'Tough cookies' of the Great Depression
It was known as the rag trade: a vibrant "patchwork" of textile shops in downtown Montreal and Toronto in the 1930s. But as the Depression wore on, clothing manufacturers began to exploit workers in what were already deplorable conditions. Female immigrants sweated in dimly lit factories, working up to 70 hours a week. A large group of textile workers decided to speak out. Their courage helped improve conditions in post-Second World War garment shops, until the introduction of free trade and a recession decades later.
In this CBC Radio clip Roback recalls a climate of unemployment in Canada, and praises the "tough cookies" that went out on strike with her in the middle of the Depression.
• Roback went abroad when she was in her twenties, to New York, France and Germany. She joined her brother in Berlin where he was going to school for medicine. Roback was studying art, history and literature.
• After moving back from Berlin in 1935, Roback became the manager for Montreal's first Marxist bookstore. Also that year, she organized Fred Rose's election campaign. Rose was the first Communist member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons.
• Roback has a long history of fighting for women's rights in Canada. In 1936, Roback lobbied with Thérèse Casgrain for the right to the women's vote in Canada.
• Also in 1936, Roback was hired by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). At the time, women in the industry worked 60 hours a week without overtime pay.
• In 1993, the Léa Roback Foundation was established to promote access to education for women.
• Roback died in 2000 from injuries she sustained after falling down stairs at a retirement home.
Broadcast Date: Dec. 17, 1991
Guest(s): Léa Roback
Host: Bill Richardson
Last updated: February 24, 2012
Page consulted on September 10, 2014
All Clips from this Topic
Conditions have improved for workers in Canada's garment districts, th...
Grace Hartman, Canada's first female union leader, addresses women's w...
Union leader talks to Barbara Frum about implications of knitting fact...
Managers refuse to remove surveillance cameras at a Toronto knitting f...
Union victorious as arbitrator rules cameras to be taken down from wor...
Women of the schmatte recall appalling pre-union conditions.
Madeleine Parent organizes a 6,000-strong walkout.
Management says 9,000-person strike will paralyze an already-weakened ...
The garment industry goes underground.
Cheap Mexican labour means layoffs for workers at Bovie Manufacturing.
Union pioneer Léa Roback praises textile workers for walking out durin...
An underground garment worker has her contract cut off.
It was known as the rag trade: a vibrant "patchwork" of textile shops ...