This pamphlet was written by Arnie Mintz. He published it privately in October 1988, with no authorís name, under the title A Sketch of Ross Dowson.
Although the pamphlet makes some references to archival materials and is written the third person, it is obviously based almost entirely on interviews with Ross Dowson, and should be viewed as Dowsonís reminiscences of his first decade in politics.
The pamphlet included photographs and reproductions of leaflets from the 1930s, but the print quality of the illustrations was not good enough for scanning. We have corrected a few spelling errors, but have not changed Arnie Mintzís idiosyncratic writing style, which included spelling "marxist" and "trotskyist" without initial capital letters.
A Sketch of Ross Dowson
Many have met Ross. This is because he is always available. This book is about his youth. As best as possible this book tries to capture Rossís thinking at the time before and during WWII.
Ross was consulted in producing this small book. It can be appreciated that memory of events fifty years ago is often only general or changed by time. Events that seem important at the time diminish later. Events not prominent at the time become significant. So chance is involved. Sometimes recollections may be mixed with similar incidents years later. Available archive material has also been used.
This book will shed light on the dictatorship of the proletariat ó the workers tell the truth, the bosses lie ó always. To exploit human beings for capitalist profit, that is the definition of dishonesty.
Ross became a communist at an early age. All too often the revolutionary content of events is buried under a mountain of bourgeois filth. Here is an attempt to unearth it. Too much has remained buried. Still the reader will agree that Rossís memories are rich and vivid.
Ross was born in 1917. His father was a unionized printer, a craftsman who became a foreman. From the elite element of the working class his father was self-educated and a militant atheist. He was an anarchist and a book collector. His collection included books on printing, layout, colour work and some first editions of such authors as Oscar Wilde. These were some of the first books to stir Rossís idealism. His father legitimized idealism in Rossís upbringing.
Early on Ross acquired the smell of ink because from a failed business his father had printing presses and type fonts stored in the basement of the house on Grenadier Road, High Park, where he did odd jobs for friends. When he was just a tad Ross ran the Gordon press even though he could hardly reach up to do it.
Rossís mother, a trained stenographer, came from the moderate family of a school principal. Ross was an atheist like his father. But his mother put him into Sunday school near her house in High Park and at the United Church located at Eglinton and Guestville, up the road from his home on Guestville Avenue. Ross carried his atheism into the Sunday school. He disturbed the teachers because he would speak up against what they said and get into arguments with them. It was embarrassing to have a kid saying no. They were pleased when he didnít come. They were on his side because they didnít want him there and he didnít want to be there. He was encouraged not to come. Eventually they gave up on him and his mother had to abandon his religious training.
Ross had three brothers and three sisters. By 1934 one brother, Murray, older by two years, had already joined the trotskyist Workers Party while a student at York Memorial Collegiate. Murray and Ross had been fighting for years. After all what could Murray know? Ross wanted to go round where Murray was but Murray didnít want him.
So in late 1934 or early 1935 Ross joined/Murray recruited him anyways. At 17 years of age and a student at York Memo Ross joined the Workers Party. He was inspired by their scientific approach. They explained how the workers could get rid of capitalism and how the young Ross could help. Ross was ready, willing and able to work for communism. And work he did.
Ross, the youngest member of the York Township Branch, listened, observed and helped in elections. He stood on picket lines and sold newspapers. He assisted at open air meetings of the Spartacus Youth at Earlscourt Park and the corner of Weston Road and Eglinton. At one corner meeting he was forced to do the speaking, "Go on you can do it Ross" said Sylvia. He learned to run the duplicator. He went to May Day marches, unemployed demonstrations and attended Party functions.
By January 1935 Ross had joined the WP. As a member he attended an important public meeting of 700 at the Labor Temple on Church Street. Ross distributed leaflets for the meeting and took advantage of the rally to meet the speaker Maurice Spector. He was explaining the Kirov assassination in the Soviet Union. The assassination opened up Trials which led to Stalinís mass expulsions and executions of Bolsheviks. Spector, the expelled editor of the Communist Party newspaper, had come up from New York where he was editor of the New International magazine. Spectorís contribution was missed by the organization in Toronto. He was a brilliant orator, colourful, sophisticated. He was an able person who worked with what he had. Spector was involved in the launching of the York Township Branch and its unemployed work. Spector had continuing relations with individual branch members.
