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Mary Eady
Mary Eady

For Mary Eady, early hardship drove home the plight of working women Add to ...

In one editorial she wrote: “The union feels that as long as the company refers to them as ‘girls’ they will pay them as ‘girls’ and not as the experienced women they are.”

She met Francis Eady in 1953, a British trade unionist who had recently moved to Toronto. They married a year later and she kept busy not only with the newspaper but also running education seminars for women at Canada Packers, encouraging them to become active.

In 1957, Eady quit working to start a family. She also became a volunteer editor of the NDP’s national newsletter. In 1963, her husband’s work took the family back to Ottawa, where she increased her volunteer commitments as treasurer of the federal NDP. She was the first woman to hold such a position with a major federal political party. One of her pals was Tommy Douglas.

The Eady family moved to Winnipeg in 1970, and Francis became executive assistant to newly elected NDP premier Ed Schreyer.

Then tragedy struck. Francis was diagnosed with cancer and died within two years. Shades of her mother’s life – she was a young widow with two small children to support.

“She was devastated when my dad died, but she had to pick up the pieces and carry on and get a job and put a roof over our heads,” said her son, Don Eady.

In 1972, Eady became the first director of the Women’s Bureau for Manitoba.

“Some of the other applicants were seen as feminists. I considered myself one, but I didn’t come across as threatening,” she said. “I don’t know why.”

Her work included organizing women’s conferences with the Manitoba Federation of Labour and affiliated unions, working to change government policies regarding women on issues like childcare, family law, pension reform and pay equity. She invited colleagues to her cottage to brainstorm, calling her country home “Liberation Lodge.”

In 1977, Eady moved back to Ottawa once again and became the first head of the Women’s Bureau at the Canadian Labour Congress. During her four years in this position she ran dozens of workshops for union women at a labour school in Port Elgin, Ont.

According to Lankin, who attended one of these workshops, Eady talked about accessibility to non-traditional jobs and how women deserved to be paid at a level commensurate with their skills.

“There were so many of those issues, that she taught us about, and inspired us to think about, and motivated us to organize, to accomplish,” Lankin said.

Eady once had an unusual group of students in her class. Just as she was heading into the building, three motorcycles roared up to the door. “Men got off with leather jackets and those bracelets with big steel knobs,” she said. “I thought: ‘Thank goodness they’re not going to be in my class!’ Well, to my surprise, they were!”

The men were Hamilton steel workers who had harassed women co-workers. Their union had sent them for sensitivity training and to set them on the path toward fairness.

In 1981, Howard Pawley’s NDP government won the Manitoba election. The new premier called Eady back to be the province’s first female deputy minister of labour. Her agenda regarding women’s issues didn’t dramatically change – she just had more power to make things happen.

“Women have always talked to each other on a level that men haven’t,” Eady recalled about organizing during these heady times. “But now they were talking, not about personal things, but how to get their agenda up on the political agenda of either the government, the city, or their employer.”

The first labour minister she worked under was Mary Beth Dolin. Coincidentally, the two women had previously met when their children were small and played together. Now they shifted their attention to issues around daycare, parental leave, sexual harassment and pension reform.

In large part thanks to the effort of this government and the work of Dolin and Eady, Manitoba became the first government in Canada to pass pay equity laws.

Eady lost her job when Gary Filmon’s Progressive Conservatives won in 1988. She became a consultant for the Canadian Labour Congress and the federal government. She also volunteered with the Canadian Health Coalition, Seniors’ for Medicare and the Council of Union Retirees.

On the day she died, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of pay equity for women at Canada Post.

Mary Eady leaves sons Donald and Peter, grandchildren Samantha, Simon, Declan and Hamish, and her brother Paul.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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