03/12/2012 08:00 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec labour leader Madeleine Parent dies

Madeleine Parent, a Quebec trade union activist and feminist best remembered for organizing textile workers in the 1940s, has died in Montreal at the age of 93.

Parent devoted her life to union activism and feminist causes, beginning in 1942, when she organized a strike against Dominion Textile on behalf of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

"The overwhelming majority of striking workers were women, and francophone women," Parent is quoted as saying about that labour conflict. "Their interests were being betrayed by the union leadership."

Parent's union activism on behalf of textile workers in Montreal, Valleyfield and Lachute – and later throughout Ontario, alongside her husband and fellow union activist Kent Rowley – turned her into an lifelong advocate for the rights of poor working women and a fighter for equal pay for work of equal value.

A lifelong battle against social injustice

Parent was born in 1918 into a liberal middle-class family. She was a boarder at the Villa-Maria convent and, according to Library and Archives Canada, she was appalled by the difference in treatment received by the girls employed as servants and boarders like herself.

"I simply could not accept that," Parent is quoted as saying.

Parent attended the exclusive Trafalgar Academy before going on to McGill University – a rare choice for a young francophone woman in 1936. Her battle against social injustice began there, fighting for bursaries for low-income students.

Throughout the 1940s, Parent was arrested five times, threatened and labelled a communist by Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis.

In 1947, Parent was charged with seditious conspiracy for her role in organizing Dominion Textile workers and sentenced to two years in prison – a sentence she never served after a new trial was ordered. In the second trial, in 1955, she was acquitted after just 30 minutes of deliberation.

Parent retired from the union movement in 1983 but remained an outspoken feminist, becoming a founding member of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

"The influence of Madeleine Parent on Quebec's feminist movement is immense," said Alexa Conradi, president of the Quebec Womens' Federation, in a news release. "She always looked for ways to build bridges between women in the movement and those of diverse origins."

"She took the time to exchange, to share and to encourage others," Conradi said. "We miss her already."

Among other honours, Parent received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Concordia University in 2009.