April 2,1998

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Maria Peluso: Always an activist

As a community volunteer and labour activist, Maria Peluso has received awards before, but this one was special.

The Prix Simonne Monet-Chartrand was given to the political science professor by the Montreal Women's Centre on March 16, at a typically informal ceremony.

"I was so shy," said Peluso, who is not at all timid by nature. "I think it was because of who Simonne was, and the fact that I was the first non-francophone to get it."

The award was named after the much-loved activist wife of the fiery union leader Michel Chartrand. (In fact, it was presented to Peluso by MUC executive chairman Vera Danyluk because Chartrand vetoed cabinet minister Louise Harel, who was originally scheduled to give it.)

Peluso, the daughter of an immigrant labourer, has always been a passionate defender of the underdog. She went to York University for her BA, and then worked successively for the National Congress of Italian Canadians, Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada, the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews (as executive director), and as employment equity recruitment coordinator for the Montreal Police Department.

She got a Graduate Diploma in Community Politics and the Law (1980) and an MA at Concordia in Public Policy and Public Administration (1986). She has been teaching part-time at Concordia in the Political Science Department since 1981, and in humanities at Dawson College since 1992.

Along the way, she has also written a freelance consumer column and numerous articles; started a municipal political party and run for office; sat on boards for volunteer organizations ranging from Info-Cult and Chez Doris to Alliance Quebec and the Centre for Investigative Journalism. In 1992, she won a Woman of the Year Award from the Montreal Council of Women.

For the past three years, she has been working hard as president of the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association, which has just signed its contract. (see page 4) The five-year contract, endorsed by a 99-per-cent ratification vote, calls for a 1-per-cent salary increase per year and a number of other benefits, including greater job equity.

Peluso is pleased with the outcome. While she's known for her tenacity in an argument, she said that contract negotiating "is not as confrontational as you'd think. At the beginning, each side sharpens its knives, and then it becomes more like psychotherapy. You get to know each other intensely, and even like each other."

Now that the job's done and she's "free to get into other mischief," she will pursue her interest in alternative dispute resolution, a new approach to conflict, and continue her active teaching life. At Concordia she has been teaching courses on women and the law, interest and lobby groups, Canadian government and Canadian political parties.

Ever the activist, she got the students in her class on lobby groups to write letters to the editor or to a cabinet minister. She gave them a list of appropriate recipients and tips on how to write a good letter, and they discussed what sort of issues to ventilate.

Most of the letters were published, and the students were transformed by the experience of seeing their convictions in print. Peluso knows how they felt. Her ultimate ambition is to be a writer of journalism or fiction. - BB

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