Series G - Social justice activism

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Social justice activism

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1.02 meters of textual records
13 photographs
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.

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Scope and content

This series contains materials kept or created by Madeleine Parent regarding various social justice causes. The documentation covers several topics such as workplace health and safety, free trade, nuclear disarmament, peace activism, and human rights violations.
Most files are topical, however, there is also documentation related to various organizations and groups. Examples of this include files on the Three Guineas Charitable foundation, which funded several causes, but most prominently documented is a campaign for nuclear phaseout. Also included are some files on Solidarité Populaire Québec, a coalition founded in 1985 to protect Quebec social programs. These files cover various topics such as education, social housing, workers’ rights, and free trade. Moreover, there are files on human rights violations and worker movements in Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Bolivia and files on the treatment of Chilean refugees and support for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

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