Roxanne Dubois is a labour activist, Franco-Ontarian and occasional writer. Based in Toronto, she spends most of her time organizing, educating and activating young people and precarious workers. She scribbles stories in different forms and continues to believe in a better world.
Summer of 1946: 3,000 employees are on strike in Québec’s textile industry. In the post-war boom, many women are employed in garment factories. While the company’s profits reach record highs, workers pay the price. The strike lasts 100 days and ends in victory: a collective agreement led to term by Madeleine Parent.
Madeleine Parent spent years organizing a community of workers in which nobody had hope. After all, the textile industry employed women in need of small change for their frivolous expenses. They earned the secondary salary for households, and deserved nothing but mediocre working conditions.
Madeleine finds her battleground in the textile industry. Feminist, activist and visionary, she remains surprisingly unknown in the broader Canadian consciousness. From her origins in the middle class of Québec, her militant actions elevated thousands of workers and allowed them to define, together, the terms of their lives. On her path, she will encounter the market forces, misogyny, Duplessis and the giants of American unionism. Madeleine persists and maintains the first line of defense against the exploitation of ordinary people. She breaks barriers imposed by profiteering and feeds the power that comes from bringing people closer together.
100 years after she was born, what’s left of the class struggle? The garment factories uprooted from the small villages of Québec to relocate overseas. The manufacturing sector is lagging. And yet, the bosses get richer and workers struggle to make ends meet. Have things really changed that much?
That’s the question asked by two friends on a road trip from Toronto to Gaspé. They read out loud segments from the book Madeleine Parent, militante, by Andrée Lévèsque. On the road from Lake Ontario to the Saint-Lawrence river, the play draws parallels between the workers’ struggle of the 1940’s and that of today. Madeleine is a bilingual play where scenes from the textile industry are juxtaposed to those of today’s working world. What can we learn from Madeleine Parent on the strength of unity beyond geographic imposed barriers? On the choice of a radical and revolutionary life?
The stories of her life feed a reflection on the modern fault lines. Today’s context pushes us to believe that workers in Canada are obsolete and condemned to a life of contract, freelance and precarious working conditions. The promise of a prosperous life is threatened due to the promised arrival of robots. Beyond the usual fear-mongering, ordinary people must still give themselves the means to dream. What does the hope of a better world look like? Madeleine has some ideas.