The Workers Party had a wide range of activities, including the Vanguard and a Ukrainian paper. Noteworthy of its seriousness was its sport, including participating in a baseball league.
But the WP was very isolated, although it did have links with Jewish needle trade workers. At Canada Packers where Ross worked in the summer, along with another party member, he tried to help organize a union. The shifts were very tough, seven to seven on nights but the money was good for a kid making a full wage.
Returning to school, Ross got organized at York Memo. At this high school the teachers sympathized with the workers and a couple of teachers were good enough to hold after school classes which encouraged an interest in international affairs. One series in November 1935 was given by a postal worker explaining the history of Canadian wealth. Other students were invited to join in the discussion circle which sometimes had up to 15 in attendance at personís homes.
The centre of activities of the York Township Branch was the unemployed. Even as a student Ross was detailed to work with unemployed youth. Most of the Branch was unemployed plus there were some skilled workers and some students, totalling about 15 members.
There was a vibrant unemployed movement and York Township was its strong centre. The WP played a full part in it. On one occasion in November 1935 unemployed successfully seized the York Township offices and held the Reeve in his office prisoner for a period. Confrontation works. Also there was a strike of unemployed relief workers. The council withdrew its cuts, trying to buy time.
Unemployed workers were humiliated with vouchers so they could only get clothes at certain stores, hence a uniform of outcasts. But at one clothes giveway one of the unemployed guys grabbed a tux and then wore it on garbage detail. The big issue was CASH RELIEF not vouchers.
There were endless confrontations with the police who sought to wear down the activists. Unemployed were evicted from their homes. Sometimes there were mass evictions of up to 450. Ross would be amongst the group whoíd then take the furniture back in. The Bailiffs would take the furniture out then the activists would take it back in.
Inspired by the June 1935 British Columbia Relief Camp strike, in 1935 and 1936 there were strikes in Toronto of 2000 relief workers centred in York Township. The WP supported the picketing; in June 1936 two unemployed leaders were amongst 19 arrested in midnight raids to try to break the strikes. Ross participated in a march from York Township to Queenís Park. The unemployed wanted regular jobs and not to have to work for relief and specially not garbage work.
One effective action in June 1936 was to take homelessness directly into their own hands and take over a vacant city block sized lot on Bicknell Avenue. They built burrows in the ground to live in with a shack overhead for a roof. There were 29 huts and a kitchen. They organized their own food, obtaining it by whatever method available. The action was spearheaded by 40 single unemployed. In June the York Township Council cut family relief by 10% and 700 single unemployed were cut off entirely. They were expected to share the family welfare. They called a mass strike and erected four rows of shacks known as Red Square. Ross went over regularly to give support. The burrows were able to stay in use for two months before the police moved in to break it up, although it is still known as Red Square.
Ross actively participated in and liked to go to the unemployed youth meetings at Silverthorn Hall. As one of seven children Ross had a stripped down diet of barley soup, beans, bread and jam. After the meetings Ross and sometimes a few others would adjourn to the home of an unemployed friend who lived across the road for discussions and to feast on baked goods.
Around this time fascists held a meeting at Weston Road and Eglinton. Ross went with 10 comrades attempting to break up the meeting. They got up in the hall, disrupted and were thrown down the stairs.
In the spring of 1936 mass expulsions took place from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Moscow Trials were on. They marked a war against trotskyism in every country. A whole new era of thuggery and assault was opening up. In Canada trotskyist paper salesmen were chased away by goon squads and sometimes beaten up. It was an atmosphere of viciousness which legitimized the killing of trotskyists. Trotskyists were labelled by the CPs as agents of Hitler and the Mikado. There was a campaign against the Workers Party to isolate it. It was able to function only with increased difficulty.
