The following is an excerpt from the interview I did with William Paterson, a trade unionist in Calgary, Alberta, in which he talks a bit about his early years in England and then in Calgary:
WP: At the age of 14 [in 1940] I decided to go to work with my father, who was in the engineering union. So I belonged to the engineering union. I didn’t like that too much so I hopped around from job to job. I finally became interested in painting. I liked the colours, and all that stuff. The war was on at the time, so it was nice to see all of those pretty colors. So I decided to become a painter, which I did. I took my apprenticeship and the whole bit. Obviously I joined the painters’ union.
SN: Tell me a little bit about your dad’s involvement. How did his involvement set things up for you?
WP: My dad was was an iron moulder in Scotland. He was a strong trade unionist all of his life. … He used to take me to political meetings before the war. I used to listen to the fascists and the communists and the socialists and all the others. Got involved with politics. My father’s influence was the thing that really got me going, my father’s influence on me. I’m just like my father. He was a very strong person.
SN: What do you remember about the meetings he took you to in the ’30s?
WP: When I lived in England, we lived the last eight years in London. Before that we lived for 12 years in a little place called Southend-on-Sea, which is about 45 miles along the Thames from the estuary into the Channel. There, practically every weekend there were political meetings, just like it was in Hyde Park in London. Had the same thing in Southend. Along the seafront all of these people would jump up with a bit of a placard and start to spout off. There were religious people there–the whole bunch. Along that line were the fascists of Britain–the Blackshirts, as they called themselves — and there was the Communists and there was the Labour Party, the socialists, and there were the Liberals and there was the Conservatives. The whole bunch. My father was very interested in politics. He was a strong socialist. He took me to a number of meetings. Not only socialist meetings, we went to others as well, listened to what they had to say.
I’ll never forget one time. When a person agrees with something they say, “Hear, hear!” and I thought they said, “We are here!” I was about 12 years of age in this big crowd of people, and somebody says something which I agree on (at 11 or 12!) and I said, “We are here!” and my father says, “No! It’s ‘Hear, hear!'” [laughter]
SN: How was it that you got elected as a steward when you were so young?
WP: To be honest with you, nobody else wanted it. [laughter] Because it wasn’t a very nice job, right? Nobody else wanted it and I was only 18 at the time, thinking I knew it all, which of course I didn’t. I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I just thought, “Well, why not? Give it a try.” Of course, my father was as pleased as punch that his son was a shop steward. There was no pay involved, it was just election by the members. If they didn’t want me any more they could always get rid of me, but nobody else wanted it. [laughter]
SN: What do you remember about when you first were a delegate to Calgary Labour Council? What do you remember about some of the older guys who’d been around for awhile?
WP: [laughter] I’ll tell you this: I was a socialist. I’ve been a socialist all of my life, a left wing socialist. Not a Communist, but a left wing socialist. It didn’t take me long to realize that the back row of the room was where all the stirring took place by the leftwingers. That’s where I sat, at the back. The back row. The “back row boys.” In the middle and the front was the liberals and that sort of thing. There was always this clash because if the liberals said it was right, we said it was wrong. It was politics. It was definitely politics. But that was part of the whole political process. The Labour Council was no different from any other organization. Except that we abided by the rules, of course. Didn’t take me long to realize that my place was at the back of the room! Didn’t take me long. That’s where I was brought up, right?