Political Action Collective of the Ottawa Women’s Centre/Feminist Action Collective (Ottawa)/ Local 7, SORWUC, 1977- 1982

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dsc02510The Political Action Collective (PAC) of the Ottawa Women’s Centre came into being in 1978. Previously, the Centre’s Policy Committee had carried out various actions, but, as the work of the Centre escalated, PAC was formed to take on political work.

The group operated as a collective, practicing rotation of leadership, consensus decision-making, respect for each other, and equal speaking time. In fact, these principles had been the impetus for some of us to form the PAC. We wanted to work in a closed group with feminists of like mind. By this point, we had so much organizing experience that although we were more than willing to share with others, we were fatigued by having to repeat unworkable ideas and were impatient to get on with political work.

Inspired by American feminists, in particular the New York group Women’s Liberation (later Redstockings), we self-defined as radical feminists and were woman-identified. During this time, 1978-1980, we focused on direct actions on the streets rather than pursuing legislative change.

The first of the group’s actions was a major demonstration to protest Violence Against Women on November 5, 1977. (See Upstream, vol. 2, no. 1, 1977)

On International Women’s Day, March 8, 1978, we organized a demonstration focusing on the economy, which included speakers Dodie Zerr of SORWUC, Aline Akeson of the Ottawa Tenants’ Council, and Monique Sioui from Native Women of Canada. (See Upstream, vol. 2, no. 3, April 1978)

Two days after the IWD demonstration, on March 10, a spontaneous picket (“reportage not garbage”) protested the CBC’s coverage of the CLC organizing drive of bank workers while completely ignoring the presence at our demonstration of Dodie Zerr of SORWUC.

On August 25, 1978, inspired by our British sisters, we took to the streets in the first “Reclaim the Night” demonstration in Canada to take back the streets we were afraid to walk alone. It was the first demonstration we organized without obtaining a permit (as the Women’s Centre had always been obliged to do for funding reasons). We also attempted to keep it as a women-only demonstration. When men came, however, we welcomed their support and simply asked that they march at the back of the line. (See Upstream, vol. 2, no. 8, September 1978, pp. 8-9)

A conference on Feminist Assumptions was held on March 10, 1979, in which we tackled some of the burning issues of the day, such as working in collectives, sisterhood, leadership, self-help and financial self-reliance. (See Upstream, vol. 3, no. 3, February 1979 (announcement of the conference) and then articles written by collective members: “Leadership,” May 1979, p. 14; “Collectives,” June 1979; “Sisterhood,” August 1979, p. 7; “Feminist Values,” September 1979, p. 11).

A display of “50 How Comes” was an action to critique the 50th anniversary of Person’s Day at Ottawa City Hall, September 1979. A controversy arose when City Hall employees removed three of the “How Comes” from our display. These were: If women are persons, how come we still have to fake orgasms? If women are persons, how come we don’t have free access to abortion? If women are persons, how come we can’t come out as lesbians? After a sit-in in Mayor Marian Dewar’s office and a substantial petition, the censored “How Comes” were returned to the display. (See Upstream, vol. 3, no. 10, October–November 1979)

dsc02507“For Every Woman Raped in Every War,” was an action we organized for Remembrance Day, November 11, 1979, with a banner (see picture) and poem by Kate Nonesuch. We walked to the microphones at the national cenotaph in Ottawa at the end of the Remembrance Day ceremony, unfurled the banner and began to read Kate’s poem. Within seconds the microphones cut out, so as a group we chanted the poem together as loud as we could. Very few of the huge crowd could hear us, but we received some support and enthusiastic applause from folks standing in the front. (See Upstream, vol. 4, no. 1, December 1979, p. 4)

In 1981, PAC was renamed the Feminist Action Collective, when we decided to focus our energy on women’s work and workplace issues.

Inspired by the women’s national strike in Iceland, we began to organize for a Women’s Strike and wrote and distributed leaflets on sexual harassment, women’s work, and women and new technology. We also supported the Ottawa Tenants’ Council’s Tent City, and provided strike support to unionized women at the insurance company, l’Union du Canada (OPEIU 225), and the British American Banknote Company.

In 1983, continuing our focus on workplace and labour issues, the Feminist Action Collective became a chartered local of SORWUC – the Service, Office and Retail Workers of Canada, an independent, feminist union based in Vancouver. Unlike traditional unions which required membership in a workplace bargaining unit in order to join, SORWUC broke new ground and welcomed individual members-at-large.

As SORWUC Local 7, we sponsored a series of four workshops on unions: History of SORWUC: Why a Feminist Union; Daycare Workers Organize the Workplace: What Can We Learn?; L’Union du Canada: Insurance Workers Break New Ground; Mothers, Domestic Workers and Volunteers: Recognizing and Organizing.

We went on to support the organizing of workers at Interval House of Ottawa – a home for women escaping domestic abuse. After a lengthy negotiation for the bargaining unit’s first collective agreement with Interval House, an exodus of Ottawa feminists to Vancouver left the Ottawa movement tired and burned out. We hung up our skates.

Sheila Gilhooly, Louise Leclair, Wendy McPeake, Kate Nonesuch, Nancy Rosenberg

Political Action Collective of the Ottawa Women’s Centre/Feminist Action Collective (Ottawa)/ Local 7, SORWUC, 1977- 1982 Documents

Title Date Region
For Every Woman Raped in Every War 1979 Ontario
Sexual Harassment -- Ontario
Women and the New Technology -- Ontario
Women’s Work -- Ontario

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