At the same time Jack Macdonald, the expelled General Secretary of the CP, the leading figure of the WP, was tired and ill. It could be seen in his face. He died in 1941 at 53 years age. Macdonald, who spoke with a noticeable Scottish accent, was highly respected in workers circles. He exuded confidence to workers. He was a proletarian spokesman with a long tradition in the working class. The young Ross would never get to know him.
In June 1936 Ross completed senior matriculation. He passed a full program of Upper School Exams, finished high school and went to work.
After finishing school Ross worked at various jobs. For a while for instance he was a shipper. Also he kept busy collecting money for revolutionists in Spain. He discussed political differences with a small anarchist group when it attended WP meetings. Aid to Spain was a big issue. The Stalinists wanted to send beans. Ross wanted to send guns.
Around this time he attended a meeting of Bukharinís supporters held at Cumberland Hall near Bloor and Yonge. Lovestone, who became a fink in the American Federation of Labor, was the speaker. One time a top leader of the American CP he was speaking on the Moscow Trials. Ross was extremely nervous. This was an internationally known speaker and he had never done this kind of thing before. Nobody else exposed Lovestone so Ross got up to defend Trotsky.
In 1935 and 1936 the WP began to discuss entry into the CCF. The French trotskyists had previously undertaken the highly controversial tactic of entry into the Socialist Party of France. The American trotskyists entered the SP in June 1936 and this affected the WPC which had hitherto been established as branches of the Communist League of America.
Ross attended downtown branch meetings on Sundays. He met a few of the younger members. It was at these meetings that the arguments were held over entry. In order for the York Township members to get home they would have to break up the meetings. Ross took the Weston Road streetcar to the Northlands loop. After 12.30 there was no streetcar transfer at the loop which marked the city limits. So he used to walk home from the loop.
Forays were made to scout and make connections in the CCF. Ross was asked to record some of his experiences. He went in to build from scratch a CCF Youth Movement group in York Township. He made progress and recruited some people. It was hard unpleasant work for a revolutionist. The whole atmosphere was stifling. It was full of bureaucratic maneuvering and blatant careerism. It was unlike the WP which was alive with dynamic self-sacrificing and stimulating persons. Some members were scandalized by what he was trying to do. Ross wanted to see how the clock ticked, what the possibilities were. He found it rather difficult where people treated him as if he was a spy.
The CCYM killed the club. Better to have no club than have Ross. The executive refused to recognize the club unless they would expel Ross, the founder. He was. After Ross appeared at the Provincial Executive, Fred Dowling, commented bizarrely "I hope you wonít be discouraged by this." Like Dowling other CCYM leaders went on to become part of the officialdom of trade unions.
Ross was repulsed by the CCF. It was rife with manipulation; a swamp. He concluded that the CCYM provided no openings for revolutionists. Like any other experience Ross knew that as a bolshevik he had to make the most of whatever experience he was fortunate enough to go through.
He wrote a document/report of experiences in the CCYM for the WP discussions. Spartacus Youth decided to enter the CCYM in June on a vote of 17 for, 15 against. Work was not really begun until September. The morale of the organization on the whole is very poor. When the question of working towards a split from the CCYM was brought up and voted upon, the vote was 10 for, 8 against. Many of those who are in the CCYM have been attending CCYM meetings very irregularly.
The Workers Party had several months of bitter internal friction over the entry. This led to a convention at which Ross was one of the delegates. The entry was supported by Macdonald. The convention voted by 35 to 20 to enter the CCF and in May 1937 entry as individuals was agreed with the CCF brass and the WP was dissolved. The bitterness of the dispute carried on after the entry. The minority boycotted. There were really two groups now. Macdonald became completely inactive. The entry had a large component of defeatism. It was premised on developing a left wing but no such animal existed in any case. The WP was having a hard time. The entry ran concurrent with its paralysis and disintegration.
In the spring of 1937 Ross jumped in a car with a bunch of comrades at the weekend to support the picket line of striking Oshawa autoworkers. The strike established industrial unionism, the CIO in factories in Canada. The government sent in mounted police, "Hepburnís Hussars" to try to break the strike and vowed it would stop the CIO at the border but the strike was solid.
