parent received recognition for her dedication to labour and social justice activism through awards and honorary degrees from several Canadian universities.

Custodial history

Scope and content

This series consists of materials compiled or created by Madeleine Parent and documents the Canadian Textile Council (CTC), the Canadian Textile and Chemical Union (CTCU), and the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU). Materials speak to Canadian unionism and document the split from American-based international union the United Textile Workers of America (UTWA).
The largest sub-series (C1) documents the CTC, founded in 1952 by Parent and Robert Kent Rowley. Documentation includes correspondence, reports, collective agreements, and union publications. There are several files on the CTC's national conventions, executive board meetings, and labour organizing and disputes for some Locals. Comparatively, there are fewer materials regarding the CTCU (sub-series C2). Nonetheless, various files document the CTCU's activities, including annual conventions, disputes, agreements, and the CTCU's constitutions and by-laws.
The CCU sub-series (C3) includes materials related to its conventions, national executive board meetings, and policies and constitution. There are also several files on member unions and issues of union publications, including Canadian Union News, Confederation of Canadian Unions Bulletin, C.T.C.C. Le Travail, and the CAIMAW review.
Each of the last seven sub-series (C4 to C10) relate to a different company and document the CTC or the CTCU’s activities regarding each respective company. All seven sub-series include information on collective agreements. Sub-series C4 to C8 contain information on the CTC’s application process for certification as the bargaining agent. Some documentation also speaks to the conflict between the CTC and American-led unions. For instance, materials in the Woods Manufacturing Company, Limited sub-series (C5) document the conflict with the UTWA, and materials in the Wabasso Cotton Company Limited sub-series (C8) document the campaign between the CTC and the UTWA.
Among these sub-series, there is also documentation on various strikes. The Dominion Textile Company Limited sub-series (C4) includes materials related to the 1952 strike of workers at Quebec plants and disputes in the 1960s that occurred at the Ste-Anne's mill in Quebec. Sub-series C6 documents the 1971 strike of Texpack Limited workers. Sub-series C7 details the three-month 1956 strike of Harding Carpets Limited workers at the Brantford, Ontario plant. The smallest sub-series, C9 and C10, document the 1973 strike by workers employed at the Artistic Woodwork Company Limited, including the police response to the strike, and the 1978 yearlong strike of workers at Puretex Knitting Company, due to the installation of surveillance cameras in the factory.

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C1 Canadian Textile Council
C2 Canadian Textile and Chemical Union
C3 Confederation of Canadian Unions
C4 Dominion Textile Company Limited
C5 Woods Manufacturing Company, Limited
C6 Texpack Limited
C7 Harding Carpets Limited
C8 Wabasso Cotton Company Limited
C9 Artistic Woodwork Company Limited
C10 Puretex Knitting Company Limited

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