In 1994, Françoise David took the helm of the Québec Women’s Federation (FFQ) with a mission to advance the fight against poverty and social exclusion.
To put pressure on the newly elected government of Jacques Parizeau, David organized a mass march, branded “Bread and Roses”. Bread symbolizing work and better economic conditions and roses symbolizing a better quality of life – the theme was a deliberate tribute to the 1912 textile workers’ strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts that was lead by women and inspired generations of union and social justice organizers.
David’s plan was to use the march to build public support for a list of demands that included increasing the minimum wage, pay equity laws, freezing tuition fees, greater social supports and improved collection of support payments.
Starting May 26, 1995, women from across Québec spent ten days marching to the provincial capital. They marched through 57 villages and followed three routes from Montréal, Longueil and Rivière-du-Loup. More than 800 women joined the march for more than one day, including 525 women who marched the 250 km from Montréal to Québec City. They converged at a rally on June 4 outside the province’s National Assembly.
The government agreed to most of the marchers’ demands, in one form or another, and put Québec well ahead of other provinces on many issues from pay equity, to child care.
The theme song of the march, Du pain et des roses, composed by Hélène Pedneault and Marie-Claire Séguin remains an anthem of the labour movements of Quebec and Canada.
The solidarity of the march inspired the 2000 “World March of Women” that continues to this day as an international project aimed at improving the lives of women around the world. Its focus on ending poverty and violence against women built solidarity and laid the foundation for work that many of Canada’s unions continue today.