In 1937 Ross kept in contact. He went to educational meetings when they would occur. Around this time he helped to organize the John Reed Club at the Workmenís Circle. He was the only goy in the circle. He got some welcome sleep. He played tennis and had enough gall to challenge for the Ontario championships and lasted three rounds.
The HQ of the Workers Party were at 320 Spadina. In order to get into the HQ it was necessary to go thru a part of the Ukrainian trotskyistsí printshop where the comps handset the type. There were shelves of type fonts. The Vanguard and the Ukrainian paper were set there. But the collapse of the downtown branch was disastrous. When a comrade went down to the HQ in this period he found everything going into the furnace. Ross, already expelled CCF, was in limbo. So too were of Spartacus Youth, excluded from the CCF.
At Christmas 1937/1938 Ross hitch-hiked to Chicago, USA with a comrade to attend the American trotskyists convention on the occasion of their split from the SP. A Canadian Commission was held designed to bring about the unification and reconstitution of the group from its state of decay. The commission, at which Ross was one of the representatives of the minority, called for, "the fusion of the majority comrades with the active nucleus of the minority. Canadian comrades should concentrate their main efforts on work within the CCF with a view to climaxing entry at or around the fall national convention of the CCF."
There was a continuing out 1938. There were more dispute through meetings, more submissions. The majority showed resistance to leaving the CCF and a fusion with the minority, the two issues being closely connected.
Ross was still a kid, he didnít know what was going on, inexperienced, he did want to see unity. The commission was composed of competent people, more competent than him. Ross signed the document to resolve to attempt to work together. As loyal members the anti-entry group committed itself to regroup. The minority was at odd ends, though it got together informally sometimes.
During the summer Ross was at an antifascist demo at Massey Hall on Shuter Street just east of Yonge. There were arrests and a street fight. Police broke up the counter demonstration.
In 1938 Ross landed a job as an office worker at Kodak. In September the international trotskyists conference held a Canadian Commission urging "any delay in break with the bureaucracy of the CCF is exceedingly harmful ... end to unprofitable existence in the CCF."
Meanwhile Rossís father had stopped working. He decided he wasnít going to work anymore. So Ross is working at Kodak and helping to support the family of 8. Only two are working, he and a sister. He knew, everybody knew the war is coming. So when the war is coming you know there is going to a massive explosion of industrial production of war materiel.
After the entry the WP dissolved. It revived under some intellectuals. The anti-entry forces like Ross tended to [drift?] away for a while though Ross participated in a mass anti-fascist demo on Bloor Street at Bathurst. A lot of different groups were involved. The street was jammed and the meeting blocked.
Finally in December 1938 the majority was expelled from the CCF and it was decided to launch the Socialist Workers League. A printed paper was put out. It was difficult to sell subscriptions. The paper attacked the war, opposing the Stalinists and was largely oriented to recruiting from the crisis-ridden CP as war loomed. Ross was skeptical about this orientation. He had just come thru a fight over their CCF orientation. He was maturing, at 21 years of age.
Meanwhile in the summer of 1939 the SWL was a central part of the lead of another strike of 2000 unemployed relief workers centering in York Township. They demanded restoration of relief cuts, retention of single unemployed relief and work at trade union wages.
The Stalin/Hitler Pact in August 1939 opened the war. It had a staggering impact amongst Jewish workers in the needle trades.
On September 1st German armed forces invaded Poland as part of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. With the beginning of WWII Printers would not handle the SWL paper so they put it out themselves, clandestine, on an old multi. The police were promoting persons to phone in reporting anybody who said anything against the war. The slime press reported people being picked up for saying to hell with king.
In September the League decided to organize a public meeting on opposition to the war with the main speaker a newly-arrived Englishman, Frank Watson. It was held on the street corner at Brunswick and College. Watson was arrested at the meeting with sixty persons watching. Watson was jailed for speaking against the war. He was the first person prosecuted under the new regulations.
