Madeleine Parent retired from union activism in 1983 when she was 65 years old after a long and exciting career of diligently supporting and leading activist movements on a variety of causes. Her efforts included; campaigning for university scholarships for both poor men and women, organising and co-founding of many unions – the Confederation of Canadian Unions and Canadian textile workers unions to name just two.(1) Last but not least she was a strong supporter of feminist as well as other minority rights causes throughout and even after her career in union activism. While she was technically retired after 1983 she never stopped working in support of the equal rights causes she believed in and remained an active supporter of these causes well into her eighties.(2) In fact Madeleine Parent remained in contact with many of the unions and organizations she helped found. Along with keeping in touch with these unions she also was a member of the Coordinating Committee of Solidarité Populaire Québec, and an extremely influential advocate for feminist groups all over Canada.(3)
Madeleine Parent in the years after she retired continued to advocate largely for the rights of women in Canada, especially for the rights of blue-collar working women as well as women of visible minorities and native women.(4) Parent herself was an influential member in some important feminist organisations in Canada. She was on the steering committee of the Ontario Committee on the Status of Women, commonly referred to as the OCSW. She was also an executive for the National Action Committee on the Status of Woman, commonly shortened to NAC. In regards to the NAC she was present at the founding meeting back in 1972(5); she was the Quebec representative of the NAC and helped connect it to many other feminist groups throughout Quebec.(6) Also she was a contributor and edited – both in English and in French – their Action Bulletin petitions and the Feminist Action feministé newsletters for the NAC to send out to their members and affiliated groups to raise awareness on issues that the NAC was campaigning against.(7)
While she never had a leading role as president of the NAC she held the position of co-chair of the Committee of Native Women, and was a great asset to the NAC when they lobbied the federal government’s Committee on the Status of Women to push for improvements to women’s rights.(8) Lynn Kaye who was the president of the NAC while Parent was a part of the organisation praised the influence Madeline Parent had on shaping the policies of the NAC;
“From NAC’s foundation in 1972, Madeleine’s influence was key in helping NAC develop a strong focus on economic issues, especially those that concerned working women. She ensured that NAC made rights for Native women a top priority. She supported a broad range of measures to ensure a better life for women throughout their lives, from pregnancy to child care to pensions.”(9)
Most notably in her advocacy for the rights and economic equality of women, against discrimination and the injustices faced by working women. One of Madeleine Parent’s goals as part of the NAC was an issue she had advocated for since the early years of her activism, which was to win for working women the right of equal pay for work of equal value.(10) She also helped lobby the federal government to reform sexist laws, and to give working and minority women more of a voice within unions even sometimes within feminist organisations themselves which Parent felt were somewhat dominated by professional, well-off yet socially aware women activists.(11)
On top of all the work she did with the NAC Madeleine Parent also corresponded with, gave talks to, and was made an honorary member of many feminist groups.(12) According to Rick Salutin, a journalist who wrote a biography on Madeleine’s late husband Kent Rowley as well as a contributor to Madeleine Parent Activist; “no one can say no to Madeleine.”(13) Many women in the NAC, as well as other groups such as Fédération des femmes du Québec, the South Asian Women’s Community Centre, and the Québec Native Women’s Association to name just a few, praised Madeleine Parent’s devotion to feminist causes and her spirit in advocating and promoting rights for women of all social and economic backgrounds throughout Canada and the world.(14)
While improvement of the status of working, minority, and native women through advocacy with feminist organisations was a concern of Parents in her years following her retirement, it was not the only social movement she contributed to during this period of her life. Parent also remained a supporter of union movements(15), even expanding her influence by advocating on behalf on union movements outside of Canada. She worked with Joint Trade Unions Research Development Centre to help organize movements in Jamaica and South Africa in support of working women’s rights in these counties.(16) On top of all of this Madeleine Parent kept current with other social movements so she and the NAC could join with them to lobby the government for social change and justice. One good example of this being the NAC’s coalition with the Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped, the Canadian Enthnocultural Council, Canadian Labour Congress, and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations to lobby for more assertive terms on Bill C-62 which regarded affirmative action.(17)
Sourced from http://www.ccu-csc.ca/about/madeleine-parent/
In contrast to the common idea of retirement Madeleine Parent remained an advocate for social justice even after stepping down from union activism in 1983. Rather than quietly living out the rest of her life she turned to supporting the rights of working women, especially native women and those who were a part of visible minorities. Parent even remained in contact with many unions and overall had an undeniable influence in organisation and advocacy for economic and labour rights within the organisations that she took part in. Madeleine Parent is remembered with fondness by the organizations she worked with, and following her passing in the spring of 2012(18) the news praised the many accomplishments she made for social justice movements during her lifetime.