Ross wasnít at the gathering. Watson had just come to Toronto. Watson was a vigorous anti-fascist and a staunch opponent of WWII. It would appear the league wanted the protest to spark broader protests in opposition to the war but it did not. Ross objected to the martyr setup. He thought the whole project ill-advised.
Ross went down to visit Watson at Don Jail on Gerrard Street at Broadview. Ross took him some books and immediately began to raise money to pay the fine. Watson got out till the trial. The SWL was banned, underground but a defence committee was launched, gained some support in some of the unions and gave publicity to the Watson case amid intensified censorship. Watson was sentenced to six months plus three hundred dollars fine or six months more.
League activity continued. The intellectuals deserted leaving a handful of the ranks, including Ross to fend for themselves. Ross took his direction from Trotsky, whose murder in Mexico by Stalin in 1940, staggered Ross. The group tried to distribute its newspaper by circulating it amongst acquaintances and such means as inserting it into library books. They went up to tall buildings like in between the stores at Queen and Yonge, dropping papers on the crowd in the streets below. Ross became fully involved in publication of the modest paper. Writing for the paper he began to understand the programme for the first time. The paper was largely put out to hold the group together. Ross edited a couple of issues before it folded in June 1942.
In the summer of 1941 the SWL decided its handful of members and sympathizers should get jobs in basic industry. Ross finished up at Kodak and took a course on machine shop work in order to reorient his life to becoming active in a union. But he could not get a job in a big unionized outfit without presenting army discharge papers. Industrial unions in the factories really began to take hold in WWII. The league was in chaos. Ross got a job as a supposed tool and die maker at one of the many small shops taking on army contracts.
At this time it was decided Ross was to make a trip across Canada to pull the connections together, to renew the broken lines. So Ross went West. There was no Trans-Canada Highway then. He hitch-hiked to Sault Ste Marie. From there he took a boat across Lake Superior to the Lakehead, hitch-hiking from there.
His first destination was Saskatchewan where there were people to see. Thereís no traffic on the prairie roads. If you donít take the first thing to come along, you do not get there. He would not see anybody for hours.
His first stop was Wiseton, Saskatchewan where he met a comrade. It is in the middle of the prairies. Then he went on to Saskatoon. Remarkable people, veterans of previous class battles, but largely in isolation now.
Then on to Lloydminster on the Alberta border. He arrived at the height of a torrential storm that blocked him from reaching his objective ó Streamstown. The road had been washed out and would not possibly be open for several days. Ross had never been out West before. He had no idea of the vastness. It is sparsely populated, undeveloped. There were whole gaps where he had not leads. He had touches of loneliness in the middle of the war, tumultuous events going on.
Ross went to Medicine Hat to see an uncle who gave him a meal and a few dollars. He went thru the Rockie mountains at Fernie. Suddenly he came onto a main street of a community with false fronts as in a Western movie. It seemed the town was deserted. But there were little kids running about. These were the Japanese whoíd been ripped out of British Columbia. The women and children, separated from their husbands were here in Greenwood, B.C. The local mines were shut. The car went on.
At Christina Lake in B.C. he contacted a woman and her husband who had been a leading activist in the CP. She was a real house of fire, a plebian, a nurse. She was inspired by the efforts to rebuild the trotskyist movement.
Ross made it to a couple more places. There were a scattering of contacts. In one area he had to go over the mountain ranges to get to the B.C. coast, then up and down again, dangerous as hell. Another time he got a ride from a guy stewed to the gills. There were bears and wildlife about. Ross thought heíd never make it.
He went to Notch Hill on Lake Shushwa [Shuswap]. This guy had built his own wooden house on the lake shore. He was a Swede. He married the teacher in the local schoolhouse and had a large family. They were widely respected in the community. Everyone in the family played a musical instrument so they had their own band. They farmed on the hillside overlooking the lake. They organized a meeting for Ross as they had for leading CCFers. The meeting was held in the schoolhouse with quite a crowd. Some 25 jammed the benches to hear Dowson explain opposition to WWII and project revolutions which would result from it.
So Ross made it to Vancouver. He headed straight to meet Paddy Stanton who had run a newstand on a central street corner carrying the boss press and also trotskyist literature. Paddy Stanton played a role in opposing the no-strike pledge. The working class did not accept the no-strike pledge that was being pushed by the CP.
Stanton was known to everybody. They went to the Stanley Park CCF club, all the radicals went there. Ross spoke at a couple of their forums. The Vancouver group had never left the CCF. They were part of it, left wingers.
The CCF left was part of the White Lunch gang. These were cheap food stores in Vancouver where revolutionists got a good welcome with their cup of coffee. Paddy had been a Wobblie, always a mark of real distinction. Ross met the other members of the league. It was operating as a marxist group in the CCF. The CCF discussions were unsatisfactory. The CCF was affecting the SWL.
Ross spent a month in Vancouver working and talking to the group. A branch meeting was held and correspondence was set up and relations reestablished.
Ross hitch-hiked back to Toronto. He attended the funeral of Jack Macdonald. There was a large crowd present. In the summer of 1942 Ross enlisted in the army.
When first called up he was put in rejection category E on the testimony of his family doctor. On his return from the West he found himself unable to obtain jobs he had prepared for on the grounds that he could not present an armed forces rejection slip. Assuming he really was in category E he volunteered in order to get the slip. To his surprise he was accepted in August 1942. So at 25 years of age he was dispatched for training to Brantford and then to Camp Borden near Barrie.
There he progressed from a private to a corporal. He was adjusting to being in the infantry. He was reading, mostly WWI antiwar books. While on leave he participated in Toronto League meetings.
In the army he met CP members. They were super patriots. They hobnobbed at army functions. They were across the road in the tank corps. The CPer in Rossís regiment was a well-meaning guy who could not understand Rossís opposition to the war. Ross didnít run into the CPers much in town with his army friends.
As a corporal Ross was a small arms instructor. As an opponent of the war he wanted to know the skills of modern war. Shortly he was offered a Commission. A number of those with whom he took his advanced training were killed in the July 1943 invasion of Sicily.
In September 1943 Ross started a one month officers training course for the rank of lieutenant. The camp was at Trois Rivieres. Here the army had taken over an extravagant fair grounds that had a swimming pool, a place to display cattle etc. The area was industrial, with paper and textile mills at the confluence of two mighty rivers. The entire Quebec community was hostile to the army. Ross had heard about conditions in Quebec but had never seen such slums as skirted Trois Rivieres where housing was actually primitive shacks made out of flattened tin cans. They spoke French, the officers English. Ross had enough French to go to restaurants in town where he ate sometimes for a treat. Quebecois did not see the war as theirs. There was evidence of opposition in every place. Up to this point only those who volunteered were being sent overseas. Conscripts were limited to service within Canada, Newfoundland, Labrador and the Aleutians.
Ross attended a gathering of the SWL in Montreal. There was a tiny functioning group there, including a couple of workers in the machine trades.
In October 1943 Ross completed his officers training and was assigned as infantry training officer at Camp Borden again. There he got his second pip. As an officer he always had good food even when others did not. The life of a training officer at Camp Borden was one of routine. Ross was breaking his ass on route marches.
Meanwhile he was resigning his commission. At the same time the league was try to reorganize. An effective leaflet was published for May Day 1944.
A letter from an army pal in May 1944 illustrates Rossís situation,
The army brass took no action on accepting his resignation. His officer tried various threats and promises, including offering him a higher rank, captain. At that time they were overwhelmed with a flood of officers who they had trained for expected casualties that were not happening yet. They confronted these officers with the opportunity to be transferred to the British army which was suffering heavy casualties ever since Dunkirk and the opening of the North African campaign.
These officers who had been harassing conscripts to volunteer for overseas service and themselves were being enticed to transfer with the higher Canadian rate of pay and flattery that they would have higher status than the British officer equivalent, cooly rejected every blandishment and remained officers without a command.
Ross was continuing to press for acceptance of his resignation. The brass continued to stall leaving him with his regular consignment of infantry training at Borden. Then he was transferred to serve as officer of the day at Stanley Barracks at the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto).