1. “Interview with Madeleine Parent,” Studies in Political Economy, Vol.30 (1989), 13.
2. Maryellen Symons, ”Farewell, Madeleine Parent,” Ontario Bar Association 18 (2012): 1, accessed April 5, 2014, http://www.oba.org/en/pdf/sec_news_fla_apr12_Farewell_Symons.pdf.
3. “Interview with Madeleine Parent,” 13.
4. Andree Levesque, “A Life of Struggles,” 191.
5. Lynn Kaye and Lynn McDonald, “The Women’s Movement in Canada: Setting the Agenda,” in Activist, ed. Andree Levesque (Toronto: Sumach Press), 103.
6. NAC Distribution Detail, November 1986, File: Bulletin – 1986, Box 662, Madeleine Parent Fonds, McGill University Archives.
7. A L’Action editions, 1986-1993, File: Bulletins (Quarterly) -1986, Box 666, Madeleine Parent Fonds, McGill University Archives.
8.“Interview with Madeleine Parent,” 13.
9.Lynn Kaye and Lynn McDonald, “The Women’s Movement in Canada: Setting the Agenda,” 103.
10. Christina Starr, “Usurping the Reign of the Favourites: Interview with Madeleine Parent (1988),” Women’s Education des femmes 6, No. 3.
11.“Interview with Madeleine Parent,” 27.
12. Invitation from Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, October 1988, File: Correspondence -1986, Box 681, Madeleine Parent Fonds, McGill University Archives.
13. Rick Salutin, “An Iron Will and a String of Pearls,” in Activist, ed. Andree Levesque (Toronto: Sumach Press), 123.
14. Francoise David, “A Tribute to Valiant Lady,” in Activist, ed. Andree Levesque (Toronto: Sumach Press),118.
15. Christina Starr, “Usurping the Reign of the Favourites: Interview with Madeleine Parent (1988),” Women’s Education des femmes 6, No. 3.
16. Letters from Congress of South African Trade Unions and Joint Trade Unions Research Development Centre, 1986-1988, File: Correspondence -1986-1988, Box 680, Madeleine Parent Fonds, McGill University Archives.
17. Petition, 1986, File: Bulletin -1986, Box 666, Madeleine Parent Fonds, McGill University Archives.
18. Maryellen Symons, “Farewell, Madeleine Parent,” 1.
Box 662,666, 680, 681. Madeleine Parent Fonds. McGill University Archives.
“Interview with Madeleine Parent”. Studies in Political Economy, Vol.30 (1989). 13-36.
Lévesque, Andrée. Madeleine Parent: Activist. Toronto: Sumach Press. 2005.
Articles appearing in Labour/Le Travail, Issue 70 (Fall 2012). 187-199. Accessed via Muse. URL: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/labour_le_travail/toc/llt.70.html. Levesque, Andree. “A Life of Struggles”. 198-192.
Starr, Christina. “Usurping the Reign of the Favourites: Interview with Madeleine Parent (1988).” Women’s Education des femmes 6, No. 3.
Symons, Maryellen. “Farewell, Madeleine Parent.” Ontario Bar Association 18 (2012): 1-2. Accessed April 5, 2014. http://www.oba.org/en/pdf/sec_news_fla_apr12_Farewell_Symons.pdf