But finally the release came through in September 1944.
In October the SWL held a national conference in Montreal to relaunch the group. Represented were about 15 members in Toronto, 2 in Niagara Falls, 15 in Vancouver, 2 in Prince Rupert, 2 in Ottawa, 4 in Montreal and a scattering in other places such as Saskatchewan. A legal paper was projected which began publication later in June 1945. Ross was elected national secretary pending a recall to the army.
With his recall as a private he was sent to the manning pool in the Horse Palace on the Exhibition Grounds. Meanwhile the government passed legislation making all the armed forces eligible for overseas service and in the face of sporadic protests started a massive movement of troops from the West towards Halifax and beyond. Troops assigned to the Aleutians had been put on board at bayonet point. Troops stationed at Vernon B.C. seized control of the camp and mounted a machine gun on the parade ground against the officers. As trainloads of troops made stops at major centers on the way to Halifax, there were massive desertions, particularly in Quebec.
At the Exhibition Ross exchanged experiences with many who he had been trained with or who he had trained. At the Horse Palace some graffiti on the toilet walls read "One place where the British hold their own."
From there he was reassigned to do the basic training again and thus be eligible to be shipped overseas. He did his basic at Camp Ipperwash on Lake Huron. It was a scenic place. From there he was assigned as a private in the Kent Regiment at a camp on the edge of Niagara-on-the-lake.
Here he was able to circulate amongst select army comrades some Marxist books that he discovered at the local library. Also he went across the border to the Buffalo trotskyist branch some of whom he had met in Chicago in 1938. He brought back pamphlets. Sometimes a carload came over from Buffalo to meet up for mutually valuable discussions. Always a social was arranged. There were kids and a Sunday meal.
From Buffalo Ross took back a considerable amount of anti-war literature in his battle dress pants and blouse. He introduced some of his soldier friends to his meetings. He recruited two soldiers to the SWL; one from Windsor and one from Toronto. It was an intense period of agitation.
Ross was drinking with his peers, going into town even though he was not fond of beer. He was meeting the other agitators in the camp.
As the war drew to a close Ross learned that the army would be farming out troops at army rates of pay and under army discipline to corporations which were having difficulty maintaining a work force. He tried to prepare the guys so they would not do it. It was scab labour. It so happened the Kent Regiment was to be among the first to do the work. He tried to convince the guys not even to get on to the train that was to take them to the army encampment at the Oakville job-site. He went thru several stages to moving up to action then retreat. It was an intense period of organizing, talking to people. He couldnít be open because he was organizing loyalty to the working class. At the same time the political situation was cracking wide open.
As the army detail continued to go for the job that they had been assigned (raising and tamping the track on the Toronto-Hamilton line) Dowson tried to increase resistance, which held, only to collapse at the next stage. Ross was in the first group of 200 that went to work on the railways. They were promised various perks such as being able to live at home on weekends since most came from the Toronto/ Hamilton area. Ross went to railway stations where guys were moving about and told them to prepare for action and to support the men. He buttonholed people he knew as an ex-officer.
There were threats against him but Ross always talked them out of it. The brass created an atmosphere. On Monday August 20th 1945 the captain in charge of the troops formed them up ready to be marched down the tracks. The captain denounced "a disgruntled ex-officer in their ranks" who may face a charge of mutiny. Ross gave his powerful voice full vent. Reaching to his stomach to pull out a reply for all the assembly, Ross felt the support of the men in his guts, but the men went on the job.
On the job site Ross was ordered to go down the track two or three hundred yards from the rest of the detail. Ross refused. The officer said he would put Ross on charge. Ross replied "You do what you will." When given an official order he stated that he would not obey it. He was arrested and two soldiers were instructed to parade him back to camp.
As he passed by the rest of the detail he called out to them to come in behind him. Everyone fell in and when they arrived back at the encampment they were all confined to barracks.
The events were written up by Ross in the relaunched trotskyist press;
In October Ross was discharged from the army.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All